Rider or Mechanic? Folding bicycle travel explored

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Those of you that have read any of my other posts know that I have been trying to decide whether my trip around the world for charity would be easier if I was traveling with a folded bike. Full size bike or traveling with a folded bike… one more thought to consider.

I thought I had researched everything, it turns out there is an advantage to traveling with a folding bicycle that I hadn’t considered. As I unpacked my bike and started putting it together there was the obvious fact, I had to reassemble the bike. Of course I knew that had I been traveling with a folding bike I could have saved myself some time and effort. What I hadn’t thought of was something not as obvious.

Brompton folding bicycle travel

Brompton folding bicycle travel

I put the kickstand in place, reattached the pedals, handlebars, mirror, racks, fenders, and seat. Front wheel on, I thought let me double check everything and then I should be ready to ride. The initial reassembly took me about 30-40 minutes, I had some problems. I could have been miles away had I been doing my travels with a folded bike.

When a travel folding bike finally dawned on me

I realize that something is loose in the front end of the bike, the brakes were rubbing and the front rack wasn’t completely level. I adjusted the brakes, leveled out the rack, but could not figure out what was wrong with the front end. All bolts were tight, I couldn’t find any parts in the shipping box that may have belonged to it, yet I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t ride, I would need to find a bicycle shop and I would need to find a ride there. Frustration is the best way to describe how I was feeling, I knew I should have been traveling with a folding bike.

Jump ahead to the next day, I find a bike shop, I find a ride. Now I have the joy of fitting this big bike in the back seat of a small car. We had to angle the bike and leave the handlebars sticking out the window. Good thing I am in Florida where it is warm. I hope at this point you are getting a very vivid picture of how much easier this would have been if I had been traveling with a folding bicycle.

Some folding bikes I’m considering

Off we go, 19 miles down the road, to find the bike shop. We barely made it before the shop closed. On a beautiful day when I could have been riding. If only I had that folding travel bike. I took my bike in and the owner looked at it and said well it looks like you might be missing a spacer, he then tells me that he hopes not because he is low on stock and might not have any to fit. He assured me that they are an easy part to lose, not reassuring for any future trips with a full size bike. All I can think is, it is time to start traveling with a folding bike. I now have visions of folding bicycles running through my head.

In all my research into the differences between my full size bike and traveling with a folded bike I had never considered the loss of parts. He checked the bike and it turned out something was just not seated properly. What did I learn, when traveling with a folded bike, no dis-assembly, and no lost parts.

At this point I’m pretty sure I’ll go with a Brompton folding bicycle for my touring adventures. We’ll see…

Tern Link P9 on Boston Streets

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Last week I borrowed my roommate’s Tern Link P9 folding bike and joined him and his father for a 14 mile joy ride around the suburbs of Boston. My roommate, Anthony, and his father are both bike enthusiasts and at first I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the father son duo. I had never ridden a folding bike before and was thinking that it might be hard to keep up with a normal road bike, but nope, the Tern folding bike goes just about as fast as you can peddle it!

Link P9 folding bicycle in Boston

Link P9 folding bicycle in Boston

The smaller wheels are great for city riding!

Interestingly, the smaller wheels seemed to offer a few advantages for city riding. I was definitely able to accelerate a bit faster on the Link P9 than on traditional road-bikes I had tried out in the past. I mentioned this to Anthony, demonstrating with a spurt of speed and a failed attempt at a wheely. My friend explained that, on a folding bike, the smaller circumference of the wheels allows for greater torque, and therefore allows you to accelerate a bit faster.

I didn’t exactly understand the physics of his explanation, but I did understand that super awesome extra spurt of speed I got whenever I put my weight into the peddle! Totally awesome!

Can folding bikes handle rough terrain?

During the bike ride we took the Link P9 all over the city and through many different types of terrain. The folding bike performed great on bike paths, roads, sidewalks, (anything paved), but on more “off-road” terrain it began to struggle. At one point, we detoured onto a dirt bike path, and although I was able to keep up with Anthony and his dad, I had to work twice as hard to maintain speed on the squishy surface. Later, when I tried riding over a wet lawn, it was almost impossible to keep going. Folding bikes are not substitutes for mountain bikes, nor are they meant for off road terrain, although I had a great time trying anyway!!

The Link P9 turns on a dime!

