Cigar Aficionado

Your private plane touches down on the idyllic Caribbean isle. In the airport other travelers wait in line for cabs and drivers. But instead of joining the throng, you unzip your carry-on and unveil what looks like a twisted pretzel of steel. Onlookers gasp with amazement as you unlock various bits and pieces, and screw in others. Within 30 seconds, what was just a jumble of metal becomes a small, upright and compact bicycle. You board your Brompton folding bike and you're off.

The brainchild of Londoner Andrew Ritchie, the Brompton bike is making inroads in the United States with its sublime conjunction of performance and portability in a lightweight package. This welcome alternative to bulky and heavy mountain bikes comes in three types weighing from 23 to 28 pounds. Made of a steel frame with cast-iron/forged steel hinges, Bromptons have rear suspension, high-pressure tires and signature dual-pivot brakes in front and high-leverage brakes in back, as well as a three-speed gear shift. All models fold to fit into luggage made especially for the bike.

We tested the L-model on the road and, after brief trepidation at the smallish tires and a frame that looked too flimsy to support an adult's weight, we enjoyed a fine ride. The Brompton maneuvered easily on city streets and rode smoothly. The brakes worked well with little pressure, as did the gearshift.

Of course, the real attraction of this bike is the way it folds. After fathoming some mildly confusing directions, we mastered the operation, and by the third try we could snap it away in 30 seconds (a much more realistic goal than the 10 it takes on the Web site video). Once you fold the back wheel forward and follow with the front tire and handlebars (both of which need to be unscrewed), it's a cinch. One tip: when snapping the front wheel onto the frame (the last step), it helps to lift the bike off the floor.

The Brompton, available in a variety of colors, starts at $833, without options (which include everything from light fixtures to wheeled carrier cases).


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