I only own one bike, an S&S coupled Waterford Adventurecycle -- a truly wonderful bicycle. I have uncoupled it, checked it on airplanes, reassembled it, and ridden it all over the US and Europe.
One reason I have been able to tour so much in Europe is that I have family in England who I visit often. If I want to ride a bike while I am in the UK, I either fly over with and lug my 50 pound bike case around with me or I rent a bike while I am there. In an effort to resolve this dilemma, I decided to buy another bicycle that is easy to pack, transport, and tour on.
Why not just take the Waterford with me? There are two reasons. First, we stay in places that are far apart when we are in the UK and travel between them involves trains and the London underground. Transporting an awkward 50 pound bike box from one place to other would be a major hassle. Second, it takes about 90 minutes of concentrated effort to disassemble or reassemble the Waterford. To ride in both places would require repeated assembly and disassembly, which is not something I want to do.
Coming Into The FoldThere are lots of folding bicycles on the market. I started my search at A to B Magazine of the UK. Their article Folding Bike Buyer's Guide (UK) lists and rates over a dozen folding bikes. Note that the focus of this article is folding bikes in general, not touring bikes that fold. Its highest rated bike was the Brompton folding bike.
The Brompton is an obvious choice for an "easy to transport" bicycle as it quickly can fold down into a small package. I see a lot of Bromptons when I'm in the UK and, given the top ranking on A to B Magazine's list, I decided to start my search there.
The key benefits of the Brompton are that it folds quickly, a few seconds, is allowed on UK transport, and can be carried around without a case. This would solve the problem of having to disassemble a bike, take it on a train, and reassemble it.
I seriously considered the Brompton. But, it is designed for multi-modal transport in an urban environment, not touring. There are people who tour on Bromptons, but when I looked further into it, I discovered that Brompton uses customized parts that are not readily available on the road.
Since I don't tour very far off the beaten track, this isn't a major concern. But, why add points of failure unnecessarily? In addition, I didn't like that it uses 16 inch wheels.
The next company I considered was Bike Friday, an Oregon based company that builds bikes to your specific specification. They got a good rating from A & B Magazine, offer a folding bike designed for touring (the New World Tourist), employ off-the-shelf parts and use 20-inch wheels. I started checking out reviews, like this one from bicycletouringpro.com and this one from bicycletimesmag.com. I decided that I'd take the Bike Friday New World Tourist out for a test ride.
I went to Warm Planet Bikes in San Francisco (where I live), a bike shop specializing in folding bikes. I checked out bicycles from Bike Friday, Dahon, and Tern and talked with Cash, the owner.
After hearing my plans, he suggested I take a test ride on the New World Tourist. I rode it around Downtown San Francisco for about 20 minutes and, while it is different than riding my Waterford, it didn't seem all that much different. I liked what I'd seen and felt.
I was in no hurry to get another bike and didn't have a trip to the UK planned for several months. I thought about it (and its $2,100 price tag) for several months and, after taking a couple more test rides, decided to place the order.
This is no simple task as I had to take several measurements of my Waterford and make a couple dozen decisions about what parts and accessories I wanted on the bike. Given all the options, I was able to get the bike outfitted just as I wanted, which make going with Bike Friday a bit easier. (Disclosure: I bought this bike with my own money without any "review" discount or consideration.)
Getting UnhingedMy wife and I were heading to the UK for Christmas. While I didn't expect to do much riding in the UK in the dead of winter, it would allow me to fly the bike over there. I placed the order in September, 2016 with this in mind. It took about 8 weeks for the bike to arrive at Warm Planet Bikes.
I picked it up, did a test ride, and then spent about 45 minutes disassembling and folding the bike into its traveling case, which is a standard piece of American Tourister hard-sided luggage. I followed the instructions Bike Friday included with the bike.
I was impressed with the thought Bike Friday put into protecting a folded bike in a travel case. The Waterford came with generic, not quite long enough velcro and cloth tube covers that couldn't protect all parts of the frame.
