Folding Fun: Commuting by Folding Bike

I don’t personally know much about folding bikes, but I am quite intrigued by them and would honestly like to have one for myself.  William David from Sainsbury’s Bank in the UK recently decided to start commuting on a folding bike, and in this post he talks about the various options and his experiences.

Folding Bikes

by William David

I think that bikes are great.  And these days even those who are assumed to be petrolheads think so.  According to James May, the Top Gear host, the humble bicycle “might just be the greatest of all inventions”, adds that it “empowers the human machine”.

So I’m really happy to see what appears to be a slow – but determined – increase in levels of people out and about on two wheels.  I’m a passionate mountain biker, and love getting out in the hills (the downs are more fun, but to enjoy those you have to embrace the uphill’s as well).  And while I don’t mind getting wet and muddy, I don’t want to do this on a daily basis; a couple of rides out in the wilds is enough each week.

That said, I love the feeling of freedom you get from being on a bike.  And as I’ve moved to a location situated beyond walking distance to work, I’ve decided to embrace commuter culture by getting a folding bike.  The beauty of these is that you can fold them up at the front door and carry them in with you – rather than locking them up in a potentially unsecure location.  Instead, most will tuck down in your workplace, with the neatest even fitting actually underneath your desk.

So, with the benefits of biking it to work obvious – you’ll be healthier, the roads will be just a little less congested; you may even save a fair bit of money – what are your options?

Folding frontrunner? – Ask anyone in the know, and they’ll likely tell you that you need a good reason to ignore a Brompton.  The small 16-inch wheels are key to the ultra-compact fold (you’ll get it under your desk with room to spare), and result in brisk acceleration – though are more prone to pothole woes than larger wheels, such as the more common 20-inchers you’ll find on folders, let alone a meaty mountain bike wheel.  However, having tried them out, they fairly zip along and hold their speed well, meaning that you can make good time for rides of a good number of miles.  What you are really paying for, though, is the economy and ingenuity of the fold – and the respect you get from other riders who appreciate the quality (they are still made in London) and uniqueness (the majority of the 1,200 parts which make up a Brompton are designed and manufactured in-house) of this most British brand. How long does it take?  Less than 20 seconds, certainly, once you have the hang of the fold.

Speedy wheelers – If you are more interested in flat-out speed, then you might be won over by something with larger (20-inch) wheels – i.e. which looks just a little closer to a ‘normal bike’.  The ingenious Moulton designs are not true folders (they split into two separate parts), but are beautifully made and genuinely innovative.  Meanwhile, the relatively new Tern range has a more urban image and a huge choice; this second aspect partly due to the fact it has emerged from the huge Dahon company.  Both of these do perhaps more to boil down the ‘big bike’ experience into a smaller package, but neither shrink down to quite the tiddly dimensions of the Brompton.

Microbikes? -  Of course, if space really is at a premium, then there are some pretty far-out options.  The Sinclair A-Bike is extremely light and folds away to almost nothing, but its microscopic wheels means that it looks a little like a microscooter on stilts – and those wheels mean you need to be careful about the line you pick.  Meanwhile, the Mobiky Genius has bigger wheels and is more recognizably ‘bike-like’.  As ever, the trade-off for portability is a more limited range and top speed; a microbike may be just the job for a mile or two to the station – it’s unlikely to be the right choice for an hour’s pedal either end of the day.

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