Why The Brompton Electric Bike Could Be The Future of Travel
The Brompton Electric is a fantastic machine, one that can open up options to you that you would not have today on a normal ‘manual’ bike (hereafter referred to as a Standard Brompton, although you can picture your own bike for reference).
What you read below is based on several months of research pre-purchase and my first months of ownership. It's a long read but hopefully I’ve covered every question you might have. As a relatively new product, there are few extensive articles on the bike overall, including owning and using it in the real world.
But before I explain why it's a game changer, first a bit of context.
I’ve been an on/off cyclist since I was 4 years old. I’m not a weekend cyclist, I don’t own any lycra clothing, I’ve never had a ‘racer’. Bikes when I grew up we’re heavy, functional and strong. And strong was the key here as they were meant to be used outside having fun; not being careful not to damage delicate components. You were meant to ride around with your friends exploring, you were meant to do your paper round on them. It wasn’t about speed, it was about practicality and just being outdoors.
35 years later in 2019 I bought a Standard Brompton. Primarily because I finally had enough income to afford one but also because they are immensely practical. I could commute to work with part of the journey on a train. Fold it up and you are good to go. Most importantly, as the bike lives folded in my hallway, it was visible and therefore frequently used (not hidden away out of sight and mind in the shed). I immediately loved it.
It’s so much fun and with a steel frame, it’s a tough little beast. Small wheels make it quick off the lights, and extremely manoeuvrable. And since it’s a small looking bike, no one ever feels threatened by it; cycling in my local park with other pedestrians can get very busy and big fast bikes can be a concern. Not the diminutive Brompton.
My only complaint wasn’t about the bike but about me. I just wasn’t fit enough to do the hilly sections of my commute without needing a shower when I got to work.
In comes the Brompton Electric.
You could probably argue that most of what I’m about to say applies to any electric bike. That’s fair, but it’s not the whole story. A folding bike which is also electric makes all the difference. And yes, there are also other electric folding bikes, but the Brompton fold and overall quality makes it the best in my opinion.
Firstly, lets look at what it is!
Let’s break this down into a few categories:
Standard Brompton ‘v’ Brompton Electric
Essentially the same bike but with some strengthened components to help handle the powered motor. It looks and feels the same because it is the same bike, just with powered components.
One thing to note is that the front luggage block has been replaced with the battery connector and controller. This was a real concern for me at first as I couldn’t use my Standard Brompton bag collection, I’d need new bags designed for the battery connector. Annoying but something I can live with.
A Standard 6 speed Brompton (M6L) is £1,145 and the equivalent Brompton Electric is £2,715 so a difference of £1,570. With this is mind, the ‘bike’ part of the overall cost is about 42% and the electric part about 58%.
This is interesting to me as it shows the bike isn’t just a standard with a ‘premium’ add on electric system; it’s a system which costs more than the original bike itself and stands to transform it from a bike into a more holistic transportation option. It would be hard to justify the cost of the Brompton Electric if it only did what the Standard Brompton did plus a little more; it needs to be a game changer. And I think it is.
Probably the most important performance metric (other than battery range). I was really worried that it would feel underwhelming when riding. It does not. I’m an 80kg rider and power assist level 1 lightly pushes me along the road, like a steady wind behind me. Very smooth and comfortable.
Level 2 pulls me along all but steeper hills. And level 3 gives a sense of you just going along for the ride; a passenger putting in very little effort at all! It’s almost too easy it feels unnatural so I don’t use it for anything other than steep hills.
A slight frustration is that it’s not completely safe (but is possible) to reach down over the handlebars to the battery to change power levels whilst riding. There is no thumb controller on the handlebars like other bikes. But the rumoured upcoming phone app suggests it can allow power change directly from the app. Great if you have your phone handlebar mounted.
In all honesty, I leave it in level 1 most of the time or in level 2 if it’s a relatively hilly area. I rarely need to put it to level 3 or make changes whilst riding anyway. Switching power levels whilst riding is a nice to have but not a necessity.
A very subjective measure this one, but how does it feel to ride, when the power assist is automatically added, not manually? I think it’s very smooth. The technical answer here is that a combination of a torque and cadence sensor in the crank can compute how much power is needed and provided in real time (probably in microseconds). Power kicks in promptly when needed and also importantly, when you hit the 15mph limit, it also cuts off smoothly. Some times I don’t even notice it’s going off unless I hear the motor whine cease.
It does struggle a little more in rough road conditions, it’s better suited to smooth tarmac. It will still work (although reports say that the motor may cut out to protect itself and the rider in very rough conditions) but it feels like the battery and connection might rattle itself to failure. On flat hardpacked bumpy paths, I take the battery off and put it in a backpack. You can then ride it like a Standard Brompton over the stones.
However, an admission here. I actually love riding it for short bursts in gravelly conditions with stronger power assist as the wheel ‘cuts’ through the stones and the bike slides around a little bit. It’s a bit of fun in moderation! It feels a bit like driving in snow.
