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Brompton Electric hands-on: A tiny folding e-bike for daily commutes

The compact folding e-bike saves space, but not money.

Logan Moy
5 min read

I've been wondering if a folding electric bike makes sense for my apartment lifestyle. Currently I own a nonfolding e-bike, which takes up a lot of space in my office and is a huge hassle to lug up and down my stairs. So when Brompton reached out and asked if I wanted to try the Brompton Electric, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to see if that folding e-bike life is for me.

Brompton has been making folding bikes for over 45 years, but it recently entered the electric bike space. The e-bike the London-based company sent me is its standard six-speed model. It comes in two colors, black and Turkish green, and costs $3,800. There's also a two-speed model for $3,550, and you can upgrade the color of either to a blue lacquer color for an additional $250.


The folding e-bike starts at $3,550.

Logan Moy/CNET

A super compact folding design

The best thing the Brompton electric has going for it is its folding design. When it first showed up at my door I thought someone made a mistake and sent me a tiny wheelchair. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got it unfolded, which took about 15 minutes to figure out the first time, and now takes me 30-60 seconds after having done it a handful of times. I still worry that I'm going to smash my fingers, so I suggest going slow until you know the folding mechanism like the back of your uninjured hand.

When the bike is folded, it's compact and easy to store. It fits in a closet, the trunk of a car and even under my desk. I've had it sitting in the corner of my office for the past few weeks and I've barely noticed it.

The bike is also pretty light at 30 pounds, and easy to carry short distances when it's folded. It also has small wheels on the bottom so it can be pushed or pulled. However, I find it to be awkward and easy to tip over when I try to use it that way so I just carry it for the most part.

It's clear a lot of thought and engineering went into the design of the Brompton Electric. The company even thought to include a tiny bell. That's why it baffles me that there's no kickstand. I can't tell you how many times I just wanted to rest the bike to do something like adjust my helmet and had to find something to lean the bike on. You can fold the rear wheel in to keep it upright, but it's just not as quick and easy as a kickstand.


The Brompton Electric, folded.

Logan Moy/CNET

Front-mounted battery

The weirdest part about the Brompton Electric bike is the battery. It has a front-mounted design to help distribute the weight of the bike, and it's integrated into a bag that can hold your belongings so that you can quickly detach and carry it off in one swift move. You can upgrade to a larger bag for more storage for $200, but neither look particularly fashionable.

The battery also houses the controls for the electric motor and lights. There are three levels of assist, or no assist at all, and the bike is light enough that it can be easily ridden without the battery.

The battery turns on automatically when it snaps on to the bike, and remembers your last settings to make it a quick and easy experience to unfold the bike and go. You theoretically never have to push the buttons on the battery if you find a sweet spot. There's even a built-in light sensor to turn the front lamp on automatically.

On paper, the battery has a range of 15 miles depending on how hilly the area is and how much assist you use. The furthest I traveled was about 12 miles at full assist, and I still had 3 out of 5 bars of battery left.

The battery is my least favorite part of this bike. Its bag is convenient for holding my things, but it looks really weird on the bike, especially the wider bag. I would personally rather just toss a battery in my own backpack if it meant a more subtle integration with the bike.


To balance the weight, the Brompton Electric's battery is mounted to the front.

Logan Moy

Short bike for short commutes

The 250-watt motor isn't going to win you any races against other e-bikes, or even traditional bikes, but it did hold up pretty well for how it's meant to be used. It handles hills surprisingly well and has a maximum speed of 15 mph, which is about as fast as I was able to get it going no matter how hard I pedal. However, because this bike does not have a throttle, you don't have the option of being lazy.

With folding bikes, there's always some sacrifices that need to be made in order to keep the size and weight down. For that reason, the Brompton Electric is not the most comfortable bike to ride. Because of its small, 16-inch wheels, and just a pad between the frame and rear wheel to act as a suspension system, you feel every bump in the road.

Plus, I'm a tall guy at just over 6 feet. Because this bike is so low to the ground, I need to raise the seat almost all the way up. This causes me to hunch over while I ride, which can get painful on my back and wrists. The seat also hurts my butt after about 30 minutes, but that's pretty standard for a stock bike seat. I wouldn't say this bike is so uncomfortable that it's unrideable, but it's definitely meant more for short commutes, rather than long journeys.

The controls on the battery feel unsafe to adjust while riding since you have to take your hands off the handlebars and reach over them to do so. There is a mobile app that connects to the bike, which can be used as a mounted display. You can use it to change the level of pedal assistance, and can act as a mounted display to show you stats like speed, distance and remaining battery.

Having gears does reduce your need to make changes to the level of assist while riding. So that's why it's probably worth it to spend that extra $250 for the six-speed, especially if you're going to be riding in hilly areas. There's controls for the gears on each side of the handlebars with the derailleur system on the left and hub gear on the right.


The Brompton has an assisted top speed of 15 miles per hour.

Logan Moy/CNET

An e-bike for a very specific person

If you have a short commute, or are just looking for something to get you a few miles at a time, and you don't have a lot of space to store a full-sized e-bike, then a folding e-bike is a no-brainer. However, if you are that type of rider, is $3,500-$4,000 what you're willing to spend? Brompton makes a really high quality, well-built e-bike, but the price difference between that and other folding e-bikes with the same top speed and range is pretty significant.

For me, the Brompton Electric would not replace my full-sized e-bike. There's just too many trade-offs for how I like to ride, which is usually on longer, 30-plus mile day-trips through scenic, hilly areas. The shorter battery range and uncomfortable design really limits how far you can go. And being able to travel distances you normally wouldn't be able to make without a motor is one of the biggest appeals of riding e-bikes.