Brompton Factory

Behind the scenes with Brompton

Having ridden in the Brompton World Championships in 2016 and again at the weekend in the 2017 final, I had the opportunity this week to take a tour around Brompton’s factory in London.

The tour begins with an overview of the company’s history, starting in 1975 when Andrew Ritchie first had his idea for a folding bicycle and over the next seven years he built various prototypes.

Brompton Museum Factory
An Original Design Brompton

By 1981 the design had improved and featured a bent main frame tube and main hinge assembly, fifty of these pre-production models were sold in order to raise capital after several appeals to banks and bike companies were turned down.  Most notably was this decision from Raleigh in 1982.

Letter to Andrew Ritchie from Raleigh Bicycles
1982 Letter from Raleigh

Little did they know then that they were rejecting a company that is now a classic icon for British design, engineering and manufacturing which can produce almost a thousand handmade bicycles a week.

Production of the mark 1 commenced in 1982, the receipt for bicycle number 229 had a selling price of £239 (approx £755 in todays value).

Brompton Museum Factory
Mark 1 Brompton

Production halted in the mid-eighties until Julian Vereker, a Brompton enthusiast and friend of Andrew’s invested in the company.  Production restarted in 1986 and by 1987 the company moved to its first factory under a railway arch in Brentford. The new factory allowed full production of the mark 2 to start with the first bikes being delivered in 1988.

Brompton Museum Factory
1988 Mark 2

In 1993, due to an ever expanding business, production was moved from the railway arches to Bollo Lane a couple of miles away. Just five years later (1998) this new space was once again too small to meet the demands of production and the factory moved back to Brentford, which would be home to Brompton for the next 18 years.

Towards the end of 2016 the company moved to it’s new premises and on the 28th November 2016, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the new factory in Greenford.

The majority of the building is taken up with the main production processes, but it also houses the entire Brompton business from administration, R&D, after sales support, parts, etc.  The tour covered the production processes and therefore the three main areas, pre-production, paint, and final assembly.

It seems rather fitting that every Brompton folding bike starts with the two hinge assemblies, the main tube and the handle bar support.

Brompton Handlebar Support Hinges
Brompton Hinges

The hinge plates are brazed onto the tubes using a machine to ensure the strongest possible bond, every other join on the bike is brazed by hand. Brazing is the process of joining two or more pieces of metal together using another metal as a filler that has a lower melting point than the pieces being joined.  It differs from welding where the pieces being joined are melted in order to bond together.

Brompton bikes are made from steel, with brass as the filler.

Brompton Hinge being forge welded onto the handlebar support
Brompton Hinge being brazed onto the handlebar support
Brompton Main Frame Tubes
Brazed and cleaned Brompton main frame tubes
Brompton Main Hinge Assembly
Brompton Main Hinge Assembly
Handlebar Support Tubes
Handlebar Support Tubes

The next, and probably the most important, step is to bend the main tube to form the iconic curved main frame tube, without it, it just wouldn’t be a Brompton.

Every single Brompton main tube since 1988 has been formed using this machine, in a process that takes just seconds.

The handle bar support tubes are also bent to a specific shape depending on the type of bars that will be fitted to the bike. With the tubes complete, the process of brazing the frames can start. Rather than have one person braze every joint on a single bike, the process is broken down into several steps, each focussing on a separate component. For example, Main Frame, Bottom Bracket, Head Tube, Rear Triangle etc.

Brazing the Brompton Main Frame Assembly
Brazing the Brompton Main Frame Tube Assembly
Brompton bottom bracket
Brompton bottom bracket
Newly assembled / brazed Brompton main frames
Newly assembled / brazed Brompton main frames
Rear Triangle Assembly
Rear Triangle Assembly
Head Tube
Head Tube

The highly skilled braziers are trained on each component and rotate around the processes, generally doing two different components each day. There are hourly targets for each component, i.e. for the main frame assembly the brazier should be completing 15.3 frames a hour.

Once all the components have been brazed they are sent to the paint shop for powder coating.

The central part of the factory contains the parts department, they process all orders for spare parts from dealers, bike shops and consumers from around the world.

