Guest article: The unfolding crisis of bike theft

Posted by on October 16th, 2015 at 9:56 am

Me and my tikit in DC

Want to beat bike thieves? What if you could take your bike with you wherever you go?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

— This article was written by reader Ed Rae, a folding bike evangelist and senior sales rep for Brompton.

The unfolding crisis of bike theft

As the diverse range of Portland cyclists hear of or sadly come to experience directly the trials of bike theft, it’s gratifying to see many suggestions and solutions being offered. What seems clear is there’s no universal solution (that is, unless human nature changes and nobility wins out).

edrae

Ed Rae at the 2010 Tweed Ride.

For some the solution might be centralized and supervised parking facilities at places like work and school campuses, transit hubs and public gathering points. For others, diffuse but secure parking scattered all across the city. Certainly better locks and smarter lock use would curtail thievery, and some of the emerging registration programs will discourage theft and aid recovery. BikePortland’s laudable efforts to involve and educate Portland police and increase their awareness and enforcement will also curtail thieving.

But there’s another piece in the matrix of solutions that’s embraced in much of the world yet less utilized here in North America:

I’m writing this because I’ve heard or read of too many bike theft episodes that are easily avoidable. It’s like watching someone walk into a wall over and over; eventually you feel you must show them the path leading around it.

How about owning a bike that rarely if ever needs even to be locked?

How about a bike that doesn’t need to be left outside anywhere, where even if not stolen is still subject to pilfering, vandalism and at the least, the degrading affects of weather (your lovely Brooks saddle isn’t just a target for savvy thieves but also doesn’t like baking sun or drenching rain… nor do the tires, cables, lube, paint and the rest)?

So what kind of fantasy is this; a perfectly ridable bike that never needs locking but can be taken anywhere? Have I been celebrating Oregon’s recent legalization of weed? Nope, the answer is folding bikes.

In the interest of full disclosure I work for a folding bike maker, but will state with certainty this could be written by anyone who owns one and who has nothing to gain other than the gratification of sharing a solution that’s simple, elegant and life-changing.

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The right kind of folder will give up very little in rideability but be easily stashed under the table, desk, behind or under the counter, behind the door, next to the radiator in the corner, and so on. When in shops it can be towed along behind like a roller bag (doubling as a grocery cart). I’m taking some pains to describe scenarios because it might be easy to come up with reservations and caveats that in practice are more theoretical than real.

tikit at museum

That one time I stashed my folder in a
locker at the Smithosian Museum in Washington D.C.

Go to the front of the movie theater and place it discreetly and almost imperceptibly under the screen. Return to seat with assurance that the entire audience is facing it and no one will walk off with your bike.

If one faces a snooty hotel concierge, cranky taxi driver or cloakroom attendant, zipping a cover that’s the size of rolled up pillowcase over the fold will assuage all concerns and also make the presence concealed/discreet if that’s the goal. If one is faced with catching a bus with the front rack already filled with rigid bikes or a MAX line that is “maxxed out”, not to worry; walk onboard with your little set-up and pick your seat.

I can think of many rides to restaurants or whatever with friends, and while they scout out a safe, secure, maybe weather-protected bike parking spot out there (sometimes at considerable distance from the establishment) I’ve folded my ride in seconds and carried or rolled it in behind me generally unnoticed or uncommented upon. By the time my friends enter (often with expressions of anxiety over where their bike has ended up somewhere on the dark street and whether it will be there when they return) I’m seated, with my first drink and with bike at my knee, under the table, in the corner of the booth, next to a potted plant, or what have you.

I’m writing this because I’ve heard or read of too many bike theft episodes that are easily avoidable. It’s like watching someone walk into a wall over and over; eventually you feel you must show them the path leading around it.

Though cyclists here in the states are often refreshingly non-conformist, many still can’t overcome very conventional and inaccurate stereotypes about folders, with their small wheels, and so on. But if you can get over it, a new world of experience awaits you, a hidden-in-plain-sight mode of use that will open up both the city and cycling in sometimes astonishing ways — and will almost guarantee you won’t become a bike theft victim.

There’s no assertion here that this solution is for everyone. Whatever you ride though, my hope is that you’re able to keep it there under you and not find it torn away forever by an unseen hand. See you out there… I’ll be waiting in the pub while you find a place to “safely” lock your bike.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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9watts
Subscriber

A well-written and thought-provoking piece. Thanks.

