Folding bikes: Small revolutionary of urban mobility
Folding bikes have the potential to positively influence urban mobility, particularly commuter traffic. The image of a rickety, camping-style curiosity no longer applies thanks to the new models: On-site inspection.
Monday, 8:30 am @ S-Bahnhof. The bike can be swiftly folded and stowed away in the last free slot in the bike carriage. Main station – quickly unfold – jump onto the bike – off to the office. Take the bike with you to lunch (it fits underneath a canteen table), use it to get to your meeting, then back to the office with a shopping intermezzo while the bike sits in the shopping trolley. Staff will be friendly at evening theatre shows since the bike can be stowed against the stage or in the cloakroom. A dream? No. My daily routine as a folding bike cyclist in Berlin.
Everyday mobility in the city is a self-determined experience on a folding bike. Individual locations are linked by car, public transport and bike to save time, hassle and money. The argument for not wanting to arrive at the office in a sweat and exchanging a bike for a car is invalidated by an intermodal and multimodal range of options. The U lock stays at home while the folding bike travels everywhere with you. There are even offers for kids’ transport using folding bikes.
Small bikes and handling
Handling modern folding bikes should not be associated with the press brake folding variety from the 1970s (which even challenge lovers of cult status on Berlin’s roads), easily competing with their 28-inch colleagues. Market-leading models with 16/18/20-inch wheel sets provide pleasant geometry with a long wheel base, optimum gear ratio and range, solid luggage solutions with high load capacity, ergonomic seating position and high quality. These small bikes require only little handling.
Long routes with a folding bike
8 km routes: a distance which the average bike commuter covers in one go, is doable with no losses. Even on longer routes, the often lovingly called “foldies” are still comfortable. This shows a new type of cycle tourist: The folding bike is combined with planes, busses and boats to individually discover remote destinations and pulsing metropolises. “Our daily distances were between 20 and 120 km” according to Daniel Kormann from Petit Tours, who travelled around the world by folding bike with his travel partner. “Only bad ground conditions such as sand were able to stop us”, he explains. It is a rare street scene in many cities, which is why folding bikes are perfect for city trips. There is no extra charge for taking them on a plane – the bike is classed as an item of luggage. The same applies for ferries, trains, buses, trams…
Prices and purchasing
“There is no point skimping when purchasing folding bikes to get the maximum benefits out of it. Anything else is a waste of money”, says Patrick Möller from Boxbike. The price of quality folding bikes starts at 1,000 euros upwards, the consumer market is small and cheap brands are entering the (construction) market. What needs to be considered when buying a folding bike? First and foremost, the folding and handling behaviour. “Folding bikes need to fold intuitively, quickly and compactly without causing hands to get dirty. The folding process needs to be safe. The manoeuverability unsettles novice cyclists when test riding, but this quickly becomes “normal” according to the Berlin folding bike specialist. Following this is its pack size and weight. Its impressive weight (over 10 kg) is astonishing. However, it is essential that the bike folds into a small pack size and is comfortable to carry.
Preconceptions and advantages
In its folded state, some cheap foldies resemble a strange incident. They provoke curiosity in road traffic. In short: People are not used to (good) folding bikes in central Europe. This is not because there are no manufacturers: Many people are reluctant to invest so much money on a commuter bike when compared to a “sports bike”. These small bikes are (still) not taken seriously. This perception may change over the next few years since
intermodal and multimodal mobility is in its establishment phase.
public and private space in urban areas is gradually getting smaller and more expensive.
flexibility and mobility requirements in job and everyday life are increasing.
bikes are becoming more popular as a mode of transport.
the quality of folding bikes is continuously improving.
The British folding bike manufacturer Brompton in London sets a good example. This classic folding bike is dominating more and more in its home city. From studying to a doctorate in law, many recognise the advantages of a folding bike. The bike is (almost) a normality on the London road scene. Other brands which fit into the same shopping trolley as the British brand include the full-suspension Birdy (Riese & Müller) and the Asian brands Tern and Dahon. Others worth mentioning are the super minimalistic Strida, the foldable luxury carriage by Moulton and the off-road full-size foldie by Montague – there is something for everyone.
Conclusion: Folding bikes offer practical mobility solutions for urban cyclists. They are still underestimated but offer lots of potential for everyone!
Images © Petit Tours, Karen Rike Greiderer, Andreas Stückl
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