Sunday, August 15, 2010

Interview with Kt, Folding Bike Enthusiast

This is my awesome friend Kt talking about her Brompton folding bicycle. Disclaimer: I say "sweet" about a thousand times in the video and "unfolding" twice and I may or may not flip the camera around while I am filming. So much for the Director's cut...

Why a folding bike?

I wanted a bicycle in New York but I wanted something that I could take with me everywhere. With the folding bike you can carry it around and it’s easier to maneuver than a regular bike.

What makes Brompton different from, say, Dahon?

I like the look of Brompton better – it’s classic, it’s the best folding bike in terms of design and stability. With this kind of bike, you want something that isn’t fragile – something that won’t crack or break because you’re constantly opening and closing it. And from what I had heard, you rarely have a problem with the chain staying in place or with the bike unfolding when you don't want it to. And the way this bike folds, the greasy chain is kept far away from you (and your clothes) when you carry it. This bike also has a built-in hand pump and it has one of the most compact folds you can find. When I was still trying to make my decision (and it was a big decision, considering the price tag) I met a guy from Long Island who rode his Brompton to and from NYC everyday for three years and he never had a probem.

Well, a disadvantage of owning a Brompton is that the replacement parts can only be bought from the U.K., where the company is based. There are a few shops in NYC that get shipments of Brompton parts, but they sometimes have so send away to the U.K. for a part if they don't have it in stock. But then again, it's nice to know that each bike is designed and built by hand in West London, England, where the company was founded.

I really like the design of the Brompton. They’re creative with their accessories – the wheels that allow you to roll the bike around when it is folded become a rack for your stuff when it is unfolded. They also offer mudguards, different styles of handlebars and I put a Brooks seat on mine. I like the style of Bromptons; you can mix and match because there are a lot of color options. I chose blue and black, but they have a bunch of different color options. You can also buy a carrying case that looks like a bag. There is a hard box you can use to travel with – for airplanes, etc – it’s more of a protective case. It’s so mobile – you can carry it around with you wherever you go, and it’s not that heavy.

What is it made out of?

The frame is mainly made of steel.

How long did you want a folding bike before you bought one?

Two-and-a-half years. I first saw the Brompton at a bike shop on the Upper East Side called NYCeWheels, and it was love at first sight. It was one of the biggest purchases I’d ever made and it took that long for me to actually do it. But if you’re gonna buy it you want to buy one that won’t break when you fold and unfold it. I tried out different folding bikes for two years before I bought this one. Before I bought it, they let me test ride it around the block (I actually went in there about a million times to test ride it, and they somehow remained patient) and I got used to it fairly quickly. At first when you ride it, it feels like the bike is wobbling because the wheels are so small, but you get used to it quickly.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a folding bike?

Well, the one of the advantages is (obviously) that you can take it everywhere. You can take it on the subway train during rush hour, the LIRR, you can take it on the bus, even though that gets a little annoying. You can travel with it on planes and check it in like a suitcase. I have even been known to ride it to the theater and give the coat check dude an extra tip to keep an eye on it. It also fits right under my desk at work, so I never have to worry about locking it up or someone stealing it. I just keep it under my desk during the day and then I ride it home after work. When it is folded, it is an extremely compact package (22.2" x 21.5" x 10.6") that you can basically carry with you anywhere.

The disadvantages are…it’s harder to pedal uphill. You do have to work harder than someone who is riding a road bike. You can’t really conquer massive hills. I mean, that’s not really a problem in New York, but I would just try to avoid big hills anyway, since I know it would be hard to get up them.

Where do you generally ride your bicycle?

Home from work, the West Side Highway bike path and Prospect Park.

Do you have camaraderie with other folding bike enthusiasts?

Yeah, it’s definitely a wink and a nod. When I was thinking about buying a Brompton everyone said good things about them. I met people who had even bought more than one because they were so happy with theirs.

Also, there is a Brompton community (cult?). There is a folding bike race – The Brompton World Championship that takes place in the U.K., but they recently started one up in the U.S., I think it was in Philly.

How did you decide what components to put on your bicycle?

