The best way to access a modern city is by folding bicycle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my full-size bike, and if I had to chose only one bike for life, yes, it would be the full-size. I happen to live in the country and have access to thousands of miles of dirt roads waiting to be explored, and the full-size is also my commuter, errand runner and second transport option outside of the van. But in the gritty innards of the inner city, well, the folder is king. And not only that, it’s a blast to ride.
What type of folder you ride doesn’t matter. They all work and each offers their own take on the fold experience. The bike you see above is not my first folding bike. I’ve owned several and I’ve done my homework for what specific aspects of the bike are essential for my needs. For me, 16-inch wheels and a triple fold which make the bike collapse into a TINY package capable of fitting in places like the overhead bin on an airplane or under the seat on a bus/train.
A friend in Denmark wrote and said he didn’t see a lot of folders in Copenhagen because full-size bikes are legal on all the various modes of Danish transport. We can only dream of having cities like Copenhagen, but we won’t seen them in my lifetime, at least here in the US where the political establishment is in bed with oil and gas, the auto lobby and the insurance companies.
Our cities, for the most part, will be mired in fossil fuel congestion until we push the planet past the point of no return. (We might not have long to wait.) We also fight with huge distances, dangerous roads and an obese population, among other issues. But, we do see progress in more forward thinking areas and we are truly seeing the impact of cycling infrastructure on the bottom line.
Whether you ride a full-size or folder, there is ONE thing that makes the folder the best option in my mind. Because it folds, you can fold the bike and take it with you when you move inside at a restaurant, library, train station, cafe or anywhere else. You don’t have to lock the bike outside which means your risk of theft drops dramatically. Bike theft is a MAJOR issue and one that the authorities have little interest in addressing. How do I know this? Because I’ve had law enforcement agents tell me to my face numerous times over the past decade. They just don’t care. Thieves know this very well. (They caught one guy in Orange County with 7,000 stolen bikes which were all kept under a freeway overpass.) Take it from me, theft keeps me from using my full-size bike on a regular basis, but it never stops me from riding the folder.
Did I mention how much fun this bike is to ride? It’s the two-wheeled version of the water but. It is so responsive with the small diameter wheels that a small flick of the wrist and you are on your way in a new direction. The smaller wheels mean you will feel imperfections in the road more than you will on a larger diameter wheel but after having just done forty miles through Boston I can tell you it won’t really matter unless you are are super rough roads or trail. My version of the bike has six-speeds, flat bars, quick release pedals and a slightly better rear spring than the one that comes stock. This gives me a bit more suspension if and when I need it.
The last thing I’ll say is that the folder is a conversation starter. No matter where you go, people want to know about the bike. When you show how quickly and easily it folds, how well it rides and how strategic it is, it makes non-riders want to ride. In fact, this might be the most important aspect of the bike. Over the last two days we put in over forty miles around Boston, a city known for misery when it comes to traffic. Turns out Boston has an extensive bike path network, perfectly paved, shady and protected from the crazies behind the wheel. (A guy in a work van pulled up and asked about the bikes then said “Be careful, we have a lot of assholes around here.”) Last week, our tour was around the city of Pittsburgh.
A few days ago, my wife and I were folding up the bikes at the end of a ride and we both looked at each other and said “We need to find a trip somewhere based entirely around using these bikes as the only transport.” Not to prove a point. Not to tell everyone about it, just because it is such a wonderful way to access the urban world. If this sounds interesting, look at the used market. These bikes change hands on a regular basis and there are plenty of deals to be had.