Shoot­ing star Bromp­ton goes elec­tric

The Observer Magazine - - News -

“Why does the word cheat al­ways crop up when we talk about elec­tric bikes?” asks Will Car­ley­smith, chief de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing of­fi­cer at Bromp­ton. “In Hol­land or Ger­many, they’re baf­fled by the idea. To them cy­cling is a pleas­ant, quick way to get around a city. It’s a trans­port so­lu­tion. How can you cheat at get­ting to work?”

Our cramped, grid­locked cities have to change. But the an­swer may be sur­pris­ingly sim­ple. In Lon­don just 5% of all jour­neys are made by bike com­pared with 13% in Ber­lin and more than 50% in Copen­hagen. E-bikes en­cour­age more peo­ple to cy­cle and also to ride fur­ther. You don’t need spe­cial­ist kit and you don’t ar­rive drenched in sweat. E-bik­ing is not a sport, it’s a util­ity. Many of the peo­ple who buy e-bikes don’t see them­selves as cy­clists, they just want to beat the crowds, get off pub­lic trans­port and re­dis­cover their city.

But elec­tric bikes can be heavy and un­wieldy. It would be a night­mare lug­ging one up three storeys to your flat. Which is why Car­ley­smith believes Bromp­ton’s fold­ing e-bike could be a real game-changer.

Bromp­ton, as you prob­a­bly know, is one of the great suc­cess sto­ries of Bri­tish cy­cling. Orig­i­nally de­signed in 1975 by An­drew Ritchie in his flat in South Kens­ing­ton, op­po­site the Bromp­ton Ora­tory (hence the name), the lit­tle fold­ing bike has be­come a mas­sive hit – with both bike nuts and city com­muters. A cou­ple of years ago the firm moved into a be­spoke, cav­ernous, state-of-the-art fac­tory in west Lon­don. Bromp­ton is now the big­gest bike man­u­fac­turer in the UK, mak­ing about 50,000 frames a year – a shiny new fold­ing bike rolls off one of the two pro­duc­tion lines ev­ery 90 sec­onds.

But go­ing elec­tric pre­sented a prob­lem. The Bromp­ton is so pre­cisely en­gi­neered that to add a mo­tor, bat­tery, sen­sors and com­puter con­trol to such a com­pact frame proved a real headache. It could make it un­fea­si­bly heavy or even stop it from fold­ing – which, of course, is its rai­son d’être. To get the ex­act­ing tech­no­log­i­cal fix they needed, Car­ley­smith started a project with the con­sul­tancy arm of the Wil­liams For­mula 1 team.

“It was harder than any of us imag­ined,” he says, “but af­ter three years we’ve cracked it.” One of the key break­throughs was to sep­a­rate the bat­tery into a both­er­free bag which seam­lessly clips on to the front of the bike when you are us­ing it. This makes the bike less of a theft risk and also makes it sim­ple to charge. The pow­er­ful 250W mo­tor is built into the front hub and only adds 1.9kg to the over­all weight. You could ride the bike without the bat­tery if you wished. But why would you? Re­mem­ber, this isn’t about hard work, it’s about easy city liv­ing. Hop on, se­lect one of the three power modes, and pedal. Im­me­di­ately you’ll feel the mo­tor get­ting to work. You whizz along at up to 15.5mph (the le­gal limit). The bike han­dles in the same, nippy, com­pul­sive way Bromp­tons al­ways have – but now those hills are a dod­dle. And don’t ever think you’re cheat­ing. ■

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