Design the hardest part first

My mother told me, when ironing a shirt, iron the tricky bits first. She was right of course. The broad areas flow away from the collar and cuffs, not the other way around. There are parallels to my mother’s wisdom, I’ve found, in the world of design. It is in their elegant handling of the meeting of a wall with an eave, that a master architect stands apart from the hacks. Whatever it takes—putting the structure elsewhere, elaborate duogongs, or an ionic freeze or caryatids’ heads—to handle this juncture with finesse, gives an architect the luxury of doing nothing special at all with the rest of the building.

The "business end" of the bicycle, is where the rear wheel meets the frame. Consider all the things that might be competing for space here: axle fasteners, chain tension devices, gears, disc brakes, perhaps a light wire, rack and fender stays… those pegs kid’s have on their BMX ramp bikes. Disregard the celebrity endorsements, and glossy brochures: if you’re contemplating buying a bike, ask to pull the back wheel off. I very nearly ordered a Brompton this week, suckered by the bowler hat image. Thankfully I found the clip on their website from which I took the screen shot you’ll see, below left.

Note, the Brompton is filthy, and who, when it comes down to it, could bring themselves to clean such a fowl piece of making? Made by good UK workers with OH&S laws guarding them against having to come very close to their subject. I’ve seen wheelbarrows at Bunnings with more finesse. Meanwhile, over at NAHBS, they’re treating cast sliding titanium dropouts as though they were… I would say "gold", but I’d rather wear cast sliding titanium dropouts as jewelry. If you’re an architect reading, study eave details. If you’re contemplating buying a bike, ask the shopkeeper if they mind you taking off the back wheel. 


  1. Steven says:

    Re: Go for it

    You know Mike, that must go down in the annuls as the most articulate comment yet to grace my humble blog, despite some quite noble efforts. Am so glad to see words like etymology used, but even more to see metaphysics imbibed in your apologetics. Wonderful stuff. Could you write to Brompton perhaps and ask them to use cast dropouts? Oh, and a cast aluminium chain tensioner. The titanium forks are fine. They can keep those.
    Thanks again!
    Dr. Behooving

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Go for it

      The nature of the Brompton fold means sliding dropouts like on a traditional bike are irrelevant – you have to use the built-in Brompton chain tensioner, as the chainline expands/contracts with every fold.

      The beauty of a Brompton is in the balance of compromise. A Dahon might claim to have a more rigid frame, a Mezzo might claim a more ‘big bike-like’ steering feel, but really for real-world, day-in-day-out multimode travel on trains, buses, popping your bike under your desk at work or home etc, nothing beats a Brompton.



  2. Anonymous says:

    True, the drop outs are somewhat unsightly when viewed in isolation, but I think as a whole the Brompton is quite a beautiful machine. It’s an engineer’s bike and is almost entirely function over form without even intending to be.

    There’s not a single component that you could specifically say has been designed to look good but for a moment when you ride that nippy, agile bike to your destination, hop off and effortlessly fold it into an impossibly small package there’s nothing else that looks better.

    I think it’s interesting that the Brompton has no headbadge. A headbadge serves no physical function, so Ritchey never bothered with one. I bet he was even reluctant to put the sticker on the main tube.

    Maybe you could have some architect’s dropouts brazed into the engineer’s bike?

    • Steven says:

      I must write more about Bromptons! The topic clearly rouses the cycling fraternity’s keenest interlocutors. The right topics, Bromptonofied, could see us writing something to match Plato’s Republic, would you all not agree? God, I am tempted to buy one, to share in this joy of folding and riding, and remembering some Ritchey geezer (that’s English for “man”, I understand). Would he mind if I put the behooving moving head badge on mine…
      …and took off the stickers (elegant as they undoubtedly be)?
      I will say, the titanium rear triangle is rather more elegant, in hi res photos I’ve seen, than the steel version.
      But why must a single speed ultra light still weigh 9kg! The lightest suitcase is 5kg. If my luggage allowance is 20, I’m left with just 6kg for my wardrobe.

    • Anonymous says:

      I love my Batavus Personal Bike LX. I love my wife’s Velorbis Scrap Deluxe even more, but I’m ‘not allowed’ to ride it (shhhhh). I love my Brompton in a different way. It’s the Monopol corkscrew of the cycling world. It takes a bit of getting used to, and it’s not for everyone, but once you are there you don’t want anything else. Yes, some clever-clogs might invent something a bit lighter, stiffer, better suspended. But at the end of the day you want reliability and functionality first and foremost, and to forego either would seriously detract from the B’s innate appeal, turning it into a luxury toy instead of an enabling, carbon-cutting, cost-saving essential. As CycleA2Bjim said, Bromptons are beautiful in a way not immediately obvious to many. The penny drops when you see your colleague’s Dahon tipping over on the office floor, or when a Mezzo won’t fit behind a train seat where your Brompton snuggles in nicely.

      They aren’t for all, but then they aren’t trying to be.


    • Anonymous says:

      Hmmmm, I agree, most wardrobes weigh considerably more than 6kg. Maybe just take the clothes on their own?

  3. Anonymous says:


    Dr B.
    Don’t know if you have seen the 8 speed conversion available. Looks like a much neater package & if you order through this guy the price is comparable to standard.


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