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FAQ: What is the history of Brompton Bikes?


Designing a folding bicycle has attracted many, and Andrew Ritchie was yet another to have a go. Busy trying to earn his keep (landscaping and selling plants), he did little about the idea until a chance meeting in 1975 with a would-be backer of the then fledgling Bickerton folding bicycle. He thought he could do better and came up with a new approach: it looked promising and he managed to obtain backing from a few friends to produce prototypes, and the company, Brompton Bicycle, was formed. The idea (naive, as it turned out) was to interest an established UK company in taking up the idea under licence. In due course prototypes 1, 2 and 3 appeared (all made in Andrew's bedroom in a flat in London overlooking the Brompton Oratory - hence the name "Brompton") and he started canvassing industry in search of a licensee.

There was plenty of interest but also plenty of sound reasons for turning the idea down: the search ended in failure. The alternative was for Andrew to start manufacture himself, and this needed money. The search for this venture capital also failed. So 5 years on, the future looked unpromising. In the end, friends came to the rescue: 30 were persuaded to buy a bicycle in advance, and Andrew undertook to make them. It was a ridiculously low budget, but eventually some rudimentary tooling was in place and the 30 bikes duly appeared. Others wanted to buy them, and Andrew, encouraged, decided to start low-volume production, albeit with bare minimum tooling. Brompton Bicycle was in business!

This was fine, but hard work, and without capital the business could break even, but it was difficult to expand. Andrew and his board again went in search of venture capital, in the hope that backers could be found. By then nearly 500 Brompton bicycles had been made and sold. Once again it failed. As it was not worth continuing the pilot production, this was stopped in 1982.

The company was solvent, and Andrew Ritchie was convinced, having sold all the pilot output, that the product had a future. So, he pressed on looking for a way to get back into production on a better footing: he had to earn a living in another way (as at other times earlier in the project), so progress was slow. Eventually, at the end of 1986, with contributions from former customers, in particular from Julian Vereker (founder of Naim Audio, a successful maker of audio equipment), Brompton raised enough money to tool up and get started with manufacture proper. The first production bikes appeared out of a Railway Arch in Brentford at the beginning of 1988.

Since then, the order book has been full, and the company has grown steadily and successfully, with around two thirds of sales going abroad. Inevitably more and more space has been needed, and there have so far been three moves, first taking over a neighboring Railway Arch, then moving to larger premises in Chiswick at the end of 1993, and in 1998, into a spacious factory, once again back in Brentford. In 2008 Will Butler Adams took over from Andrew Ritchie as MD, Will’s main goal being to create a modern and highly efficient production facility in West London, so as to meet the growing demand.

In 1995 Brompton received a Queen's Award for Exports. More recently, in October 2009, Andrew Ritchie was honored by the Duke of Edinburgh, and awarded the Prince Philip Designer’s Award.

Brompton users have by and large been most enthusiastic, many finding that it offers a completely new way of travelling about, and now, with customers worldwide increasingly discovering the usefulness and fun of the Brompton concept, the future for this remarkable English-made product looks promising.