There are a few options in terms of handlebar shapes, with the straight handlebars being the lightest. I liked the look and the feel of the U-shaped ones, though, so I opted for those. I’d always wanted a Brooks saddle because they mold to your butt. I added the mud flap and I chose the blue/black two tone colors because I liked them the best. And the rack/rolling wheel contraption is just plain convenient.

Tell us about that bicycle accident and why you were/are afraid of riding in the city.

Well, I’ve had more than one… but when I was 11 or 12 and I was riding down to my friend’s house..and then, I dunno, I was unconscious. I still don’t remember what happened. My bike was totaled, so I’ m thinking I got hit by a car. I was off the road and my friend’s mom found me at the bottom of the driveway. My bike was 50 yards away from me and I fractured my skull.

You’d think I would have been totally scared to ride after that, but I’m a freak, and I wasn’t scared. Recently, and at first, I was afraid to ride in the city because I get into a lot of accidents. I still have a rock in my knee from one of my accidents.

Where is your favorite place to ride in NYC?

The West Side Highway bike path.

If you didn’t have a folding bicycle, what bike would you have?

I’m not going to get another bike (haha). But yeah, I can see myself owning a road bike or something, depending on where I wanted to go. I can ride the folding bike long distances but I can’t go on dirt roads with it or anything – it’s not really the distance but more the terrain that would be the problem.

What do you like about your Brooks saddle?

It’s not a saddle, it’s a seat! I like that it’s really comfortable and you can wear it in.

How much does your bicycle weigh when it’s folded up?

About 23 pounds. Depending on the parts you choose, Bromptons can be as light as 20 pounds.

What do you love more: your bicycle or ultimate Frisbee?

Probably ultimate Frisbee… I like the social aspect of ultimate Frisbee.

But you can be social by riding bikes too!

That’s true..

Can you take long bike rides on your folding bike?

15-20 miles, it’s not so much how far I go – because I don’t mind taking long rides, it’s more of where I go.

Do you feel like you have to put in more effort to ride your bike because the pedals are so small?

It depends – if there’s a hill involved, then yes, but it’s minimal. Your pedal radius is smaller so you’re working more but I’m always just riding for leisure, I’m not trying to race, so it’s not really a problem.

Does it feel strange to ride a “regular” bicycle now?

I haven’t ridden one in a long time but I don’t know…

Do you feel safe on your folding bicycle?

As safe as I you can feel in the city with my track record.

What advice would you give to someone purchasing a folding bicycle?

I would say if you have the money go for the better quality because you’re going to be folding and unfolding it all the time. So don’t get a folding bike if you don’t have the money. Just get the best quality you can.


  1. all of the folding bike owners i've met swear by them. i met the owner of a bike shop in brussels and he was going on a group ride, everyone on Bromptons, to Amsterdam. rad

  2. OH if you have having a hard time finding parts and you do not want to wait for one of the NYC shops to order it for you SJS cycles has most parts in stock and will ship to the US. they even have a currency converter.

  3. Always keep the cover on going into buildings. I had no problem till I got lazy and didn't cover it. From then on I needed written permission from my employer, and needed to take the freight elevator. It probably didn't help that I told the security guy, "Its not a bike. Its a bunch of bike parts shaped like a briefcase".

    After riding small wheels in traffic, you will dislike big wheels. So much easier to navigate. Have ridden my brompton for several months, and recently (Friday) bought a used Swift folder. Minivelo time.

  4. This is exactly the article I've needed to read! In the past month I've visited NYCEwheels about four times and Bfold downtown as many times, driving them crazy too no doubt. I ride the Westside Highway path every day from the Heights down to near Penn Station. I'm stopping every Brompton owner I see and asking questions (I haven't seen a blue one yet). I had a wonderful chat with a Brompton owner and her Brit girlfriend who were sitting with a parked Brompton, and the owner actually offered me a ride on it! Yes, a perfect stranger in Manhattan let me ride off on her $1,500 bike. She's had it for 20 years and loves it. I've been vacillating between the Brompton and a higher-end Dahon, and trying to justify the cost difference. This really helps. Thanks!