My only other caveat to it’s rideability is a nuance in more extreme hilly conditions. A recent ride was very hilly, with long sweeping ups and downs. On the downs you easily exceed the 15mph so the motor cuts off as it should. You are probably also in gear 5 or 6 as you gain enough momentum to climb up the other side. As you start the climb on the other side, you will start to slow down and also drop down through the gears. As you slow to under 15.5mph, the bike didn’t seem to be quite so ready to engage the power, probably because the torque sensor is sensing that you still have momentum and therefore are not driving the crank hard enough. In these cases, dropping down from say gear 4 to 3 seemed to ‘tell’ the sensors that support is needed and it would immediately kick in. It doesn’t feel right, but I think it’s a true reflection on what the sensors are literally sensing and telling to motor to do.
I didn’t know what to expect here but there is motor noise. Like a light whine. To be honest, I think it’s part of the character of an e-bike, a bit like the clicking of the Sturmey Archer hub gears are part of a Brompton’s character.
It helps me to tell if the motor is powering at any point and isn’t annoying in any way.
Range anxiety is cited as one of the main barriers for electric car adoption. It’s true for bikes also. Luckily the three power levels help to stretch out it’s range and as it’s pedal assist, not self powered, you can even turn off the battery to save it and easily put in all the power yourself.
It’s hard to quote range as it’s dependent on so many things like rider weight, tyre pressure, wind resistance, hills and surface conditions.
Brompton quote “a range of between 25 and 50 miles from one charge (dependent on user and conditions).”
So I can easily ride on maximum level 3 power to work 10 hilly miles away, charge the battery during the day and get home again without any problems whatsoever. I probably would even be able to do the full daily 20 miles on level 2 without the need to charge during the day. Remember level 3 is very powerful and rarely even needed so is just draining the battery quicker for no real additional benefit on an average ride.
On a recent weekend ride, I managed to ride for a total of 6 hours with 1,388m ascent over 69 very hilly miles using a combination of level 1 and 2 power assist and charing the battery during breaks with a separately available fast charger (two short charges of 30mins and 45mins). The fast charger ensures you can quickly top up when out and about so I highly encourage you to get one.
Once you take the battery off, it weighs about 14.5kg (for the 6 speed — the 2 speed is 13.7kg), a bit more than a standard Brompton but manageable to carry. It’s said it’s heavy to carry, which is true but compare that to other Ebikes at about 20kg, this is a much lighter option.
The battery can be carried with it’s own bag and carry strap or I often put it straight into a backpack if I’m carrying one. At 2.9kg, light enough to easily carry.
You can go for a 2 speed or 6 speed (# of gears). I’ve heard a few opinions saying the 2 speed is enough on an electric bike, it’s cheaper to buy and saves weight. Sure since the power is always automatically kicking in under 15mph, 2 gears is enough.
But remember this is a bike that you might want to use without the battery at times (such as if it runs out). Can you handle only 2 gears then?
Also battery range is dependent on efficiency. Using more appropriate gearing for the conditions helps preserve battery which extends range. This alone is worth considering the 6 speed over the 2.
If you’ve read into a Brompton Electric and been on any forums, you’ll know there have been some teething problems with the bike for some users. Battery connection, motor controller (the bike’s brain) and the motor itself have had some failures for users.
Yes, there have been some angry buyers of quite an expensive item. Yes, there are those saying it’s a not quite refined V1 of a product. But issues aside, it performs well and doesn’t feel like a V1. Firmware updates over the bike’s first 2 years also seemed to have ironed out many issues.
Also, Brompton has a fantastic quality ethos and their partnership with Williams on the motor screams high quality. In every case of someone reporting a problem that I’ve read about, they have also reported it being fully repaired by Brompton under their comprehensive 2 year warranty.
But what might happen after the warranty expires? A few things probably. The front wheel motor can be replaced by simply swapping the front wheel. The controller can be replaced and the battery can also be purchased and replaced. Other than the cost of the replacement, everything seems to be replaceable, plug and play. It’s not an internal system where you can’t even get access to the components. I’m not worried.
And best of all, if I decide to abandon the electrics, I can remove the battery, controller, additional wiring and motor and have a more or less standard 6 speed Brompton. You wouldn’t realise all your original spend but I don’t know any other ebike that’s easy convertible back into a fantastic standard one.
Lastly, remember that any Brompton is a bespoke design and not so easy to get standard spares at any cycle store. A specialist dealer is required for ‘approved’ repairs and servicing although there is a strong global dealer network and spares are relatively easy to come by online, even if your local independent bike shop doesn’t stock them as standard.
It is truly a multi-modal travel option. I ride it to work, on holiday, to the local shops. I take it on the train, the bus, in the boot/trunk of my car. I ride it safe in the knowledge that I can do almost anything with this bike, my travel options are not limited.
