Brompton boosts British bike manufacturing

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 137.

On the factory floor.
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In November last year I attended the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) tour of the Brompton Bicycle factory. Also in attendance were MPs Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) and Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) as well as Lord Berkeley. I hope that they were able to pass on what they learned to other APPCG committee members.

We started with a tour of the factory and followed this with presentations by Stephen Loftus, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Brompton, and Steven Bell, Managing Director of Pashley Cycles. Attendees were also given the opportunity to test the new Brompton electrically-assisted folding bike and the new Santander Cycle produced by Pashley.

The tour was at the Brompton factory in Greenford, London, where the business relocated in 2016 after outgrowing their previous factory in Brentford. Production is currently on track to reach 45,000 cycles this year, making Brompton the largest bicycle manufacturer in the UK. The new factory will eventually allow production to increase up to 100,000 cycles a year. Overall, the factory and head office employ 240 people.

As someone who loves cycling and has a professional background in supply chain logistics and manufacturing, touring the factory was like being a kid in a candy store, especially when surrounded by the shiny components and bright Brompton frames. I enjoyed watching the machines, people and processes that work together to produce up to 180 Bromptons each day. Highlights included a demonstration of the pipe bender used to create the distinctive shape of the Brompton frame and witnessing the skill of the Brompton brazers, something they develop over 18 months of training. Each brazer has a ‘signature’ which is stamped on the parts of the bike they have worked on.

Amazing brazing skills.
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While overall bike sales are declining in the UK and the EU, Brompton sales continue to increase, especially recently through the sales of more expensive special edition bikes such as the new Brompton Electric which starts delivery this year. Sales of Pashley cycles are also increasing.

Brompton’s major areas of growth, however, are not in the UK. What was quite surprising was the sheer number of bicycles that Brompton export around the world. 80% of the cycles produced are exported to 44 countries through 1,200 selected cycle retailers and 12 flagship ‘Brompton Junction’ stores in Europe and Asia. At the time of the APPCG tour, Brompton were making plans to open yet another store in New York.

The APPCG event also featured a talk from Pashley Cycles’ Managing Director, Steven Bell, who showcased the new bikes Pashley is now manufacturing for London’s Santander bike-sharing scheme. I was impressed by the innovation from this British company which found ways to invest in quality manufacturing to reduce the overall lifetime cost of the bicycles. I was also able to test ride the new bike and I hope to write more about this in a future Camcycle edition.

It was especially exciting to test ride the new Brompton. I’d had no previous experience of riding an electrically-assisted bike; however, I quickly became accustomed to zipping along and I found the ride very smooth. Brompton has managed to incorporate the battery without significantly compromising the light and convenient nature of the folding bicycles. The battery is stored in a 1.5-litre bag that attaches to the front of the bike and weighs about 2.9kg. The total weight of the bike with battery ranges from 16.6kg to 17.3kg.

I can see how these cycles could really encourage more people to ride. I think these bikes will sell particularly well to the multi-modal commuter market where the electric assistance will help people to combine cycling with car, bus or train journeys and arrive at work without raising a sweat. Bromptons are already used by many as mobility aids and the electric assist may increase the appeal of this option even more. Brompton are taking reservations for the electrically-assisted bike now with delivery planned in mid-2018.

Bike ‘candy’.
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Overall, I hope that the APPCG event helped MPs realise that manufacturing related to cycling is good for the economy and is yet another point to add to the very long list of reasons why we need our politicians to support policies and investment that will increase cycling.

Roxanne De Beaux