How Brompton reinvented a cult bike for its new T range

Whenever he’s cycling the streets of London, Will Carleysmith always keeps an eye out for fellow Brompton cyclists. After all, as the design and engineering director of the cult British brand of folding bikes, it’s the “best part of the job” to see people using a product he helped create.

But what gives him the most joy, he says, is when he also spots a furkid along for the ride.

“We receive people with small dogs or cats who personalize their bags for their pets. So when you get close you realize there is a furry thing on the bike. It always makes me laugh,” says Carleysmith.

By its own admission, the Brompton is a “strange product” because it was invented for the utilitarian purpose of improving a bike’s portability. City dwellers, in particular, have fallen in love with its compact and foldable design, which allows it to be easily stored in small spaces such as office cubicles, car trunks and train racks.

Will Carleysmith, Director of Design and Engineering at Brompton Bicycle.

Its unparalleled functionality is due to a complex design and manufacturing process. The team designs, engineers and supplies each of the Brompton’s 1,200 parts. They then assemble the bike by hand. So it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most sought-after folding bikes in the world, despite the high prices.

But it’s really the brand’s dedicated international following that has given it its #ifyouknowyouknow cachet in urban capitals like London, Singapore and Tokyo.

“All over the world, people are creating fan clubs and customizing their bikes. As a designer, it’s really rewarding to create a product that people have fun using every day,” says Carleysmith.

He joined Brompton straight out of college over 16 years ago and has been there ever since, working and leading the team on many bike designs.

“There is a nice scale to work on a bike. You can build the whole bike with your team. If you’re working on a car or an airplane, you’ll only do a small part of it,” he says of his longevity with the company.

This year, Bromptom wants to reinvent the wheel once again with the launch of the T Line. It’s the first time the brand has redesigned the bike since its creation in 1975 by inventor Andrew Ritchie.

The T Line is Brompton’s lightest bike at 7.45kg, a feat achieved through the use of precision titanium for the frame, and is light enough to carry up stairs without breaking a sweat. The Brompton’s iconic silhouette and the way it folds remain the same.

It took the team three years of research and development to create the T line from scratch. The company had to forge new construction techniques and design more than 150 components. He even built a dedicated factory to create the bike.

“The only thing that’s been carried over from our classic model is the braking system. Everything else has been refined, streamlined, improved,” says Carleysmith. “We used expensive materials and the best engineering techniques to make a lightweight but durable product.”

Learning to work with titanium, which is typically used for military equipment or in the aerospace industry, was also an interesting learning curve. “A big part of the innovation is how you use the material,” he says.

  • Brompton T line
  • Brompton T Line Part
    Brompton T Line Part

To master it, Brompton teamed up with a company that manufactures jet engine parts in the UK and focused on developing new constructions, as well as casting and welding techniques to use titanium. appropriately.

For example, simply replacing the steel frame with titanium would have resulted in a bike that would “flex” when riding. “It wouldn’t have been fun to ride and the handling wouldn’t have been good,” he said.

“To achieve the engineering goals, we built the product in a virtual environment to understand its performance and made many iterations and improvements. Then we 3D printed titanium parts to create a prototype for testing.

The result is a bike that’s significantly lighter than its predecessor. Anyone weighing up to 110 kg can comfortably ride it. From a rider’s perspective, the T Line has been designed with a one-piece carbon fork and wider carbon handlebar to be even more responsive. “When you start it takes off and accelerates very quickly,” says Carleysmith.

The T line is available in two specifications, each with the option of a low or mid handlebar fit. Brompton launched the first batch via a voting system on its website earlier this year. With over 10,000 people in Singapore showing interest, this was the brand’s way of distributing the bikes as evenly as possible.

“Although we have invested heavily in manufacturing, hiring and building a new factory, we cannot produce fast enough to satisfy everyone. The vote is therefore to make this first period fair rather than to be the friends of the people at the bike shop who get it first,” says Carleysmith.

This claim will come as no surprise to longtime fans of the brand who have always subscribed to the adage that good things come to those who wait. For example, in the pre-Covid era and before the Brompton store opened in Funan, Singaporeans had to travel to Hong Kong to get their hands on the bike. Even now, Brompton is limiting sales to one per customer in Singapore.

This is not a game to induce artificial scarcity. On the contrary, the team is determined to evolve at a pace that will not compromise quality.

When he first joined the company, it had around 40 employees and was making around 30,000 bikes a year. Today, they have around 800 employees and plan to produce nearly 100,000 bikes this year.

“We increased production by about 40-45%, which is fast for a manufacturing company. It requires a lot of investment. But even though we have increased our production, our demand has outpaced it. We are working as hard as we can to catch up,” he observes.

“These are not limited edition bikes and anyone who wants one will get one.”

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