The Facts of Life on a Brompton

The first week with Monty has been terrific, but I feel like a kid who just learned where babies come from and is still a little hazy on the specifics. This is my first bike with more than three gears, and I have only the sketchiest grasp of bicycle mechanics.

As any Brompton devotee knows, Monty achieves his six speeds through an internal hub with three gears, controlled with a right-hand lever, and a two-position derailleur, controlled with a left-hand lever. Brompton enumerates the possibilities as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 10.39.58 AM

A rider in Hong Kong shared a helpful video.


The derailleur is shifted while pedaling, the hub while coasting. All quite simple to manage in practice. But here’s the rub: my friend The Brompton Diarist, an endless (and endlessly patient) source of Brompton knowledge, explained that one is supposed to move through the gears consecutively. Meaning that, if I want to shift from 4th gear (derailleur lever up, hub lever in the middle) to 1st gear (both levers down), I should:

  • move the left-hand lever down (3rd gear)
  • move the left lever up and the right lever down (2nd gear)
  • move the right lever down (1st gear)

That second step seems so counterintuitive, doesn’t it? On Saturday I joined one of the fun/free rides offered by NYCeWheels, in part because I hoped Jack would help adjust Monty’s fit. (He pulled the handlebars toward me slightly, and suggested I tilt the Ergon grips up too. Much better!) I asked him how he handles six gears. He told me he relies primarily on the hub gears, employing the derailleur lever only for fine-tuning. But he agreed that for moving quickly from high to low, or vice versa, it’s good to go consecutively. Our group did a full loop around Central Park, which includes some reasonably steep inclines. I practiced shifting and found I was able to climb hills easily in 1st or 2nd gear.

For the flat terrain of my daily commute, 4th gear is proving ideal. It offers a little more resistance than the middle gear on Maggie, my lost/lamented M3L, and my legs are already feeling stronger from the extra effort. This morning I discovered that 3rd gear is good for cobblestones.

I can’t imagine when I’d use 5th or 6th, but I’m still learning.  (The mommy and daddy do what??) 


About Unfolded NYC

I live in Manhattan with a husband, two cats and a Brompton M6L named Monty. Contact me: unfoldednyc at gmail dot com (you know what to do)
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6 Responses to The Facts of Life on a Brompton

  1. By jove, I think you’ve got it! Monty’s wide ratio hub gears (wider than Maggie’s) combined with the 2-speed derailleur provide pretty evenly spaced gears & allow more choices to suit your current terrain. Well done & happy paddling.

  2. Unfolded NYC says:

    Thanks, Ian! There must be other new 6-gear owners in need of tutoring; I’m surprised Brompton hasn’t put up a video demonstration of their own.

  3. Laura says:

    I’m glad to read you and Monty are getting better acquainted. I took me a while to find my own Ergon grips “perfect” angle but once I did… it was heaven! Same for the Brooks saddle. I think I spent over two weeks (don’t laugh) making the most minuscule changes in tilt, back and forward distance, etc. As for the 6 gear shifting. I’m no expert either but I was told when I picked up my bike that it was possible to jump from 1st to 3rd or from 2nd to 4th. Sometimes I do that and sometimes I do it consecutively, like your friend suggests. The 4th gear is my preferred gear as well and I use 3rd for rugged terrain. You wouldn’t believe how terribly paved some streets in my city are (I live in Mexico City BTW) However, as of late, I have found myself using the 5th more and more. Could it be that my legs are getting stronger? Will I go as far as cruising in 6th? We all can dream right? LOL! I have considered reducing the gearing but… I don’t know… the gears that I use (1-4, and sometimes 5) feel good enough. Maybe one day I’ll make the decision of reducing. One thing I’m sure of: I’m glad I picked the 6 gears.

  4. Unfolded NYC says:

    Laura, thanks for sharing your experiences! It’s possible to jump around the gears, but I gather that moving consecutively is more efficient. And/or better for the bike. I expect I’ll do a little of both.

    Proper fit does indeed require minuscule adjustments, and I’m learning to give each one some time before deciding whether it helps or hurts. Saddle tilt seems perfect to me right now, but that might change as the leather wears in more.

    We have more than our share of badly paved streets in NYC! Funny how one develops a sixth sense for potholes and other obstacles; this morning I found myself swerving automatically among some pesky speed bumps in a bike lane.

    Very impressive that you’re finding 5th gear comfortable for cruising. Brompton babes rule!

  5. Brommie says:

    Excellent post, Cathy — and now Brompton doesn’t need to put up its own explanation!

    I note that you may be stronger than you thought, charging up those hills in first and second — you and Monty are going to make a fine team. Those are six wonderful gears!

  6. Unfolded NYC says:

    Thanks, Brommie! I’m definitely stronger than I was, pre-Brompton, and it’s been great fun exploring the potential of six gears.

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