Brompton M6R, with IT Chair

Brompton with IT Chair in Golden Gate Park

When I got the news of my promotion I bought a folding bike. But not just any folding bike: a Brompton. How come? Because it’s the only folding bike with a child seat, that’s how come. No bike will enter our lives for years to come unless it can haul the small.

I would advise the potential purchaser of a Brompton+IT Chair to be very sure that they are going to be okay with a lot of attention from strangers. And I do mean a LOT of attention. It’s not something that I was expecting. This setup stops traffic of all kinds. Jaws drop. People run over to see your bike. People in San Francisco are typically extremely cool in the face of the unusual. Piano bike? Sequined gold hot pants on a drag queen sashaying through the Financial District on a weekday afternoon? Bike Friday triple tandem? Naked people hiking through Golden Gate Park with fanny packs? Nothing worth noticing here! But people here gawk when they see me with my daughter on the Brompton, and yell, “COOL BIKE!”

The Brompton is both outrageously goofy and breathtakingly awesome. Even though I swear a blue streak at its makers every time I go up a steep hill (and I got the “San Francisco” gearing!), I love this bike. And although I was not really looking for practicality, this may actually be the most practical bicycle purchase a city rider could make: it’s a utility bike.

Brompton (with IT Chair) in a small shopping cart

I am sidestepping the fundamental question here, which is why I got a folding bike at all. Part of the answer is that it was cool and unlike any other bike, which fit with my desire to get a bike that could compete with a pretentious chair. But most of the answer is that it seemed like a great bike for riding in the grittier parts of the city and for taking on the road. It makes bike rides possible that weren’t possible before. I would never lock up my Breezer outside when I am visiting homeless shelters in the Tenderloin, but there’s been no problem bringing a folding bike inside to meetings. The Brompton also fits in a shopping cart at the grocery store, and when I don’t feel like locking it up, that’s exactly what I do with it. Moreover the Brompton is a clever travel bike. The Capitol Corridor Amtrak line that I took to Sacramento often runs out of bike spaces. Having been warned, I took the Brompton. The Amtrak folks recognized it instantly, but they do not count it as a bike. Later, when I hitched a ride in a friend’s car back to San Francisco, the Brompton fit in the trunk with plenty of room left over for our luggage. I may be taking an extended trip to Washington DC next year; if that happens, I will take the Brompton with me. If we lived in a small apartment again, this bike would easily fit in any random corner.

The Brompton tucked under a shuttle bus seat

The Brompton isn’t the cheapest folding bike you can buy, but it’s not the most expensive either. And this surprises me, because the incredible fold means you can put it almost anywhere. Most of the time mine hangs out in our non-functional fireplace, which it turns out is basically a Brompton-sized hole in the wall.

Home storage of the Brompton (with my sneakers for scale)

I ordered my Brompton from Warm Planet, which sells only folding bikes. They had never heard of the IT Chair before, but they didn’t have experience with any other child seats either. This may be the one bike shop that I forgive for this ignorance, as they primarily serve multi-modal commuters heading to CalTrain (they offer free bike valet parking every weekday). But they were bemused that such a thing existed, and impressed that it folded with the bike. The IT Chair had to be ordered from the UK after being hand-machined in Spain. It turns out that this takes a while, but it also takes a while to get a Brompton, so ultimately they arrived within a week of each other. This is good, because I refused on principle to pick up the bike without the child seat.

IT Chair, detached (2012 model: no folding footpegs)

The design of the IT Chair seems to have changed. Formerly it had folding footpegs, but my IT Chair does not. It makes folding the bike with the seat a little more tricky, and you have to get the sequence just right. It also is ridiculously, laughably expensive given that it is essentially just a piece of bent pipe. On the other hand, given the sporadic-at-best production line, IT Chairs apparently lose nearly zero value on resale, when the time comes that we can no longer use it. We were unable to find one used, but did find lots of desperate requests for them posted in the years when they weren’t being made.

