Being There: The 2018 Brompton Burst
All photos are courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community with multiple KOMs to his name.
Initially it was one rider who crested the climb up Oakland Street that caught our attention. As he progressed toward our vantage point it was clear everything was different about him. He passed by our stile nearly silent and hammering away to complete what we were to assume was the first lap. Man did he have a big smile. Or it is possible he was squinting between raindrops.
We had just witnessed the leader of the unique racing format of Brompton racing slotted onto the Bucks County Classic race schedule. While not all folding bikes are Bromptons, the English-made bikes have a cult-like following. Step into any of their strategically placed bike shops and expect to see the folded bikes neatly stowed in cubicles along a wall. They are the bikes for the urban rider, the car-less person who lacks space and time for full sized transportation. Once in possession the next maneuver is naturally to race them.
That’s where we picked up the race on Sunday, between the women and men’s pro criterium race. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there are a couple odd rules to Brompton racing. For starters, only Bromptons may partake in the Brompton Burst. The event has a borrowed start from the old days of motorsports. Called the Le Mans start, riders start across the street from their folded bikes. On the command the riders cross the street and unfold their bikes. They then navigate a small course for several laps. The full event must be completed in work attire. That is, expect to see men whipping around in tweed – and one donning a bolo tie - and women sporting wool sweaters. The winner is the Brompton champion who may or may not continue on to work after crossing the line.
The unfolding scene was quite opposite than imagined. With the amount of times the bike is advertised folded, it gave the impression as if the bike would spring from its confines and snap together. The process is nowhere near instant and possible to talk to the competitor while she transforms her bike. With ice running through their veins, competitors delicately pulled the bike, pulled open levers, slid parts out, snapped them in place, and easily mounted the bike for a three-lap affair around the professional criterium course.
Seeing a rider atop a Brompton is a new experience. From the front it looks like a person astride a pogo stick. The steerer tube must overcome the lack of a full frame. Forget top tubes, this bike is all longitudinal structuring with two extending tubes, one for the handlebars and one for the saddle. It did help that Bromptons don fenders and flaps to keep the spray to a minimum. Some riders sported the dependable Schwalbe Marathon tires. One rider took the stylish approach with gumwalls on his rig. The tiny wheels had their work cut out for them with water management, descending, and ascending. The riders, too, had to maintain concentration while their sport coat tails flapped in the back.
With all the differences, one more could be added. The Brompton race saw much more distance between competitors. There were only two groups of two racing around the 1.3-mile loop. The other riders had healthy distances fore and aft. With eleven entrants from three states there was quite a bit of open space. It was hardly the group race approach. The Brompton Burst was a new addition to the Bucks County Classic lineup and it succeeded despite less than executive conditions. Perhaps next year Paddington Bear could line up with the proper attire, assuming it rains.