Individual components are also assembled in this area, these are put together based on the current demand.  Today they were assembling mudguards, brake callipers and reflectors.

Component assembly
Component assembly – Rear mudguard and brake calliper.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the powder coating process in action, as they were in the middle of a colour change, this generally happens about 4 times a week.

Although the process had started, the frames and components go through a five step process from cleaning, the powder being hand sprayed on to finally being baked at 180 degrees celsius for 10 minutes.  The heating and cooling process is carefully controlled and monitored to ensure an even paint finish and that the metals do not deform.

Frame Assemblies Ready For Paint
Frame Assemblies Ready For Paint
Freshly painted Brompton handlebar supports
Freshly painted Brompton handlebar supports
Pick a colour! Brompton components fresh from the paint plant.
Pick a colour! Brompton components fresh from the paint plant.

With all the frames painted and sub-components put together the final assembly of the bike we all know and love can start. This is done on two identical assembly lines, each consisting of seventeen bays.

Brompton Assembly Line
Brompton Assembly Line

As you expect the assembly starts at bay one where the main frame and head tube hinge plates are joined together, bottom bracket inserted and the seat post clamp is fitted.

Special edition Brompton frames and head tubes.
Special edition Brompton frames and head tubes.
Brompton Frames after the first stage of assembly
Brompton Frames after the first stage of assembly

Next the seat post is fitted and the bike is mounted onto a trolley so that it can be easily moved between the bays.

Every bike has a “Pink Slip” (originally printed on pink paper, changed to standard white to save costs, but the name’s stuck). This slip tells the worker what type of Brompton it is and what components need to be fitted to it.  It also contains all the information about the bike, serial number, order number, customer etc.

Pink Slip – Order Details
Brompton Assembly Line
Assembly Line

From here the bike is passed from bay to bay until at bay 17 the fully assembled bike is checked and packaged ready to be shipped to the customer.

The end of the line
The end of the line

Screens at each end of the production line show the current progress. At the time of the visit (11.17am) the screen shows that 58 bikes have been built today at a rate of 15 bikes an hour (target 14).  At full capacity both lines can build almost 1000 bikes a week.

Boxed Bromptons
Boxed and ready for the customer

The final step once packaged is to load the boxes onto pallets for distribution to the customers.  I wonder how many of the bikes (and their proud new owners) I saw being built today will race around St James’s Park in London this time next year in the Brompton World Championship Final 2018.

Folded Brompton
My Brompton straight from the Brentford factory on the day of delivery back in 2014
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Brompton World Championship

I’ve entered numerous sportives over the last five years but the Brompton World Championship on Saturday was my first competitive bike race….

Brompton championships have taken place every year since 2006, previously being  held at Blenheim Palace and at Goodwood. The 2016 race, the 11th edition was held in London as part of the Prudential RideLondon weekend.

As with every year there is a strict dress code of a collared shirt, neck tie and jacket – absolutely no visible sportswear or lycra is permitted. As an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion entering a World Championship it seemed only right that I should have something OS related on me, but the no lycra rule meant I couldn’t wear my OS cycling jersey.  Sue, my partner, came to the rescue by making me a fabulous tie out of a Snowdon Splashmap with the summit at the centre of the tie. To add to the authenticity, I took the splashmap to the summit of Snowdon on my climb the weekend before.

Dan - Brompton World Championship
Suited and booted, not my normal cycling attire – Photo by Danny McCarthy
Snowdon OS Tie and Brompton Number
Snowdon OS Tie and Brompton Number

The race itself was eight laps of St James Park, starting with a Le Mans style start in the middle of the Mall. Your Brompton must be fully folded and placed on the opposite side of the Mall in race number order.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 16.55.56

IMG_6803
The line of folded Bromptons on the Mall

The race, of 550 riders, started in four waves. I was in the third wave, which started 20 seconds behind the fastest riders. Just before the the klaxon sounded for our wave everyone started slowly creeping across the Mall, then it sounded and everyone was off running to their Bromptons.