Maiden voyage on the IT Chair

My daughter loves the IT Chair. Given the choice, she always asks to ride “mommy’s present bike.” She loves it because she can stand on the footpegs and ring (and ring and ring) the bell. I love it because a front seat is outrageously fun and makes conversation with her easy. My former experience with a front seat (the Co-Rider debacle) was not reassuring. But my brother-in-law assures me that design-wise, the IT Chair is bombproof, for all practical purposes an extension of the frame. To my surprise, he loved the Brompton, and proposed that we should get one for everyone in the family, once the kids are big enough, arguing that we could park four Bromptons in the space of one ordinary bike. In the meantime, my son has thus far refused to ride the IT Chair, as the design does not appeal to his cautious nature (no kid handlebars). But recently he realized that his reluctance meant that his sister has now ridden more bikes than he has, and evidently this will not stand.

Parked in my office on a rainy day, bag still attached

I was surprised at some of the ways that the Brompton excels. Its fenders are the best I’ve ever seen, so this is now my bike of choice for rainy day commutes. Assuming (correctly), that putting a kid on the bike would imply lots of things to carry, I also got the largest Brompton bag, the T-bag (an extremely poor choice of name). All the Brompton bags are frame-mounted, which means that they can haul massive amounts of weight. And although I find the bag sort of ugly, it is big enough to hold all four of our helmets when parked at the bike valet, plus a few jackets. With this kind of cargo space, plus the small footprint, the Brompton has also become our bike of choice for trips to the farmers’ market. It effortlessly manages a week’s worth of groceries, up to and including a half-flat of strawberries and Matt’s boxes of wine.

It doesn’t do everything well. Although there are people who take this bike on long trips, I prefer my Breezer for distances longer than a few miles, particularly given that my daughter likes to stand up on the footpegs while we’re riding. And then there are the hills. For mild to moderate inclines, the supposedly-designed-for-hills gearing I got is more than adequate, even pleasant, although the shifting itself is bizarre, as it switches between an internal hub and a derailleur, so every gear change involves both handlebars. When I hit a steep incline, however, it suddenly feels like I’m dragging a cinder block behind the bike. I’ll admit that this may be because I’m often hauling more weight at the front of the bike than it was really designed to carry when I put both a preschooler in the IT Chair and a week’s worth of groceries in the bag. (And it doesn’t help at all when that preschooler decides it would be fun to shift the gears randomly. This is a downside of the front seat. That and the endless bell ringing.) But it can be a problem even on days when I am relatively unladen. I appreciate that this problem may be unique to San Francisco. Let us say that this bike has made me stronger.

Brompton with IT Chair, folded up (I have become one of those people who folds and unfolds my bike for fun: I know, I know)

Getting a Brompton also involved the purchase of several pricey accessories. It’s a good thing that I was thinking of this as a “yay, I got a promotion” bike, because otherwise the total cost of all the extras could have ruined my mood. The IT Chair is the most obvious (price varies based on exchange rate at the time of order, assuming it’s in production), and the Brompton frame-mounted bags are expensive as well. It also turns out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to lock up a Brompton with a typical U-lock, and in San Francisco we do sometimes go places that are so small that even a folded Brompton is unwelcome. So on the recommendation of other folding bike owners I ended up getting a folding lock to go with my folding bike, the Abus Bordo Granit X-Plus. (However this lock is so fabulous that I ended up using it all the time. Matt asks to use it when we go out on rides together. So I can only really claim part of the price of this lock is specific to the Brompton.) On the other hand, the Ikea Dimpa bag that I sometimes use to carry it around was a steal at $4. Somebody at Ikea owns a Brompton.

Yet I would get this bike again in a heartbeat. It is surprisingly fun to ride, nimble and responsive. It is also fun to fold and unfold, and although it weighs are much as my daughter with all the accessories, it is fun to carry around. (I’m carrying my daughter around all the time anyway, so it’s not like a bike that weighs the same amount is a big deal.) It is safe in places where other bikes are not. It goes almost anywhere and stores almost anywhere. The Brompton may be the ultimate city bike. As a celebration of my promotion, it is infinitely better than a set of pretentious chairs.

