31 January 2015

Into The Fold: Bickerton

Mention folding bicycles today, and the first name that comes to most people's minds is Dahon.   Discerning (or rich) cyclists would probably mention Brompton.  

Those of us who came of age during or before the '70's Bike Boom recall the Raleigh Twenty and similar bikes made by Peugeot and other European manufacturers.  For a few days, I owned an Italian-made Chiorda from that era.

Interestingly, "folders" may be the one genre of bicycles not made by Japanese manufacturers of that time. At least, I don't recall any from Fuji, Nishiki or any of the other bike-builders from the Land of the Rising Sun.

One of the most interesting folding bikes of all--at least for its time--is almost entirely forgotten now.  However, it might be said to be the forerunner of today's folding bikes.  Andrew Ritchie said the bike I'm going to talk about was his inspiration in designing the first Brompton bicycle.

Harry Bickerton was one of those eccentric tinkerers who so often come from England.  He worked as an engineer at Rolls-Royce and De Havilland. In 1968, a driving ban made his commute difficult.  Dissatisified with using his road bike and the best folding bike he could find, he set out to combine the best features of the two.

The result was patented four years later.  It could fit into a shopping bag and, best of all, weighed only 17 pounds--less than almost any road, or even track, bike available at that time.

He achieved the feat with a hinge he developed that remained relatively rigid when the bike was opened up--and by constructing the frame from aluminum.  Also, most of the components were made from aluminum alloy--in contrast to the all-steel folding bikes from Raleigh and other makers--and the handlebars were made to be folded relatively easily.

Notice that I used the word "relatively".  In comparison to other folding mechanisms of the time, Bickerton's worked more smoothly and reliably.  However, it had to be handled with care.  As Tom Cuthbertson wryly noted, the manual that came with the bikes was one of the greatest pieces of instructional literature ever written because it had to be. 

Perhaps the most unique feature of the bike, though was that there were no welds or brazes anywhere in the frame.  Rather, it was constructed from aluminum profiles fitted together. 

Like other aluminum bikes that preceded Klein and Cannondale, the Bickerton is an example of a "flexible flyer".  Or, at least, a flexible magic carpet.  People who rode Bickertons almost always said they were great as long as you didn't mind the flex.  

I never rode a "Bickie" myself, but I suspect that its flexibility gave it more ability to absorb shock than other small-wheeled bikes.  I would guess that if you rode into one of those potholes with its own Zip Codes that we have in some parts of New York, you might have more chance of coming out of it without the mishap I incurred on my Dahon.

Perhaps the Bickerton's floppy qualities made it less durable, and might be a reason why so few can be found today.  Production stopped in 1989 and the factory closed in 1991, but bikes bearing the family name are being made in Taiwan for a company headed by Harry's son Mark.  The new Bickertons look a heck of a lot like Dahons.

Bickerton has a distributor in Mexico but not in the US.  Hmm...I wonder whether Dahon has anything to do with that.


  1. Does the Dahon give as good value for money as a Brompton?

  2. Steve--I've only test-ridden Bromptons. But based on my experience with Dahon, I'd say "no.

  3. I have both an English and Australian license version Bickerton. You are right about the flex, it is equivalent to riding on a giant shock absorber. Another great feature is its wide range of adjustments for a custom fit. The multi-segmented handlebars can be adjusted up/down, in/out, and forward/back. I would call it a touring bike but it is very rugged. If you check out the Bickerton group on Facebook, there is one gentleman who traveled across the middle east during the 70's - via his custom Bickerton.

  4. Scott--I would love to ride a Bickerton, just to see what they were like. I'm sure it would make a comfortable long-distance bike, as long as it holds up!