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Andrew Ritchie MBE: oration

Read Professor Kevin Edge's oration on Andrew Ritchie MBE for the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in June 2014.


In the mid-1970s Andrew Ritchie was working as a self-employed landscape gardener. However, through a chance encounter, Andrew’s life was about to change forever. An acquaintance of his father was trying to raise money to support a UK company making a new portable bike. As an engineering graduate, Andrew was asked to give an informal opinion on the design of the bike; it did not take him long to conclude that it left much to be desired. That same evening he started sketching out some ideas for a new approach to folding bike design. That was the start of a forty year passion to create the best portable bicycle in the world. Detailed designs were prepared and then prototyping started. To finance the work, Andrew managed to get 10 friends to each contribute £100. It was a beginning, but Andrew was far from satisfied. Further prototyping followed. All this early work was undertaken in his flat overlooking the Brompton Oratory in South Kensington, London. The view from the flat provided a name: “the Brompton bicycle”. (As an aside, one can only marvel at the tolerance of his landlord and neighbours – manufacturing, and the assembly of parts by brazing, are not normally carried out in a bedroom!). In 1976, Brompton Bicycle was registered as a Limited Company.

The next dozen or so years proved to be a long hard struggle to commercialise his idea. He and his early backers failed to find a licensee, and raising funds to build manufacturing facilities proved very difficult. But private backing was eventually obtained and allowed Andrew, as he himself admits, to continue to be a perfectionist.

Andrew did all the design work himself with everything hand-drawn, by far the largest effort going into factory tooling and fixtures. This was before the days of Computer Aided Design, and it was undoubtedly a labour of love. Over the years, the designs have been continually refined and improved, resulting in a machine for which almost every part is unique.

It is Andrew’s ability as an innovator and designer, and his doggedness to succeed that has ultimately resulted in Brompton Bicycle Ltd becoming what is now the largest volume bicycle manufacturer in the UK. The company has 230 employees, manufactures almost 50,000 bikes per year, and exports to 39 countries. It has received the Queen’s Award for Export in 1995 and two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in 2012. Andrew himself was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 2009.

The innovations in the bike’s design have resulted in other innovations. A folding bike “dispenser” has recently been created which houses up to 40 bikes that can be hired for use by commuters. 18 cities in the UK have already adopted the scheme.

The company takes its corporate social responsibilities seriously but there is also a good sense of fun and each year the “Brompton World Championship” is held at Goodwood Motor Circuit. This race has a “Le Mans” style start with all bikes folded on the start grid. Entrants to the competition, both male and female, are required to wear a suit jacket, shirt and tie!

Andrew’s involvement in the company continues, in a role he describes as “Minister without Portfolio”. Most of his life has been spent developing what many might consider to be an “everyday object”. His life-long devotion to innovation and design; to quality; and to perfecting detail has elevated the “everyday” to the truly remarkable.

Chancellor, I present to you Andrew Ritchie who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Engineering honoris causa.

Professor Kevin Edge

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