I've ridden a multitude of bikes over the years. I still remember my first ride — a little red Walmart kids bike with 24" wheels and just enough heft to not break when I started trying to build jumps in my backyard out of wood planks and sandbags. From there, the love affair only got stronger. I eventually bought a road bike and a mountain bike. It's been well over a decade since my first epic downhill adventures and in that time I've been in a neverending cycle of parking lot Craigslist negotiations, buying carbon bikes I (stupidly) financed and, as of now, settling in with a do-it-all gravel bike from State. Throughout this time, I've had the chance to do some epic rides, like racing a train from the Grand Canyon 60 miles to Williams, Arizona or spending the day frozen at Grinduro in Quincy, California. One thing I've never done, until now, is zig-zag a foldable commuter bike through Manhattan. Guess what, gang, I'm on some small wheels once again and I think I'm in love. The bike is the Brompton C Line Explore. Specifically, it's the bike that Brompton dropped in collaboration with Barbour earlier this fall. They even let me take the limited-edition Barbour x Brompton Bromdale Jacket and Barbour x Brompton bags out for a spin.
I spent the last six weeks putting the C Line Explore through its paces, riding from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back, across mile-long bridges, through traffic, on rainy days and clear days. I rode on perfectly smooth tarmac and cobblestone streets and practiced folding and unfolding the thing a dizzying amount of times. I even took it off a few jumps. (Ok, just kidding, I didn't jump it.) Here's what I think after a month and a half with the curious little bike.
What's Good About the Brompton C Line Explore
You can store it virtually anywhere
London-based Brompton was founded in 1975 when engineer Andrew Ritchie sought out a solution to make it easier to ride and, just as importantly, store a bike in the city. It's safe to say that he succeeded. When folded, the Brompton is just 25.3 in x 23 in x 10.6 in. As someone used to having full-sized road bikes and mountain bikes, this is a revelation. In my small New York apartment, the bike, with its 16-inch wheels and three folds, fits in numerous nooks and crannies, something I could only dream of for my comparatively cumbersome gravel bike. It also weighs in at just about 27 pounds, which makes it light enough to haul up between the double doors and up the three flights of stairs required to get to my front door.
The details matter
While the normal C Line Explore is decked out with a ton of quality details, the Barbour trim takes it up a notch. The bike comes with a 24-liter Barbour waxed canvas bag that is made specifically to clip onto the front of the bike, and even fits while the bike is folded. Also included is a tartan Barbour saddle bag that stashes a strap, converting it into a crossbody bag when you hop off your ride.
It's not just the Barbour bags, though, that take this version to the next level. The bike is spec'd out with a frame pump, Schwalbe Marathon Almotion ADDIX transparent-skin tires that make hitting the gravel or path a breeze, an upgraded Brooks C17 Cambium all-weather saddle that won't get ruined in the rain, a custom serial number plate, full-coverage fenders to keep you dry and a polished gold bell that rings out a proper English chime as if to say, "Dear sirs or madams, I am behind you on your left."
I had seen Bromptons before, and none of them compare to this one. I'd say my opinion has changed on Brompton as a whole, in a very positive way, but this specific bike blew my expectations out of the water.
What's Not Good About the Brompton C Line Explore
This bike is not suited for aggressive riding
If you're used to jumping off curbs, taking large potholes head-on or bombing down hills and aren't willing to give that up, this bike isn't for you. It's super fun to ride, don't get me wrong, but it's a bike designed for pleasant commutes. It's got six speeds, which isn't nothing, but isn't a wide range either, meaning you're not going to be able to get too aggressive on hills. The skinny tires don't love mud of any kind and are really only suited for roads and hard-packed gravel paths. The riding position, while comfy for a commute or trip to the grocery store, isn't ideal for speed.
Maintenance is complicated
I've ridden this bike for six weeks with no issues. No flats, no gearing issues — the only adjustment I've made is to tighten the bolt that keeps the telescopic seatpost in place. With that said, the six-speed drivetrain is very unique, which in one sense is extremely cool, but in practice, it can be incredibly difficult to adjust on your own. Any bike shop will be able to figure out how to fix it, but if you're an amateur mechanic that likes to tinker at home, you may find the tune ups frustrating.
Additionally, if any of the folding bits go haywire, you're not going to be able to fix this yourself without potentially exacerbating the problem. Given these complicated inner-workings, I'd recommend keeping in mind that this bike will require maintenance from a professional.
It's hard to deny the limitations of a Brompton. I love living in the city and I see myself living in urban areas for a long time, so it's incredibly tempting to cop a bike like this to add to my own stable (if you know the n+1 rule, you'll know what I mean). However, it's hard to justify spending $2,500 on a bike that you can only ride in one or two situations; for most, it's difficult to imagine even spending the $1,600 on a base model.
I absolutely love this bike, especially the Barbour model. It's full of English charm, has a ton of character and is a delight to cruise around on. The bike is easy to fold and unfold once you get the hang of it and the mobility within the city is unmatched. It's a bike worth taking out for a joyride, stopping at your favorite pub for a pint and adding a lap through your local park before heading home. When I think of riding this bike, I picture myself with a grin on my face, loping along at a casual talking pace next to a friend or two with a soft drizzle in the air. It is somehow just as urban as it is pastoral, much like the island it calls home.
If you're looking for a commuter that won't let you down and is full of clever features to make urban travel that much more fun, this is a bike you must consider owning, even if you don't go for the Barbour model.