Brompton bikes are – sorry Boris – the commuter’s friend. In fifteen seconds – ten if you’re quick – you can be off down your chosen road, quick as a whippet. When correctly liveried in jet black they’re the heir apparent to London’s black cabs. Best of all, they’re astonishing fun to ride and almost
All that said, Sleek racing machines they are not. Try riding one downhill. London, having largely a flat centre, rarely exposes the high-speed flaw of a Brompton. Without the big gears of a road bike, a descent renders the rider into a fine approximation of road runner, all whirring legs and benign expression.
The annual World Brompton Championships is slightly different to the full-scale component. Firstly, the race is a free-for-all. Anyone can enter provided they have the requisite folding bike. The race takes place over two laps of a winding, undulating course through the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, adjacent to the town of Woodstock. And anyone entering must be dressed in, what else, a jacket and tie.
Having bored many of my friends into submission about the wonders of Brompton entering felt like a natural step. Plus the Evenlode, an interesting and previously unexplored tributary of the Thames, flows close by. It may have been early October but the prospect of a dip in a river and a dash on the Brompton was too good to resist.
So it was that I found myself standing in pouring rain next to four Belgian dressed in dicky-bows with plastic ducks dangling from their helmets. Muddy pools of water were forming around the brown and cream brogues I had on to compliment the 1940s pinstripe suit I was wearing. At the sound of the horn the 99 other riders in my pen and I hopped over the rope and ran over, Le Mans style, to where our Brompton’s sat in geometric order. I had to push and shove to get to mine, and promptly forgot how to assemble the bike. I swore a bit and fiddled and eventually got going, onto the road and into a howling gale.
The next thirty minutes were some of the most enjoyable cycling I can remember having. OK, so I overtook plenty of people, especially on the second lap, and that’s always fun. But the buzz is slightly lessened by whizzing past someone on a purple Brompton, dressed as a purple princess complete with purple wand. The real joy was the sense of English silliness of riding a small-wheeled wonder in the rain, on a twisting course through the estate of a country pile. In a suit. In the pouring rain.
And then it’s all over too quickly. My time of 30 minutes won’t rip up any trees, but it felt very swift on a bike with wheels only slightly larger than a seven-inch single. I wonder if they’ll let me ride the hundred-mile sportive in my brogues next year?