Friday 20 April 2018

20 questions for Brompton Chief Executive, Will Butler Adams

Just over five years ago Brompton Chief Executive, Will Butler Adams agreed to answer some questions about all things Brompton. Five years is a long time in business and there have been lots of changes at Brompton.  Very kindly, Will agreed to do the same all over again. 

I put twenty questions to him and said that he could answers as many or as few as he wished. Despite being undoubtedly busy, he answered all twenty questions. My questions and Will's complete answers appear below without any alterations.

I think his answers are brilliant but please see for yourself.

1.    A few years ago, I asked you what sort of Brompton you owned. You said it was a black 15-year-old M3L. Do you still have this bicycle? Do you now have another bicycle and what is it?

Sadly the 15-year-old Brommie finally died a death at circa 18 years of very hard labour. I could have fixed her up but actually after that much time everything is about to conk out, so it was time to move on. Since then I haven’t really had my ‘own’ bike. I have a red, white and blue, 2-spd steel that I use often but have been more keen to be trying out more of our r&d bikes, be that Brompton electric or other plans we have afoot.

2.   Since we last did this Brompton has moved from its former home in Brentford to its larger one in Greenford. What was the reasoning behind the move and how did it go in the end?

We needed more space, we moved into Kew Bridge with 20 or so staff and left with nearly 250 it was just not sustainable. We had taken on another unit round the corner which bridged the gap but it was not sustainable and inefficient to be transporting stuff up and down from each site. Also we needed space for more r&d facilites, space to put in an electric line, space to bring paint in house and space to have a bit of fun. It was scary, daunting, expensive and none of us were 100% sure it was the right decision. Two years on we are all sure it was the right decision and are very happy in our new home. 

3.   When it came to moving day, were there any moist eyes?

The last day of production was a sad day and the end of an era but our mission is to change how people live in cities and we need to evolve, innovate, grow and take risk if we are going to pull that off so at the same time we were proud to be taking the next step. 

4.   The ‘Brompton Electric’ is finally here. (I am pleased that I will still be able to ride a Brompton in my dotage). How did this all come about and what was the rationale behind Brompton making an electric bike?

It has been a long and hard journey and we in many respects are still just beginning the journey. We want more people to enjoy cycling, many people do not have the confidence to cycle as they don’t feel they are fit enough or don’t want to sweat. The electric takes these barriers away. The problem has been that electric bikes weight a tonne and are bulky things so not much good for something you have to fold and carry. We looked to find a solution, there wasn’t one so we took the rather more challenging path of developing our own. We were lucky to have some help from Patrick Head (Long standing Brompton rider and ex CEO of Williams F1) who said he could help. We have invested much of our savings and it has been a real challenge to become an electronics and software company as well as a metal basher. We are getting there, it has taken longer and cost more than any of us imagined but we now feel we have something we are proud of. I have been using the electric for six months now and love it!  

5.   In 2015 you were appointed OBE. What did it feel and what did it mean for you to gain this honour?

Other buggers efforts is what OBE stands for. It was a complete surprise and an honour to accept the appointment on behalf of all the Brompton staff. 

6.   Did you travel to Buckingham Palace on a Brompton?

The award was given at Windsor Castle and I was able to bring my wife and two of my daughters. It is a bit for from home on the Brommie but we went in our Pink Austin Vanden Plas Princess 1275 car 😊.

I have though been to Buckingham Palace several time and on all occasions went on my Brompton. 

7.   How does Brompton deal with other manufacturers who copy make components that are not that dissimilar to those found on a Brompton?

We have copy bikes, copy components etc They will always exist and we cannot stop customers buying them. But it is worth reminding everyone that a Brompton is not a toy, it is a tool and the responsibility that comes with making it is serious. If any part breaks on a bicycle it can be catastrophic, not only the shock and impact but also the consequences of being on a road with other traffic. We test our bikes to standards that we know are needed to look after our customers: we carried out a 144 thousand bike recall last year because we had the smallest concern for the safety of our customers. Those that copy without understanding the design intent or carrying out the right quality control and testing put our customers at risk. 

8.   Last year I heard Andrew Richie give a talk at the London Business School at one of the TELL Series talks. He spoke very fondly of you but alluded to differences between you both. Are you able to elaborate on what these differences were?

Andrew and I are both engineers but he is an inventor who is obsessed with detail in an extraordinary way and I am a person who is a leader wanting to drive growth and impact society. We have huge respect for each other but we do disagree about some areas of how the company is run. Just as I can often disagree with my management team about things we do in the company. I think this is a positive as I believe that it is through teamwork and positive debate that you get the best answer. 