I’ll take mine with a piece of fishing line I can tie to my ankle…

As for this: that’s embraced in much of the world yet less utilized here in North America:
I suspect that is at least in part due to the legacy of bikes-as-recreation that we’re still living with here in the States.

Mike Quiglery
Guest
Mike Quiglery

Looks like that little folder is easy pickins for someone casually strolling by.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

I rented a Brompton from Clever Cycles for an out of town trip last fall. With a little practice it was easy to fold and unfold, and easy for me to lift in and out of the car.

I rode it along a couple of Montana country roads and on a Montana bike path. (To my amazement, there was such a thing.) It was a pretty comfortable ride.

The experience confirmed my generally favorable impression of the folding-bike concept. It would be great on a not-too-crowded bus and easy to get into an elevator and up to an office cubicle, where it would definitely fit under a work surface. (The particular one I rented – not sure of the model – really and truly would not be easily tucked behind a potted plant at a restaurant, however. It was larger and more unwieldy than that.)

All in all, I’d seriously consider a folder as my second bike if I were having a second bike.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

PS Ha ha ha. I just got the title. Good one.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I cant bear the aesthetic of folding bikes, and thats enough to put them out of the realm of possibility for me

9watts
Subscriber

Perhaps the thief who covets your un-foldable bike can’t bear to keep his hands off?
For me the (culturally-variable) dorkiness of someone riding one is counterbalanced by the ingenuity of the fold-in-on-itselfness that the better folding bikes evidence. I could easily see the latter winning out over time.

ed
Guest
ed

Lots of shapes and sizes of folders – at least as many as nons, so not sure if there is one “aesthetic”. But as long as you admit your choice is based on the superficiality and whim of fashion as opposed to any practical and real world aspects. Americans do seem to have a peculiar unease about smaller wheel size (or smaller anything really; just look at our motor vehicle and suburban house sizes) but fortunately the small is beautiful aesthetic is gaining ground. Size anxiety is evidently rampant for many 😉

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

One additional thought: it seems to me that several of the main problems a folding bike would solve, bikeshare would solve too – if (and it’s a big if) bikeshare can be distributed widely enough.

9watts
Subscriber

Hmmmmm.
Except that bikeshare involves creating an institution for something that previously was the epitome of cheap, autonomous, democratic transportation, something just about anybody could engage in with no need for taxes, contracts, bureaucrats, advertising partners, software platforms, balancing algorithms, corporate buyouts, insurance, etc.

RH
Guest
RH

Great article. I could see myself getting a folding bike after my current bike gets stolen :p

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

N + (1/1) <— folder!

Pete
Guest
Pete
Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Good luck crossing streetcar tracks.

Abraham
Guest
Abraham

I was interested in folding bikes for this very reason so I tried riding one. The quality of the ride was bad enough that I would still much rather ride my standard bike and just be very careful about how and where it is locked.

ed
Guest
ed

I wonder if riding one gives anyone the criteria to make the call for all of them? If you rode one model of one brand of cargo bike do you think you could generalize on how they all ride? Folders range from $199 to 4K+ (like any other type of bike) You might the ride will vary some…just sayin’

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

I recommend just riding a beater for $20-30, if it gets stolen, buy a new beater. Repeat… Bikes that cost hundreds or thousands are sure nice, but not necessary, and lead to lots of anxiety about it’s theft. I’m living proof, my $30 garage sale bike (clean serial number BTW) has served me well for over 3 years / 10,000+ miles, and it’s going very strong. However, I do keep it well maintained at the LBS. New bottom brackets, chain, gears, cables, brake pads, tires, etc… on a rotating basis. Little things that keep the bike functioning well, but don’t stand-out and say, “Hey, steal me!” like a set of $1000 wheels or $200 saddle can do.

I love my old beater so much I bought an identical clone, so if it ever does get stolen, oh well a definite bummer for sure, but grab the next one off the rack and go. I’m out $30, my lock cost more than that…

I know it’s not the answer for everybody, but it’s an option, just like a folding bike is someone’s ideal option.

J4son
Guest
J4son

Amen . . .i have a $100 90’s Giant MTB that is nearly indestructible, and provides me with the freedom of locking up anywhere without worry. (It is still locked with an $85 Kryptonite, so if someone wants to break out the angle grinder to steal my old bike, they will have to work for their theft.)

