If you have been anywhere in the last few months – bar under a rock- you may have heard of the latest phenomenon in Wellington that is folding bikes. And fresh off the back of a Greater Wellington campaign promoting folding bikes for the new Matangi trains, you can only expect to hear more about these little gems of the cycling world. They are a great solution if you long to take your bike along on a trip that requires transit ( but cannot because of rush hour restrictions based on how full a particular service is ) as folding bikes are allowed on buses and trains at any time. Folding bikes can also be taken with you right inside at the other end of your journey, as it fits on elevators, and even under your desk.
Folding bikes these days are not heavy, or rickety or even that hard to fold. They do not fall apart while you are riding, perform poorly, give you a bad ride, or require a lot of pedalling and they are ‘safe as houses’ going uphill. There are now many good quality makes and models to choose from that will suit your needs and/or questions around; ease of folding and folding size, weight, performance, ride, and price.
Common to most models is that the handling is more responsive than on a full-size bike, and that can take some getting used to. Gears on small-wheeled folding bikes are higher to compensate (for smaller wheels) and some may have limited gearing, (my bike only has 3 gears for example, but others have up to 27!) but again, if you plan to take a lot of shared trips that may include public transport, then a folding bike still might be just the thing for you.
However, be advised, folding bikes are not for the shy, and if you are thinking about one, then all I can offer is …prepare to be friendly. You will be asked about your bike constantly on the streets, in your office, and on the train. People will want to know how long it takes to fold up or down (mainly men) how long you have had it and where you got it, what’s it like riding one, how heavy it is (women) and in a way, you really turn out to be a spokesperson of sorts for your bike. Folding bikes are still an intriguing sight when people see them on the streets or being folded.
It is not all friendly though, and I have been asked to leave a shop because of an adverse policy which did not allow for bikes on the premises – well we won’t be going there anymore. People have also commented unfavourably about the look of the bike, including one guy who simply noted “…. I could not ride that bike, I would be too embarrassed to do so…”.
I got a Brompton folding bike about 18 months ago (after trying out a friend’s), and I would have to say that it is the ultimate bike for me at this point in my cycling journey. It is incredibly well designed and features excellent, predictable road handling, consistent in a well-crafted steed. The steering response is very quick, and a low wheel-base makes for a low centre of gravity and a safe ride. It is truly a delight to ride and fun to own, and it folds in about 15 seconds.
The Brompton folds smaller than most models, into a tidy package and has a nifty feature that when it is folded it locks together in a way that keeps the chain away from your clothes. It can also coast about when folded on suitcase-style casters. There is a range of optional extras (including a cover and saddle bag combo that turns the bike into a nondescript rolling black canvas object that cannot be identified as a bike at all) available from Brompton dealers. However, there is no Brompton dealer in NZ at present, which makes getting parts and servicing somewhat challenging. ?
I rarely lock my Brompton, I just fold it and carry it with me. I take it on the train (or bus) if I have to and everyone is generally receptive to it. The bike is quick, but is definitely not the fastest two wheels on the road. I have the touring model so presumably can go for some distance though to date I mainly use it for commuting back and forth from home to work, and have probably not covered much more than 20-25 kms on it at one time. It is very useful for running errands around town and making it to meetings and appointments on time. It normally lives folded under my desk or tucked away, and thanks to GW’s new rules I am quite comfortable taking it on public transit AT ALL TIMES!”