A brilliant little bike for all riding occasions, it'll leave you grinning from ear to ear.
Folding mechanism is still the best
Portability, speed and pure fun
Mudguards and tough tyres
Weight when carrying
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The Brompton Explore was selected for an Editor's Choice award (opens in new tab) in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval.
Since their inception, Brompton bicycles have been used countless times for inappropriate purposes. The famously small bikes have been pedalled around the world, ridden from Land's End to John O'Groats and even ridden at the South Pole. Yet despite already having a intrepid reputation, Brompton's announcement of a dedicated 'Explore' model late last year was met with some mirth from the cycling world.
For sure, a Brompton is typically the hallmark of any veteran commuter. The bike's 16" wheels make for easy portability and nippy manoeuvring when pedalling the streets or flying home from the train station, but are by no means considered efficient for long distance riding. However, any Brompton owner can attest that the bike's compact size and portability has leant itself to travelling for years now, so it should come as no surprise that Brompton would draw on its heritage of exploration to make a bike.
Brompton Explore: Design Differences
I've always thought that designing new Brompton bicycles must be a real challenge. Ultimately, the brand's engineers are constrained by the very thing that makes them so brilliant: their portability. The bike must have 16" wheels and it must fold in that famous Brompton way. What else can you optimise within those constraints?
In the past, the London brand has experimented with material changes for its special editions, and it still makes its Chapter 3 bikes out of titanium to reduce weight. The Explore model however is made of the steel, it's a trade off that makes the bike slightly heavier (this model weighs 13kg) but bombproof and sturdy for any adventure. It uses the same traditional folding mechanism of all Brompton's bikes, which isn't as complicated as Brompton users like to make out, but is smart and remains the undisputed king of folding bike mechanisms. My favourite part being the ample adjustment you get through the seatpost so even those with the longest legs can get a great fit.
So, with limited room for manoeuvre in design terms, what is different about the Explore model? The main difference is with the bike's gear ratios. The Explore uses a 3-speed internally geared hub paired with two sprockets, giving 6-speeds for use, that's double the 3-speeds of the typical models. The ratios are also lower than on the standard models, reduced by 12% according to Brompton, taking the sting out of those hills and in recognition that you might be carrying more luggage on the bike.
The Explore also comes with a 28l rolltop bag that clips to the front of the bike. I've been using this (for the most part) to cart my review kit to and from the Cycling Weekly office. The bike's steering remains independent of the bag, so no matter how full it is it has a minimal impact on the bike's handling.
The rest of the changes are largely in the bike's specification. It uses tough Marathon Racer tyres which have a thicker tread and over the course of a year's use I suffered zero punctures on my bike and it also has a chic Brooks Cambrian saddle.
Brompton Explore: The Ride
Unfortunately, 2020 prevented me from doing any real adventures aboard my Brompton Explore, but it didn't stop me riding it. A lot. Over the year I've probably swung my leg over this tiny wheeled wheeler more than I have my standard roadie or gravel bike.
Whether that was the classic office to train station shuttle before the world ended, or seeing every park in the city once lockdown eased and, of course, all and any pub trips I went on. It's a bike for any occasion and there's not any distance in a city that felt too far for its small wheels, which is why I kept reaching for it instead of my dedicated town bike. For starters it didn't feel much slower in urban confines and then there was the added benefit of not having to worry about it getting nicked because its portability and size make it easy to pop down the side of a table or under a chair.
There's something that makes you want to ride fast when you're on this bike. Whether that's because it's funny seeing how far you can push 16" wheels or because of the joy of being faster than the nose-to-tail traffic around you, you find you want to ride everywhere a bit too quickly and with a grin on your face.
At speed, it wasn't what I expected, either. I used to think the tiny bike would be unstable but it's remarkable balanced and thanks to their diminutive size, the wheels accelerate, letting you get away first at traffic lights. It's not as light as Brompton's Chapter 3 models, and you notice that more when it comes to carrying it around than you do riding. Because of this I tended to push it through train stations rather than heft the bike folded with just one arm
Brompton have three different handlebars available, and my test bike came with an M-type riser bar. It added comfort and put you in an assured upright position for navigating your way through traffic and took the strain off your back. It also came with a set of mudguards which are a must have for any self-respecting Brompton owner.
Of course, it wouldn't fair brilliantly on rides of any real distance but I don't really think that's what Brompton meant when they meant it. I could absolutely see it being brilliant for European city breaks or holidays by train, whichever one returns first!
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