James May needs no introduction to millions who tune in to Top Gear on Sunday evenings. He has also made some great television programmes on his own: James May Man's Lab, James May's Toy Stories, James May's Big Ideas and James May on the Moon to name but a few. His is famous for his extensive knowledge of cars and all things mechanical and is generally an all round good egg.
What you might not know is that James May is also a bit of a Brompton fan and this goes back a long way before they became 'trendy.'
I asked James twelve questions with the expectation that he could answer as many as he wished. He actually answered all my questions which I have listed below together with James' response.
1) What sort of Brompton do you own? (M type, colour, gearing). What is off the peg (bought from those in stock in a bike shop) or bespoke (where you have specific requirements and had to wait a few weeks for it to be made)
It’s a dark green T5 from, I think, 1997. So it has the five-speed Sturmey Archer, mudguards and dynamo lights. It’s standard apart from the optional bracket on the front to allow the despatch bag to be carried. I have this as well, and its waterproof cover.
2) What made you buy a Brompton folding bike rather than a 'proper' bike?
I have a ‘proper’ bike as well, but the Brompton fits in a car, which revolutionised my life. Moving cars around for work often leaves me slightly stranded, and car recovery after a night out in which I vowed ‘not to drink’ is greatly facilitated by a Brompton.
3) Brompton owners can sometimes be regarded as eccentric (being kind). Tell me what you think of this?
I think this was very true when I bought mine. They tended to be ridden by oddballs, engineering lecturers, that sort of person. Now they seem to be very fashionable. I ride around shouting ‘I bought mine before they were cool you know’.
4) My best day when out on my Brompton was riding in a peloton of 17 other Brompton bikes on the way to Oxford. Describe your Brompton best moment.
I once actually rode it into a posh restaurant. The concierge bloke simply took it from me, folded it up, and put it in the cloakroom. Didn’t bat an eyelid. Maybe it happens all the time.
5) Why do you think many Brompton owners are so enthusiastic about the Brompton brand and their bikes in general?
I think Bromptons have always been a bit of a cult, and the owners are a bit evangelical about them. There are folding bike pretenders, but the Brompton folds most convincingly. That’s the point of a folding bike.
6) Have you ever been to the Brompton World Championships? If yes please let me know what you thought about it? If not yet, would you consider attending in the future?
I’ve heard about them, but never been. Maybe I should. Do people do wheelies on them?
7) Do you think your colleagues Mr Clarkson and Mr Hammond would ever use a Brompton? What would they say about it ?
I’m not terribly interested in their opinions of my stuff. I suspect Hammond would like it, because he likes bicycles. Not sure Jeremy can actually ride one.
8) As someone known for their fondness/knowledge of motor cars how do people react when they know you like/have a Brompton.
Incredulity, often, at least if they’re unenlightened. I particularly hate road sectarianism. It’s all personal transport, and we have enough enemies from without.
9) Some Brompton owners are fully clad in Lycra cycling gear while some just wear normal clothes/ suites. What do you wear when out on your Brompton?
I wear what I happened to have on, which is what was clean when I woke up. I think the point of a Brompton is that it can just be incorporated into normal life. They’re not good if you’re wearing flares though. Apparently.
10) What is the longest journey you have ever made cycling your Brompton? Where was it?
When I was younger, I did some truly massive rides on ‘proper’ bikes, but I’ve tended to use the Brompton as a local transport solution. But I have ridden it happily across London.
11) My brother has an MG and whenever he sees another MG owner while driving he always beeps the horn/flashes his lights. More often than not they do the same. When I am on my Brompton and see another Bromptonian I always ding my bell. Any thoughts/comments on this? Is it just is British thing, exclusive to the owners of cult machines?
I used to do this in the early days, when Bromptons were still quite rare. Less so now. But it is nice when, during conversation, you discover that someone else has one. It’s a great bonding moment.
12) There is a serious amount of engineering behind a Brompton. Is this important to you?
Yes. It’s a clever bike, definitely, and you can’t really change anything significant without corrupting its foldability. I met Andrew Ritchie once, and he explained his thinking to me. He’s the sort of person who would ride a Brompton even if he hadn’t designed it.
I am really grateful to James - who I am sure is a very busy man - for answering my questions and providing some great answers! Many thanks James. Special thanks to Fiona at 'Arlington Enterprises' James' agents for arranging it all!