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I agree fully. I have a few beaters that get used around town, complete with extremely cheap, ugly metal baskets. I’m not sure a thief would take any of them if I offered them, but they roll and are in good repair.

My problem with a folder is the awful ride, which stems from its geometry and perhaps from my 6’2″ height. Sure, I have friends who take their folders on tours, but I’m just not inclined to take one for a fun ride on variable road and nonroad surfaces like I do with my nicer old-but-modernized touring bikes and tandems. Therefore, a folder would be a replacement for a near-free beater, and it just doesn’t add up for me. Obviously, it adds up just fine for others and more power to them.

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

I use an ebike as my primary commuter but I’ve been considering getting a cruiser bike for recreation/backup commuter w. This article has me reconsidering…maybe a folding bike would offer more versatility with some of the same advantages and disadvantages of a cruiser.

Cruiser: CONS – fewer gearing options (in the models I’m interested in), challenging for hill climbs; PROS – low step through, fun, cheap

Folding bike: CONS – fewer gearing options (in the models I’m interested in), challenging for hill climbs, not cheap; PROS – low step through, fun, portable

Mainly seems like a trade-off in affordability vs portability.

jeff
Guest
jeff

calling it a ‘crisis’ is a bit sensationalized, isn’t it?

ed
Guest
ed

Might depend on if you are one of the daily victims of theft in Portland 😉

maxD
Guest
maxD

Interesting article but I was abit bothered the tone: “if only people GOT folding bikes, the bike theft problem would be solved.” I had a couple of instances this week where a folding bike would not have worked: after work meeting in someone’s office (not bike friendly) followed by drinks in a very crowded bar. Getting an early morning ride (25 miles) in on the way to the office.

More tothe point, however, is that if all the bike commuters WERE to take this suggestion, our buses, trains, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and movie theaters would be overrun with tiny filthy folded bikes. I like folding bikes, I appreciate their mechanical genius, but they are a niche product and much of a solution to bike theft!

ed
Guest
ed

Never been in a bar too crowded to find a place for the wee bike. When in London and pulling up to pubs packed to the gills and spilling out into the street (a common occurrence in London where you can drink from a glass outside the pub) with 6 or 7 of us on Bromptons I thought we were out of luck. Nope, maybe stack them up in a corner but ALWAYS a place. Despite your efforts to make this sound rude it really isn’t (unless you’re a bike hater in which case exposure to any bike is offensive) and in the rest of the world where bikes are more a part of everyday life it certainly isn’t. And why “filthy”? Wow; clean your bike once in a while 😉 I take it you never carry a bag into a business then for fear of offending, or else frequent places so shoulder to shoulder crowded that you have no room for one. Funny because we’re far less crowded and more spread out than places in Europe or Asia where folders are ubiquitous but not a problem. Besides wouldn’t living somewhere where bikes have invaded would be a wonderful problem to have? I’m afraid your best efforts to stigmatize this usage don’t add up in real life. As far as a 25 mike pre-work ride, I expect many commuter bikes readers here use might not be ideal for that,though a 25 mile ride on my folder isn’t much different than a road bike. I personally wouldn’t leave my nice road bike parked in front of a bar but maybe you’re different. One can always concoct reasons not to do something I suppose.

maxD
Guest
maxD

ed,
adding “;)” doesn’t make me think you are being cute. A bike ridden on the street in November/December will be filthy due to the wet, ground-up leaves mixed with the road grime that has accumulated all summer. The bike will, in fact, be A LOT dirtier than a coat. You may not care, and you may be insensitive enough to bring your wet bike into a crowded establishment and expect the owner to not care, but a lot of reasonable people would disagree with you. I am positive there are lots of times, probably the majority of times, when it will be dry enough, or the place empty/grungy enough, that bringing in a small bike would be no problem at all. My point (that you have already dismissed) is that there are other times when conditions are too miserable, the venue may be too crowded (or inappropriate), or there may be too many other people ahead of you bringing inside tiny filthy bikes for another to be welcomed inside.

ed
Guest
ed

Sorry but what you describe just isn’t the case. The tiny, tiny contact patches of the tires (what; 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch) are much less wet than your shoes. I don’t leave a trail of dead leaves and debris with my bike. I know in your mind this concoction of rudeness and filth is somehow real but it just doesn’t work that way in practice. And no, there is always a place where the bike is in no one’s way. It’s uncanny and quite fun. Your insistence on painting these images is odd. Very reminiscent of the reaction many motorists have when bike infrastructure is mentioned, or the reactions small businesses had when bike corrals were first presented in Portland. All the imagined dreadful depictions turn out to be unfounded. Such is the nature of prejudice I guess. Perhaps someday if you get out of Portland to a city with more developed daily cycle use (i.e. much of Europe/Asia) you’ll for yourself the fallacy of the scenarios you imagine with folder use. Meanwhile, glad we are both using 2 wheels.

maxD
Guest
maxD

someday I hope to be as worldly and free from prejudice as you!

