A different kind of bike race: The Brompton U.S. Championship

Well-dressed racers compete at the 2014 Brompton U.S. Championship. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

WASHINGTON — One is wearing bike shoes; the other, boat shoes.

They are both adorned in the requisite dress shirt and tie, however, ready to scramble to assemble their bikes and race with 80 or so fellow dapper competitors — including WTOP’s own Kate Ryan — in the fifth annual Brompton U.S. Championship, at RFK Stadium.

Yes, this is a bike race, but it’s about as far as one can get from that other cycling event taking place in France right now.

The riders are here more for the communal nature of the event, as riders of Bromptons, the British folding bicycle starting to catch on in America, rather than the competition. But there are also two all-expenses-paid trips to London — one each for the men’s and women’s winners — and a spot in the World Championships on the line.

First, a little more about the Brompton. The bikes were invented in 1979 by Andrew Ritchie and have caught on recently around the globe thanks to their particular versatility in urban spaces. The bikes collapse like a contortionist fitting into a box in a carnival. That makes them practical for storage under a desk at work, or pretty much anywhere else, eliminating the need for bike locks or worries about theft.

Logan Gerrity and his wife, Christina Lee, made the trip from Queens, New York. She’s racing; he’s cheering her on. They stumbled upon the Brompton — and the entire subculture that surrounds the bike — as a matter of practicality.

“I’m in school, where there is better access to bike racks and all that,” Gerrity explains. “Where she works, there’s not a lot of bike parking.”

Ryan has also found the Brompton useful both here in Washington and beyond. It’s helped her get to places other reporters can’t by car for stories, and has saved her the expense of shipping a bike when traveling abroad, thanks to its collapsible nature.

“They’re mainly for transportation and fun,” says Ed Rae, a North American agent for Brompton based out of Portland, Oregon. “But they’re also faster than people think they are.”

That becomes clear watching the leaders of the pack. The winner, powering through the stifling heat in a white dress shirt, grey slacks and a Technicolor bow tie (and yes, those racing shoes), is Travis Werts from Nashville, Tennessee. A veteran of other bike races, he had never raced his Brompton before Sunday, but beat the field by a solid 30 seconds over the 6.5-mile course that made three-and-a-half laps around the Anacostia waterfront and circled back to the cobblestone paths of the Congressional Cemetery.

He traveled here for the race along with the owners of the Nashville Brompton retailer Green Fleet Bikes.

“It brings the fun back into it,” says Austin Bauman, owner of Green Fleet, about the Brompton. “Some people take cycling way too seriously. But it’s the best way to get from point A to point B.”

The U.S. Championship was hosted in Philadelphia its first two years, then moved to Minneapolis for the next two years before arriving in D.C. Each city has a host bike shop that Brompton partners with to facilitate the event, and this year BicycleSPACE (1019 7th St., in Northwest) served that role.

The World Championship will be held at the famous Goodwood Motor Circuit in West Sussex, July 26-27.

For more information about the Brompton World Championship, visit bwc.brompton.com

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