To Have and to Fold

Compact bicycles expand their market

Like tandems and recumbents, folding bicycles provide an alternative for cyclists concerned about space, portability and convenience. The concept is simple: With a few adjustments, a smaller-wheeled full-sized bike be- comes compact and more easily transportable—often in less than 30 seconds.

As such, folding bikes, with or without electric motors, are popular among boat owners, private pilots and recreational vehicle enthusiasts, who pack them in tight spaces for use in emergencies or on short excursions to complement their main recreations.

Until recent years, however, the folding bicycle industry suffered from a hard-to-overcome dilemma. Folding bikes had a persistent reputation for being likely to fold at less-than-ideal moments. Mainstream cyclists remained largely unimpressed and were among the non-buying majority.

That’s a reputation folding bike manufacturers such as Bike Friday, Brompton, Dahon, Montague and Pedego, among others, believe has changed.

“We just had a couple buy one of our Black Latches ($2,795-$3,095); they travel in their RV and their boat a lot,” says Kendall Rocco, a manager at Pedego Electric Bikes in Naples. “The Latch was a perfect bike for them because it’s easy to transport and it’s lightweight.”

With improved technology and ease of use, as well as increased restrictions for full-sized bikes on some metropolitan public transportation systems, folding bikes are increasingly appealing.

While Englishman William Grout in 1878 and Frenchman A.J. Marcelin in 1939 were among the folding bike’s pioneers, David Hon, a physicist and laser technology expert for Hughes Aircraft Corporation, brought it back into vogue in the modern era. Like many commuters in 1975, Hon grew tired of waiting in gas station lines during the oil and gas crisis. He decided again, as he had in college, to rely on cycling as transportation. Seven years later, the rst “Dahon Folder” was introduced. It folded and unfolded with a series of easy-access, adjustable brackets.

Dahon, with bikes ranging from $399-$1,999, remains an industry leader. It offers dozens of models, styles and varying wheel sizes.

“People buy folding bikes because they can lift them up stairs and store them in homes or apart- ments or in small storage places to keep them safe at night,” says Diane Holm, co-owner of Fort Myers Cyclery.

Besides RVers, boaters and cyclists who have smaller living spaces, Holm had a private pilot purchase a folding bike. “Some people are looking for a smaller bike that they can step over easily and put their feet at on the ground,” says Holm. “Putting your feet at on the ground in most bike designs, including folding bikes, is not necessarily giving you proper leg extension, but it makes a rider feel secure.”

 

EXPANDING FOLDERS British-made Brompton promotes its folding bicycles, which weigh in at around 25 pounds, as ‘the only bike in the world to combine such ready portability with a first-class ride.’

MANY OTHER FOLDING BIKE MANUFACTURERS OFFER OPTIONS, FROM SMALLER-TIRED MODELS TO FULL-SIZED RACING BICYCLES.

British-made Brompton ($1,410-$2,490) touts its offerings as “the only bike in the world to combine such ready portability with a first-class ride.”

One of its original brochures featured a commuting business- man, dressed in suit and tie, carrying his folding bike in one hand while reading a newspaper as he walks along with a train platform in London. Brompton’s handmade steel three- and six-speed models weigh 24 to 27 pounds.

Bike Friday offers single, tandem and triple, custom-made folding bikes. Its motto is “Performance That Packs.” Its bikes, like other manufacturers’ styles, fold into suitcases not subject to additional airline luggage charges.

Montague, promoted as the largest man- ufacturer of full-size folding bikes, has gained particular notoriety with its “Paratrooper” model. The 24-speed offering, priced at $995, has been used interna- tionally as a military bicycle.

 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Brompton