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

This is one of those solutions that works as long as too many people aren’t doing it. If a bunch of people are bringing wet, dripping bikes into an establishment, I can see the establishment asking that bikes be locked up outside, and then you’re back to the original issue.

Personally, I don’t want to be “that guy” who always brings his bike inside. And then what do I do with it? I have enough of an issue dealing with my backpack. So in a busy bar, I have to carry it around with me to keep it from being kicked or in the way? No thanks.

I may be cursing myself here, but after over 25 years of getting around by bike, I still haven’t had a bike stolen. Use a good U-lock, the smallest one that will work is best. Lock it securely in a public, well-travelled area. Be the best locked bike around. Remember: you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the slowest person who’s also running from the bear.

longgone
Guest
longgone

Tony is correct on many levels. Let’s all drag our Bromptons into Stumptown on Belmont some morning and see how that works out.
Lock your damn bike. Ride a beater. Don’t worry, and remember…bike theft in Portland isn’t going to stop, ever.

ed
Guest
ed

Bike is no wetter than you or your feet (and dryer than your coat) when you walk in. Never have been at a loss to discreetly stick it somewhere out of the way unnoticed and in no one’s way. This is an example of someone theorizing about an obstacle that in practice does not exist often, if at all. But yeah, leave your bike out in the rain in front of the bar at night if you feel better 😉

Panda
Guest
Panda

If riding on the street in the rain, your bike is certainly much dirtier than shoes/ jacket. I have been a daily rider for over 20 years, I love bikes and riding in all types of weather. However, I would not appreciate a pile of Bromptons in the corner of my bar. Also, I have travelled to Europe and lived in Vancouver BC so I am not a complete Portland yokel ( as you imply)

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

If it’s small enough, ( https://www.vat19.com/item/mini-circus-clown-bike ) you don’t even have to fold it.

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

At least if everyone were doing it, I wouldn’t have to be the ad hoc “spokesman” for folding bikes everywhere I go, explaining the folding bike concept over and over to a curious public.

colton
Guest
colton

Based on the folding bikes I pass while out, I’ve always been under the impression that folding bikes are slower than their bigger-wheeled siblings. I’ve literally never been passed by one and it always seems like the ones I pass aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. Now, it could just be that the folks riding them are laid back and I could ride one much faster, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Some would claim that I shouldn’t be in such a hurry, but I know I’m not alone in having lots of things I want to do. Once a trip gets beyond 30-45 minutes I start to consider other options. Luckily, I’ve set my life up where most of my daily life is inside that window, but if I suddenly found that my rides were taking 50+ minutes, I probably wouldn’t be riding much.

Regardless of if you agree with my limits, we all have some limit where it’s just too far to go by bike, so choosing a bike that makes us hit those limits doesn’t really seem too appealing.

Mao
Guest
Mao

I’ve passed people while riding my foldie up hills, but tend to get passed on steep downhill coasts. I use a Tern Origami, which I’ve only seen anyone else riding once.
It’s definitely a casual bike since the ability to fold means you can’t get too crazy with addons if you want to keep folding a quick process. The frame feels like it has a lower point of gravity and I can’t hop curbs.
But when my roommates need to lock their bikes up outside the house overnight, it’s comforting being able to carry mine inside and stash it out of the way.

AIC
Guest
AIC

How easy is it to ride wheelies on a fold-up? That is pretty much all I care about.

whyat
Guest
whyat

The small form factor and easy portability of folding bikes make them extremely easy to steal. There would be certain cases where they would be easier to protect against theft, but in other situations they would be more vulnerable. So many bikes get stolen because someone takes their eyes off of it for one split second. An unlocked folding bike fits this description perfectly.

