I’ve seen those funny-looking folding bikes around, and some of my friends have actually sworn they’re great for touring. Given that I’ve never even ridden one, I turned to someone who had. Here’s what the folks from 30traveler.com had to say about them.
1. Why did you decide to get a folding bike?
The inspiration to buy a bike came from reading bike tour blogs (e.g., Tara and Tyler‘s Going Slowly blog) and listening to Friedel and Andrew’s Travelling Two podcasts. I’d never owned a bike as an adult. My partner cycles to work everyday but until I started reading bike tour blogs I didn’t have any interest.
In 2011 while on my annual mini-retirement in NYC, I bought a secondhand bike from an environmental organization called Times Up and biked around NYC for 2 months. It wasn’t worth bringing that bike back home to New Zealand but I was sad to see it go. I decided that when I went back to the US in 2012, I would buy a bike I could bring home.
Since I live in New Zealand, international travel usually requires multiple flights on different airlines. Taking a regular bike could end up costing multiple extra charges. My folding bike means I don’t need to consider bike fees when choosing flights.
2. What’s important to consider when choosing a folding bike?
I did a lot of research before deciding what type of folding bike to purchase. The folding bike forum on bikeforums net is a good place to research and ask questions.
I ended up purchasing a Bike Friday, made in Oregon USA. I got a “preloved” bike that had been a shop demo model. The new price would’ve been $1300 but I got it for $900 plus $75 shipping to NYC. I purchased direct from Bike Friday so I got a 30-day return policy and the other usual benefits that come with buying direct from the manufacturer. Bike Fridays have great resale value, so it didn’t feel like a risky purchase.
The following are the questions I think it’s important to consider when deciding on a folding bike.
Does the folding bike use standard parts?
My main reason for choosing a Bike Friday over other folding bike options (Dahons, Bromptons etc), was that Bike Fridays use standard bike parts. I can replace any part with normal bike parts. This is great for international travel. I have skinny tires on it, so the only thing that was a bit more specialized was the skinny 20” tubes.
My bike has 20” wheels (regular BMX size). Some of the other folding bike options, like Bromptons, have 18” wheels. I test rode a couple of Bromptons but didn’t like the feel of the ride. My Bike Friday rides just like a regular bike.
Fold time and size
My bike probably isn’t the best choice for people doing multimodal commutes (e.g., switching from bus to train to bike) because it doesn’t fold small and isn’t easily wheeled along the ground like a Brompton is. I’ll only be folding it for flights, and car/bus/train travel. It’s easy to throw in a car trunk without needing a car bike rack.
Curiously most folding bikes do not actually fit in airline regulation suitcases. The Samsonite case that Bike Friday sells and recommends is actually a few inches oversize, however forum posts indicate that very few people have had problems because of this. For air travel, I actually box mine rather than put it in suitcase. Coming back to New Zealand from the US, I asked at a suitcase store if they had any spare cardboard boxes they were throwing out. They had dozens of them, so that was easy..
Despite their small size, folding bikes tend to be heavy. Mine is 23 lbs and it’s an extra small with a lightweight seat and pedals. I’m 115 lbs and this is the max size I can comfortably lift over subway turnstiles and up stairs etc. A few extra pounds makes a big difference to carrying weight
My folding bike currently has 16 gears and the option to add a third chainring. Bikes with only 8 or 3 gears weren’t flexible enough for me.
What are the options for carrying gear on the bike?
My bike has braze-ons for front and rear racks. Bike Friday makes racks that collapse so they can be packed flat, but they’re pricey. You can probably use a rack you already own if you purchase some extra long rack struts from Bike Friday. They’re around $10.
Again, this raises the issue of whether you’re going to need to buy specialized gear in addition to your bike purchase. It’s important to factor this into your purchase.
3. Now that you’ve got a folding bike, what pros and cons have you noticed?
Overall I love my bike! The only disappointment is that the fold isn’t smaller and it isn’t easier to fit into a regular size suitcase. It takes time to pack it so it will fit. I also wish I’d gone up a size.
Despite my initial inspiration coming from touring blogs, I can’t really imagine myself bike touring (maybe one day!). I imagine mostly using it for biking around cities I visit. As expected, I love having a relationship with my bike rather than renting bikes or buying cheap second hand bikes while traveling.
There are been several unanticipated benefits!
- It’s really easy to wheel the bike into elevators. It fits neatly along the wall of even small elevators.
- I can bike places and know that if I get tired, I can always get a ride home in a regular car just by putting the bike in their trunk.
- Riding my folding bike at home has helped me bring my travel attitude home. I love it!
- I’m an introvert but I like people striking up conversations with me to ask me about my bike.
- I’ve never really thought of myself as a “greenie” but biking is making me see myself this way more, and that feels good. It makes me feel better about my carbon footprint from long haul flights.