The Epic Commute & The Tale Of Two Folding Bikes

Katie Mattison lives in Nyack, New York. Follow her on Twitter @kweenkmatt or for snarky commuting comments, @SnarkyTrainGirl

I’m a young working professional from the suburbs trying to make it in the big city. I’ve lived in the NYC metro area since 1996, and I’m currently revisiting my passion for cycling that began as a little girl when I used to ride my pink Huffy to the library. In addition to my city commute, I also enjoy cycling locally along the Hudson River in my town of Nyack, NY and surrounding areas.

I have tried two different kinds of folding bikes since I started biking to the office. The first of the folding bikes is a Strida, and the second (and current) bike is a Dahon. Here are their stories.

The distance from where I live in the Hudson Valley to where I work in lower Manhattan is about 35 miles. I can get there in a multitude of ways, ranging from driving my car, to taking a bus to the Port Authority on 41st St., or a combination of mass transit modes: bus to a train to the subway, or the bus to the train to a ferryboat. Ironically enough it takes about the same amount of time to get there, regardless of how I travel – almost always two hours door to door.

Strida Folding BikeThe best way is to take a folding bike and ride from Midtown down to the Battery. This involves bringing a folding bike onto the bus that takes me across the Hudson River to the train. The train takes me to midtown Manhattan, and I can ride from there to my office. The only kind of bike that is allowed on the bus or train during rush hour is a folding bike; the railroad has specific rules regarding bikes on trains. It’s roughly six miles to my office via the East River Greenway.

I started commuting by bike when I found the Strida in the attic of my house. I happened to be up there with my landlady, and it sat abandoned in a corner covered in dust and pigeon feathers. I brought it down, cleaned it up, and put on new grips and fenders. Riding in NYC seemed to be downright frightening, and I wasn’t sure I was brave enough. But I tried anyway; it worked out to be both scary and fun.

The Strida I found up in the attic is a Strida2, the second iteration of the line that was first manufactured in 1997. It has 16″ wheels, a greaseless Kevlar drive belt, and drum brakes. What I like best about this bike is the speed, compactness, and way that it folds. It’s pretty skinny compared to other folding bikes. You can easily wheel it around when folded, and it’s very easy to get on and off the bus and train. The bike can be folded in about 30 seconds when you get the hang of it. It weighs about 26 lbs. and a little more if I have the rack bag on with my lunch inside. What’s not so great is that it’s a single-speed and has a narrow saddle. You can change out the saddle, of course. It mounts in a very unconventional way, but is easy enough to adjust. The handlebars are flat and narrow, not unlike some of the fixies you see in Brooklyn. They fold inward, as do the pedals, so that you can wheel it down the aisle of the bus without hitting anyone.

Riding the Strida is unique. Because of the nature of the frame design, there is no turning fork; the whole front end of the bike turns. There’s a little sticker on the frame that warns not to do any stunts or wheelies. I can only imagine that a botched landing would be pretty painful. The A-frame never bothered me because it feels like I’m riding a horse. Even though the chainring is oversized, it takes a bit of effort to get any speed out of it, maybe a little like a BMX-style bike. While some new models have gears, I have yet to see a geared unit on the road.

Dahon Folding BikeIt didn’t take long for me to outgrow the Strida. My second folding bike has a somewhat less exciting story.

I bought a Dahon Vitesse D7HG about three months after I started commuting by bike. It was secondhand from one of my co-workers. The ride up and down to my office was just too much effort with the Strida. The Dahon has seven speeds, an internal gear hub, and 20″ wheels. What a difference gears make! The trip became about 10-15 minutes shorter. This opened up a whole realm of possibilities, including earlier trains home.

The Dahon is a much better ride. It feels more like a full-sized bicycle than the Strida does, and the saddle is more comfortable. There is a great deal more adjustability than the Strida in the seat and handlebar height. In fact, the seat post doubles as a pump. There is a chain guard that tries to help your pants from getting greasy, and while it adds a little weight, the bike I have is fitted with a rack and fenders.

Dahon Folding Bike - foldedThe downside to the Dahon is that the way it folds isn’t as convenient for portaging on the bus and train. It fits down the bus aisle, but I can’t wheel it; it must be carried. If there are people overflowing their seats on the bus, I have to excuse myself as I brush past them, which almost always results in dirty looks. The Dahon feels a little heavier than the Strida, even though that difference is pretty marginal – maybe a pound or two. Because it isn’t as narrow and doesn’t wheel well when folded, it’s a little more awkward.

The Bottom Line:

Both the Strida and the Dahon are well-constructed, fun-to-ride folding bikes. Each has some advantages over the other. The Strida may be better suited for folks who have a shorter distance to ride and need to bring it on a bus or a subway. The Dahon is less easy to bring on mass transit, but is better suited for longer rides.

I feel safer riding the Dahon on city streets and am more likely to ride around the city after work to other destinations on it than I would the Strida. I would often get stopped and asked about the Strida in the city at times when I’d rather not answer questions such as, “What is that?” and “Is that a real bike?” It is funny looking when compared to the standard frame shapes, and because of that it almost feels like a toy. Even though it’s a bigger pain to schlep, I’ll still continue to ride the Dahon to work.   It’s better suited to the kind of ride I have to the office.

If you commute to work using a folding bike, what make and model do you use? Please share some pros and cons about your folding bike in the comments.

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