Dan F
Guest
Dan F

I think you’re exactly right. Plus they’re not cheap. Your only hope is that the thief doesn’t recognize it as a bike when it’s folded up, I guess.

ed
Guest
ed

Not if its indoors at your knee and 30 seconds from a door in a crowded room. So many hundreds of times have done this. How does this theif know which of the peolpe all round him the bike belongs to? Your comment says you’ve absolutely never tried but are imagining. Of course if you leave it out on the street with the non folders… yes it could be stolen.

Dan F
Guest
Dan F

I’ve got a Brompton, and have brought it into stores, etc. before instead of locking it up outside. It’s pretty awkward and cumbersome, honestly. It’s basically an expensive novelty, handy for travelling but that’s about it. I would never consider it any kind of solution to the problem of bike theft.

chris
Guest
chris

I saw a folding bike recently that was pretty cool — it was a folding road bike with drop bars and everything. The rider was moving at pretty good clip too. It wouldn’t be bad as a casual town bike.

Still, I’m probably more fond of the idea of more apartments, businesses and offices offering secure indoor bike parking, which I expect to see more of as surface parking lots continue to be replaced by mixed-use buildings.

Tom
Guest
Tom

The cargo carrying capability may be an issue with folding bikes if you are using them for getting groceries, especially shopping for multiple people. I know they make special cargo folders, but they are not that small that you can bring them inside anymore and likely need to be tied up outside in most cases.

Consumer subscriptionless radio based tracking will be available this spring. This may be a chance for the city to start a cost effective bike bait program with enough scale to significantly suppress bike theft. The program does not need to use special bikes, but could use volunteers from the public. Why move special bait bikes around, when you can have the public do it for you. I could see the city doing a model pilot program together with the device maker, for a bulk discount. Innovative tech based pilot programs tend to be able to get grant money, and the device maker may be eager to demonstrate its effectiveness on a high profile level.

RH
Guest
RH

Why not just use two U-locks? That would give me peace of mind. Getting 2 u locks only costs maybe $80 versus $1500 for a folding bike.

9watts
Subscriber

Now we’re talking:-)

And on Craigslist, if you’re patient, you can get a Kryptonite U-lock for $15 +/-.

ed
Guest
ed

How about your saddle? Blinky Lights? Maybe 3 or locks then? Whats keeping wheels from the kick of a passing jerk? And don’t forget the cover to protect from sun or rain. Oh wait, that would get stolen 😉

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Senior sales rep for Brompton….
Conflict of interest?
I get pro-bike stories on BP – a bike advocacy blog, but pro-one kind of bike seems like crossing the line, particularly when the author has a financial stake in local sales of a product.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

Nowhere is Brompton mentioned in the article other than the guest author’s title. Also both pictures are of a Bike Friday Tikit.

JM – Thanks for highlighting a niche bike style often overlooked.

ed
Guest
ed

As long as you make the same objection when a bike registration program is touted on bikeportland – after all someone is doing that as a business right? And be sure to ban bike shops form bike advocacy too – they are making money right? Please think this through, sometimes it doesn’t have to be either or but can be both.

John Lascurettes
Guest

So go ahead discount the article and pay it no heed if you’re so incredulous to the author posting any useful information I for one enjoyed it and found it useful – and I’m aware of the “conflict” of interest because he was ethical and disclosed it; still doesn’t mean the info is not useful to others, and coming from the heart of an enthusiast rather than a profiteer.

lop
Guest
lop

If it says guest article in the headline, the URL, and includes a note like this at the beginning:

”— This article was written by reader Ed Rae, a folding bike evangelist and senior sales rep for Brompton”

Then anyone who doesn’t want to sit through a commercial can gloss over and look at the next story. Maybe don’t put Jonathon in the byline on these guest posts though?

Tony H
Guest
Tony H

I have a folder, and I like it a lot. I am also glad that it’s not my only bike. For shopping and hauling, I use a “regular” bike.

Patrick Barber
Guest

I had a folding bike in the Bay area and loved it. It was a cheap Dahon — $500 new (in 2001). It was fun to ride and fast, and made using the train or buses a snap. I rode it into the ground — the manufacturing was so cheap that some of the parts were hard to replace or work on, so it ended up just kind of crapping out.