IMG_6781
Running in a cycle race? We’re off… (I’m in black in the middle) – Photo by Danny McCarthy
Unfolding the Brompton
Unfolding, no pressure with an audience – Photo by Danny McCarthy

Once on the other side it was a mad scramble to unfold the Bromptons, the quicker you do it the more places you can make up. It wasn’t the fastest time I’ve unfolded my Brompton but I was away and racing just after those around me.

IMG_6797
Down the Mall to the start on the first lap – Photo by Danny McCarthy

I went off fast on the first lap, in fact it turned out to be my fastest lap of the race at 3 minutes 38 seconds (not including the 1 min 10 seconds to unfold the bike and cross the start line), probably too fast but I made up a lot of places.

IMG_6773
Turning out of Horse Guards onto the Mall to complete a lap – Photo by Danny McCarthy

The following view is from my handlebars, whilst it’s the entire race I have speeded up the footage after the first lap, keep an eye out for the riders dressed as WW1 Army Soldiers saluting the Queen/Buckingham Palace

I was lapped after 4.5 miles of racing, although I have to say that the group that lapped me did include ex-professional riders including David Millar and Michael Hutchinson.  As a result of being lapped I crossed the finish line having completed 7 laps (9.55 miles) in a time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, averaging 19mph.

That put me in 185th place in the mens race (322 finishers) and 209th overall (420 finishers) – My goal was to finish higher than my starting position of 366, so I was extremely happy with my time. Also there’s not many amateur cyclists that can say they have raced alongside David Millar (ok, participated in the same race as….)

 

 

REVIEW:- Temple Cycles – Leather Lock-on Ergo Grips

I’ve been riding my Brompton for over 18 months and with my average Brompton ride being approximately 8 miles, I’ve been looking into replacing the standard foam grips for something that will ease the discomfort on my palms. Having researched various different options I decided to go with a pair of leather grips from Temple Cycles.

Temple Cycles are a niche producer of bespoke and traditional steel framed bicycles, each one is built to order and all have that classic retro look. In addition to the bikes they have a range of accessories that complement that classic look, the Lock-On Ergo Grips are part of their leather collection.

TC_Lbar1

The grips are made from an acrylic sleeve wrapped in Italian leather, which is lovely and soft to the touch, aluminium bar ends, alloy locking clamps and stitched seams. The are available in two colours Honey (a light tan) and Chestnut (a dark brown), as you can see I went for the Chestnut.

TC-LBar5

The hardest part of fitting the grips to the Brompton was removing the standard grips. I was hoping to remove them without damaging them, but the glue was too strong and I had to resort to cutting them off.

With the foam grips removed and the glue cleaned up, it was a case of sliding the new grips onto the bar, it was a little tight, but with a twisting and pushing motion the grips slid on.  I needed to move the right hand brake lever about 5mm towards the centre of the bar to make enough room for the grip to fully fit. Once on and in position you just need to tighten two allen screws on each grip, you will need a 3mm and 4mm allen key. The locking mechanism is simple, but very effective, the grips don’t slip or slide around at all.

TC_Lbar4

TC_LBar3

The extra width of the Ergo grip provides that much needed support for the palm of my hand, which has increased the comfort levels dramatically for me.  Previously I would nearly always wear padded gloves to ride the Brompton over longer distances, now I just love the feel of that soft leather. In fact, it makes me want to ride the Brompton more than ever.

If you are looking at replacing your standard Brompton grips or any other set of grips/bike for that matter, I can recommend these grips for style, quality, ease of fitting and more importantly comfort.  So far, the only thing I can find to fault them on is that I would have preferred the 3mm allen screw the other way up, so that I could see the screw head rather than a small hole, but that is purely down to aesthetics and a mild case of OCD on my part!

TC_Brompton

The leather and design really suits the Brompton, I especially like the stitching and it seems right to install a British made grip (albeit Italian leather) on a British classic bicycle. I just need that matching Brooks saddle….

What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?

I once thought about cycling to work, this would have been sometime around 2009 and before my heart attack, I was living close to Heathrow airport and working in Central London approximately 20 – 25 miles away.

