This is the first installment in our Brompton Buyers Guide, in which we will help you comb through all the different aspects of selecting a new Brompton, including handlebars, gearing, rack/fender option, frame materials, colors, luggage and other options and accessories.
The most visible variable on Brompton bicycles, and one that turns out to be the most significant for rider comfort, it the handlebar choice. It is no accident that the handlebar is the first item in the designation of various Brompton models. Four types of handlebar are offered:
S-type, the straight bar offering the lowest riding position
M-type, a medium rise bar, offering a moderately upright position
H-type, a rise bar with additional two inches of height at the bottom of the steering column, offering the most upright sitting position
P-bar, a butterfly-shaped bar, offering multiple hand rests and sitting positions
Because the Brompton handlebar cannot be height-adjusted, and retrofitting an existing bike with a new handlebar configuration is quite costly, it makes sense to give careful consideration to the choice of handlebar. Below, we’ll go over the options in a little more detail, and offer some insights from our long experience of helping customers dial in the perfect Brompton configuration.
The specifics: The S-bar itself is 55cm (21 1/2”) wide, and the complete S-bar steering column rises 40cm (15 3/4”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)
The ride: the S-bar positions the rider in a moderately aggressive riding position, however the specific feel is of course dependent on rider proportions. Shorter riders will find the position similar to an urban hybrid bike, while taller riders may find it closer to a drop-bar road bike. In any case, the S-bar is somewhat more rigid in feel than the other Brompton handlebars, resulting in responsive and confident steering.
Recommendations: in our experience, we’ve found that customers tend to combine the S-bar with one- or two-speed gearing options. Indeed, these are the ingredients of ultimately simple, minimalist urban transportation machine. These riders prefer to keep the bike light and compact, and tend to use it for shorter distances, perhaps in combination with other forms of urban transit.
NOTE: Not all front bags are compatible with the S-bar, so it’s also important to take your gear-carrying requirements into consideration when choosing this option.
The specifics: The M-bar is 53cm (20 3/4”) wide, with a 13cm (5 1/8”) rise, and the complete M-bar steering column rises 52cm (20 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)
The ride: the M-bar position is similar to a hybrid bike with a slightly raised handlebar, with a significant percentage of body weight resting on the wrists. It’s a great option for urban cruising: upright enough for good traffic visibility, and assertive enough when you need to pick up some speed. The M-Bar can be tilted slightly toward the rider to reduce the degree of lean (Note: tilting the bar too much will stress the cables, and cause the handlebar to protrude away from the bike in the folded position, so any such adjustment needs to be done very judiciously).
Recommendations: Most of our Brompton customers select either the M or H bar, and it can be a difficult decision to make. We recommend testing the M-bar for an extended duration, if possible. If you find yourself wanting to rise up in the knuckles of your hand, you’re probably leaning too much, and may consider the H-bar.
The specifics: The H-bar has the same dimensions as the M-bar, except that the complete H-bar steering column rises 57cm (22 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame, due to and additional 5cm (2”) rise below the handlebar hinge. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)
The ride: the H-bar position is quite upright, with most of the rider weight resting on the saddle. It’s very comfortable, but may feel somewhat awkward over longer distances for riders accustomed to a more athletic position. For riders shorter than 5’5” (but depending on proportions), the H-bar may be too extreme.
Recommendations: if you’re concerned about back pain, neck cramps or sore wrists, by all means go for the H-bar. You’ll be sitting very upright, but that alone is not likely to slow you down in any way. In fact, you may find yourself doing longer trips on your Brompton, since you won’t be distracted by any discomfort. Should you choose the H-bar, you may also wish to combine it with a slightly wider, more supportive saddle, since more of your weight will be on your sit bones. A Brooks saddle will do the trick, but remember that Bromptons will accept a wide variety of other saddles available on the market.
The specifics: The P-bar is 51cm (20”) at the widest point, with the drop of about 20cm (7 3/4”) between the highest and lowest position. and the complete M-bar steering column rises 51cm (20”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.) It is approximately the equivalent of having the M-bar and the S-bar on the same bike.
The ride: this is by far the weirdest, but also the most comfortably versatile Brompton steering available. Any time your hands get fatigued, or you wish to shift your position, you have not only the top and bottom grips, but also a variety of places to rest your hands along the side curves of the bar. Note that brakes are only available on the top part of the bar, so that should be your default position in traffic, or any situations when you need quick access to brake levers. This is an excellent handlebar option if you’re planning to take longer excursions with your Brompton.
Recommendation: there is no reason not to go with the P-bar, other than its odd appearance. But you can get over that pretty quickly. If you don’t love the foam grips, you can add flair to your P-bar with Brooks leather tape, or any festive handlebar tape of your choice.
We’ve seen time and again that new Brompton owners constantly find new excuses to use their Bromptons more, and therefor the utility of the bike expands far beyond what they originally anticipated. Bromptons can, and are, ridden over great distances worldwide. We ourselves have taken our Bromptons on trips exceeding 50 miles per day. Therefore, our parting comments on the topic of handlebar selection is to go with one that you believe you can comfortably enjoy over many miles!