Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Opening a New Folder

Bicycling means freedom. I decided that when I learned to ride one at the age of seven. I was allowed go anywhere I could ride to, as long as I got home in time for dinner. It was not only my first taste of mobility, it was also the first athletic activity at which I was any good, and it's still in the top three. 

Folding bikes, because they can be taken with me to places I would otherwise not have a bicycle, extend that freedom. For that reason, they have long interested me, and I've owned several. To me, the ideal bike would fold small enough to carry with me anywhere like a cell phone, and have the capabilities of a full-size bicycle. We're not there yet. Probably we'll never get there. Folders usually compromise on rideability or portability to favor one over the other. Those that compromise less are generally expensive. The choice is thus based on the rider's intended uses and budget. 

A while ago I began looking for a folding bike that could replace my non-folding bikes. There were several points of origin for this, in addition to the reasons already given. It was a continuation of my search for the one bike that could go anywhere and do anything. A few years ago, I read accounts by the late travel writer and touring cyclist Eric Newby of his experiences touring on Moultons, of which he was an early adopter and advocate. He wrote of the advantages of small wheels and low centers of gravity. But Moulton bicycles are seriously expensive. What might do the same job for less money? In 2009, I had started building a Surly Cross Check in a touring configuration as the bike I would use for everything and take everywhere, including on travel. That summer, while recovering from a broken elbow, I started riding a recumbent trike that had 20-inch (BMX size) wheels. It has a wider gear range than models with larger wheels, and the wheels are easy to store, transport or change tires on. As I resumed building the Cross Check in 2010, I happened upon Surly's rationale for using 26-inch (MTB) wheels on their dismantleable Long Haul Trucker: the wheels allow it to fit in an airline-standard case, and the tires are readily available worldwide. With the airlines becoming stricter and charging more to carry bicycles, traveling with a standard bike can get expensive. And I noticed that the price of such a bike was getting up there with the better folding bikes. While last year I was considering which of these I would like, a 2008 Dahon Speed TR turned up on Craig's List at an attractive price. Within 20 minutes the deal was done, and the next day I collected it from the seller. Very soon after, I brought it on a trip to New England. 

The surprise has been how completely it replaced my other bikes. The Surly is still unfinished and I plan to sell it. I'm debating whether to keep a standard bike at all. Admittedly, my old drop-bar Raleigh is about ten pounds lighter, and has the classic look that I still identify as what a bicycle should look like. But I still don't ride it much any more. Sometimes I wish I had drop bars on the Dahon; they could probably be fitted, but I'd lose one of its advantages for urban riding, which is that all the controls can be accessed without changing hand positions. I wouldn't use the Dahon for racing, but I don't race anyway. Dahon lists this model as a loaded touring bike, and I'd use it for that. Loaded with full touring bags, it has better balance and handling than the custom-made touring bike I built 38 years ago, which disappeared from the garage where it was stored in 1987. Thank goodness, I can stop missing it. 

I've ridden it on everything from big urban group rides to unpaved woods trails to frequent grocery-shopping trips. So now I have a folding bike that can go almost anywhere and do almost anything. What adventures would I like to take it on? 

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, yeah, very nice, but what about gettin' drunk with Gary Fisher?

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    1. That one's next. As I have several stories to post concerning the Dahon, I needed to introduce it.

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  2. I don't know if you're still in the market for a full-size folding bike, but next time you are, you might want to check out Montague. I got one of their bikes last year for commuting (and because I have a small apartment), and it's been seriously awesome.

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    1. I've seen the Montague bikes and considered them. There are some other "full size" folders on the market. Small wheeled bikes have some advantages over large wheels, including: they are more portable, the small wheels are more resistant to deformation, they weigh less, they are easier to change tires on, the bikes have a lower center of gravity, and they accelerate faster. They can be geared to have as much or greater range than a standard bike. Large wheels have one advantage, which is that they bridge holes in the road better. I do like the look of big wheels--one of my favorite bikes was a Raleigh Roadster with 28" wheels. But it was so large that it was difficult to transport.

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