27 January 2009

Brompton bends the rules (but not on underwear)

The February/March copy of the CTC mag is now out, and has joined the stash of magazines under my bed. (Which are all about bikes, bike touring or cricket. Goodness knows what Freud would make of that.)

Inside it is my article about a trip to the Brompton factory, near Kew Bridge in west London (right top and middle). I talk to Andrew Ritchie, inventor of everyone's favourite folding bike, and to Will Butler-Adams, the energetic new chief exec, about how the company's doing.

OK, seems to be the general answer: they have full order books, a steadily increasing output (22,000 bikes a year and rising), and a nicely mixed portfolio of domestic and export (70 per cent of Bromptons go abroad, I was surprised to learn).

There's something reassuringly old-school about Mr Ritchie (bottom right). He still cycles in to the factory six miles from his house each way, in his pullover and trousers – no lycra nonsense here. He's what my mum would call nicely spoken, with a wry sense of humour and English dispassion. And while the manufacturing process today involves whizzy computer stuff, all those angles and curves on the original Brompton were worked out by the Cambridge engineering graduate on a good old-fashioned slide rule.

Indeed, it's the very slide rule in this picture here. As far as I know, this is the first time the fact has been revealed, or a photo of the item published. (See larger version of photo.) You'll notice there's a slight kink in it, as if in homage the famous graceful bend of the Brompton's main tube. It's not some specially curved instrument for tackling sophisticated hyperbolic functions; Mr Ritchie just left it too close to the fire one day.

Two other features in the mag caught my eye. Following on from yesterday's post, there's an interview with Magnatom, a 'helmet cam vigilante' cyclist in Glasgow who posts up YouTube videos of dangerous drivers, and has received death threats for his activities.

And, in the fascinating diaries of a 1930s cycle tourist travelling light in Yugoslavia and Albania, we learn that 'such luxuries as pyjamas and underwear are soon dispensed with after a little practice'.

I did once travel super-light, with a Brompton and a daypack round Japan. But I definitely did not dispense with underwear.


  1. We have a helmet cam vigilante in Cambridge too. No death threats as far as I know. You can probably find him on YouTube, or I'll find the details later.

  2. Don't worry, Tim, your secret's safe with me...