The smaller wheels on the Tern Link P9 had other advantages as well. Not only could I go just as fast as the other bikes (and accelerate faster) but I could also turn more easily! Smaller wheels= greater turn radius= more folding bike awesomeness! “They don’t call it the TERN folding bike for nothing!” I yelled to my friend who looked at me like I was an idiot.

Dilemma: World Travel, Answer: Folding bike?

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Here I am with my Non-Folding bike

Here I am with my Non-Folding bike

To fold or not to fold, that is the question? I have started an epic journey around the world representing cancer survivors with a full size bike. An epic challenge for a cancer survivor and someone who has repeatedly beat the odds. I am a survivor on a mission, delivering Unlimited Smileage to survivors around the world.

As I travel I am not always sure where the journey may lead. Most recently, I needed to take a side trip, that didn’t involve riding, and much to my dismay my bike could only go along for a portion of that trip. That was when I first started questioning my full size bike and wondering did I need to research a folding bicycle. You see Amtrak is only partially bicycle friendly. I would either need to go partially to my destination and then find someone with a truck to pick me up for the remainder of the trip or find some alternative means of transportation.

On the folding bike hunt

I must be honest, I don’t know much about folding bicycles but I am fast learning. Currently I am in the process of comparing brands and have narrowed down the options to the hand crafted folding bicycles. I think if you are going to fold the bike, quality matters. I looked at mass produced folding bicycles, however I really don’t want a folding bike that was manufactured on an assembly line somewhere. The way I look at it, I have survived many obstacles in life, I am worth the best.

 

My research into folding bicycles began with the typical google search and at first that was a bit overwhelming. I remembered friends who are traveling with Brompton folding bikes and started reading more on their adventures and knew that the experiences they were having were all relatively positive. I knew that meant Brompton folding bikes needed to be on my list of bikes to research. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone riding the other brands so I needed to search for reviews on folding bikes to get more info.

Traveling would be easier with a folding bicycle

I didn’t really want to inconvenience anyone and don’t know many people with vehicles big enough to transport a full size bike equipped with racks for touring. A folding bicycle would fit in the smallest of cars. I researched Greyhound, just in case there were other immediate solutions, not bicycle friendly at all. Folding bikes were looking better all the time as the only other options were to leave the bike behind or ship it. I really didn’t want to leave it behind so shipping seemed as though it would be the only viable option. So after $120 and quite a bit of hard work, I am in one place and my bike and panniers are at my next destination. This was certainly not what I consider ideal but it was the easiest solution to my dilemma.

I am doing my due diligence here, after all this is an unexpected expense and the journey needs to continue. I do know from the information I have gathered thus far, if I had owned a folding bike when I needed to make this side trip, I would have been able to take it on Amtrak as carry on. My bike and I would currently be in the same place.

Picking the right folding bike

Now this dilemma has brought me here, researching a solution for the future. I know other riders who have had similar dilemmas with transporting a full size bike and I want this trip to be about the cause not about causing me stress. I am clearly at a crossroad, a fork in the road, a bend…hmm, maybe a fold. More on my journey to follow.

I’ve been eying a custom built Brompton folding bike though….

Why I Chose a Brompton Folding Bike

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Why did I choose a Brompton folding bicycle? Back in July of 2010 I ditched all my stuff and hit the road with my bicycle and laptop. After riding across all of New Jersey and most of Pennsylvania, I started taking my bike on the bus to different cities. This was fine for awhile, until I found myself removing the wheels and pedals every few days. It doesn’t sound like much of a hassle, but after an 11 hour, overnight bus ride and you’re in a new city at 5am, putting your bike back together isn’t all that fun.

My Brompton bike at the side of the road

My Brompton bike at the side of the road

In October of 2010 I started looking at folding bikes. I knew I wanted something that was small yet sturdy for serious riding. I didn’t want to settle for a bike that folded small but rode like a wet noodle on the street. I did a lot of online research, reading various bike blogs and forums, and talking to anyone else who owned a folding bike. Finally I was able to visit a bike shop and tested a Brompton folding bicycle.

 

First rides on my Brompton bike in NYC

The streets of Manhattan are the perfect testing grounds for any bike. I was doubtful that the Brompton bike’s 16” wheels could handle the New York City streets. However, with the relaxed geometry and the rear suspension block, the bike handled amazingly. I was surprised that such small wheels could handle the mean streets of the big city but the Brompton folding bike performed great.

