That’s what got me started commuting to work.
A career in advertising. A car spot. And KFC as an agency client.
Then I saw a picture of me with my youngest daughter at the Australian Zoo. With a python around our shoulders. And realised it was sizing up my chubby cheeks.
This was a bit over 10 years ago, and I realised it was time to start thinking about getting active. I got a bike off a mate (swapped for some home brew kit), and never looked back.
Since then I’ve had plenty of cycling adventures in many parts of the country and the world. But commuting has been a constant. It’s given me a base layer, and a routine. And it’s taken many different forms.
That said, this year’s been different. Routine’s been shot. Opportunities are short. Oh, and my office is now at home.
My only chance to commute at the moment is on Thursdays and Fridays, when I consult to a company in Darlinghurst, about 10km from my place.
I’ve ridden a lot of different bikes over the years for my daily commutes – from a laid back cruiser to a variety of road and CX frames, even an old track bike – but recently, I “joined the fold” courtesy of a Brompton, and it’s been quite the experience.
My commute’s a combination of busy roads, backstreets and bike lanes. Relatively flat, with a couple of lumpy bits. I’d originally thought I’d ride the Brompton one day a week, and jump back on my Cinelli the other day, but to be honest, I’ve just found I’ve enjoyed it.
Rather than heads down, it’s sitting up. It’s less flat chat, more easy rollin’. But that’s not say it doesn’t have zip. It’s just not showy about it.
But it does catch the eye. The other day the old Italian butcher walked past it as I flicked the back wheel in to park in front of the local bakery. “That’s some machine,” he said, “only the English could make something like that.” And when I visit a friend en route to the office who runs a little Japanese-inspired homewares and design store, she admires the clean, utilitarian lines, the cleverness of its design, and wonders how one might look in her next window display.
It’s sensible too. But not in a Dr Scholl’s shoes kind of way. Just things like the satchel that slots onto the front so I don’t have to worry about carrying a backpack anymore. Or the pump that’s built into the frame – so I don’t have to remember a pump either. And when I was commuting home the other night and the weather turned on me – hey, it was cold, windy and raining, and I was completely unprepared; don’t judge – I could take the sensible option without a moment’s hesitation or guilt. I folded the bike down and jumped on a train.
In cycling circles there’s a running gag around an equation to indicate the optimum number of bikes a person can have – N + 1 – with the N equal to the number of bikes you currently own. We’re always wanting that something extra. I hadn’t realised it before, but reflecting on it, I think it needs a little updating: N + 1B now seems much more appropriate. I think we all have room for a little Brompton in our lives.
We human beings are a tribal species, whether we want to admit it or not. The suburb you live, who you barrack for at the footy, or how you order your coffee, are all ways we categorise ourselves in the world.
Cyclists are no exception; a quirky breed dedicated to early mornings, serious snacking, expensive kit and Strava PRs. Fixie riders dropping skids on command, Lycra-clad roadies rising with the sun, to dedicated tourers putting in long, dusty hours. There's a niche for every person at every skill level; a different tribe to be a part of.
It’s difficult for me to articulate which cycling niche I most align myself with. I’ve dabbled in various forms of bike ownership in the last decade. Vintage-style cruisers. A fixed gear bike with a verdant green rear wheel and no brakes. A brief attempt at track cycling. Several cyclocross bicycles. Each bike catered to a different need at differing times of my life. But the more my interest in cycling grew, the more expensive, refined, and sleek my bicycles became as I tried to eek the ultimate performance out of both body and machine.
So the decision to add a quirky folding bicycle to a growing collection which includes a slick cyclocross bike with Pirelli road tyres and multi-release cleats may at first be a little left of centre. Road riding friends urged me to upgrade my existing frame, to delve into the world of carbon fibre, lightweight bicycles and ride off into the sunset. Another point to consider was whether I really needed yet another bike. I honestly owned all the bikes I could ride, an admission rarely made by cyclists.
But still I found myself scrolling through the internet, searching for images and videos of the Brompton. Admiring the street style of the riders. I wanted to buy into the cult of Brompton ownership. One where roadies and casual commuter alike were united by a share passion for the pure, unpolluted joy that is simply riding a bike. There’s something evocative and enticing about the engineering of a Brompton.
First, the Brompton simply looks cool. The range of colours and the design of the bike appealed to the side of me that relishes careful typography, or the craftsmanship of a custom-made leather boot. It’s a bicycle I could see myself parking on the street, leaning up against a graffiti splattered wall, taking pride in the uniqueness of my ride. I dreamed endlessly of scything through peak hour traffic, nipping through side streets and down laneways before arriving at the train station, slipping silently into the teaming masses heading citywards. To appropriate author John Green, I fell in love with Bromptons the way one falls asleep. Slowly, and then all at once.
But with COVID-19 seeing an uptick in the number of people jumping onto bicycles as a way to exercise and socialise, there was a worldwide shortage on bicycles. That, coupled with the fact I was living within a 5km lockdown in metro Melbourne, I assumed it would be months before I could even test ride a Brompton, let alone purchase one. I looked at a number of Melbourne Brompton stockists, all of which were out of stock of Bromptons for the foreseeable future. I resigned myself to simply dreaming about suburban spins and languid, stylish commutes for a little longer.
One of my meanders through the Brompton hashtag on Instagram brought me to the Brompton Junction Melbourne site. A number of 2020 Black Edition Brompton bicycles would be made available for those lucky enough to have their name drawn out of a hat. I rushed to submit my application and register my interest. I continued to flick through the internet for images and videos of that sweet, vibrant bicycle.
The team at Brompton Junction Melbourne reached out to me last month with a Brompton Black Edition - an H6L resplendent in Rocket Red - while I was riding on my indoor trainer. I could not unclip and dismount quick enough to take the call, confirming I had a little red Brompton coming my way. It arrived within days right to my doorstep. With an excitement akin to Christmas morning I tore open the box to reveal a neat, bright bicycle folded like an origami crane. The Brompton unfurls easily and intuitively. The fact the bike folds down into a sleek compact parcel made me feel less guilty about trying to fit yet another bicycle in the house.
The Black Edition in particular - traditional chrome swapped for glossy black - made the Rocket Red I selected really pop. The metro-style backpack snaps cleanly onto the front mount, with a neat cover for rain protection. The six speed gearing is agile and nimble, allowing me to pick up speed and cruise up hills my fixed gear would have punished me for. Any new bicycle I purchased needed to be something practical I could commute to work on, yet fast and fun. I wanted a juncture point between the speed of my road bike, the comfort of a commuter bike, and the fun of my fixie.
But the most pleasurable aspect of Brompton ownership has been the community of riders.
The barista at my local cafe smiled at me through the take-out window as I rolled up to grab my coffee.
“How are you liking the Brompton? They’re sick, hey? My coach has one, he’s attempting a world record!”
A women at the supermarket self-checkout gently touched the saddle of my bike, as I loaded groceries into my makeshift trolley.
“This is gorgeous,” she cooed, turning to attend to another customer.
The Brompton is a bicycle suitable for serious cyclists, but it’s not a serious, pretentious ride. It’s a bicycle designed for every kind of rider.
And now I can happily proclaim that I have found my tribe.
I am a Brompton rider.