I never took it inside, though. Just locked it up like usual. I personally have no problem with folding bikes, but I have a big problem with having to carry yet another thing around with me. I use my bike for all kinds of normal stuff. Appointments. Shopping. Dining out. Going to a show at a club. While I can see stashing a folding bike under a table in an uncrowded restaurant at a non-peak time, I have a harder time seeing how this would be helpful:
— shopping at large stores where I don’t generally use a cart. I’m not going to carry a wet bike with me while shopping for clothes, for example.
— going to the dentist, doctor, etc. Again, I already have a (astonishingly heavy) backpack, plus a jacket, etc to carry place to place and store or set down somewhere. Add a bike to this heap? No thanks.
— going to any kind of crowded place where i am going to be moving around. A bar, a busy restaurant where i have to wait for a table, a music gig where you stand to watch the performance.

I love folding bikes. They are fun to ride, make good guest bikes, and are great for travel, and for switching modes from bus or train to bike, or from bike to the trunk of someone’s car. But I don’t think they are a practical approach to preventing theft, and certainly not on any kind of scale.

longgone
Guest
longgone

Really surprised “ed” has not replied to your comment. Hmmmm?

ed
Guest
ed

Unfortunately you’re seeing this though the lens of the particular folding bike you had. These is no need to carry some folders at all; some roll behind you like a roller bag. Some will “convert” to the shopping cart you roll along with you in the store. Some will carry that heavy pack for you that you describe needlessly carrying along with you. The right folding bike will actually be much better than what you describe as your mode and load presently. Your comments reflect more the problems with your choice as opposed to the options that are available to you. If I tried to use a road bike as a cargo bike it would be silly, but is a result of my choice not of the bike.

LC
Guest
LC

I’d like to see a folding bike with a big front basket that would fold down into a shopping cart.

gl.
Guest
gl.

That’s EXACTLY what a Brompton does! It’s pretty incredible.

rain waters
Guest
rain waters

If I frequently used multi mode transport a folder would be a no brainer. Only needing one mode for daily trips, any folder quickly reverts to quirky, cumbersome, inefficient and functionally useless. The heightened security angle seems more a sales pitch than high enough priority “feature” to purchase such a unique bike for.

Captain Karma
Guest

I sense an upcoming effort by trimet to discourage regular bikes on trains and buses, by encouraging folding bikes. Or at least to use folding bikes as a rationale to not increase bike carrying capacity. Hopefully I am wrong.

J4son
Guest
J4son

Folding bikes are the best option for use with MAX and/or Amtrak. It really is surprising that more people aren’t using folding bikes and trains.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

Folders are great, I just got one myself. They are compact when folded, low step-over, easy to take on bus, max, (even when bike spots are full) and easy to pop in a car.

All bikes including folders have their limitations. As far as small wheels – it’s more about the engine for your speed. Although beware that many “value” low cost folders do not have the high-end gears many would like and you may spin out at 60-70ish gear inches. However for most riding (non-racing) you don’t need more than 80-90 gear inches anyway.

colton
Guest
colton

“many still can’t overcome very conventional and inaccurate stereotypes about folders”

I’m not sure what inaccurate stereotypes the author is talking about, but the stereotypes I wish had been addressed are:

1) The convenience of a folder drops dramatically if you aren’t either riding it, or sitting next to it. Once you want to move about for any length of time, it becomes inconvenient unless you have access to truly secure storage.
2) Folders aren’t as durable as most name-brand regular bikes
3) The cheapest folder is much more expensive than many quality regular bikes
4) Folders are slower than regular bikes

Showing these as inaccurate would go a long ways to changing perceptions.

ed
Guest
ed

Happy to do this… your points:

1) If you do for some reason have to lock your bike (I haven’t in 8 years of use in Portland) then by all means bring a lock. Then, no more or less “inconvenient” than a non-folder, right?

2) What folder are you referring to? They range from $200 to 4K+ Do you think quality might vary? And do you lump a “mountain bike” from Target in with one from Trek in terms of durability? Why not?

3) Just flat out not true, as even a casual look at the marketplace will show but “you get what you pay for” pretty much holds true here too.

4) At The Sea Otter Gan Fondo this year there’s a great pic of Cadel Evans (ex world champ and Tour de France winner) drafting a Brompton. Roberto Herras (look him up) won the BWC a few years ago. But that’s beside the point. Riding in a city isn’t usually a race for me; is it for you? Is speed your primary consideration when city cycling?

You comments are valuable for illustrating the inaccurate stereotypes referred to; thanks for posting.

colton
Guest
colton

And thanks for taking the time to respond!

