Brompton Electric C-Line Urban folding bike review. Brompton electric bike bag

Does adding electric assistance to this iconic folder create the ultimate commuter bike?

Cyclingnews Verdict

Convenient and stylish, but sluggish and twitchy, and sometimes more hassle than it’s worth.

Pros

  • Easily stored when folded
  • Very quick to unfold and fold again
  • Excellent luggage options

Cons

  • – Extremely heavy and difficult to carry
  • – Awkward to roll along when folded
  • – Brake lever placement is uncomfortable for smaller hands
  • – Twitchy start up
  • – Sluggish up hills
  • – Braking doesn’t cut the motor
  • – Mode controls can be awkward to access on the move

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The humble Brompton has an iconic shape and folding mechanism that makes it recognisable just about anywhere. It’s now been five years since the British brand introduced a battery-powered model to its range, now named the Electric C-Line, and we’ve spent the past six months using the Electric C-Line Urban for everything from small grocery trips to commuting 10 miles each way from Bristol to Bath, and traversing many of the hills the south-west cities are famed for. How does it perform amongst the best folding electric bikes on the market, and is it worthy of our list of the best electric commuter bikes? Read on to find out more.

Design and aesthetics

Unless you’re a real Brompton hater, it’s undeniable that the Electric C-Line is easy on the eyes. The lovely turquoise colour has received a lot of compliments throughout the testing period (two other colours are available), and because the battery slots onto the front where there’s often a bag, it’s mostly indistinguishable from a regular analogue Brompton.

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For those unfamiliar with the iconic three-part folding design, the bike features a tab you press to release the hinge for the back end and tuck the rear wheel underneath. Undoing another hinge enables the front end to pivot to the back and side, placing the wheels next to each other, while a hook on the non-drive side fork leg slots over the drive side seatstay to hold it in place. Then it’s simply a matter of loosening a hinge clamp around the base of the stem, which sends the handlebars swinging diagonally down and fixing into place via a ball joint (the handlebar catch and handlebar catch nipple) that connects the stem to the other fork leg, and the dropping of the seatpost locks everything into place. Finally, the left-hand pedal folds away, to make the unit easier to carry with the right hand. Unfolding is much the same in reverse.

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The Electric C-Line Urban comes with a choice of two handlebar types: Brompton’s M and H (Mid and High, respectively). The H has a sharper rise and puts the rider into more of an upright position, while the M, which came on our sample bike, is slightly shallower.

Some other details to note, before moving onto the spec: when the bike is in its folded position, it’s designed to be rolled along, thanks to the inclusion of three small wheels. One pair is located at the rear hinge, so that once you tuck the wheel away, the back end rests on those wheels. The third wheel is attached to the rear mudguard.

Specifications

The Brompton Electric C-Line Urban is built around a steel frame and fork. The 250W brushless DC motor is situated in the front hub, while the 300Wh battery slots onto the front by way of a bag (you must have one in place, and the battery cannot be used without one). It’s simply a case of inserting the battery into the bag’s central cavity and then slotting the bag onto the holder. The bike alone weighs 13.1kg, while the battery adds 2.23kg, bringing the total weight to 15.33kg.

This particular model in Brompton’s electric lineup is designed for urban use, like commuting and shopping, and therefore comes with quite a simple 1×2-speed spec. It has two gears, with 12t and 16t sprockets at the rear, and a two-speed chain pusher to shift between them, operated via a two-speed single trigger shifter. The forged aluminium crank comes with a 54T chainring and according to the official spec, is meant to feature an integrated chainguard, to prevent oil stains from reaching the rider’s clothing, however, this sample model didn’t come with one.

It rolls on 16in wheels wrapped in 35mm wide Schwalbe Marathon Racer tyres, which offer puncture resistance and feature a reflective sidewall for low-light visibility, while mudguards with rubberised flaps come pre-installed. Battery-powered lighting comes by way of Busch Müller’s 40 Lux AVY LED front and rear lamps, and there are two different light settings available on the battery unit: manual and auto. Auto uses a sensor on top of the battery unit to detect light levels and adjust accordingly.