9.   The Brompton World Championships will be held in July in London for the fourth time. It is a brilliant location and circuit but what plans do Brompton have for future events?

Our problem is capacity, the BWC costs money and a lot of time to organise and whilst we would love to organise other events in the UK so more people can get involved there is a limit to our capacity. We sell 80% of our bikes in 44 countries and have BWC events in circa 12 countries so there are other events several of which we also organise, but we also rely on our customers to organise events, be they weekend rides or grand tours.  

10. You collaborated with David Millar and the rather fine ‘Brompton X CHPT3’ was the result. Explain how this relationship was build and how the ‘Brompton X CHPT3’ came about?

I sat next to David at a hobnob lunch, I had no idea who he was as I don’t follow professional cycling. He was so modest he listened to me rabbit on about Brompton and kept quiet about his achievements. He then invited me to an event where he was launching his clothing and then I realised who he was. I met his Mum at the event sold her a Brompton. David used it when in London, loved it. We then made him a special funky one which he took back to Girona and the rest is history. 

11. With regards the ‘Brompton X CHPT3’ did Mr Millar have an input into the components, colours and design of the bike?


12. I seem to see a Brompton on every street corner in London. Where is your biggest market overseas and what are Brompton doing to tap into new ones?

Germany, Japan, US, Benelux, S. Korea, Spain…………. get more out of what we have got.  

13. In terms of sales, which Brompton type and colour sells more than any other? Why do you think this is?

Black M3L, rather boring but sadly safest stock bike for a shop to hold. 

14. If you were Prime Minster / Mayor of London for the day, what would you do to make cycling safer?

Stop investing in shoving people underground and spend 1/10thof that money improving cycling infrastructure. Band combustion engine for all private vehicles by 2020 and for commercial by 2023. 

15. The Brompton Bike Hire looks to be going really well.

Early days still but it has the potential to act as a catalyst to get people back on a bike. 

16. Despite there being hundreds of Brompton users in London, very often I find myself demonstrating the fold and unfold to people whose reaction is often as if they have just seen a unicorn. Why do you think a Brompton has this reaction for people?

In our own little world, we think everyone knows about the Brompton but actually real awareness is still very low. 

17. Who is the most famous person you definitely know uses a Brompton and who is the one you have only heard might use one on the grapevine?

Not bothered as long as they like it.  

18. Brompton users can be an eccentric bunch with many…ahem…fixated on one colour for example. What are your thoughts on Brompton users in general and the more exotic varieties?

We are a bit eccentric because the bike is not normal but we don’t care because it make our lives better. 

19. Having two daughters I am very conscious of the absence of women from many roles in design and engineering. What are your thoughts on this and what does Brompton do to try and encourage a more inclusive environment?

It’s nuts, half the potential customers for any product are women. Women are the decision makers for most of the money spent in any household yet most of the products they buy are designed by men. There is a lack of understanding of what design and engineering are, the innovation, artistic flare and fun but it is changing. We now have four women in our design team of sixteen, bit by bit.   

20. The next question is not an interview question but as I asked it last time I felt it was only fitting to ask something similar. Where do you see Brompton in five years in terms of sales, design and manufacturing?

Continuing to change how people live in cities, making life more invigorating and fun.

A very big thank you to Will for agreeing to do this. It really is appreciated. If you are interested, you can read my original interview conducted just over five years ago via the link below. 

Link to original interview

Sunday 15 April 2018

Wahoo Elemnt BOLT

I have used Garmin devices for a number of years or should I say had. About a year ago I saw the light as it were and converted to Wahoo. Since doing this I haven't looked back.

For me they were excellent at recording a ride and providing data to peruse over but that was about it. For me at least, I found navigating on them more or less impossible. The 820, which I had for about a year, was actually the best of all of the Garmin devices I used but I remember trying to use it to navigate from Liverpool Street Station to Euston and it was a total joke. It was rubbish. It took ages to load and when it did it crashed and crashed again.

Trying to be more independent in terms of navigation I started to used my iPhone and either google maps or RidewithGPS but it wasn't a long term solution.

I was invited to go on an overnight ride to the south coast over a year ago by a group of people really into 'Specilaized AWOL' bikes that were kitted out in front racks, rear panniers, dynamo lights, UBS chargers...the list goes on. They were doing training runs to test out various items of equipment which they planned to use on various biking expeditions. They used the BOLT and its bigger screened sibling the ELEMNT simply as a way of navigating. I was amazed at how quick and simple it all was.  Afterwards I took the plunge.

