In defence of Brompton Man, the cyclist who puts function over style – Telegraph Newspaper

from the Telegraph

It’s easy to poke fun at Brompton Man, with his practical attire and holier-than-thou attitude – but his bike remains one of the most impressive on the road, writes Andrew Critchlow

Left: Andrew Critchlow tests a Brompton folding bike. Right: Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher

Left: Andrew Critchlow tests a Brompton folding bike. Right: Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher

Our roads are increasingly home to various tribes of bike rider. You’ve heard all about the Mamils (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) who thunder along the A23 on their way to work on £12,000 racing bikes; and you’ve probably noticed the Single Gear Hipsters, a younger strain of rider whose rolled-up right jean leg revolves furiously around a fixed crank somewhere near Hoxton.

But there’s one tribe that has hitherto snuck under the radar.

Brompton Man has been travelling with his foldaway bike on Britain’s roads and rails for decades. Every morning, he can be seen outside train stations, furiously unpacking his bike after a morning commute before disappearing into the distance, his feet whirling away like a hamster stuck on a circus wheel. And yet, unlike the Mamil and Single Gear Hipster, this figure of comedy has largely avoided ridicule.

Until now. Brompton Man was first deliciously parodied in the BBC’s excellent Olympic send-up 2012, where Hugh Bonneville’s well-intentioned executive Ian Fletcher was all fingers and cut thumbs with his prized Brompton, forever unable to make the bloody thing actually work.

And now we have a real-life embodiment of Fletcher – according to the Daily Mail at least, who this morning have cast BBC creative director Alan Yentob as the essence of Brompton Man. (I would be willing to bet that the corporation’s ‘swingometer’ man Jeremy Vine also has one tucked away somewhere in Broadcasting House.)

So just what makes Yentob and his ilk a true Brompton Man?

First off, there’s the bizarre uniform, which mixes one part office wear with one part luminous Gore Tex. Trouser clips come as standard.

Then there’s the look on his face. Because he rides a Brompton, Brompton Man is imbued with the self-righteous knowledge that although the folding bicycle looks absurd, he owns a true British design classic that puts function ahead of form. Can your flashy Pinarello be stored away in the cupboard under the stairs at home, his expression seems to ask.

He is, in other words, the James May of cycling. (And yes, May does ride a Brompton, in case you’re wondering.)

A Brompton S2L-X in its full glory

Brompton Man probably earns over £200,000 per year as a senior manager in a media company like the BBC, or by overseeing some politically correct department of a government-funded quango.

In meetings he often leaves colleagues baffled with mindless jargon such as getting “buy-in” or “core competency”. Possibly even more annoying is his capacity to drop into almost any conversation the fact that he can carry his Brompton on the packed train to Waterloo from Guildford at rush hour.

Brompton Man will leave his office door open to give the impression that he is willing to listen to anyone – but everyone knows that he really just wants you to see his folding bike stashed next to his desk instead of being chained alongside all the ‘normal’ bikes in the car park outside.

The Brompton does its contortionist’s act

Yes, Brompton Man really is a figure of mockery. And yet … I would happily own one of these made-in-England feats of engineering.

The truth is that I was lucky enough to test a Brompton last year. With all my preformed prejudices hanging from my shoulders like the weight of a 12kg folding bike, I decked myself out in full Lycra and tried to clock a fast time around my local Box Hill circuit on one of the machines.

Guess what? It was superb – fast and yet reliable; nimble yet stable. I rode it at 17mph for an hour, climbing and descending hills en route – and never once felt that I was cycling something that could, in the space of a few quick snaps, fold into something that would fit into the bottom draw of my filing cabinet at work.

The classic Brompton sells for around £1,000 – although in recent years, the company, which is based in West London, has introduced jazzier, flashier models. Instead of showing the bike being pedalled by some media executive in a ill-fitting florescent cycling jacket, the marketing clip for the speedster models features an anonymous racer in tights, who spins away furiously.

You have been warned.

A glimpse of the future: Andrew Critchlow test rides a Brompton

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