Atop the seatpost is the standard Brompton saddle, which features an integrated carry handle (essentially a hard plastic sheath beneath the nose of the saddle that covers the rails and gives you something to wrap your fingers around), as well as a mount for a Brompton rear light and saddlebag, neither of which was used for this review.

Tucked into the non-drive side rear triangle is a Brompton pump, which is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves, and comes with a flexible hose — a necessary detail to work around the tiny wheels.

Finally, the bike comes with a 1.5L Essentials bag, which holds the battery and features a small that can actually carry most of what you’re likely to need while running errands and travelling from point A to point B. For commuters and those wanting to carry a bit extra, there’s a 20L City bag available separately, which I also put to good use and found to be incredibly spacious. While commuting from Bristol to our Bath office, I was able to pack my laptop, lunch, a change of clothes, some toiletries, tools, a bottle of water and the battery charging cable. I also made use of this when travelling to visit family for a few days, and was able to pack everything I needed. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that while the bag has a decent capacity, the more you load onto the front of the Electric C-Line Urban, the heavier and more cumbersome it becomes. on this shortly.

Performance

First things first, once I unfolded the Electric Brompton and got into position, I immediately noticed that the placement of the brake levers was very awkward and uncomfortable for my small hands. I imagine that taller riders, who will likely tower more over the cockpit, and have longer fingers, will find it easy to apply the brakes. I, however, with my short torso and small hands, have to put a lot of effort into reaching forward to get my fingers around the levers. As soon as I realised this, I whipped out my multi-tool and rotated their placement so they were elevated and easier to reach. However, when it came to refolding the bike, I discovered that the brake levers need to sit flush with the rest of the bike when the handlebar is tucked away, and my new brake positioning was getting in the way. So back they went. The levers themselves are adjustable for a shorter reach which is a blessing, but it’s more the angle that’s caused me some issues. I’ve had to get used to them, and while I can certainly plummet down the hill I live on safely, it does seem that once again I’m being punished for being a short cyclist. The Brompton would definitely benefit from having different options for stem length.

Setting off is twitchy business, with the motor being located in the front wheel. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this setup, a rear-mounted motor is always my preference, as it feels more stable and offers more grip, because the power is located where the rider’s weight is mostly dispersed. Having the motor located at the front, on the other hand, places the power where the steering happens, and it just feels very different.

Once you get going, however, the ride feels great, especially on the flat with the highest power setting; you very quickly accelerate to 15.5mph (25km/h) and maintain that speed. The lowest power setting is useful if you’re needing to conserve battery power and sticking to flat routes. you feel the pedal assistance but you’re still putting your own power down. As soon as you hit any positive gradients, however, it’s definitely a good idea to increase the power mode.

One thing to be aware of is that the power mode button is located on the battery unit, which isn’t the easiest to reach while on the move. As a confident cyclist, I can lean forward and change it, but for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable doing this, they will have to stop every time they want to change power mode, which can be a massive pain. The setup would definitely benefit from some kind of remote on the handlebars.

In terms of battery life, the claimed range is 40-80km on a single charge, depending on which mode you use. When using the lowest assistance mode, I have definitely been able to achieve around 80km between charges and used the Brompton several days in a row for short journeys and errands without needing to charge. When in the most powerful mode, and climbing hills, however, I have seen it drain fairly quickly. It could be argued that the extra strain on the battery to climb these hills isn’t something that it’s designed for, so I’m not holding it against it at all, but it’s worth considering. Commuting to Bath (16km each way), I found that the battery went from 5/5 to 3/5, and needed to switch to the lowest setting on the way home in order to make it without it fully draining.

The hill I live on is big, with an average gradient of six per cent, with the maximum gradient hitting 10 per cent in places. I’ve very much enjoyed using the Brompton Electric C-Line Urban to get myself up it, but let me tell you, it doesn’t make it ‘easy’. Once the gradient kicks in, even on the highest power mode, the ride feels sluggish, and I’m still putting in a lot of climbing effort. It’s a combination of the smaller wheels and a medium-powered motor, and while it definitely does the job, don’t expect to not still break a sweat if you’re planning to climb hills, though it certainly makes things easier.