This is about the BOLT which is slightly smaller than the ELEMNT but they both function  identically. The BOLT is abbot the size of a Garmin 820. The big difference is that it has a greyscale screen - unlike the colour one the Garmin has.  The other big difference is that it has no touchscreen. As you will read later, neither of these omissions is a problem.

The BOLT has three buttons on the front of the device, one on the left had side to power on and two on the right side for scrolling up and down and changing the size view of the screen.

It is quite a simple and just works. That near-phrase will be used again, possibly more than once.

The BOLT is mounted on something similar to Garmin but specific to Wahoo. You get an out front mount and a smaller one that you can attach with cable ties (also included). I have the out-front mount on my road bike and the smaller one on my Brompton. You also get an additional mount which can be used on aero bars.

Charding is via a micro-USB cable (supplied) and the good news is that it doesn't take and age to charge.

Much is made of the BOLT's aerodynamic shape. I am sure it it but this is wasted on me I have to say. Still, marginal gains and all that.

The BOLT works hand in hand with the companion app and it would be foolish not to do so. They work really, really well together! 

If for example you want to navigate somewhere, you can use the companion app to take you anywhere you like. Just type in to your phone and a route is shown as below. These are full turn by turn directions.

You then send to your BOLT - and I kid you not within a 10th of a second - it is there on the BOLT ready to be used. No waiting around, no having to repeat yourself over and over again. It just works...and quickly!

On the BOLT you can set up multiple custom pages and if you want data believe me the BOLT can tell you just about everything and certainly as much as I remember from the Garmin 820.

Setting this up via the app on your phone is easier and when on the phone, using the up/down buttons on the side you can make the number of fields showing on the bolt increase or decrease.

The map screen that you use to navigate has a black and white chevron line that you follow. You can zoom the map screen in or out to make bigger or smaller. You would think that it might be hard to follow not being in colour, but it is very easy to see, clearer and less prone to glare in the sun. I would go as far as saying that it works faultlessly. 

I am not a confident person as far as navigating goes on the bike and have found it very difficult. With the BOLT I have used it to navigate:

  • Kew Gardens to Box Hill and back
  • London to Cambridge
  • West London RideIt Sportive
  • CobbleMonster (with lots of complicated turns)
In addition to this I have found myself at various main line train stations and used it to get back to where I know. It is utterly, utterly brilliant for this. I feel much more confident using it.

The one caveat - at least for the moment - is that if you go off course the BOLT cannot re-route you back to the route or calculate an alternative on the fly. It isn't all bad however as loud bleeps and a set of red LEDs along the top of the BOLT let you know very quickly and it is quite easy to retrace your steps. To be honest I found the Garmin so terrible at dong this, I set it so it didn't re-reoute you anyway.

The other thing I have found is that the route seems to refresh very quickly. This means if you have lots of turns on a route, the BOLT can keep up.

The greyscale screen is actually very good and clear to see and read all the data thereon and I the colour screen of the Garmin devices is not something I miss as a result. In addition, as the BOLT works in conduction with a iPhone the need the for a touchscreen is again not missed.

Once a ride has been completed and you hit end the ride the BOLT does a few things almost instantaneously. A map fo the route and ride data is ready and waiting on the ELENMT app on your phone. If you use STRAVA the ride data is already there as soon as you open the app to have a look. It's the same story if you use the excellent 'RideWithGPS' or any of the other apps that link with Wahoo. Again it just works and there is little fuss or drama in getting it to do whatever you want it to.

Another feature I have found useful for pre-planned rides is that you have a page for evaluation. This provides a side on profile of elevation as you are riding which allows you to check your progress on a particularly steep incline. This was put to good use when I recently did a nocturnal re-run of the CobbleMonster. 

I am really glad a ditched the Garmin and went the Wahoo route and cannot sing its praises highly enough. In fact the group of Specilized AWOL riders I cycled with last year told me that they deliberately tried various cunning ways of making the BOLT fail in terms of navigation and its ability to record all sorts of data with every sensor know to humanity but you've probably already just worked.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

London to Whitstable Overnight

Those of you of a certain age who liked watching rugby, on the BBC a few years ago before things got all professional might remember seeing footage of how England, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and French rugby players got ready for one of the Five Nations matches. You might recall seeing short montage-films of players in the week before the big match in their normal 9 to 5 job. The jobs were varied - doctor, solicitor, builder, gas worker, bank clerk - but they all showed people fitting in their weekend activity together with a busy job. Thoughts of the weekend did naturally dominate. In many ways, a Friday night ride to the coast is a little like this!