The thought occurred to me on one of my morning commutes – a short drive of about 2 miles to Hatton Cross tube station, park the car, jump on the Piccadilly line tube to Hammersmith, walk to the Hammersmith and City Line (just enough time for a Starbucks Double Tall Latte and cigarette) for another tube ride into Central London (going home was the reverse including yet another visit to Starbucks) – the thought lasted the time it took me to park the car and walk into the tube station. It consisted of the following points:

  1. I live too far away, so it isn’t really an option, what are you thinking
  2. The roads in London are far too busy and dangerous to cycle on
  3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work
  4. Not enough time, I’ll be late.
  5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this…

Thought dismissed as completely impracticable, although with hindsight they aren’t valid reasons not to cycle to work and are just excuses, the lot of them…..

Fast forward five years, post heart attack, it’s now 2014 and I’m still working in Central London once or twice a week, but now I’m living 120 miles away in Worcestershire. By this time I had been cycling for three years, fully addicted to it and looking at increasing my time in the saddle. Then I got an email at work saying that the company had signed up to the Cycle To Work Scheme, the website had a big banner with “Save up to 42% on a new bike!” emblazoned across it.  It’s wasn’t long before that lost thought from 2009 resurfaced, You could cycle to work? After all you always need a new bike – except this time I really did live too far away.

As a cyclist and recovered heart patient, I took the time to find the solutions to all of the excuses on my list and started cycling to work.  If I can find a solution living 120 miles away from my place of work, I’m sure you can to.  You don’t need to be cycling in everyday of the week, twice a week will bring the health benefits – try it you might actually enjoy it and end up a regular commuting cyclist.

Life’s too short for regrets and if onlys, but if I did make a list of them dismissing that cycle to work thought in 2009 would certainly be towards the top – just take a minute to think about the health benefits 30 to 45 minutes of cycling a day would have made to my fitness and health, would I have had a heart attack at the age of 38?

As the saying goes – “Where there’s a will there’s a way” – if you really want to do something you will find the time and the means to do it.

Solutions to the Excuses: – 

1 – I live too far away?

Having moved to the Midlands my journey to work was slightly different now, but it still consisted of a short drive to a train station and tube journey across London.

Cycling the entire distance was obviously completely impracticable and out of the question, but I could ride to and from the stations removing the car and tube from my journey.

That was distance resolved, although it presented another problem with bikes on the train. My normal train would only take a few bikes and it was generally full each day, I ran the risk of getting to the station and not being able to get the bike in the carriage.  I had seen other commuters carrying folding bikes onto the train and their small sixteen inch wheels are a regular sight on the streets of London.   I’ve always been fascinated by the Brompton bicycle, especially watching other commuters folding them in seconds from a full bike to small neat square package.

Decision made I got myself a Brompton on the cycle to work scheme.

Folded Brompton
My Folded Brompton Bicycle

I can already hear the excuses starting – “That’s fine for you, I don’t travel by train to work, I have to drive in” – Well, I’ve thought about this one too and have a solution.  In fact, I even used it myself for six months.  The trains into London were getting expensive, I found it much cheaper (and surprisingly quicker somedays) to drive into London, park outside the congestion zone and cycle the last 3 miles to the office.  Admittedly the Brompton does make it easier to get a bike into the boot of a car.

If you are serious about wanting to cycle to work (you’ve read this far, so I take it you are) look at your current journey, could you park 3 to 5 miles away from work and cycle the last little bit?  As you get stronger and fitter you can start parking further away and cycle more of it, you might even end up cycling the entire distance.  You will also find that you start saving money, the further out of town you go the cheaper the parking charges will be and you will also be using less fuel.

2. City roads are too busy to cycle on.  

Once you take the plunge you’ll find it’s not that much different than anywhere else you ride, but the key is to find the quieter roads, cycle paths and lanes.

Take Oxford Street as an example, it’s packed with buses, taxi’s, pedestrians and set after set of traffic lights.  It was the most direct for me so I’ve cycled it many times and it’s certainly doable, although you do need your wits about you.  If you take the roads that run parallel to it, you will find there’s much less traffic making it so much easier. As you can see from the two Strava rides below, the quieter roads extended my commute by less than a quarter of a mile and just over a minute.