As a result, my Waterford has dozens of touched-up dings from all the travel it has done. The Bike Friday comes with custom made cloth and plastic protectors designed for specific places on the frame. Each piece is labelled with where it goes. While getting each piece in its proper place took time, I could see that my new bike would be much better protected when traveling than the Waterford.
After some rearranging to get all the parts into the case (the handlebars are always the hardest things to fit), I rolled the case out of the shop, onto a bus, and brought the bike home. I took me about 30 minutes to get the bike out of the case and reassembled. While this is the only time I've taken the bike apart and put it back together, I'm guessing I'll be able this operation down to 20 minutes eventually.
A Bike/No Bike DecisionMy plan was to pack the bike in its case and check on the plane to the UK. While I didn't expect to do much riding, I figured I'd take it on the train and the underground just to see how that went. And, if the weather cooperated, I might get a ride or two in.
In addition to riding the Bike Friday in the UK, I could also use it to ride in Europe. Instead of flying it over from the US, I would pick it up on my way to my starting point by flying to Heathrow, spending a night with my in-laws, and then flying out with the bike the next day.
I had about two weeks between delivery and our Christmas flight to the UK, so I decided to do some local riding just to get accustomed to this new bicycle. I thought riding one bike is just like riding another. But, that wasn't the case. The Bike Friday has a completely different geometry and handling. After a couple short rides, I realized attempting to tour on it in Europe without training myself to ride it would be a bad idea. Instead, I left it here to get more experience on it before I leave on tour.
First ImpressionsWhile I haven't taken the Bike Friday on tour yet, I have ridden it several hundred miles around the San Francisco Bay Area along routes I am very familiar with. My first impressions are that the Bike Friday's steering is very responsive and it rides like a "real" bike. But, there are several things that I have to get used to if I am going to ride 1000 miles on it.
The first thing I noticed about the bike is its design. It has a single, thick, top tube that holds the seat tube and connects the back to the front. This top tube is very low to the ground, making the seat post and steering post very long.
The combination of 20-inch wheels and the long steering tube makes for a bike that changes direction at the slightest movement of the handlebars. At first, I thought of it as "twitchy."
I was concerned that I might swerve into traffic just pedaling along. I had to be careful taking my hand off the handlebars to signal a turn or itch my face as it seemed to make the bike unsteady. But, as time went on (it has now been about 3 months), I got accustomed to the bike's maneuvering. I am still careful when I take a hand off the handlebars, but I no longer worry about falling over when I do so. I believe the "twitchiness" comes from two factors: the long steering tube and my sitting well above the bike's center of gravity.
One reason I chose the Bike Friday was because the drive-train is built from off-the-shelf parts. While the gearing feels comfortable to me and provides all the options I need, the range of each gear is much narrower than my Waterford. Put another way, I often spin out of the gear I am riding in after a small gain in speed. Thus, going down a small incline often means not pedaling until the bike slows down a bit or shifting up a gear. I now do more shifting when I am riding. Not a problem; just something to get used to.
I've noticed that the Bike Friday doesn't roll as freely as my Waterford. I have ridden the same roads on both bikes and in the sections where there is a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill, the Bike Friday coasts less far up the hill than the Waterford. That is, I have to start pedaling the Bike Friday sooner going uphill than I was used to.
While it is hard to quantify how a bicycle takes bumps in the road, it seems to me that the Bike Friday jars my body much more than the Waterford. It could be the small wheels and/or the low center of gravity, I don't know. The combination of bumpiness and responsiveness makes me more careful when I am coasting down a hill at good speed, as I am afraid that some rough road might cause me to lose control of the bike and go down.
All in all, other than the twitchy/responsive steering and the narrow gearing ranges, to me, the Bike Friday New World Tourist rides like a "normal" bike. While I still get people looking quizzically at me as I ride by, riding this bike no longer seems unusual.
Going DownOne of my concerns with riding this new bike was how safe I'd be on it. I found out one day on the Golden Gate Bridge. I've ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge thousands of time in the past 15 years. The combination of clueless tourists and local bike riders makes for many near misses and lots of cursing.