After prepping the bike - again my new Orange Brompton - I headed off from my base location in Maida Vale - far too early if anything. This meant that I got to the meeting point near the National Theatre early. I then decided to amble along the Thames, Cross the Thames at The Millennium Bridge and then amble back to where I started.

A modern masterpiece  

At the back of the Tata Modern I took a few photos of my bike and you will be please to know that I have only included two of the ridiculously large amount I took during this time wasting exercise.

When cycling back along the Southbank from the Tate Modern to the Royal Festival Hall, there was the usual sight (and sound) of couples have arguments and/or breaking up. Friday night and that stretch of there Thames must be the place to do it!

When I returned to the National Theatre I saw that Geoff was there (again on big wheels) but sadly Dr John couldn't make it being under the weather. Charlie (who I will come back to later on) was also there, this time on his road bike and was to do a fine job of organising way markers.

After our safety talk by ride leader, Rob we were told to check over our bikes and get ourselves ready as we would be going in five minutes.

Geoff looking to see what was going on north of the river

Considering the recent weather we were very lucky. It was a mild night and the rain - a constant companion it seems for the last few days - stayed away for much of the ride.

The pace was good and with very few stops for mechanical or punctures we arrived at Greenwich quite quickly - or at least it felt like that.

Further on in our nocturnal adventure we arrived at an underpass. This was a place where one could powder ones nose as it were. We get to see the nicest of locations.

The...ahem...powdering ones nose facilities 
The ride was proceeding very well with Rob leading the way, Charlie instructing people to mark corners up front with Rob and a team of Tail End Charlies who brought up the rear. A special mention to Stuart who seemed to mark loads of junctions, wait for the tail to catch up and then be seen near the front again.

Near Gravesend we stopped at a bus stop with lots of seats to wait for the tail to catch up. Naturally seeing the tin man opposite was a photo opportunity not to be missed - my excuse having a new bicycle to photo!

Any opportunity for a photo of an Orange Brompton has to be taken

Another short stop at a location we always seem to stop at (including in the days when the gentleman that is Simon ran these rides) was a pub once called 'The Call Boy.' It is no longer called that however the sign still remains.

With the halfway stop not too far away the pace at the front seemed to quicken ever so slightly. It was still a mild night/morning but every so often the temperature seemed to drop dramatically only to recover a few hundred metres on.

It was a joyous moment when we arrived at the Church of the English Martyrs in Strood. For the bargain price of £5 you could partake in a couple of tasty rolls and a slice of even tastier homemade cakes!


Getting up to make this all happen was Tim (ride leader on a number of other Fridays rides) and his wife. The funds raised for this went to a charity that is run within the church called 'Step and Learn.' Click on the link to find out more and perhaps if you have a spare £, $ or € you might consider donating. We were told later that we raised over £300 which is very good.

Not a great deal of talking was done as I have to confess to almost nodding off on several occasions!
We left the comfort of the Church and stepped out into what is nearly always a little chiller conditions. As such I put on a light layer and headed off. After a few minutes I was fine again and wanting the opportunity to take that layer off.

With dawn approaching the sun starting to rise and before you knew it the semi-darkness had given way to morning. It started to rain but it was very light and didn't materialise into anything more concerning.


Arriving at Faversham we were told of the last turn. At this point those who wished could travel at whatever speed they could muster towards the finish at the 'Waterfront' where breakfast awaited.

The new boss, a better than the old boss?!

At the turn there was at times quite a headwind but thankfully nothing too bad and certainly not as bad as experienced on previous incarnations of this ride. I managed to pass a few people and then stuck behind two others and was to do this - getting a little tow - all the way to the end. 

I completed the Graveney to Whitstable 4.3 mile STRAVA segment in 17 minutes 10 seconds at an average of 15.2 mph. Not too bad but certainly not my best.  As I arrived I saw Geoff who was locking up his bike. I folded mine and headed inside. 

The last turn

When the lady at the counter asked my name for the purposes of my order (which someone would bring out and shout out your name) I said, 'Orange.' She questioned this and I repeated. Not long after my breakfast arrived and the penny dropped when it was brought over to me and they saw an Orange Brompton.


Saying our goodbyes we headed for Whitstable station but before that I had to take a photo of my new steed by the seaside!

I made it

Geoff was going to try clock up another 100 miles by cycling part of the way home but decided to take the train as far as Gravesend. Our train arrived in good time and what a journey it proved to be!

