Question: We have recently downsized to a condo, and since we need all the storage space there is for painting and other arts supplies, we had get rid of our bikes. Now that spring is in the air, we miss our bikes. I read about folding bikes, but wonder if they’re real bikes or just gimmicks?
Answer: Many things improve with folding. For instance, if you’re tired of stabbing yourself in the leg, you may want to consider carrying a Swiss Army knife. If you feel conspicuous flashing around your wads of cash everywhere, you may benefit from acquiring a billfold. Likewise, if you’ve ever wanted to tuck your bicycle away safely and discreetly into your pocket, you may want to consider a folding bike.
True, most folding bikes are larger than pocket size — unless you happen to be Paul Bunyan or a prehistoric kangaroo. But, they tend to be much smaller than regular bikes, both in their folded and unfolded states. With their typical small wheels, they bear more than a passing resemblance to a clown bike, but as long as you leave the red nose and curly wig at home, you should be able to maintain at least a shred of dignity while riding one around town.
If space is limited at home, the compactness of a folding bike can’t be beat. It fits in a corner of a closet, under the couch or you can hang it on the wall as 3D art when not in use. But there are other reasons to consider a folding bike. You can also fold them up once you arrive at your destination. This can be important if you don’t want to leave your bicycle outside in dodgy places. For instance, circumstances beyond your control may compel you to leave the safety and security of the ‘burbs from time to time and head over the water into the Big City. The compactness of the folding bike not only allows you to nimbly dodge the drug dealers and grifters downtown, but once you arrive at, say, the passport office, you can fold the bike up and bring it inside with you, thus foiling the slavering criminal classes lurking about at every corner.
Speaking of passport offices, this brings us to another good reason to consider a folding bike: travel. Sure, theoretically you can fly with your full-size bike, but it’s a pain to pack and carry. Also, airlines often charge extra. But if your bike’s folded up neatly in a suitcase, who’s to say what’s in there? Just remember, if anyone asks, you packed it yourself.
Thanks to its previous Brazilian diplomat owner, my own folding bike has travelled the length and breadth of Europe by train and pedal power. It also visited London museums where it was left in the folding bike section of the coat check, since large numbers of Londoners have apparently taken to riding folding bicycles to get around, no doubt while wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella.
While I haven’t taken my folding bike on a European train or checked it in with my coat, I have taken it on a North Vancouver bus which, when you think about it, is even more impressive given that North Vancouver buses are as rare and difficult to spot as a GranFondo cyclist under the age of fifty . So here we come to yet another reason to consider a folding bike. Sure, you can put any bike on the rack in front of the bus, but what if t’s rush hour and the rack is full? If you have a folding bike, you can just stick it under a cover and get on board, confident in the knowledge that you’re no more annoying than anyone else shoving their oversized and pointy luggage onto a crowded bus.
But wait – there’s more. In addition to small wheels and a folding frame, most folders have seats and handlebars that can be adjusted a considerable amount – I’m talking the length of a giraffe’s neck considerable. If you want just want one bike for the family (not that I can imagine why anyone would ever only want one bike, even if it’s just for themselves), you might find that a folding bike can accommodate everyone from a young child to a tall dad and a grandma. Thanks to the magic of extreme adjustability, my aged father can take my bike, leave the pedals folded up, and use it as a pushbike to race around his retirement community. No nineteenth-century dandy on a velocipede could do a more effective job of terrorizing the hoi polloi.
So what are the drawbacks of folding bikes? Well, you have to learn to fold and unfold them. Depending on the make and model, that’s usually not too difficult and often can be done in less than 15 seconds. However, I would suggest practicing in the privacy of your own home first. You’re already amusing the public enough by riding a bike that looks like it belongs in a circus; there’s no need to increase everyone’s entertainment by trying — and failing — to either fold or unfold your bicycle.
As to how it rides, if you get a quality bike, you’ll probably find that it rides remarkably like a regular bike. Just remember, when you want to make a turn, small wheels change direction startlingly fast. So take it easy your first time out and leave the pratfalls to the professional clowns.