About those folding bikes…

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.

bike friday

There are many manufacturers of foldable bikes. The Bike Friday consistently receives good reviews.

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.

Wheel Size

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

bike friday collapseMy 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..

Weight

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

Gears

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.

bike friday touring

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.

30traveler is a blog about travel beyond backpacking please check it out or follow @30traveler on twitter or Facebook.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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14 Responses to About those folding bikes…

  1. Annie Andre October 12, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    I loved your reasoning about why to get one of these folding bikes. For me the selling point is the fact that it uses regular bike parts.

    In the sailing community, these are very popular and have been for a very long time. Sailors put these on their boats and when they dock they canpull these out and ride around the port and beyond.

    Here in France, they seem to have taken off too.

    The other day I went to the store to get a bike and they had several options for folding bikes. Not one, not two but about 5 different types which to me seems like a lot.

    I think it may have something to do with the fact that the folding bikes are easier to take on the trains, trams and buses?

    In any case, i’m buying one myself in the next few weeks because we have no place to put our bikes except in the house. so i have to be able to bring it up and down the stairs easily..
    Now i just need to find a more comfortable seat.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Annie Andre, I really like the idea that you could take it on public transport easily. It would be so easy to take the bus to a certain point, then jump on the bike for hte rest of the commute.

    [Reply]

    Annie Andre Reply:

    @Nancy,
    I like the trailor idea. But do you know if it’s possible to put some kind of rig or seat on the bike for my five year old daughter?

    In some cases, a trailor would not work because of having to share the road with cars on a narrow street.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Annie Andre, I understand about the trailer issue – that’s why I ditched my trailer on our first family bike trip. It was a GREAT trailer, but was wide, with two wheels, and didn’t work on some roads.

    As far as putting a 5-year-old on, I doubt it. Generally speaking, by that age, we need to get them off our bike as they weigh enough to throw the balance of the bike off and make riding dangerous.

    You could, however, use something like a Follow Me coupler to hook her small bike to yours. That way, when it was safe for her to ride on her own, she could. But when you need her attached to you, you can do that too.

  2. Alberto October 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Bromptons are great for touring. I crossed France east to west with my wife and daughter on 2 Bromptons and a Chariot trailer. Inspired by Familyonbikes and these guys: http://pathlesspedaled.com

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Alberto, Awesome! I keep hearing about the Brompton and Bike Friday. People really like them!

    [Reply]

  3. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family October 13, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    When I lived in London, my boss used to ride one of these around the city to various appointments. They look kind of kooky when you see people on them but they’re such a cool idea. Especially for big cities where want to do a mix of public transport and biking.

    Any idea if you can fit child carriers to them?

    [Reply]

    Alberto Reply:

    @Bethaney – Flashpacker Family,
    Hi Bethaney,
    You can carry children on a folding bike. Here are some examples:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/106532553814762510413/BromptonTouring?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCPrLl5zt2eDjBQ&feat=directlink

    [Reply]

    30traveler Reply:

    Those are great pics! @Alberto,

    [Reply]

    Bethaney - Flashpacker Family Reply:

    @Alberto

    Wow! Thanks Alberto!! Which child carrier do you think would be best for a 3-4 year old? Mostly just for using around cities in Europe, not for extensive touring.

    Do you have a blog? I’d love to see/hear more about your biking adventures. :)

    [Reply]

    Alberto Reply:

    @Bethaney – Flashpacker Family, The front toddler saddle that fits on the Brompton is perfect for a 3~4 year old kid. That saddle is quite hard to find, though.
    For short trips, or for quickly jumping in and out of bus/tram/metro/trains; you can consider riding with him on your back on a tula carrier: http://www.tulababycarriers.com/
    (not as dangerous as it might seem to some people)
    We don’t have a website or a blog… our adventures are now on stand-by.

    Nancy Reply:

    @Bethaney – Flashpacker Family, I love how people jump in with knowledge of their own! It’s perfect! I really like the idea of having a folder to get around town.

    [Reply]

  4. riki scjmigel October 14, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    thank you for sharing. I had heard quite a few complaints about the size of folding bikes. I wish they were lighter, but sounds like bike friday provides great options.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @riki scjmigel, they aren’t terribly small, but certainly smaller than a rigid, full-size bike. It’s all a tradeoff.

    [Reply]

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