The Brompton is a design classic, there’s no denying it. It’s probably what most people think of when you say ‘folding bike’, which puts it in a territory approaching things like ‘Hoover’ where brand names become so synonymous with a certain product they become the name for that product.
For a time there was only ‘a Brompton’, and it was never a case of ‘which Brompton’, but now the company has four distinct models, from the basic A-Line to the all-titanium T-Line, not including any electric models and special editions. The P-Line is a relatively new edition to the Brompton range and it sits between the standard C-Line, and the extremely flashy T-Line. It features a half-steel, half-titanium construction for weight saving, and the proprietary four-speed derailleur from the Ti model too. Is it that perfect bowl of porridge; the comfortable middle bed between the budget and the hyper-premium, or is it in fact a slightly confused product that solves a problem that doesn’t exist? Does it get into our list of the best folding bikes? Let’s find out.
Design and aesthetics
The first Polish dictionary from the 1700s didn’t mess about. Its definition of a horse was “Everyone knows what a horse is”. I’d wager everyone knows what a Brompton is too. The silhouette, shared between all the models, is iconic: A chunky, low slung toptube connecting two 16in wheels that sit beneath a hugely protruding seatpost and an equally lofty stem. Narrow handlebars of varying heights round out the front end, along with an integrated set of rolling wheels for when it’s folded.
It’s clearly a well-considered design, as you’d expect for a brand with such heritage that’s undergone many iterations. The hinges are robust, and it folds away to a diminutive size. The P-Line is only available in gray and black, although there is a slight flake to the paint such that in bright sunshine, it pops. The forks and rear triangle are painted flat black, so as to mark them out as different in their non-ferrous nature.
Slightly rudimentary own-brand rim brakes and a welcome square taper crankset (the ideal standard for a commuter) finish off the build, along with Schwalbe One tires and a proprietary saddle which comes with a soft padded area under the nose for more ergonomic carrying as you lug it up some stairs.
The main departure from the more basic models, besides the titanium front and rear, is the use of a new proprietary four-speed derailleur, which offers a 163 per cent gear range. The derailleur body is plastic, as is the shifter which actuates it, to save some grams. For comparison, the C-Line Utility model weighs in at 11.8kg, rather than 10kg for the P-Line I was testing.
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Riding a Brompton takes a little getting used to, especially if you’re coming straight from a 700c bike. The tiny wheels and short wheelbase make the handling very twitchy, especially at speed. It’s a little disconcerting to begin with, but you soon get used to it. In an urban environment, it really comes into its own. The tight turns around fences that serve to slow down KOM hunters on bike paths are negotiated in double quick time, and frustrated wrong-way U-turns are a breeze. It’s likely a slightly cliche to compare it to a London taxi, with both offering an impressive turning circle. The tires too, an improvement in terms of grip and rolling resistance over the Schwalbe Marathons of less premium models grip extremely well and zip along very happily.
Braking, too, was surprisingly good considering the calipers appear like they’d be relatively flexible. The P-Line comes with full-length Jagwire housing, which is heartening to see as cheaper housing will offer more compression and probably result in spongy braking. Thanks to the design and cable routing though, on hard right-hand turns, the cable for the front brake is pulled slightly, and so the bite point gets closer the tighter you turn. It was rarely anything more than noteworthy though, and never an issue.
The ride quality was also decent, especially considering the size of the wheels, although having only very briefly ridden an all-steel model I cannot directly compare. Suffice it to say though it’s perfectly fine for commuting distances, even without padded shorts. The saddle isn’t the greatest on longer rides, but this can easily be swapped.
Once you get the drop on folding it only takes a matter of 30 seconds or so. Getting the saddle height right when unfolding is the tricky bit, but soon becomes muscle memory, and having the ability to just swan onto any train without the rigmarole of pre-booking a bike slot was a joy.