Al Dimond
Guest

I’ve actually had a folding bike stolen. I locked it up near a bus stop (with a cable lock, which was only the first of my mistakes) because it was a pain to carry around. It was not a Brompton; maybe Bromptons are easier to carry.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Cable locks are worthless to deter thieves. Real good at keeping honest people from “borrowing” your bike, but…

Al Dimond
Guest

This is where I get into the other mistakes. I also parked it in a location that was unusually well hidden from the street. Someone tried to steal the bike during the day, but apparently had a dull tool and failed to cut through it. So he cut my brake cables to disable the bike. When I returned I saw this and, because I had some other stops before going home and didn’t want to drag around a disabled bike, left the bike there to pick it up the next morning. Of course, by the next morning, it was gone. In this particular case the cable lock was better than nothing, and the bike probably wouldn’t have been stolen if I’d not made the other mistakes.

That said, if I’d gone on and continued to lock the bike this way it would have only been a matter of time before it was stolen.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Folders are excellent for multi modal trips, if you don’t have bike storage at home, for traveling, etc. They range in price from pretty low (Dahon) to rather pricey (Brompton, Bike Friday); you pretty much get what you pay for. They don’t ride as fast as a good road bike, but they ride as well as many bikes I see people commuting on.

If the problem is simply to combat theft, then a U lock or two is the simplest alternative. The vast majority of stolen bikes were locked, if at all, only with a cable. Riding an uglified or beater bike is another route. But for sure, a folder (that really folds small) is one approach.

I’ve owned a folder (Dahon; have it to a friend in NYC) and will probably buy another. Just need to figure out a way to mount drop bars . . .

Mark
Guest
Mark

How about businesses start allowing indoor parking?

John Lascurettes
Guest

They can’t all be Velo Cult. 🙂

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

I’m a folder fan, there is only one bike I drool over that hangs in the VC (The Moulton).

I do love the Bromptons 😉 (saving my pennies) but my main ride as of late is a 40+ year old Raleigh Twenty folder. It only folds in half and is not nearly as compact as the Bromptons but I can get it on a full Max train with it folded up. And with a little disassembly and the right suitcase can check it as luggage on an airplane with no additional cost.

And as for locking it up, I fold it around the rack and U lock the halves together and pocket the screw on pin which locks the halves together. And more than once forgetting the lock at home, I have folded it and put it in the shopping cart while getting groceries – and as pointed out above it’s possible to basically turn a Brompton into a shopping cart with the right add ons if I’m not mistaken.

I know on mine I can carry as much on it as a standard bike. With panniers and a front basket I can easily carry 4 bags of groceries or so. If I wanted to I could mod it to take on more – Which I’ve thought about doing.

Ride quality can vary on folders, the smaller the tires can make for a harsher ride, unless you’re doing some racing (I got some 20″ alloy 1″ rims I might swap on this bike) I would go with wider tires (my ride is comfortable with 20″x 1 3/8″. And this last summer I used a springer saddle which has now found a different bike – which made for an extremely comfortable sitting on a cloud like ride.

Don’t overlook the folders if you’re doing a lot of urban commuting, in many ways they are the superior bike for the task. Just make sure you buy from trusted bike brands (Brompton, Friday, Tern, Dahon – or if going vintage Moulton, Raleigh, or the 80’s (but definitely not the 70’s) Peugeot) I’d be suspect of those sold at RV shops or ones with unfamiliar brand names.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Folder owner here, and (although I now live in Mpls.) I am currently in Portland – with my folding bike – on business. This is the first time I’ve taken it on a plane, by the way.

I have a Xootr Swift, which is one of the highest-performance folding bikes out there. If you go on bikeforums’ Folding Bike forum and say 20″ wheels are slower than larger wheels (as I have done) you will get shouted down, but I’m firmly convinced it is true — all else being equal: that is, using tires of similar tread, construction, and pressure. Yes, there are people who’ve made their folders fast by putting on super-skinny, high pressure slicks (I hear great things about the Greenspeed tires), but my experience convinces me a 700c bike on similar tires would still be faster.

My experience is that given comparables tires, the 20″ wheels are 8-10% slower than my 700c. That is, a bit more than 1mph slower in typical riding conditions. I originally bought mine with the intention of using it for daily commuting, believing the hype that it would be as quick as a ‘crosser, and it just isn’t. Believe me, I tried: I managed to get the cockpit set up with nearly identical geometry to my “big” bike, and tried a bazillion different tires. I found these results to be very consistent after commuting for nearly a year between Beaverton and Portland on my Swift. I now run 1.5″ slicks at about 100psi, because that’s as skinny as I’m willing to go for urban riding. Even so, it’s still a bit slower than my other bikes with cyclocross tires on them. It might not sound like much difference, but it IS noticeable when riding and it does make riding noticeably less fun.

