Strida: The Ethiopian Food of Folding Bikes

About ten years ago, I developed a case of folder envy after a trip to The Netherlands.In a leap of faith, I ordered a folding bike from a Web site without having ever ridden that model–or any other folding bike. The Website was Yahoo Auctions (if anyone in the US can remember that). The bike was a Dahon Speed 7.

Strida LT
The Strida SX | Image: Strida
The buyer’s remorse set in before the bike even arrived. I’m going to look and feel like a freakin’ circus bear on a ridiculous little bike.To my surprise, I did not feel like a circus bear when I rode the bike for the first time. And if I looked like one, nobody said anything to me, presumably because I looked like a dangerous animal.I became a big fan of folding bikes, and I’ve rambled on and on about them because nobody has yet told me to give it a rest. (Perhaps that’s the looking-like-a-bear thing again.)The feeling-like-a-circus-bear thing finally came the first time I rode a Strida.
Ethiopian Food
Mmmm… Strida!
The Strida SX has the same triangular design and geometry as other Strida bikes. The axis of the steering is right between your legs. It just feels weird at first. To get used to it, you just have to make it through the first few minutes of riding–and there will be times when you’ll swear that the seat is moving out from under you like a swing bike.It’s like the first time you ever had Ethopian food. You probably thought (unless you’re Ethopian), This is strange. By the time you finished it, you either did or didn’t think, I never want to eat that again.And if you did have it again, you were probably telling your uninitiated friends, You’ve got to try this.That’s certainly how it was for me with the Strida. Given half a chance, I’ve been inviting people to ride the Strida just to watch their reactions.Just because you can get used to the weird ride of the Strida, doesn’t mean it’s right for any commute. At speeds of more than 20 miles per hour, I got premonitions of speed wobble. This bike is not built for speed. It’s not really built for distance either. It’s a single-speed, and I wouldn’t want to commute with it for more than a few miles. And another thing, it’s not built for hills–at least not the kind of hills where you would want to stand on your pedals. In fact, the manual explicitly says, “do not stand on pedals.”

Robin on Strida
“It’s a deathtrap”
Franky on Strida
“I like it. I might get one.”
Pete on Strida
“What warning labels?”
Lowell Guy with Strida
“Do I have to ride this? I just wanted to buy some tires.”
Bear on Bike
“I hate this job.”

Between the manual and all the warning labels on the bike itself, there are enough thou shalt nots to make you think you’re reading and abridged Ten Commandments (which, by the way, are believed by some to be safe kept in Ethiopia).

  • No stunt riding
  • No wheelies
  • No loose clothing
  • Do not rolling mount
  • Do not stand on pedals

To understand why, you only have to look at the diagram and imagine your center of gravity edging over the top of the steering axis. Your anti-faceplant instincts kick in pretty fast, if you have them, and you sit back in the saddle like you were told.

Strida: Do not stand on pedals

Strida: No, No, No!With all the things you can’t do on the Strida, it took me awhile to figure out what it was best suited to do.The ideal user, I surmised, is someone who needs an easily-portable bike to bridge some of the gaps in a multimodal commute.If I’d been paying attention, I would have realized that Mark Sanders, inventor of the Strida, had already told me as much in a link-filled e-mail message:

Its basically used like an upright Dutch bike, that also folds for multimodal use. So, typically: ride one to five miles to station, train it at 80+mph, then ride one to five miles to the destination–probably THE fastest way to commute! One of Strida’s main features is it properly rolls when folded,so no carrying 20 to 30Lbs! Using its own wheels–like a wheeled umbrella–it rolls along l-o-n-g train platforms, office corridors, and even inside the train car corridors, into stores, etc., etc. And then, on the train, it can be put in the (long thin) overhead rack, propped up in a corner, under the seat, or in the trunk–especially long thin trunks designed for golf bags! A superfast fold also helps.

Sanders even is okay with the fact that, like Ethiopian food, people tend to either love or hate the Strida. “Some people who have not even really tried it still hate it.”I have to confess that, the first time I ever mentioned the Strida–before I ever rode one–I’d been influenced by some of the knee-jerk Strida haters I’d found online. One of these was Rebecca Romero, the reigning Olympic champion track cyclist (see video).But why would someone like Romero be impressed by a Strida? Its strengths are found at slow speeds, short distances, and in the conveniences it provides when you’re not riding it.

Seoul Subway with Strida
An ideal use of a Strida: Cap ends on a long public transportation commute
I would guess that a typical Strida lover uses the Strida for its specific utilitarian strengths, and uses another bike for long pleasure rides, recreation, and the other things they need a bike to do. Like wheelies.The Strida SX sells for about $925.00 US.Next we will be reviewing a folding bike with opposite strengths and weaknesses to those of the Strida. Any guesses?

Creative Commons License Urban Hero by Rockit_Dogg is licensed under a Attribution (3.0).

Video Clips Used:

Update: This bike was originally misidentified as a Strida LT ($600 US). The post has been updated, but the video still gives the wrong name. This doesn’t substantively change the critique of the usability and the ride of the Strida bikes. The SX has 18-inch wheels. The LT has 16-inch wheels. If anything, the LT is probably more squirrely than the SX.

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