Something that does concern me, and which has caused a few near-misses, is the fact that braking doesn’t cut out the motor like it does with many e-bikes. For the most part, this isn’t a huge problem, but I did encounter some haphazard stopping and starting when trying to stop. Many cyclists will put their weight onto one pedal while braking in order to step down and come to a complete stop. If you come to edge of a junction or kerb where you’re about to cross busy traffic, even if your foot isn’t in quite the right position when you reach the end, you’ve usually got a little leeway to put in a half- or quarter-turn of the pedal to do what you need to do. Unfortunately, as I found on several occasions, when this happens on the Brompton Electric, because braking doesn’t cut off the motor, when you try to make that final quarter-turn, you immediately start to accelerate again. This has almost sent me out into the path of a passing vehicle more than once and is something that seriously needs to be addressed.

Otherwise, all other aspects of the ride are great. The rim brakes do a great job of stopping and keeping your speed under control while descending, the shifting between high and low gears is instant, and the lights do a good job of illuminating dark roads and cycleways. I experimented with using both manual and automatic lighting modes and found the auto setting to do a really good job of detecting light levels and auto-adjusting. However, it’s worth being aware that the light sensor is located on the top of the battery, so it’s important that the bag strap doesn’t obstruct it. When using the Essentials bag I had no issue with this, as I kept the strap very short and easily tucked away. The City bag, on the other hand, due to its size and bulk, is much easier to carry with a longer strap, but when slotting it onto the front of the bike, it does get in the way. There’s a down the side that you can use to tuck the majority of it away, but there’s also a magnetic clip on the top of the bag that secures one side of the strap in place, which means it will automatically cover the battery unit.

It’s mostly off the bike that my gripes come into play. Having travelled by train with it a few times, and having spent many more evenings using it for social gatherings where multiple venues are visited, the constant folding and unfolding became extremely tiresome for me. While the saddle comes with the “integrated carry handle”, it doesn’t do much to make hoisting this really heavy chunk of metal up and down stairs, or in and out from under tables, any easier.

Brompton powers up its folder with new Brompton Electric

Brompton has entered the e-bike market with the announcement of its new Brompton Electric, a familiar-looking folder based on the brand’s classic design, with an added 250W front hub motor and a battery bag which sits on the front of the bike.

The bike folds to the same size as a non-powered Brompton, with an additional 1.5L battery bag that can be carried as a shoulder bag when it’s not on the bike. The battery also features a USB charging port for mobile devices A larger 20L bag is also available if you want to carry more stuff around.

The Brompton Electric has four modes, ranging from no assistance, through to a high level of assistance. With a claimed range of between 25-50 miles, the bike should have enough juice for even the lengthiest of urban commutes.

Despite the slightly unusual placement of the motor on the front wheel — unusual at least for a production e-bike, where the motor is usually based around the bottom bracket — this is not a throttle-controlled system. Like most others on the market, the bike includes a “Smart, integrated torque and cadence sensor” to control the levels of assistance provided.

The battery also powers a set of Busch Müller LYT lights for year round, hassle-free running.

Brompton Electric first look

BikeRadar has today been given a first look at the new Brompton Electric that the UK company hopes will transform city commuting and get more people onto two wheels.

Five years in development, the bike retains the looks and practicality of the original Brompton, adding a 250-watt front hub motor to the equation developed in conjunction with Williams Advanced Engineering. We went ‘under the hood’ with the company’s chief design and engineering officer Will Carleysmith.

“The fold is the killer feature of the Brompton, it’s what the business is built on,” he explains, “and so very, very consciously we wanted to keep that and make the whole thing as seamless as possible.”

The fold also helps to explain the decision to go with a front hub motor. “We looked at several options,” confirms Carleysmith, “but the design of our bike means we couldn’t fit a motor in the crank, and we wanted to keep the convenience of having gears so that ruled out the rear hub.

“We talked to some Asian companies about front hub solutions, but they couldn’t deliver the standard we were looking for. Eventually we teamed up with Williams, and F1 is a very specialised world where they have an electrics person, a gears person, a motor person, all in one place. They were able to build something that we considered good enough for Brompton.