As a 20″ folder my Swift doesn’t fold down quite as small as some, especially Bromptons, and it makes a BIG difference. In quick-fold mode it’s still nearly a 36″x36″ package, which means it doesn’t easily stuff under a desk, doesn’t easily stow out of the way on MAX, nor is it that handy to wheel around in a store. Frankly, I still park it outside, and lock it well, like I do a normal bike. From what I’ve seen the 20″ folders from Bike Friday, Dahon and others aren’t really much smaller when folded either.

My opinion has become that if you really want a bike that folds down into a handy package that isn’t still a PITA to take into stores, on MAX, on planes, etc., you need to get something like a Brompton. The 16″ wheels will be marginally slower yet, but still several times faster than walking and just fine for getting around town and doing short to moderate length recreational rides. Unfortunately Brommies are quite an investment, and the 16″ Bike Friday tikit is comparably expensive.

Bottom line is that I don’t think folding bikes are a panacea. They’re a useful tool, but they have their limitations. I can’t really spend the money for a Brompton, but I am considering whether I might someday sell the Swift and get a Dahon Curve (16″) because it would be handier on transit, and on planes, and I might actually bring into stores with me.

Vincent
Guest
Vincent

What makes the Brompton so compact when folded isn’t just tne use of 16″ wheels: It’s also the way it folds.
Dahon also has a few folders with 16″ wheels, but they don’t fold as small.

And all have lower gear inches than the six-speed Brompton, which I mostly use to travel and ride about 100-130km (60-80 miles) per day.

eddie
Guest
eddie

In the three most bike friendly cities on the planet: Amsterdam Netherlands, Copenhagen Denmark and Munster Germany, nearly everyone rides a cheap Dutch bike with a cheap dutch bike lock. Very little bike theft because the bikes are usually beaters and easily replaced. Then again, most people live near where they work and ten times as many people bike everywhere as they do in Portland. But it’s a good idea. If you’re concerned with theft, either get a beater or make your bike look like one. Bling = theft.

ed
Guest
ed

Actually the cites you mention are huge markets for Brompton and perhpas other folders. ((though you mean Munich, right?) But you won’t see them parked on the street 🙂 Not everyone wants to ride beaters, and keep in mind cities like Amsterdam are dead flat so the charming rusty old hulks are fairly easy to push around when there’s no hills. I’ve spend weeks riding there so can vouch for that. You see zillions of junker bikes everywhere locked to anything solid; you don’t see left on the street an equal number of nice bikes many people also own.

eddie
Guest
eddie

No, Munster Germany, north of Koln and south of Hamburg, known for it’s bike culture.

ed
Guest
ed

Sorry; forgot to comment that those cites actually have astronomical bike theft. Amsterdam has special dredging cranes to haul out of the canals the 15,000 stolen bikes per year that end up in them.

MCRBikeCommuter
Guest
MCRBikeCommuter

Folding bikes were invented to cope with a society that marginalises cycling. Deal with the real problem whether it is theft or space rather than stop fighting for equality on the streets.

drew
Guest

This is a great article that points out one of the many advantages of using a bike that folds up. If the destination is sketchy, just bring it in with you!

Folding bikes are a hard sell in our culture though, where smaller wheels are associated with bikes for kids.
Add to that the many memories of those who have ridden clunky cheap folders in the past, and were duly unimpressed.

I have ridden my folders for 20 years now. I used my present ride for the Oregon Outback ride last year. It has completely changed the way I commute and tour. Really easy to integrate busses, trains and planes into a trip. The days of finding and lugging a huge cardboard box around are way behind me.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Did the folder you used for the Oregon “Outback” have 20″ wheels? Or larger? Just wondering, because I would not want to take my 20 incher on a ride like that.

drew
Guest

yes, I took the folder. It’s not one you can buy though. It’s a project bike I have been modifying and riding for years. It sports 20×2.4 (406-60) tires. The cushy fat tires really make up for the smaller wheels size. I hope some bike company will make something similar to it someday. A blog post about it here:
http://drewsminiblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/portable-bike-14.html

9watts
Subscriber

Wow. That is a super impressive effort and great documentation. I loved everything about it. Thanks for the link.