The Bikes /// 02.

CHPT3 x Brompton

I had never imagined this partnership when starting CHPT3, yet it has come to represent what we do more than any other collaboration. 

When founding CHPT3 in 2015 I knew nothing about urban cycling, that world was as far removed from me as the Tour de France was to commuters.  I didn’t consider the two worlds having any commonality, I was a racer, they were commuters, and never the twain shall meet.  Looking back this was a blinkered view of life, one that I wasn’t alone in experiencing; in fact it was almost de rigueur to stay as far away from each other as possible.  

British Madness at it’s charming best

I’d see Brompton’s in cities, I’d look at them and their owners as being oddball, I stereotyped them as eccentrics who wore tweed and carried leather satchels, British madness at its charming best.  I held the whole concept as a curiosity and didn’t consider the idea of riding one, let alone owning one.  That all changed when I met Will Butler Adams (CEO of Brompton) at a lunch I was invited to in the spring of 2015.  He is the personification of Brompton, an eccentric Brit, his first words to me were, “Are you the Tour de France cyclist?”  He told me how he didn’t understand why people rode to work in lycra on road bikes, and how he wanted to convert mamils to Brompton life.  I told him that wouldn’t be easy…. Within 30mins he had me promising not only to visit the Brompton factory but also to take part in that year’s Brompton World Championships.  My conversion had begun.

The interesting thing I took away from that first meeting with Will was that he didn’t talk much about the bike itself, it was all about how we must change the way we live and move around urban environments.  I hadn’t given it much thought before, for me a bike was a tool for my racing trade.  When I wasn’t training or racing the bicycle didn’t play a part in my life, in truth I didn’t want it to, why would I ride a bike if it didn’t serve my professional racing needs?  Well, I wasn’t a pro racer anymore, I was liberated from that way of thinking...

It’s why I’d created CHPT3 in the first place, to allow me to experiment and do things differently albeit with the two decades of elite racing experience I possessed.  It dawned on me that collaborating with Brompton could be the ultimate proof of concept.

Inside the Brompton Factory

A few weeks later I visited the Brompton factory, I was surprised to learn it was in London, I didn’t think it was possible in the modern age to run a bike manufacturing business from England, let alone London.  I was given an in-depth tour by Will, he regaled me with the history and showed me how the bikes were made, he radiated pride and engineering knowledge.  It was clear that engineering was their first love at Brompton, the Brompton Bicycle sold today is the culmination of forty years of iteration.  

Will knew everybody on the factory floor, he was in his natural habitat.  I was shown how each frame was made and how they had their own brazing (a form of welding) apprenticeship program to recruit locally.  Each frame is brazed by one person who has to adhere to extremely strict tolerances, and you’ll find their initials embossed on the underside of the frame.  You can read more about that here

The company itself was like no other I’d encountered in cycling, everybody seemed to be on a shared mission to change the way we live, for them the Brompton was a vehicle of change.  This was a brave new world for me, I’d never thought of cycling in normal clothes doing normal things, I’m embarrassed to say it had never crossed my mind.  At this point I still hadn’t ridden one, Will said he’d get one for me before the Brompton World Championships that were to be held that summer during the Ride London weekend.  He delivered it to my Mum’s house two days before, he’d had it painted up in CHPT3 colours.  I was given number 3 on the Le Mans start grid, there were approx. 500 people taking part.  I think about 200 of them passed me before I’d got it unfolded

The CHPT3 x Brompton Design Process

And so it began, I started to use the bike regularly, and was given near carte blanche on how I wanted the CHPT3 version to be.  This was a year long journey of experimenting.  I felt like a kid again when I rode it, I was transported back to the 1980’s to a time when my BMX was my ticket to freedom, and that became my inspiration, I wanted to make the CHPT3 version as much like that BMX as was possible. 

2016 was the first year I commentated on the Tour de France, and Brompton made two prototype bikes for Ned and me to test over the three weeks.  It was a game-changer, we would use them to ride to starts or from finishes, occasionally we’d even recon a mountain, we could fit them in the back of our car with our luggage and often be the envy of the media entourage as we speed past stage finish traffic jams.  Beyond the TdF I’d started to use the bike almost daily, parking on the outside of Girona and riding in to the CHPT3 Studio, or when taking the kids out for bike rides. 

It became my transport of choice in London or Barcelona, my Brompton was always by my side, travelling around a city from meeting to meeting or catching up with friends, the journey to and fro became fun rather than stress, in fact sometimes getting somewhere was more fun than being there.

Through all this I figured out what I wanted the CHPT3 version to be; I wanted it to be that BMX from my youth.  We set the position to be as aggressive as possible, no mudguards, light as possible, with fast tyres and performance grips and saddle.  We made titanium forks and rear triangle standard, Schwalbe made tan wall tyres especially for it, Brooks used their new cambium rubber saddle that I’d helped develop, and Ergon grips designed for MTB or BMX.  The first edition came in two models, two or six speed.  That didn’t come out till 2017, over two years after that first meeting with Will (patience is a virtue Brompton has in spades).  It was an instant success.

We are now on our fourth version, in classic Brompton fashion each an improved iteration of the previous.  It makes me extremely proud that CHPT3 has become the only ever official factory partner to Brompton.  In many ways we’re their skunk department, they let me play around and come up with ideas, many of which haven’t seen the light of day, yet no doubt will in the future.

Riding the CHPT3 Brompton

The Brompton CHPT3 has allowed me to discover urban cycling, and it’s inspired much of what we’re working on currently.  I’ve become dependent on my bike in “normal” life and I don’t want to compromise how I look and feel when I arrive at my destination, while I need what I wear to work on the bike. 

When I walk into an office, or a restaurant I don’t want to look like I’ve ridden there.  I call it my 90/10 problem: when using my Brompton I spend 90% of the time off the bike, and 10% on it, yet I want to be comfortable 100% of the time.  We’ve been prototyping numerous products, and the first of these to be released is the Transit Shoe, it was born out of my need to have a shoe that could deliver the solution to the 90/10 problem, and even go beyond and become something that non-cyclists would want and inspire them to consider using a bike instead of a car because ultimately I want to make urban cycling aspirational.  I hope in the future CHPT3 can lead the idea that we are urban cycling is not a compromise, in fact it’s a signal that you understand our future, one where we take back our cities.