I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a bike to commute to work with, in combination with using the train. I dove down a YouTube rabbit hole when researching the folding Brompton bike, and found myself drawn to a C Line Explore (the sort of standard Brompton you might have seen) in either “black lacquer” (which looks kind of bronze with cool details around the welds on this steel bike) or “flame lacquer” (similar, but reddish-orange).
There are few decisions once you’ve narrowed it down to that point, but there is one important one: the handlebar. On this bike the long stem-like neck of the bike has different sizes that correspond to your handlebar choice, so you really want to get it right when you buy the bike, as changing it after the fact is hard. So, I wanted to test ride one of these things.
My local REI had some in stock, so I stopped by, did the waiver-and-identification dance, and found myself on a flame lacquer version of exactly what I was looking for, with the “M” (mid-rise) handlebar, which I expected to be what I’d probably like. (At six feet tall, my online research led me to believe that this would be upright, but sporty feeling.)
My first impression was that it was cramped. I come from a mountain biking background, so I’m used to being more upright than most road bikers are, but this reach really left me feeling like the bike was too small. There aren’t many options to extend the reach from what I can tell, so I should probably give it a longer test ride. Unfortunately, REI only had mid-rise bar models available to test.
I’d read that the shifting is weird, and I can confirm that: it has a rear hub that has three speeds, controlled by one shifter, and it has two cog-based speeds that are adjusted with another. This has the effect of seeming to have three speeds with a “slightly harder” and “slightly easier” variant of each, for six speeds total. What I was surprised by here was the cheap feeling of the shifters. Most of my bikes are admittedly pretty high-end, so I’m used to good shifters, but these really felt out of place on a $2,000 bike, especially when the rest of the bike felt like a high-quality machine. It didn’t help that the bike seemed to not be assembled super well, and the shifting was not great in any case.
Despite the bike being put in a stand and checked out before sending me on my test ride, the mechanic failed to check that the clamps that allow the bike to fold were secured. I discovered this oversight when I decided to see how the bike would feel under some load: As I rose out of the saddle to put some power down, the handlebars unceremoniously disappeared out from under me just as I leapt forward. Needless to say, I hit the deck instantly, much to my surprise.
Luckily I wasn’t hurt too badly, but the Brompton was a little the worse for the experience; the front fender was bent and rubbing on the tire. More embarrassed than angry, I took the bike in, told them what happened, and left to mentally process my test ride.
I think I’ll take the opportunity to test ride the other versions of the bike, and this time, I’ll head up to the San Francisco bike store that specializes in Brompton bikes. I assume they’ll have test bikes that are better-prepared, and will a variety of the models available. Still, even without the fall, it wasn’t a good first experience, so it definitely took some of the excitement out of shopping for a new bike.