Thanks to pandemic-induced anxiety surrounding public transportation, increased health consciousness, and general boredom, bicycle sales have gone through the roof. For industry leaders like Brompton, that means riding the trend into new and innovative frontiers.
“The bike scene has really exploded in recent years so we’ve got a nice tailwind—or hurricane, rather—moving us along,” says Will CarleySmith, Brompton’s Chief Design and Engineering Officer. “It’s also been slightly chaotic with all the supply chain and logistical issues, but demand has been amazing. It’s probably doubled.”
The British manufacturer of folding bicycles has recently unveiled a model so light you could possibly balance it on your finger. Coming in at just 7.45kg (or 7.95kg for the 4 speed version), the T Line is Brompton’s lightest folding bike, and certainly one of the lightest on the market, losing out only to rival Hummingbird and its 6.9kg folding bike. Despite its surprising weight, the T Line is able to withstand a load of 110kg and all weather conditions thanks to extensive testing.
Predominant use of titanium throughout the bike contributed significantly to the T Line’s reduced weight, but rather than simply replacing parts of the existing P Line with titanium ones, Brompton’s design team decided instead to create an entirely new bike from the ground up. This meant spending three years creating over 150 new parts, developing manufacturing methods for them, and building a dedicated factory for the T Line. The only thing left untouched was the folding mechanism and the brakes. Coupled with a patent-pending drivetrain, the T Line promises a smoother ride alongside greater portability.
But good luck getting your hands on one any time soon. All four specifications of the T Line—in single speed, 4 speed, with flat or riser bar—were available through a ballot on the Brompton website and all have been sold. Singapore alone had 10,000 signups.
The industry wasn’t exactly floundering even before the pandemic. A Fortune Business Insights report observed that the global bicycle market stood at US65.43 billion ($88 billion) in 2019, though it is expected to reach US$147.24 billion by 2027. Brompton had only 40 to 50 employees when CarleySmith joined them in 2010. Today, that number has risen to 800 to 900, with the company making close to 100,000 bikes a year. In packed, space-challenged cities like ours, foldable bikes are the fast, flexible and inexpensive choice for getting around.
And when they come at a premium like the ones Brompton make, they become full-blown luxury collectibles. A Brompton designed by English rock band Radiohead went for US$24,000 at a charity auction last year.
“One of the lovely things about working with Brompton is how engaged the users are—especially in Singapore. You guys are really passionate about your bikes, and you have all these clubs and Facebook groups that share rides everyone is doing,” he says. “There’s an amazing social scene with bikes, and everyone is very vocal about what they want, so we never have to try very hard to get people’s opinions.”
The constant feedback keeps things interesting for designers like CarleySmith, who joined Brompton right out of university. “There’s something really nice about a bicycle’s scale,” he offers. “It’s not like a car, where you might build a wing mirror or an engine or a radiator, but not the entire thing. But you can build a bicycle, and you get to see someone ride it, and then you see 50 people ride it, and then everyone’s on Facebook talking about how much they love it.”
The reason people love them, CarleySmith believes, is because Brompton’s design philosophy revolves around usefulness. “We are really interested in how you move around the city and what your problems are,” he says. “We also make things that are tough. I hate the idea of products that break after six months and you can’t repair them because the new parts don’t work with the old parts. We make things that are useful.”