Oxford Street - 3 miles 19 minutes
Oxford Street – 3.2 miles in 19 minutes 28 seconds
Side Roads - 3 miles 21 minutes
Side Roads Parallel to Oxford Street  – 3.4 miles in 21 minutes 37 seconds

If you don’t know the area that well, take a look at a map from Ordnance Survey, check the route on a day off to make sure it’s suitable – you don’t want to find yourself cycling down a muddy bridleway on your way to work, coming home is a different story!

OS Shop

3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work

The key here is to cycle at a slower pace, after all you are commuting to work and not racing for that PB (Personal Best) or KOM (King Of the Mountain) on a Strava segment.  Easing off the pace will still increase your heart rate and be beneficial to your health, you just don’t build up a sweat.  Take advantage of the time, it’s less stressful than driving and gives you time to clear your thoughts before you get to work, take the time and enjoy the ride.

Plan your week in advance, carry a change of clothes with you or perhaps drive to work on Monday with your clothes for the week, cycle Tuesday to Thursday and then drive back in on the Friday to collect your kit.  If you do carry your clothes try to avoid a rucksack on your back and opt for a bike that can carry your bag for you. Doing so stops you getting hot and sweaty behind the rucksack.

You could also try products such as Muc-Off’s Dry Shower that you can use to freshen up when you get to work if you can’t get a shower, you’ll smell of coconut for the day, but that is preferable to the alternative.

Speak to your colleagues and employer, if you can sell the benefits of cycling to work you might be able to convince them to install a shower. If they have signed up to a Cycle to Work scheme they probably already know the benefits a cycling workforce will bring them and may have already thought of adding showers. They might just need someone to show them there’s an actual need for them to do it.

4. Not enough time – I’ll be late

In my case, this just wasn’t an issue.  It was actually quicker for me to cycle the 3 miles through Central London than to take public transport.

One afternoon a colleague said that he could get from the office in Holborn to London Waterloo train station before me by taking the bus.  Unfortunately it was a day that I didn’t have my bike with me, not a problem I said I’ll use a Boris Bike instead (a public hire scheme for bikes in London introduced by the Mayor Boris Johnson). I was a member of the scheme and had my access token with me – challenge accepted! We both left the office by the main entrance at exactly the same time, he headed off in the direction of the 521 bus whilst I walked to the nearest Boris Bike dock in a road behind the office.

I didn’t do anything differently from normal and seven and a half minutes later I was docking my bike at Waterloo and texting my colleague to say I’ve arrived – I quickly got a text back saying that he was just about to cross the Thames and that he couldn’t believe I was already at the station. An easy win for me and the bike.

Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike
Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike

You will find taking the quieter side roads and cycle paths will avoid most of the rush hour traffic, if you do come across queuing traffic you can normally easily pass it on a bike anyway.

Having said that, you may find that it does take a little longer by bike, if it does the easy answer to this is to get up earlier!  You will better for it in the long run.

5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this… 

I’ve cycled in almost every type of weather there is, snow, rain, hail, sun, wind and even -3 degrees celsius at 3am in the morning on an overnight 100 mile charity cycle ride.  I can say with confidence that there’s no such thing as the wrong type of weather, just the wrong type of clothing.

Cycling in the Rain
Absolutely soaked to the skin, but loving it! – (Sportive Photo Ltd)

Investing in various types of clothing is money well spent.  The real tip is to wear layers, get a decent baselayer that will keep you warm and then add layers depending on what the weather is doing that day, such as a waterproof jacket if it’s raining.

A cycling adage springs to mind – dress for the ride and not the car park – by that I mean think about what the weather is going to be like once you’ve warmed up and into the ride itself, wrapping up at the start might make you far too hot later on.

I now love riding in the colder weather, it’s amazing how soon you warm up once you start exercising.  If you’re still cold, you’re not pedalling hard enough!

Now let me ask that first question again,  What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?   Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter and I’ll find a solution to it for you!