The British Bike that Can
Step off the train in London during rush hour and you will see a swarm of be-suited businesspeople mounting odd little fold-up bicycles.
While the average person may not have considered it, a folding bicycle is an impressive feat of engineering. It needs to be easily collapsible yet maintain alignment to offer a comfortable and speedy ride – it’s a daunting task for any entrepreneur. Such was the conundrum that Andrew Ritchie wrestled with in the mid-70s. Ritchie, trained as an engineer, but working as a landscape gardener, was intrigued by the idea of designing a bike so small “it could fit in your pocket”. He began working on his own prototypes and by 1976 had formed a company, Brompton, named after the Brompton Oratory church opposite his home. Despite the bicycle’s ingenuity and Ritchie’s enthusiasm, bike manufacturers showed little interest, forcing him to go into production for himself. He had no problems selling his bikes, but between Ritchie and his single employee, he couldn’t build more than 300 a year from his little workshop in London. Now the company has a turnover of £10million and is growing about 25% a year. About 70% of the bikes are sold abroad, particularly to the Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Japan. Amazingly, manufacturing still takes place in London.
Nearly half a million journeys are made by bicycle in London each day, and the number of cyclists has nearly doubled since 2000. The Mayor of London wants growth to quadruple by 2025, creating more demand for Brompton bikes.
The existing factory has the capacity for Brompton to double its output, and with another 15 years on its lease, there is no reason to doubt that Brompton will remain the best of British, made in the heart of London.