(Pocket-lint) - Brompton is a name that almost completely dominates the folding bike market - a brand with so much prestige that it's practically synonymous with the sort of bike that it's so famous for, and that's a reputation it has spent years building.
Electrification, though, waits for no one, and as such Brompton has in recent years also been releasing electric versions of its classic folding bike, with motorised assist to make your commute that much easier.
We spent a few weeks riding the ML6 electric bike around London, and it was enough to make us think moving to the commuter belt might not be such a bad idea.
- Folds down for storage and carrying
- 18.3kg including battery
- Built-in lighting
The Brompton Electric comes in a few models - we rode the M6L in a more-expensive bolt blue colour - but the differences between them are largely to do with gear options, as opposed to the designs. That means that regardless of what model you opt for you can expect the same high quality of finish.
This is a folding bike first and foremost, of course, so you've got small wheels and a long seat stem as the defining factors, along with an array of telescoping parts to let you pack it all away. We've used a few folding bike brands, and many of them don't pass the idiot test - the Brompton thankfully does with flying colours. A few minutes of practice will see you able to fold and unfold it quickly, with quick-release handles that make loosening and tightening the key joints really easy.
That fold-down mode packs the bike in nice and tightly, making it easy to fit under luggage racks or in the back of a car, and making it far less of a space-consumer if you're keeping it indoors. It also has an impressively lightweight build that makes lugging it around very doable when it's parcelled up, using the saddle as a natural handle. You won't want to carry it miles like this, but getting it up your office or home's staircase shouldn't be too challenging.
When it's unfolded, the look of a Brompton can be 'a bit Marmite', as is true of all folding bikes. The tiny wheels and elongated handlebar and seat stems can make you look slightly odd as you ride about, but the design is so ubiquitous that people don't really give it a second look. Plus, the slightly ungainly look is obviously in service of the extreme convenience of folding it up, so it's a worthy trade in our mind.
The battery for the bike, meanwhile, clips onto its front in a small pouch that can also store your keys and more. You can optionally buy a much bigger 20-litre bag if you want to load your stuff up on the front, but we found this a little unwieldy. We'd prefer a design that doesn't require this front-pack on the bike, but Brompton has been committed to it for quite some time. Removing the bag, which houses the battery, lets you charge it without needing the whole bike near the charger, which we always appreciate.
Electric assist and ride quality
- 30-70km (18-44 miles) range
- Automatic pedal assist
- 6 manual gears
Of course, there are plenty of electric bikes out there that look lovely but don't ride particularly well - it's in motion that you can feel how things really come together. Brompton has loaded its bike with parallel systems - there's six standard gears to use as if it were a normal bike (cheaper models restrict this to two).
That lets you lower your gear selection for hills or starts, while you can get up to cruising speed on higher gears. The battery pack, though, has three levels for you to swap between, each ramping up that amount of electric assist to help propel you forward.
As is often the case, the first of these assist levels offer such a minor boost that you at times might not even be sure anything's happening. Once you crank it up to two or three, though, you'll get that familiar woosh as you speed off from traffic lights and stoppages without having to get your pulse up too much.
The assist here is smooth and impressive - it can occasionally lag slightly behind your pedal-turn, but largely it kicks in gently to make sure you're not taken off guard by the acceleration. It can get you up to a cruising speed of 25kmph (15.5mph) really quickly, although the size of its wheels means that you'll never be able to feel like a true speedster as you would on a bigger road bike.
For the size, though, this is really exemplary, and its display LEDs to show you how much battery you've got left are also useful (if at times a little panic-inducing - they can tick down rather quickly, despite the actual battery life living up to its stated range on lower assist levels).
Changing the level of assist and switching the bike's attached lights on or off can be achieved using buttons atop the battery, which in truth aren't convenient - you have to lean down over the handlebars to reach them, which isn't safe if doing so while in motion. Brompton would prefer you to mount your phone and use its Bluetooth controls, which goes a long way in remedying the issue.
- Companion app
- Charging brick with four-hour charging time
The app does a grand in handling changing the assist level. Pairing app to bike is easily done, and the app then becomes a useful dashboard.
That said, Brompton bikes' unique handlebar design means that you'll really want the official phone mount attachment to get your phone aligned comfortably (it's Quad Lock partnered, so will work with any of those phone cases), so this is another little area where some extra spending will help smooth out a slightly rough edge.
The app works well, though, and is certainly preferable in our view to any sort of built-in display - this way it's left up to you how or whether you need any visual readout.
The bike's battery pack comes with a chunky charging brick that should recharge your pack from empty in around four hours. Again, you can buy a fast-charging version to halve this time, and we're a little disappointed not to see that upgrade included for free, given what is a pretty high price tag already.
This is a folding electric bike just as it should be - supremely convenient and useful all the time. Riding a Brompton around makes you realise how much it could unlock other lifestyles. For anyone commuting into a city, this is a sure-fire way to make the journeys at either end of your train or drive way quicker and more relaxing - especially thanks to the easy folding and stowing mechanism.
It's also great for a ride about town, though, and makes cruising around a doddle instead of a strain, to the point where electrification feels completely natural for this size of bike, helping to make up for its old shortcomings in the speed and power departments.
That said, we can't escape the fact that you'll have to fork out a huge wedge of cash to own one - effectively positioning the Brompton as a luxury option, albeit a luxury option with a very practical set of design choices at its heart. But if you fit into the Venn diagram of people for whom it makes sense, the Brompton Electric is as good as it gets.
If you want something a little less classical-looking, but still need a folding frame and electric assist, this GoCycle model could tick all your boxes (although availability can be an issue for all its options). It is, if anything, easier to fold than the Brompton and has a completely different look and feel that's much more futuristic, but is just as useful. It's also great to ride around, and has noticeably bigger wheels in case you're concerned about that element of the ride.