While Ted has been delving deep into the psychology of the folding bike and the various marketing positions and ploys surrounding them, I’ve been tooling around on a few of them. The first one I got my hands on was this nice-looking Bike Friday Tikit that I first brought on my trip to the 2011 NAHBS in Austin.
My initial reaction when working with Bike Friday to get a bike was similar to the warm feeling that one might get when purchasing a suit at a department store when all of a sudden a knowledgeable sales person whips out their measuring tape and begins tucking and nodding. Bike Friday sends you a form asking for your body specs as well as the specs of your bikes. It was nice that Bike Friday took the time to extend the full customer service experience for my six-week review.
I received the bike a few days before heading off with it to NAHBS in Austin. And while I had some previous experience traveling with bicycles, this was my first time traveling with a folding bike. So rather than following the typical bike reviewer modus operandi of fumbling and figuring it out as I went, I did a full practice run through before my trip.
Setting the bike up for the first time out of the box was not the casual experience that I was hoping for. The bike comes carefully packed into the Samsonite suitcase along with its bike racks and included bike trailer parts carefully snugged together. A few moments after wrangling the Tikit out of its case, I kicked myself for not taking a photo. It was tough enough to get it out of the case and I had a sinking feeling it would be that much harder to get this mess of bike parts back in.
From here on I took learning the art of unpacking and unfolding seriously. I got out the lengthy instruction manual and pulled out the video. While clear and well written, the lengthy set of instructions did not extend the warm-fuzzy feeling that the Bike-Friday was going to gently slide into my life like a well fitted suit. I was going to have to take some time to get to know its temperaments to get to know its value, a fleeting investment in that I only had the bike for six-weeks.
While the written instructions were a bit ponderous, the included DVD got me going. Following along with the smooth-talking, fast-folding pro got me into the folder mindset though I had to hit rewind more than once while learning the fold and quite a few times when figuring out how to pack it back into the Samsonite suitcase/bike trailer body.
Having unpacked the Tikit, put all the pieces together, figured out where the handlebar and seat-post should be set, and folded and unfolded it a few times, it was time to get it back in the suitcase for my trip. Sigh, this looks like work. Actually, it wasn’t so bad until it came to some of the final details. When I was stuffing the final pieces of the assembly into the case, I could not for the life of me figure out how the rack could stay on the bike and fit in the case. I wasn’t going to be needing that rack in Austin so I solved my problem by removing it and leaving it at home.
Getting the bike on the plane and lugging it around Austin with me was just as easy as carrying a suitcase. (It was a suitcase.) It sure was nice having a bike that felt pretty much like a normal bike for riding around Austin. The ride of the Bike Friday is really quite good. It is actually a little bit surreal in the sense that it essentially feels exactly like you are on a regular, full-size bicycle — but you are Shaquile O’Neal. No matter how you slice it, 16-inch wheels just feel a quite a bit different than 26-inch or 700c wheels.
Among folding bike connoisseurs, Bike Friday is known as the bike that is set apart by its full-size bike ride. Working off this strength, Bike Friday goes the extra mile with their excellent service in fitting the bike to you. Within their goal of producing a full size bike ride that folds in half in 15 seconds, I think they hit the nail on the head.
But my problem is that when I use a folding bike it is really more about the fold than the ride. Surely, I don’t mind that the Bike Friday offers the function and fit of a regular bike. But if the cost of having a folder that very closely imitates the geometry of a full-size bike, is a somewhat unwieldy fold where compactness, transportability and storability are compromised, then I would prefer the scale be tipped towards superior folding.
Perhaps a full-size ride combined with an elegant fold is on the near horizon. But not having seen such a development, I’m inclined to think that these are mutually exclusive characteristics.
I don’t intended to completely tread upon the utility of Bike Friday’s focus on fit and ride. When would you want a folder that emphasizes the ride over the convenience and usability of the fold? We seem to say the “right tool for the job” a lot around hear at the Campfire Cycling. The Bike Friday is the right tool for a job that I think is quite rare among folder users. But there is a job, specifically, long distance bike touring with frequent uses of other forms of transportation.
If I was bike touring and typically riding between 40 and 80 miles a day and then perhaps between every three to seven days catching a bus, train, plane, boat or car, I would choose a Bike Friday Tikit as the right tool for the job — especially in combination with the Samsonite Suitcase/Bike Trailer. Outside of these fairly specific parameters, I think there are other best tools for the job.
If I was doing extended touring with occasional needs for packing the bike, I would go for a full-sized touring bike with S&S couplers. And if I was mainly bike commuting or even bike touring with lots of transitions between other forms of transport and quick short days of cycling, I would choose folding bike where the fold-ability was the focus.
But perhaps the Bike Friday really shines as the folder that does it all. Perhaps it is the folder for the cyclist who wants one high performance bike that folds up and still maintains the feel of a full-size bike.
I forget this cyclist being someone who seems to have a bike for every occasion. But there must be enough cyclists around who are particular enough to choose a Bike Friday yet not particular enough to have a bike for all occasions. This should be Bike Friday’s target market. These guys alongside the previously mentioned bus-and-plane-hopping cycle tourist.
The Bike Friday Tikit will do its basic fold very quickly in fact quicker than almost any other folding bike. And once unfolded the ride is more enjoyable and confidence inspiring than any other folder I’ve been on.
But comparing this fold to the other folded bikes we’ve had through the shop recently, it looks like the Bike Friday achieved its rapid fold and full-size ride by skipping a few steps. Whenever I folded it up, I felt like giving the bike a shake and the scolding, “Really that’s the best you’ve got?”