The Bickerton Classic folding bike, also known as the Bickerton Portable, comes up for sale online from time to time. Though it represents an interesting milestone in the development of folding bikes, sadly, it has all the ride performance you might get from, say, a bowl of jelly.
The Bickerton is a product of its time, with its ape-hanger handlebars: if you were designing a Raleigh Chopper that folds, this might be what you’d come up with. Those bars present similar problems on each bike. High and wide, they position you bolt upright; not great for climbing any kind of hill. But their real problem on the Bickerton is how much they flex: up to three inches of movement when you pull on them.
The flex can be seen in this original film of the bike. Notice how badly the bike climbs the station ramp. (It doesn’t climb it and they’re forced to do a cut away shot to pretend it did).
However, perhaps we ought not discuss the ride of the Bickerton. If you’re considering buying one of these, the chances are you’re not intending to ride it as much as to put it on display in the vintage clothing boutique you own. Or the design studio where you freelance. Because this is who’d likely be interested a folding Raleigh Chopper. And in your studio, you could claim design-geek points by explaining that the Bickerton’s threadless stem was way ahead of its time in the 1970s. You could also point out that the Bickerton folds with the drive chain on the inside of the folding package, rather than the outside, so as not get your clothes dirty when carrying it.
It’s a shame these really good design features are let down not only by the torsional flex in the frame beam – which, in a stroke of marketing genius, the makers claimed was a comfort feature – but also by a nylon headset which can’t be properly tightened because the material is so soft. Plastic bearing surfaces never caught on for a reason.
Nonetheless Harry Bickerton’s ‘bike in a bag’ seems to have influenced the people at Brompton, whose prototype bore a resemblance, and who also placed the chain on the inside of the folded package, albeit via a different folding process. The Bickerton also appears to have been studied by American engineer David Hon. Addressing some of the Bickerton’s more obvious design flaws, Hon’s folding bike was engineered in steel, and was branded with a portmanteau of his name: Dahon. Harry Bickerton’s son even imported the early Dahon machines. The Dahon design was subsequently improved until it became the market-leading folding bike we have today. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Bickerton family relaunched their brand with a range of bikes that look very much like modern Dahons.
Anyway, back to you and the secondhand Bickerton Classic you’re watching on ebay. Should you buy it? And if you did, how could you improve it? Well, if you wanted the bike to be slightly less unrideable, you could replace the ape hangers for an extension tube, a stem and a flat handlebar, then swap the rear hub-geared wheel for a modern 16″ alu-rimmed single speed one. That way you’ll end up with a custom folder that weighs a shade under 10kg. It would fold rather badly and it would still ride like jelly, but slightly firmer jelly. That’s what I did with mine.
When I bought a Dahon MU P8, the Bickerton went to the back of the shed, where it stayed. With hindsight, I should have sold it to a hipster as an ornament.