The attention we get on the bike still surprises me a little, because riding it seems unremarkable to us now, but I find myself minding this less over time. The Brompton turns out to be the ultimate ambassador of family biking for people who’ve never thought of riding with kids before, which I find funny, because to me, my Brompton still looks like a clown bike. I think it seems less intimidating than a cargo bike; some moms see longtails and box-bikes and can’t imagine maneuvering them, but it is immediately obvious that any able-bodied person could handle a Brompton–and mine is usually hauling both a kid and two bags of groceries. (It could even haul two kids with a Trail-Gator, which another parent at our son’s school suggested.) And the Brompton, although it is by no means a cheap bike, costs less than a traditional cargo bike.

The Brompton is not my everyday bike, but I ride it every week. It proved to me that you should buy the cool bike. I keep it in the living room! And I smile every time I see it.

22 Comments

Filed under Brompton, cargo, commuting, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco

22 responses to “Brompton M6R, with IT Chair

  1. sho

    I love this post! Congrats again on the promotion– a well-deserved, cool bike. I like having my son in front (Yepp Mini on a Breezer), and he occasionally rings the bell with glee. Brings a smile to my face each time I think about it. (I was wondering how you got a bicycle in a car at Sacramento without mentioning how painful it was– now it all comes together.)

    • Thank you! My friend could actually have fit either bike in her car, but it was definitely easier with the Brompton. I really love my daughter ringing the bell, too, but I suspect sometimes that the people around us don’t find it as entertaining as I do.

  2. How long have you had this awesome bike? You should eventually get one for each Hum!

  3. Anne

    Fantastic write up. I’m so glad you are loving your new utility bike. By the time we got our first Brompton our kids were too big for the IT chair so we never got to try one. What a simple and fun way to carry a kid on a bike. Enjoy!

  4. Do you think there’s any chance the IT chair would work on a bike other than the Brompton? I returned my the Co-Rider I had bought on eBay after I read your story about it failing, and I’m looking for something like this!

    • Great question. The IT Chair might work on another folding bike, like a Dahon or Tern, but I’d hate to buy either without knowing for sure.

      You might check out the WeeRide Kangaroo, which has a crossbar to hold up the seat and looks much safer (and it’s cheaper). Someone commented on the blog once that they’d had a good experience with it. Personally I also like the Bobike and Yepp Mini front seats, but they have lower weight limits, 30 lbs rather than 40 lbs.

      • Thanks for the reply! I considered the Bobike and Yepp Mini but I need one that’ll hold my preschooler, and he’s about 30 lbs right now. I tried a friend’s WeeRide and it was OK but I had to splay my legs out wide to pedal, and I think it has a low weight limit, too. Right now I have a CoPilot Limo, which is good to about 40 lbs, though my older one grew out of it lengthwise before he reached the weight limit.

  5. I’m looking at this post all over again because my daily bike is breathing its last, and I’m weighing Brompton vs. Kinn vs. MinUte vs.??? We’re even plotting a Hum-of-the-City-style trip to Portland to test ride Kinns and whatever else strikes our fancy. I know your life is in complete turmoil right now, but once things are a little more settled down for you, I’d love to try out your Brompton + IT Chair with my son some weekend!

    • Oh, definitely! Matt is on the road this week and I’m away next week, but we’ll be back to something approaching normal on the weekend of the 26th, if you’d like to meet then. I’m sorry your bike is dying, but we can bring both the Brompton and the MinUte if you want to try both. You have my email?

      And I’m so excited to hear about your trip to Portland! (Also, if you make it to Clever Cycles maybe you could ask them to hold Fiets of Parenthood on a California-friendly date this year?)

  6. Thanks so much for the great posts about biking with kids! I’ve used a rented bike with iBert seat with my 2-year old daughter, and we had a great going across the Golden Gate Bridge. I have a road bike that isn’t suited well to kid seats, so have been looking for another option, and the Brompton really seems great. At what age did your kids feel comfortable riding on it? And, would you be ale to give recommendations on the Brompton model, features, and accessories? In looking at their site, there are so many. Many thanks, and hope to see you on the road someday!

