Rod started cycling in college and found a job at a local bike shop assembling and repairing bikes. He and his wife went to work in the test labs and offices of Cannondale before heading off to try to ride their bikes around the world. After 18 months on the road, they ran out of money and ended up living in Tokyo for 10 years. He now is a partner at ChicagoStyleSEO.com in Chicago and doesn't ride his bike to work enough; he blames his kids, but we all know better. He blogs on PPC and SEO at ChicagoStyleSEO.com/blog/
At ChicagoStyleSEO.com we (my business partner Ben and I) gave the CarryMe Folding Bike by Pacific Cycles a spin or two around Chicago to see what we thought of it. We do some bike commuting, and given that one of the markets for the CarryMe is city dwellers, Commute by Bike thought we'd be a good group of people to inspect the bike and run it through it's paces.
To be honest, I had my doubts about this bike before it even arrived, but Ben kept telling me to not be a bike snob, keep an open mind, and remember what the bike was designed for: being easily folded and taken with you on buses, trains, boats, etc. so you can ride it rather than walk once you get to where you're going. Fair enough.
I pledged to keep an open mind.
When I went to the mail room in our building to pick up the bike, I was prepared to schlep back a big heavy box. To my amazement, the bike, box, and packing weighed in at under 25 pounds. It was tiny.
I was glad to see that the packaging was minimal but well done. There wasn't a scratch on the paint and nothing was broken. We had it out of the box in no time.
We decided we weren't going to look at the minimal instructions that came with the CarryMe. It was a test; if we could unfold and assemble it without instructions, we would be able to pronounce it intuitive and simple. Since I've spent years working on bikes, the task of testing assembly ease fell to Ben.
It took far more time to take the cardboard off the tubes and unpack the pedals than it took to unfold the bike. And this was with the bike completely apart — the handlebars were not on, but sliding them into the stem and clamping them down with the quick releases took no time at all. Figuring out how the seat tube unfolded took no time at all either. Finding the little slider that holds the supporting white seat tubes in place took a little figuring out, but on the whole, unfolding it took about two minutes.
Ben did have one little issue that everyone should be cautious of. He didn't slide one of the handlebars all the way into its sleeve. Once we started pedaling around, it actually came off. So, make sure to push the handlebars all the way in.
Verdict on Assembly: Easy!
I decided to take the little-wheeled lime cruiser out for lunch and pick up a slice of pizza about five blocks away. I folded it up (less than a minute), picked it up (amazingly light), and carried through the lobby of our office building. I was immediately set upon by Perry, the doorman asking me what on earth I was carrying. He followed me outside and watched me unfold it (less than a minute) and pronounced the bike, "Very cool — a lot of people could use something like that."
I'm six feet tall, so my first concern was if I'd be able to raise the seat high enough to extend my knees properly. In just a few tries I had it to the right height and there was a little more room to spare.
Then I raised the handlebars to their highest position. It didn't feel like my commuting bike, but it didn't feel nearly as bad as I expected. Quite a bit like the shopping bike I rode for years in Tokyo — a bit cramped, but doable.
I shoved off and without thinking, stood up to get some momentum going. That was a mistake; I came off the bike immediately, falling into the handlebars. I landed on my feet, but that didn't stop Perry from roaring with laughter. It was immediately clear, this bike was not designed for standing on the pedals. The cockpit/top-tube length is far too small.
So, I got back on, told Perry to stop laughing, and gently pushed off down the driveway. I immediately realized that I was not on 26-inch or 700c wheels. Although the handling wasn't bad, it was very different: very fidgety and not prone to going straight at slow speeds. But, once I got it up to a fair speed, the handling became fine.
The tires had seemed fully pumped out of the box and since I didn't have a pump handy, I didn't even check. It became clear that they were not quite pumped to the fullest and on the small diameter tires, it made a huge difference.
Now that I've ridden on the tires fully inflated (80 psi), that is definitely a priority before heading anywhere on the CarryMe.
I had not gone a block before I saw the first of many people point the bike out to friends walking past. It's an attention getter.
When you're on the bike, it's more like you're not riding anything. People see you in a riding position, moving along, but no wheels… until they look a little closer. On my first ride, I went a total of ten blocks, and saw dozens of people gawking at the bike.
The next thing I realized is that, in my mind I had an idea of the speed I should be going — my normal speed for commuting or pedaling around town. And my body was trying to make this bike go the speed my brain was used to. However, my body quickly let me know something was amiss. I remembered Ben telling me that the bike was intended to get you around faster than walking, but not zip you around. I slowed down and I fell into my normal spin rate and found I was going about two-thirds my normal speed. It's a one-speed, so there's no using gears to try to spin.
I got to the pizza place, folded the bike up and carried it into the shop. I walked up to the counter, ordered my jumbo slice, and carried both back to a table. This bike is small. A few people noticed I was carrying it, but no one would have thought to tell me I couldn’t bring my bike into the restaurant. It stood upright on its little standing wheels next to the table.
On the ride back I became aware I felt a bit exposed in the street — a result I believe of me not going my normal speed. I headed for the sidewalk to see if I felt better. I did, but kept an eye out for police since adults are not allowed to ride bikes on the sidewalks in Chicago (a fair rule).
I was polite and stayed out of everyone's way. The fact was, I wasn't moving all that faster than the walkers. As I went down the first curb cut and then up the little incline to the crosswalk, I pushed on the pedal to keep my momentum going. This caused me to do an inadvertent wheelie and the bike went flying out from under me. Again, I landed on my feet (I was going really slowly), but this was a little concerning. I learned that if you are going even slightly uphill and push hard, the bike tends to want to take flight.
My last observation from that first ride is that the bike is made extremely well. I am 200 pounds, and it was not flexing at all under my weight. It felt solid. It's made of very high end materials, all well machined and finished.
I made it the rest of the way back to the office fine having learned a few idiosyncrasies of the CarryMe bike. This knowledge served me well on other trips with the bike and I haven't come off it again.
Who It's Not For
I would hesitate to recommend the CarryMe to anyone doing any distances of more than a mile or two, despite what their Website says of easily doing ten miles on it. I'd also say you will likely be carrying the bike up any hills. Hills are in short supply in Chicago, but given that you are not able to stand on the pedals, the single speed gearing, the effective seat tube angle, and the wheel base, I can't imagine this bike will work well in hilly areas. I have trouble keeping it going in a stiff wind.
Another concern I have, as I said before, is I'm not yet comfortable riding it in the streets for any distance because I feel like I'm going too slow. It makes me feel vulnerable.
What the CarryMe Does Well
The CarryMe is extremely well named. It's made to be carried. It folds and unfolds very easily and is so light and small, there is no problem carrying it anywhere. In my mind, that makes the CarryMe perfect for someone who needs to get a few blocks to a bus or train and then needs to travel a short distance after getting off the public transport.
It's also great for our office; it works well for people to run short errands and go grab some lunch. It would work well for any city dweller with limited space, but wants a bike to run short errands. However, I would not feel comfortable putting heavy shopping bags on the handlebars. You can purchase a rather small shopping rack that goes on the back that will help with carrying shopping, but you're not going to get a week's worth of groceries on it.
My Final Thought
Try to find a CarryMe before buying it. Ride it. Fold it. Unfold it. See if it fits your needs. It definitely is filling a niche — there are people who will use this bike every day. If you think of the CarryMe as having about the same effective radius as walking, but is faster than walking, you'll be good.
The CarryMe Folding Bike by Pacific Cycles sells for $685.00 MSRP (but is on sale for $640.00 from Commuter Bike Store).