The pedals were a slight bone of contention, in that the left one is folding and the right one isn’t, which creates a differing Q factor left/right. It’s not the end of the world for commuter distance riding, and folding the pedal away while carrying the folded bike is necessary to avoid it smacking you in the leg with every step. If you want my advice though I’d swap the pedals for some rinko pedals: Rinko bikes are a predominantly Japanese style, designed to easily disassemble for transport by train, and rinko pedals detach completely without any tools, so you can have better grip than the stock models and not bruise your calves.
While I genuinely enjoyed riding the P-Line, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a slightly purposeless bike. To me, a Brompton should be one of the best commuter bikes, unless your name is James and you decided to race ultras on one for some mad reason. It is for getting to and from work, day in and day out, and in swapping to a four-speed derailleur system I believe Brompton has made the bike worse for its main purpose.
Unfortunately, the shifter for my first test bike failed. It would skip shifts initially, and then refuse to shift at all. To its credit, Brompton happily replaced the bike with a different one, this time with different handlebars, but I still wasn’t enamored with the shifting. The derailleur and the shifter’s plastic construction don’t feel terribly durable, and while the replacement bike shifted crisply most of the time, it occasionally would still skip-shift when backpedalling, as I often do at traffic lights to set my feet up for the off. While tension adjustment is easily done on the fly at the shifter rather than the derailleur, the derailleur limit screws use such a tiny Allen key that it would be impossible to do on the road with a standard multi-tool.
I’m going to be really frank now: If you want a Brompton for commuting you should buy the C-Line over the P-Line. You’ll have a slight weight penalty, but the whole bike will be more suitable for its intended purpose. The Marathon tires will be more puncture resistant and long-lasting than the Ones for starters, but most importantly the drivetrain will be significantly more robust and require less maintenance. A three-speed Sturmy Archer hub gear might seem archaic, but it offers a wider gear range than the four-speed derailleur, and its durability is a proven fact of life. I’ve worked on hubs from the ’50s that just needed a bit of light oil, plus the shifting can be done while stationary (yes at traffic lights) and the single-speed chain and single sprocket will last far longer and run more happily when you inevitably forget to wash the thing for a month during winter. On an aesthetic point too, although I’ll admit this is a matter of taste, the C-Line comes in a range of bright colors rather than the monotone options here.
You will also save yourself around £1,000, which is not to be sniffed at in a cost of living crisis. That could get you a good bike lock, a commuter helmet, some bike insurance, cover an annual service, a couple of pizzas or even a sizable chunk out of a season ticket for your rail route of choice if you bike-train-bike your way to work.
The only conceivable situation I can envisage where the P-Line would outperform the C-Line is not as a commuter, but for rail-based cycle tourism. It still opens up delightfully easy rail travel, and the better tires and lower weight help on hilly rides in the countryside (it’s no climber though, having tested it out in the Lake District). The smaller steps between the gears certainly help it feel more like a ‘normal’ bike, but given the gear range is less than the C-Line Utility, and significantly less than the C-Line Explore, which boasts a 300-per cent gear range, even this is a hard sell, as you could opt for one of those and just slap some new tires on it.
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I liked riding the Brompton P-Line a lot. It handles well, it stops well, it’s a delight in an urban environment and it makes hopping on a train home a breeze when I’ve run out of beans on a test ride. It is however not as optimized for commuting as its cheaper, all-steel siblings. The shifting fell short of the mark for me in terms of performance and durability, and as the cheaper models will handle extremely similarly to the P-Line, it’s a very hard bike to recommend unless you have a particular need for saving a kilogram.
|Design and aesthetics||Iconic, and the gold standard for folding bikes. Let down by limited color range.||9/10|
|Components||Sub-standard setup for commuting compared to other Bromptons, with some durability issues, although the tires handle very well||5/10|
|Performance, handling and geometry||For commuting, using public transport and diving down cycle paths it’s unmatched||10/10|
|Weight||It’s lighter than the standard model, but its still pretty hefty all things considered||8/10|
|Value for money||£1,000 more than the C-Line, and not specced as well for commuting||2/10|