    • My daughter was comfortable riding on the Brompton IT Chair at almost three years, and probably would have been okay even younger. My son can still ride it at age seven although it’s getting harder to see over his head. In terms of model, etc., I agree that it can be complicated. Gearing depends on how many hills you cover–we got six gears with a lower range because we live in a hilly part of San Francisco, but 2-3 gears would be fine in a flatter area. Personally I think the internal hub is nice. The rear rack or not is personal preference. The other big decision is the type of handlebars. We got the M type because it’s more upright, and there is a new type (T? H? some other letter) that’s even more so. The other kinds seemed more suited to touring or “speed” (a relative thing on a folding bike) and weren’t relevant to us. I would definitely get the front block for a bag. So anyway, I ended up with the M6R–that’s M handlebars, 6 gears, Rear rack. The other models are similarly named, e.g. S3R would be S handlebars, 3 gears, Rear rack. Hope that makes sense.

      • That does make sense. I think I understand the model designations now – the handlebar types and gears. I live outside of SF but in a hilly area, so sounds like the 6-gear reduced option will be important for me too. Would you have time to answer a few other questions: (1) Do you find it easy to ride up and down hills, and ride on the road next to traffic, with your little one in the IT chair? I’m curious about how “secure” it feels, or if it really is better mostly for paved trail riding. (2) Did you ever consider a Bobike Mini attachment like the one shown here: http://unfoldandcycle.com/tag/it-chair/? Something where the kiddo can be strapped in too. (3) Did you consider the lighter “-X” option? It seems quite expensive for a weight savings of just a couple of pounds, but curious if it seemed worthwhile.
        Thank you for the great website and being a resource to folks like me!

      • The Brompton is not the greatest on the hills around here, but it’s certainly possible to ride it with a kid aboard. I felt pretty secure with our kids in front, between my arms–it’s the gearing that’s an issue, not the child seat. We mostly ride on streets rather than paved trails.

        I never considered putting a Bobike Mini on the Brompton. The IT Chair has a much greater age range, and our daughter was close to aging out of a Mini by the time we got the Brompton. I also didn’t seriously consider the titanium option: too much cost for too little weight savings.

      • I wanted to send you a note to share some fun news! You inspired me to go for the Brompton and the IT Chair! I have the IT Chair in hand (it only took 9 days from order placement to receipt), and the Brompton is on order (I’ve heard the lead time is down to five weeks). I can’t wait to test it out with my daughter! Thanks for sharing your info and making it easier for me to figure out good options.

        Oh, I did have one question for you! What kid’s seat did you use for the IT Chair? And what bracket is needed to attach the kid’s seat?

      • Oh, how wonderful! My IT Chair took over two months to come in; 9 days is incredible. How ironic that the Brompton is the sticking point. I’ll bet that you could take a ride on your shop’s tester Brompton with the IT Chair though.

        I don’t remember what saddle we put on the frame–whatever kids’ model that the shop had in stock. It was cheap but it kind of annoyed me that it didn’t come with a saddle given how much it cost! They put it on as well but said they didn’t need any special equipment. By the way, I’d recommend that you use some stick-on padding to cover the bottom of the IT Chair where it attaches to the top tube–ours wasn’t cleanly machined and scraped the tube a bit, but a bit of Moleskin solved the problem.

      • So I got my Brompton on Friday, and have already been for a couple of rides with the IT Chair! The Brompton dealer in Palo Alto happened to have the exact Brompton I wanted on hand, so no need to order from London and wait 5-7 weeks. I also found a kid’s seat and bracket at a local bike store, and it works with no problems.

        Thanks for the great suggestion about protecting the top tube. What is “Moleskin”? When I hear that, I think of those notebooks, but I’m assuming you mean something different.

      • Melissa @ HerGreenLife

        Just revisiting this post as we’re considering family-bike options. I’ve loved having my son up front with me in the IBert, so the Brompton with the IT chair might be a good next step for us. My son is just over two, but big for his age, so he might be ready for the IT chair (or something like it) before too much longer. Thanks for all the helpful info!

      • That is nice to hear. For what it’s worth, I still carry my almost 8-year-old son on the Brompton sometimes. I had no idea it would have such longevity when we got it, but we’re very pleased. Front seats are the best.

  7. Reblogged this on Kitesurf Bike rambling and commented:
    I love my brompton

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