A few stations in the train was becoming packed. When Geoff got off at Gravesend, saying goodbye I also asked him to wish me luck! At the next stop it was as if every person trying to get on was carrying a large suitcase! I was so glad I brought my Brompton! If I had of been on my Condor road bike I suspect I may have suffered some sort of seizure by the time we reached St Pancras!

The journey - we should not have got on the front carriage at Whitstable - was horrid and like the late Pope John Paul II I almost kissed the platform floor, so glad was I to have arrived. The tube station I was going to use was packed so I decided to simply cycle home.

The dreaded Whitstable Station
When taking into account the cycling to the meet up point on Friday, the ride to Whitstable itself, ride to Whitstable Station and then the ride home I actually clocked up just over 102 miles!

The route

Ride profile

This was another great ride. Again riding through the night is quite addictive and hopefully I will be able to go on many more of the others planned for 2018. Many thanks to Geoff for his company (and support on the train home), Rob for leading the ride, Charlie for acting as Waypoint Administrator and the team of TECs. Until next time...

Tuesday 10 April 2018

My new Orange Brompton

As you perhaps already know I have a new Brompton. Despite me saying that I would never spend another Orange pound on a I go eating my words. I won't bore you with why  I changed my mind but all I can say is that the decision was made pretty quickly and I simply went with the flow.

The bike is a 2018 All Black Special Edition in Orange. It reminds me in many ways of my first Orange Brompton which was orange with black extremities. I do like this a great deal better and black and orange are a killer combination for me. (You may recall me adding lots of black parts to my titanium Brompton I suppose to make my own special edition. I ended up hating the grey of the titanium spoiling the general look. This is definitely miles better).

I chose a 6 x speed, standard 50t chainring (for the moment at least), extended seat post and would have chosen a firm suspension but there is only one option now - firm. More on this later.

Already I have added a few optional extras. I do quite a bit of night riding and despite having some excellent battery lights I have always enjoyed the unlimited run time of dynamo lighting. It really is forget and go.

I had originally got a Supernova front light but didn't like it. The beam was bright but narrow and I actually preferred the beam from the Edulux II. I decided to keep the orange and black theme going and got a version in just that. (I have to say the colour seems to be a lot better than the one I bought and returned a few years ago.

To go with the front light I decided to go for the SON rear light which I have to say is excellent. It works well with the optional rear reflector. The red light is very bright and can be seen from a wide angle.

To power it all I opted for a SON XS in black with black spoke and rim. I have one of these on my P-type and it has been faultless. This one is a little lighter but apart from that and the different style it does the same job as efficiently.

Having been on two night rides to the coast recently you could quite happily travel dark country lanes and be perfectly happy using just these lights. The only thing I would add for urban cycling would be a additional light that has a flashing mode - just to be seen.

The 2018 Brompton bikes have the updated brake callipers. I have to report that these are pretty good and allow for confident braking.

The Brompton saddle was taken off immediately and a Brooks B17 in black put on. It certainly let me know it was new on the London to Southend run but a few adjustments to its position resulted in a very comfortable saddle for 102 miles from last Friday night to early Saturday afternoon.

I do have a black Brooks Swallow but I recently put this on my Condor road bike and it looks rather good on it so it will almost certainly stay put.

I had put on a Rixen and Kaul bottle mount to the front stem but this worked its way lose on the Southend run. I decided to try out a Monk Clip mount specifically for Brompton bikes which actually worked a great deal better.

I am normally a Marathon user but as the Marathon Plus has been updated recently to allow 110 psi I decided to give them a go. No worries from me with regards rolling resistance or them feeling sluggish. (I did have these issues with the older version when I tried them a few years ago). They run well and being slightly wider allow for a more comfortable ride.

The bike came with Marathon Racers and these look good for being a summer tyre and a wiser alternative to the Kojak.

The suspension block is now smooth with no ridges. There is no firm or normal just this. It is good. Definitely as firm as the firm suspension and if anything more so. I like it.

The Brompton pedals also came off straight away to be replaced by some Shimano SDPs that I have got on well in the past with.

The new lock on Brompton grips are actually really good and a massive improvement over the foam that was on bikes previously. The only reason they came off was I had a set of Ergon grips - in orange. These are same as those found on the pretty fine CHPT3 but in orange of course.

The space on the S-type bar is pretty good and made better by the new shifters. I have a Wahoo mount placed in the dead centre of the bars and a mount for my Exposure Toro front light.

There you have it. My new Orange Brompton. I am very please with it and having done a few distance rides on it I am pleased to be back with an S-type.