Electric Brompton Road Test

Background

I’ve not regularly cycled since I left London 4 years ago. There I would commute circa 10 miles a day on my cheapy Raleigh hybrid. Since moving to our current house I tried my new commute once on the aforementioned cheapy Raleigh and it was horrendous. The (big) hill home nearly killed me and I had to stop (collapse) 4 times; I had no intention of doing that journey unassisted again (though I fully admit that over time I probably would build up the strength to handle it OK).

I’d already tried an electric moped – an Elecscoot 1 bought for a bargain second hand – but it didn’t do the steep hills and just ground to a halt pretty quickly. To be fair it’s a tough test for it and if I lived in a city I’m sure it’d be great, but it’s just not cut out for big Welsh hills.

So, I knew I wanted an electric assist and because I’ve a requirement to take it on trains for commuting around London (see test 2) I opted for a Brompton because I’d heard good things about it and as a bonus it is British made.

The Kit

The bike is a Brompton M6R – the M (original style), 6 speed with a Rack – with a ‘factory fit’ conversion by The Electric Wheel company which adds a 200W front wheel motor, a custom twist grip accelerator, lots of (neat) extra wires, a modified front bag carrier and a modified C type (courier) bag which contains the (10Ah) battery.

Test 1: my daily commute

I live in a rural location in Wales on top of a big hill and it’s about 2 miles one-way with a rise (or drop) of ~ 800ft over one of those miles.
To work is easy, it’s mostly downhill. It does feel nice and stable which was initially a concern because I’m easily getting up to 25 MPH on the way down.

It comes into its own on the way home, though. On the flat the motor is only useful when going walking pace and as soon as you’re going a decent clip it makes no difference. Hit a hill however and a twist of the handle means you get an immediate boost. When the going gets really tough it makes the difference – for me at least – between stopping completely and keeping going, albeit with me working very hard.

Therein lies the beauty of the pedal assist in my opinion. I didn’t want a bike that could get me around without peddling. I *want* to pedal for the exercise etc, but it does take the edge off which on a long or hard journey is very welcome.
I’ve been doing the

commute for 3 or 4 weeks now and at the end of the first week (combined with a London trip, below) I was feeling more tired than usual but no aches or sore bum.

Test 2: London

I’m helping a renewable energy company with a spin-off start-up of theirs in the metering and billing space. This means I need to be in London a couple of days a week – boo – and even though the tube system is great I like being independent when traveling around.
So, I drive to my local station which is 8 miles away. I’d cycle this too but it’s a single carriageway A road and I’m not comfortable being so close to cars and lorries doing 60+.
Folded up the bike is no bigger than a small suitcase and with the C bag rammed with stuff and my trusty Crumpler messenger bag I’m (just) able to carry everything I need for two evenings away (assuming I have access to an iron at the other end). It’s dead easy to fit the bike on the train in the usual luggage spaces and the two bags stow away up above no problems.

My first trip I was staying near Southgate which allowing for getting a bit lost (thank you Google maps and iPhone GPS) it took me just over an hour to do 9 miles. Mostly up hill (Highgate Hill anyone). I arrived a bit out of puff as I’d pushed it hard but I was certainly not a tired mess.

What is striking when using it in London is how on the lights – especially hill starts – I’m able to pull away faster than everyone, even cars and the hard-core bike courier types. This is really big confidence booster when at the head of a line of traffic you know motorists are urgent to dart in front of you; I’m able to get away safely before they do.
It’s worth pointing out here is that when I started using this bike I decided to do away with my usual lycra gear. It’s more to carry and it’s a big faff to get changed before each journey. So I’m cycling around London in smart-casual – shudder – business attire: smart shoes, smart shirt etc.

The next morning in said attire I did the 12 miles to SE1. I went *really* gently and did the journey in 1hr 15 arriving about as sweaty as if I’d run for the bus. It was a really nice way to start a day (though I’m not convinced I’d want to do it every day).

I think a bike like this is made for the city and it’s a real pleasure to use. The manufacturers recommend that you don’t use it as a ‘twist and go’ but it’s hard not to sometimes especially when at the lights (and yes I do stop).

Some observations after using it for a while

The build quality of both the bike and the after-market electrics is superb. It is all well-made and sturdy.

The folding of a Brompton is as easy as they say. I still fumble it a bit but it’s really no big deal.

The range is reported to be 60 miles. In my first week I did 3 home commutes and a trip to London which in total came to 41 miles though to be fair there was a lot of bill hill cycling and some cheeky twist and go when in London so I think that’s pretty good on one charge. I purposely didn’t charge the battery on the first week and on the last trip home I was still showing two out of the three power indicator lights on the twist grip. Unfortunately the battery gave out on me (luckily at the top of the hill!) on that last day when still showing 2 out of 3 lights. Checking the same set of lights on the battery it was down to one, so definitely low. I now charge the bike more regularly but it’s a bit of a shame that the twist grip indicators are a bit over confident.

I fancy that there is a slight bit of drag from the motor when peddling unassisted. Now this could just be in my head but when going uphill for a long stretch, starting to feel a bit lardy and that I really should be doing a bit more work, taking the assist off really does feel like I’m peddling against something other than just gravity. For the record it’s not noticeable on the flat or downhill.

Weight. It’s fine to carry for a short distance but I have struggled a few times when running between platforms to change trains. I’m going to invest in the ‘B bag’ that costs around a hundred quid. It has a shoulder strap and wheels on the bottom

Don’t expect blistering 0-60 performance the motor is only useful on hills or when stationary. Unless you’re really slow you’ll be peddling faster than the motor pretty quickly

Summary

This is an excellent bike that is perfect for my needs. It is easy to take on transport, the assist on hills is fantastic and it’s great to have an edge when at the lights. It’s a very good city commuting bike and fine on the country lanes. It’s a shame about the rather binary charge indicator and the weight is an issue if it needs to be carried any real distance, but this can be rectified with a proper bag for it.

Recommended.

1 Comment Electric Brompton Road Test

  1. David Thorpe

    Interesting stuff. I have a Brompton but unlike you prefer riding in London…

    The electric assistance looks really useful and a good extension to the bike’s capabilities .

    Had to laugh at ‘peddling’ – that means trying to sell something of little value – I think you mean pedaling !

    Good piece, thanks.

    Reply

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