Changing Gears During SafeTrack: Folding Bikes Can Ease Your Commuting Woes
by Stephanie Tsao
Has WMATA’s latest surge stirred your last wits? If you’re like me, you may have let a few packed trains go by before you found one with enough breathing room.
As the weather improves, I have watched cyclists zipping past with growing interest. Those Capital Bikeshare stands are tempting, but I never seem to remember my helmet. Thanks to SafeTrack, I decided to try out a few folding bicycles.
Depending on the brand, folding bikes average between $200-$1,500 for beginner bikes. The draw is that they can fold to fit in a trunk or under a desk, making them an affordable commuter option with less burden.
Before I tried, I was dubious. You see, folding bikes are smaller than your average bike, and my initial concern about them is how stable they feel when ridden. I have been biking for three years on a road bike, which have skinny tires and curved handlebars to ride smoothly on roads.
In comparison, folding bikes have comparatively short and straight handlebars and small tires, which led me to believe that the frame would result in a rocky ride. To my surprise, they can ride pretty smoothly and handle up to 20-mile rides.
Testing different brands
I tested three different brands of folding bikes.
The London-made Brompton bikes are known by the biking community as the “Rolls Royce” of folding bikes because they fold in three quick steps. A base model with two speeds and no added accessories can weigh 23 lbs and cost about $1,350.
For the price, you pay for the ability to fold in a matter of minutes and the convenience that the bike has mini wheels allowing you to roll the bike along after it’s folded like a piece of luggage.
Brompton bikes are comparatively expensive because they are designed for commuting. The bike is small enough to roll onto the metro, allowing you to duck out of a sudden summer shower. Moreover, you can stow it in your office with less worry of your bike getting stolen.
Tern, based in Taipei, Taiwan, builds three types of bikes: ones for adventures, touring, and city riding. For the lower price, you get a heavier bike. A basic model for urban riding can weigh 26-27 lbs, a bit more than the Brompton bikes, but the costs start out around $700. Also, the bikes do not come with the convenient small wheels like Brompton bikes do.
One advantage of Tern is that they also make racing models. A gentleman in his 50s told me he completed the 40-mile New York “Five Boro” Tour on a Tern! One of Tern’s lightest bikes for commuting weighs about 21 lbs.
The last brand I tried was a Dahon, which is named after Dr. David Hon, a Japanese aerospace physicist who started designing folding bikes after he witnessed the world’s oil crisis in the 1970s. He became interested in other modes of transportation that were less reliant on petroleum.
Some base models are priced as low as $250-$400, but can weigh heavier than other brands. Some models are 27 lbs or more. The models take longer to fold, given their weight.
Other options on the market
I never got a chance to try Citizen Bike because they are sold only online. Certain models start as low as $200, but their bikes are on the heavier end, ranging between 26 lbs and 33 lbs. The bike models are named after major international cities such as Seoul and Barcelona, and they are able to fold up within 30 seconds.
Where to test and buy folding bikes in the DC metro area
I purchased my folding bike at bikes@Vienna in Fairfax County. Closer to Washington DC, Revolution Cycles and Bicycle Space are just a few stores in the District that sell folding bikes.
Bike commuting isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, as the SafeTrack repairs continue through next spring, keep folding bikes in mind. They may just bring the surge of energy you need to get to work with a sigh of relief.
Stephanie Tsao is a journalist by day and likes to cycle, garden and write in her spare time. The views expressed in this post are hers alone and not that of her employer.