Many bike shops will allow a customer to test-ride some models of bikes, but twenty minutes on a Brompton wasn’t going to give me enough time to learn if it was the right choice for me. Obsessive research on the Internet turned up an interesting alternative: NYCEWheels, in Manhattan, offers 1.5 to 2 hour free Brompton tours.
Free! Two hours! It was no joke . . . naturally I signed up, showed up, and took the tour. Here’s the hearty band I joined, and our fearless leader, Jack, in his NYCEWheels t-shirt:
Isolated thunderstorms had been blasting Manhattan all day. Just before the tour, there was a particularly wet period on the Upper East Side, where NYCEWheels is located, but the event was rain or shine, and neither the others who’d signed up, nor our guide, were discouraged.
This is the way to test an unfamiliar bike! I’d read that some people found the steering on a Brompton to be twitchy, and, I admit it, I was worried about those small wheels. I wondered how the M handlebars would work for me; I’d ridden a Brompton with the S (for “sporty”) bars earlier in the day, and they were all wrong for my arms and wrists. (I’d suspected that would be the case; I’ve never cared for straight-across, mountain bike style handlebars, and like sitting upright when pedaling.)
We rode over the East River, and onto Randall’s Island. Our loaner Bromptons were three-speeds, and we got to test the gears on the inclines over the bridge. There were a few tight turns, too, and somewhat varied terrain. For the first third of the ride, I wasn’t sure if the bike was right for me, but by the time we were half-way through the tour, something clicked, and everything came together just the way it should, between human and bicycle.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures; I was busy riding the bike. However, whether you are in the market for a Brompton or not, this is one cool way to see New York City. (NYCEWheels is now offering paid tours, too, with profits going to Transportation Alternatives; check it out!)
I rode this Brompton (below), with the Brompton basket on the front. I can’t wear a back pack while cycling, and I wanted to see how the Brompton handled weight in the front. I knew that I’d almost always be riding while carrying some weight, and wanted to see how that felt. I’d read, too, that weight in the front tends to stabilize the bike.
Front luggage on the Brompton attaches to a mounting block on the head tube, which means that there is no weight shifting when turning the handlebars. At first, even when standing still, that’s disorienting; when the handlebars turn, you just naturally expect the basket to do so, too. Much to my surprise, I adapted to this odd sensation quite quickly; though the basket is huge, and my pack was not terribly light, I soon forgot that I was toting either.
The people who lead the free Brompton tours aren’t paid to do so. I tipped our leader, and suggest you do, too, if you take NYCEWheels up on this terrific opportunity. It’s not one you’re likely to encounter anywhere else, and it’s well worth encouraging.
When I returned from the tour, a family member was slightly incredulous at the “free” part of the description. He said “sure, but you have to listen to the sales pitch”. Uh, no. No sales pitch, nada, not one bit. Just a nice, low-key demo of the way the bike folds, and how to use the gears.
I don’t think NYCEWheels is too concerned about twisting anyone’s arm over buying a Brompton. Go ride one, and you’ll see why.