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Jul 302009

Finding a Folder That Folds Into Your Budget and Lifestyle

Conventional wisdom is that the more costly bikes offer the best rides, but to sooth the sticker shock, fans point out that folding bicycles hold their value – some used folding bikes sell for almost as much as they cost new.

Bike Friday, a family business out of Eugene, Ore., will sell an off-the-shelf bike starting at $798 (eight speeds, one color, three sizes) but they will build a custom bike, to your exact specs, for more. Their custom Record Ergo Air Friday goes for a hefty $7,000, but it’s a high-performance folding bike that lasts years and fits you like a glove.

The Bike Friday company until recently only sold bikes directly to the end user, Hanna Scholz, their general manager, said. “As more people in the United States take bicycles seriously again – not just as a kid’s toy – our sales have increased.”

The company has dealers in Europe and throughout Asia. “In those countries there are many other folding bikes on the market, so the average person is much more familiar with them,” she said.

In addition, Bike Friday makes a suitcase for air travelers, but with a twist: when you reach your destination, the suitcase turns into a wheeled trailer that attaches to the bike. You can pedal away from the airport, luggage in tow.

Citizen and Schwinn make folding bikes that cost less than $250, but they are heavier and reportedly take longer to fold.

Optimal Ride, which reviews all manner of green transportation, recommends Dahon’s large selection, starting at $350 up to about $3,000. They praise the Dahon MU SL ($1,200) as being especially light, with six gears and comfortable for long rides.

They also cite Brompton‘s classic styling and its small size when folded. On Consumer Search, Brompton’s M3L model ($1,075) was rated best overall folding bike for its stability and small size when folded. It has three gears, but is easy to carry and stays locked when it’s folded.

Transportation Alternatives, a site that promotes bicycle riding, lists some of the most popular lines. Birdy is a German-made “performance bike” that comes with 7 to 21 gears. An aluminum frame makes it a lightweight 22-24 pounds. They cost $750 to $1,000.

A Strida bike will turn urban heads with its striking triangular-shaped frame. It folds in 7 seconds, and is very lightweight, although figuring out what is the front and what is the back of the bike may give you pause. They’re very cute when folded. The cost: $430 to $680.

The cool geek factor is high on Stridas. Cool Tools raves about it, and the Folding Society has a virtual tome on all its trendy details. (Here’s a video of England’s The Gadget Show, where an A-Bike and Strida are tested and rated.)

Other well-rated lines of folding bikes are Montague and Downtube. There are also tandem folding bikes on the market.

If status is important, then you may want to look at the new Mercedes Benz folding bike. It looks a lot like other fancy folders, but with the Benz logo ($1,800).

For exhaustive information on how to buy a folding bike along with comments on a long, long list of models (through 2007), go to the The Folding Society.

A 2006 guide by EcoGeek gives a shout-out to the GoBike for its good looks (which is good since it costs $1,500). And England’s A to B has a thorough buying guide; a subscription to the magazine gives you access to their road tests.

Photos: Top, Strida 5.0 unfolded; second, Strida Mini folded; third, Dahon MUSL; fourth, green GoBike in carrying case; fifth, folding tandem bicycles from Bike Friday; bottom: the annual Brompton world championships, where riders must don work-appropriate tie and jacket to race on their folding bikes.
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