It’s removable battery also gives more flexible options for riding (see the earlier point for rough riding conditions) which means it doesn’t just need to be used under electric power mode.
A little unfair to put this on here as it’s not specifically related to the bike but it’s desirability. People will steal your Brompton if you give them a chance. The fact that the Electric Brompton is based on a Standard Brompton means that they can easily remove the components and sell it as a non electric one (or sell it as an electric without the battery). This is the first bike where I have specifically bought bike insurance although that also gives me coverage for damage if I have an accident (as we said earlier, it’s an expensive bike).
Bromtons Electrics seems to sell well (based on limited data on eBay) but not quite as well as a Standard Brompton which is more financially accessible (i.e. cheaper!). Overall Bromptons have a great reputation so a healthy fair market value should be achievable should you wish to part ways.
And now onto the really interesting part; what it does and why it could be the future of travel.
Fitness, Health and Physical Capability
This is really hard to describe. It’s like cycling but with no real strain on your legs. You get a really good workout but not one which overworks your muscles. Like a really long gentle walk. Fatigue without strain is the best way I can describe it.
Fatigue without Strain
I find that I therefore cycle so much further than I normally would and much more often. I’d rather have 50 miles a week of modest exercise than 20 miles of hard but not so enjoyable exercise. I’m fitter because of it and it keeps me wanting to do more which helps with consistency.
For those who like to get deep into the analytics, consider using a heart rate monitor and then use the different motor assist levels to keep in the exact zone you want to hit your aerobic goals. Weight loss has never been easier this way.
I’m fortunate to not have an physical difficulties at the moment, but others do. eBikes open up a number of options for those with physical conditions which may preclude the use of a standard bike. This could be the opening to get on a bike again for those normally not able to.
I am certainly no expert here but life is so fast nowadays with a feeling of ‘always on’. Being on a bike does two things. It slows me down physically and it gets me out into the outside world, interacting with the environment around me. You don’t get as much of that in the car.
My car makes me focus on the destination; my bike makes me focus on the journey.
Even the 15mph is the perfect limit to give support where needed at the lower speeds without helping you go too fast. Slowing down is key to my mental health.
It’s also social. Almost every single ride I’ve been on with my Brompton Electric, people have stopped and asked me about it. It’s still new enough to catch people’s attention, although based on a classic design which is easily recognised. I love this part, it reminds me that people are friendly and not simply ploughing on through life with their own agenda.
Commuting and primary mode of transport
What if this replaced a car? Perhaps not your main family car, but instead a second car. Instead of that second ‘run-around’ car, you used an ebike. Depending on mileage, you could be saving several hundred pounds, perhaps even into the thousands, each and every year not owning a second car. I own a second car at the moment and even if i didn’t drive it anywhere, it would still cost me £600 just to keep it on the road, before fuel. And thats for a car I own outright; I hate to think how much a second car would be costing me if I had to purchase a replacement.
Have a public transport season ticket? How much would you save if you could do the commute on an ebike instead? Or only buy the odd day train ticket and ride the other days.
Every time I don’t get in my car, or taxi, or train, I’m saving money. And it adds up very quickly.
Fair weather cycling v wet weather cycling
I don’t hate cycling in the rain but the idea of commuting to work in bad weather is not an ideal way to mentally start the day. The Brompton Electric at least reduces that barrier by making it much easier. Where I live bad weather is always accompanied with strong winds. ‘Treating’ myself to level 2 or even level 3 power makes it a much easier experience. You may still be a bit wet, but not exhausted and bedraggled as you start your working day.
And whilst we are talking about work, imagine getting there are not having to have shower when you arrive? No queuing for the single shower (if your workplace even has one), no time wasted waiting to get back to the desk. And much less to carry in your bag, as many times, you can just wear your work clothes on the bike.
Why it’s not just a bike, it’s potentially the future of transport
Ultimately the reason it could become a serious part of your future travel options is how easily it integrates into your lifestyle. You don’t need large dedicated space to store it, you don’t need to plan ahead with additional clothing to change into or space to lock it up at your destination. You don’t need to think, “how will I manage this bike on this journey?” The mix of electric power and foldability is why this really does make this a game changer for your transport options.
Sure, you need to contend with poor road surfaces, lack of great cycling infrastructure (depending on where you live), haphazardly driven vehicles sharing the road but thinking they own it; but what a ride! It’s worth it just for those moments of calm where your route takes you away from the hustle a bustle of traffic and into your own ‘space’ whilst still being immersed in the world around you.
The physical and mental health benefits of cycling to you are huge, as well as the financial savings to you. And thats before we even get onto the social & environmental benefits of getting out of our cars.
Cycling is not new, the Brompton is not new, but the Brompton Electric makes travel so much more accessible and that is new.
Stay Safe; Happy Cycling.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.