Also surprising was the stiffness of the bike. I was able to stand up and really stomp on the pedals at intersections or at the top of steep climbs. The Brompton felt strong and stiff.

Since I was planning on riding long distances I needed a range of gears. The 6-speed version of the Brompton folding bicycle has served me well for 30+ mile adventures around New York City and for 30+ mile rides on the winding roads of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The low gears get you up the long grinding hills, and the higher gears let the Brompton fly down the other side!

Taking my Brompton folding bike inside

The size of the bike when folded is amazing. I’m able to take my Brompton folding bike into coffee shops, diners and grocery stores with no problems. Getting the folding bicycle onto commuter buses and trains is a breeze, too!  It rolls nicely when folded, and if I need to carry the bicycle up or down stairs it’s light enough to not leave my arms too tired afterwards.

Learning to fold the Brompton was easy, too. After a few test runs I was able to fold and unfold the bike in seconds. The only thing to slow the process was demonstrating the folding process for strangers on the street who would approach me and ask about the bicycle! For whatever reason more people approach me now that I ride a Brompton folding bicycle then in all my 20+ years of biking.

If you’re planning on some long distance riding, some urban adventures and occasionally hopping onto a bus or a train with your bike, check out the Brompton folding bike. It’s a sturdy built bike, rides great on a variety of terrains and is compact enough to take with you anywhere you go.

Brompton Bus Travel is Great Way to Explore

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How many times have you traveled by bus to a new city and wished you had your bike? With some simple planning, Brompton bus travel just might be the best way to ride!

Before starting your Brompton and bus travel, be sure to look up the luggage policies for the bus line you are taking. Most bus lines do not charge extra for bicycles, even full size bikes, but they usually require that you bike at least be in a sturdy bag. The lightweight Brompton Cover and bag is perfect for bus travel. Once there, fold up your Brompton bike, cover your bike and head to the ticket counter!

My Brompton folding bike at the bus station

My Brompton folding bike at the bus station

When buying your bus ticket it’s best to mention that you have a bicycle with you. Some bus lines require you to tag your luggage and others don’t. Ask if your luggage needs a tag. Also, as you do more bus travel, you might encounter ticket agents that may try to charge you extra for the bike. Simply remind them nicely of the policies on their website. Speak to a manager if they insist they need to charge you extra.

While waiting to board the bus, locate a bus employee and ask if your luggage needs a tag. This is to make double-sure that you can take your Brompton folding bike on the bus. The last thing you want to encounter when handing your ticket to the bus driver is being told you have to go back to the ticket counter for a luggage tag.

As your boarding the bus, roll your Brompton folding bicycle to the baggage handler. I usually make eye contact with this person, offer a pleasant greeting, and then tell them, “this is a bicycle.” I then hand the bicycle to them, and watch them put it on the bus. I’ve done this for many miles of bus travel and I’ve never seen a baggage handler throw or mistreat my bike. Always say “thank you” when dealing with anyone who is handling your folding bike.

Once you arrive at your destination, you’re ready to begin the second half of your Brompton bus travel adventure! Make your way to the side of the bus to retrieve your bike. If you won’t get in the way, point out your luggage to the baggage handler and mention it’s a bike. Again, this just might save your Brompton from a ding or two! Some bus lines don’t have baggage handlers, so you’re free to get your bike yourself. Watch your head, though; I’ve bumped my noggin a few times on the low ceiling in the luggage compartment.

As the passengers get off the bus, bus line employees scurry about and family and friends reunite with their loved ones, find a quiet place to unfold your Brompton. Maybe a curb around the corner, or a few steps away from the main entrance. Do your best to just get out of the way and not bump into anyone with you bike.

Now you can remove the Brompton Cover, unfold your bike, place the cover back in its bag, and get ready to ride. Be very aware of everything around you, though. Stay clear of any bus lanes, and watch out for cars speeding into and out of the parking lot.  The bus station can be a dangerous place for a bicycle, so use caution.

Congratulations! You just rode to a transit hub, hopped on a bus and arrived in a new town with your folding bike. I’ve been doing full sized bike and bus travel for awhile now, but Brompton bus travel is by far the best way to get around.

Seth has is own blog: TheBikeNerd.com

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