The speed at which this technology is moving, versus the speed bicycle technology has been moving, is going to be a lot faster

“We started out with a very good clutch, we killed that and went on to an even better clutch, so there is a very high quality of manufacture. Then we had to put our expertise into getting them made: F1 teams don’t need to worry about mass manufacture.

“But if you want to know how is this different from a Chinese motor, then the really smooth super low friction front hub would be an excellent visible example of the knowledge and work that has gone into this.”

The torque and cadence sensors, which are in the crank, measure your effort to kick in the motorised support, and on my test ride around St Paul’s Cathedral in London that motor kicked in quickly and smoothly to put a smile on my face as I raced away from traffic lights and breezed up inclines at a very healthy pace. Like all UK e-bikes, the Brompton Electric has a 15mph speed limiter.

Keeping it simple

Another mark of the bike is its simplicity of use. The engineers at Brompton put in the hours of thought so the rider doesn’t have to.

The decision to put the 300Wh battery – which allows for a range of 25-50 miles – in a separate bag rather than on the frame not only keeps the essential Brompton fold intact, it also allows the battery to be charged away from the bike and for it to be removed when the bike is being carried to help spread weight (the two-speed bike weighs 13.4kg, the battery 2.8kg).

The battery bag itself clips on and off as easily as any Brompton bag, but that is the result of a great deal of work.

“The battery connection to the bike has to be permanently engaged,” explains Carley-Smith, “so our German partners developed a magnetic connector that can move on the bottom of the bag, meaning it can handle cobbles and potholes without disengaging. The cover over the connecter on the bike is not to keep it dry but to keep it clean: magnetic dirt is a thing, we discovered!”

Most users will never know the hours that went into developing a cover that can be flipped out of the way by the battery bag as it is fitted, but it’s the sort of detail that delights and is absolutely consistent with the Brompton ethos. It will make your life easier, without you even realising it.

And designing a complex machine that is simple on the surface was essential in creating the Brompton Electric.

“One of the reasons it doesn’t have a display with loads of functions on the handlebar is because simplicity was key from the off,” confirms Carleyadams. “But there is a Bluetooth module in there that will talk to your phone, and there will be an app so you can add all that functionality to the phone. But most of our customers want super clean, super simple.

“Initially we weren’t even going to have three assistance modes, although I think we got the balance right with that. I think Bosch had 12 at one point.”

As for maintenance: “We have a diagnostic kit that works the same way as your car, so the bike shop will plug it in, swap out the parts the same day and away you go. They will then send the parts to us so we can work out what really went wrong. This is a tool for living, you can’t take it out of action for three weeks.”

The investment in this technology is clearly significant, but Brompton CEO Will Butler-Adams is adamant it will prove worthwhile:

“My belief is that in 15 years time you’ll have purists still riding regular bikes, but we’re not selling bikes in cities to cyclists, we’re selling them to urbanites as a useful tool to make life easier, give them freedom and make them happy. And this e-bike gives you the ability to get some exercise whizzing across your city, but does it in a way that gives you even more freedom to go further.

“We as a company are going to have to change a bit, because the speed at which this technology is moving, versus the speed bicycle technology has been moving, is going to be a lot faster. So we are going to have to innovate faster and faster.”

“We’re unusual in being a bike company with technology as part of the company,” adds Carleysmith, “most others buy the technology in. Owning the tech means we get to dictate terms, but it also means we have to keep pace.”

Brompton Electric price and availability

The Brompton Electric is currently only available to pre-order for UK residents, excluding Northern Ireland. Once you’ve reserved your bike, you’ll be able to choose your options and dealer to collect from when you’re invited to make your final purchase. range from £2,595 to £2,755.

The first bikes are due to be ready for delivery in the UK from early 2018 and then in “selected countries in Europe soon after”. info on Brompton’s site.

Other electric folding bikes

This isn’t the only folding ebike we’ve spent time with — the Tern Vektron really impressed us with its ‘regular’ Bosch motor and powerful disc brakes, but it was hard to swallow the 21.6kg weight and £3,000 price tag. Maybe a head-to-head is due in the coming months?

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