While I was still getting accustomed to the Bike Friday, I was riding on the bridge when a tourist stepped right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and flew off the bike. While the bike was unscathed, I banged up my ribs and had trouble sitting, walking and sleeping for the next 6 weeks.
I have no way of knowing if the same thing would have happened on the Waterford. While I've had all kinds of close calls riding on the Golden Gate Bridge, this was the first time I had to panic stop to prevent running over someone. But, my gut tells me that the outcome would have been different on the Waterford.
Leaning In And Stepping OverWhile my main concern has been how the bike handles when ridden, I have discovered a few unexpected things about the bike.
Due to its design of using a single steel tube to hold the bike together, it is hard to stabilize the bike when not holding onto the handlebars. This happens when I stop to take a photo. On the Waterford, the top tube is high enough that the bike is stable leaning against my inner thigh. I do have be careful the handlebars don't twist, but even if they do, I can keep the bike upright between my legs. This is not true of the Bike Friday.
The top tube is so low on the Bike Friday (it hits below my knee) that letting go of the handlebars when the bike is stationary means an immediate tip over. I scrapped up my shins a couple times before I starting paying very close attention to this problem. I can't say I have mastered this yet. For now, I try to position the Bike Friday with the handlebars hooked around my hip and the seat leaning against my body when the bike is stopped. I'm not sure how much of a problem this will be when I tour, as I am always stopping to take photos.
One advantage of the low top tube is that I can step through the bike when I mount it. While swinging a leg over the rear of the bike isn't a problem, simply stepping onto the bike is easier and I like doing it.
It's A LockWhen the bike's two hinges are opened, the bike has virtually no closed loops. Locking a bike without a closed loop is not possible as there is no way to hold the bike to something solid. That is, a thief who knew how to unhinge the bike could probably manipulate it such that the lock could be removed while still cinched. This is very likely if the thief had some time to remove the rims.
It might be possible with the right kind of U-Lock to secure it in such a way to prevent its removal even when the bike was unhinged. But, I don't carry a U-Lock when I tour and I won't with this bike, either.
I had to think hard to find an enclosed place on the bike that wouldn't be open when the bike was unhinged. It turns out there is a small triangle that is formed by the chain stays and a support piece just behind the bottom bracket. It is a hard place to insert a cable through and makes locking the bike a bit of a pain.
This photo is looking down just behind the seat post to the closed triangle where I thread the cable to lock the bike:
Packing It All InWhile I haven't taken the Bike Friday on a tour yet, I am preparing for one in a couple months. Given the geometry of the Bike Friday, the racks and frame bag I use on my Waterford are of no use. This is unfortunate as I really like my current set-up.
While the Bike Friday New World Tourist (NWT) is designed as a touring bike and has eyelets in all the right places, the 20-inch wheels complicate the carrying of gear. I bought the custom folding rear rack that is designed for the NWT.
Here is photo the rear rack on the NWT:
When not on the bike, it folds flat to ease packing.
I figure I can get by with just rear panniers and a large bag, so I don't need a front rack that can carry panniers. After riding the bike around a bit, I decided that I wanted some weight on the front of the bike to counter-balance the weight of the rack and bags on the back.
I looked around and discovered an incredibly cheap front rack ($13 delivered) that is little more than a shelf for holding a bag. The bag is attached to the front brake bosses.
Here is a photo of the front rack attached to the brake bosses:
I've installed the front rack and have hung a rear pannier off the back to get a feel for riding the bike with some added weight. For now, the bike rides great and the added weight hasn't changed how it handles. Soon, I will add my full touring weight both to see how it rides and to start conditioning my legs.
More To ComeI've been riding only the Bike Friday for the past 3 months. I haven't gone further than 35 miles in a single day (my usual touring distance is around 50 miles/day) nor have I packed all my gear on it yet. I still have about 6 weeks before I leave on tour and in that time I'll load it with gear and ride it farther.
The tour I am planning is a 1 month ride across Western Europe that will require me to pack and unpack the bike, fly with it, and then carry it around while my wife and I do some sightseeing and family visits. When I return, I'll have a lot more to say about the bike and my experiences touring on it.
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Copyright © 2007 by Ray Swartz