Brompton's plans for an electric bike are no secret, although we knew very little about what the result would actually be until we strolled up to Brompton Junction.
We were there to meet Will Butler-Adams (pictured above), Brompton CEO and the man credited with turning a small bike company into the country's biggest bike manufacturer. As we arrive, Butler-Adams is swamped by fans from Singapore, posing for selfies in the boutique store on London's Long Acre.
Brompton owners are evangelical about the bikes; we're yet to meet anyone who owns one that doesn't sing its praises. Even dedicated road bikers still gush with praise for the Brommie, but we had no idea that in some countries there's a real cult fandom.
Electric bikes so far have often been bulky, heavy, and ugly as sin, clamping a huge battery awkwardly onto the frame of a regular bike, like an unsightly growth. The problem with that approach is that you're making a bulky thing bulkier. That might suit someone out of town who needs help getting up a hill, but for the urban dweller, few electric bikes have really hit the mark.
Step onto city streets across the globe and you'll likely encounter a Brompton. The city is its natural habitat thanks to that hypnotic folding action, making uniquely portable and compact. A seasoned Brompton owner can go from train seat to saddle in about 30 seconds; it's the bike you carry into the office or store in the cupboard under the stairs in your tiny city pad.
So the most remarkable thing about the Brompton Electric is that it's almost exactly the same as the existing bike. It's the same fold, it's the same look, it's the same twitchy and responsive ride.
That's thanks to over 5 years of development and working with Williams Advanced Engineering (of Williams F1 fame) to find a way to seamlessly integrate the smart delivery of power without losing anything of Brompton's charm.
The result is sensational: it feels like you're superhuman, eliminating those energy-sapping headwinds, flattening out hills and giving you speed off the line that leaves other cyclists agog.
Going Electric the Brompton way
The secret likes in the huge amount of technology that's packed into the bike. While everything looks the same and behaves the same way as the regular bike, the motor sits in the hub of the front wheel, avoiding any complication that might come from the folding action of the back wheel.
It's a 250W motor that's packed with sensors, so it knows what you're doing, working in tandem with a cadence sensor in the bottom bracket. This arrangement means that as you pedal, the motor knows what's happening and can provide assistance which is where the magic happens.
This isn't an electric bike where you can sit like a lemon as it carries you along and that's what we love about it. You pedal, the motor assists and you get where you need to go effortlessly.
Importantly there's nothing to learn or master. There's no lever to pull, grip to twist or button to press. Instead, it's as natural as riding any other bike, which is part of the appeal. Anyone who can ride a bike will be happy on the Brompton Electric.
Riding the streets of London with Butler-Adams, astride the new Brompton Electric, it's hard to not marvel at how good it feels. Butler-Adams darts through the streets, talking about how cities have become about living in small spaces, disappearing down small holes to ride on underground trains full of miserable people, while the best way to get around is above ground. Things need to change.
The uptake in cycling in London has been huge in recent years, but it's still nothing like the levels that you'll find in cities like Amsterdam or across many European cities for that matter. While many existing electric bikes don't really address that problem, the Brompton does.
"It's not really designed for fit people like us," Butler-Adams says as we overtake a seasoned fixie rider on Waterloo Bridge, "It's designed to remove the barrier to cycling for those who don't."
The Brompton Electric is a facilitator for those who don't want to arrive sweaty, can't get over the effort needed to get up the hills on the commute, or just find the distance daunting. With a range of 25-50 miles, this new Brommie will give you a boost on rides across greater commutable distances, which previously seemed impractical.
In the saddle, the first thing you feel is that the bike is carrying you along as you start pedalling. For a seasoned cyclist there's a brief moment of surprise as the bike pulls away faster than you expect. Thereafter, power kicks in when you're pedalling hard, giving you the feeling that you've now got Chris Hoy's thighs.
There is a drive cut-off and that's at 15.5mph (25kph), which stops you getting faster and faster as you pedal. When the motor isn't driving you, you really wouldn't know it's there. The freewheel is completely smooth, so rolling downhill it feels like any other Brompton. But the key thing is that the leg-sapping accelerations are assisted, so stop start riding that's common in cities is much easier.
Brompton's battery solution
As we stop at the lights the aforementioned fixie rider stops and takes a long hard look at these magical Brommies. To look at, there's very little difference that anyone will notice and that's part of why this solution works so well.
The power, naturally, comes from a battery, but rather than clamp that to the frame or on a rear rack, it forms part of the luggage. Brompton already offers luggage solutions for the front of its bikes, so the addition of the battery feels natural, fitting into the existing design language. Take the battery off and you're riding a Brompton, slot the battery on and you're riding a Brompton like Chris Froome.
Back at Brompton Junction, Butler-Adams magically folds the bike while we take a closer look at the battery. It's a lithium-ion cell of German manufacture and surprisingly light. The way it integrates into the luggage is a great solution. The small pack gives you enough space to take your essentials - phone, keys, wallet, etc, with 1.5-litre capacity - while the larger pack would let you tote your laptop, your copy of Magpie Murders and your Moleskine with no trouble at all in the 20-litre space.
The battery itself weighs 2.9kg in that little bag adding to the 13.7kg of the 2-speed bike. It's a 36V battery with an 8.55Ah capacity and includes a 5V 1.5A USB port so you can charge your phone from it, a nod to real world practicality. Naturally, there's also an iPhone app to track your stats.
The battery has a few controls on the top that will show you the charge level, let you set the assistance level (giving you some say over how much it contributes) as well as a setting for the bike's lights. You can set the lights to automatic, so you don't have to worry about turning them on and off.
Brompton Electric: Price and availability
We step away from the Brompton Electric enthused with its offering. It's an expensive bike at £2,595, and it's only going to be available in white or black initially, with an M type handle bar and in 2- or 6-speed configuration - but it doesn't feel too expensive.
It certainly is a luxury in many ways, the same way that a standard Brompton (which costs from about £900) is, but for a London commuter that might only be the cost of your yearly travelcard, not to mention the health boosts and sheer joy that will come from riding it.
The Brompton Electric will initially be available in the UK and then rolling out to other European markets. You'll be able to find out more and register your interest on the Brompton website, with orders asking for a £200 deposit.
The Brompton Electric will be delivered in early 2018, but if you're interested in trying the bike for yourself, then head down to Brompton Junction. If your interest has been piqued, it's definitely worth your time.