- Brompton Bicycles – the unfolding saga of a two-wheeled success story | Life and style | The Guardian (PDF)
The demise of bicycle manufacturing in Britain is all the more sad at a time when cycling’s popularity is soaring, with almost £1bn worth of bikes sold in Britain last year. According to CTC, the national cycling charity, even in 2010 around 23,000 people were employed directly in bicycle sales and distribution, which generated £500m in wages and £100m in taxes.
Will Butler-Adams, chief executive of Brompton, says: “We are a solution to a global problem. People forgot about the bike in the 1950s and that was a mistake. We are spending £15bn to build Crossrail, but we have the solution here with this little bike.”
Apart from the problems of traffic congestion in large cities such as London, Adams believes the bigger picture is the burden placed on stretched NHS departments by the growing number of people leading much more sedentary lives.
“We are in the urban transport industry; the competition for Brompton is the tube or the car. That’s who our customers are – urbanites,” he says. “We cannot go on living in cities the way we are. Governments cannot afford it, they have got to get people more active in cities.”
Indeed, city dwellers have become accustomed to the sight of Brompton owners in their office clothes whizzing down cycle lanes on the distinctive small-wheeled bikes, or hopping on a busy commuter train carrying a neatly folded package of wheels and tubes.
Brompton has fared well from the growing number of devotees. . Since Adams, 40, joined the business in 2002 turnover has exploded from £1.7m to £28m last year, with profits of £3.4m. It is on course to hit £30m of sales this year.
The success of Brompton is down to a curious combination of Adams’ youthful drive and ambition added to the timeless design of the “folder”, first created by Andrew Ritchie, founder of the west London bike maker.
Ritchie began designing the bike in 1975 from his flat in South Kensington, London, which overlooked Brompton Oratory, the imposing Roman Catholic church from which he took the name. He established Brompton Bicycle a year later and produced the first prototype.
Over the years, Ritchie carved out a niche market of enthusiasts for the folding bike, which was produced under a railway arch in Brentford before moving to its current factory tucked under a flyover near Kew Bridge.
By 2008, Ritchie realised he needed somebody to help nurture his baby. Adams, a former Du Pont engineer, had been helping to run the business for six years by then and was keen to push things forward.
“I had to do things he’d find difficult,” Adams says. “I wanted to grow faster and become more aggressive with how we communicated. Andrew designed a bike for himself and so he doesn’t see the need to do a lot of these things.”
Ritchie stepped back in 2008 and allowed Adams to go for it. There is a strong sense that this was, and still remains, a tough decision for the founder, who continues to work two or three days a week.
A great little bike that should rightfully be the standard private bike design in urban areas. Because it folds and can be carried indoors it means that theft and on-street parking problems are avoided. This bike is a no-brainer!