Friday, March 11, 2011

If you're interested in a Bike Friday ...

Years and years ago -- pre-children ... hence it seems like forever -- the boss and I became interested in traveling with our bikes.  After much thought and research we settled on a pair of custom Bike Friday travel bikes.  I have a lot of experience with the bikes: maintenance, club rides, touring, pulling the kiddies, and so on.  Given that I get around in the cycling world, I often receive lots of questions about the bikes as well as questions about ordering Bike Fridays.  If you're thinking about getting a Bike Friday, then this post is for you.

My picture of the person typically interested in a Bike Friday is someone with some cycling experience and is likely much more dedicated to the sport/activity than the average citizen.  I will discuss things in an order that reflects importance and how often a particular question is asked.  More generally, realize that a lot of what is written here is simply my anecdotal experience somewhat backed by some real and pseudo experimental evidence.  Most of my explanations here are edited for brevity with an eye on who is a likely reader.  However, this might be inappropriate for others, so I'll be more than happy to elucidate further in response to either a comment or personal e-mail.

Our bikes with the Burley at a local park
It rides great.  If you're a fast/slow rider on other bikes, you'll be a fast/slow rider on a Bike Friday.  For those familiar with bike geometry, the bike will handle like low-trail bikes that were popular in the past and have a growing set of followers today: the bike will be more and less sensitive to steering inputs at the handlebar and body inputs to the bike, respectively.  For those of you who could care less about geometry and simply want to ride, the bike will be a little "squirelly" in the beginning but easily accommodated with a little practice.  Handling improves considerably with a front load such that I recommend a handlebar bag or something of the sort instead of a saddle bag.  What is the effect of the small wheels?  In my experience with a variety of wheel sizes -- 16" through 27" -- the small wheels certainly have some effect but that effect is small relative to other determinants of handling and performance.  There are pluses and minuses -- see here for a positive spin on them -- but they definitely make a huge improvement on folding, packing, storage, and general portability.  More about small tires/wheels.  Everyone always asks whether the bike is fast.  Really ... it's not about the bike: it's the motor that is important.  Looking back at GPS records of some old 60-mile hilly training rides through Northern Virginia with the Bike Friday and my road bike, it is the case that the road bike was about 5 minutes faster.  But my Bike Friday is a 26 pound touring bike whereas the road bike is about 6-7 pounds lighter with a more aggressive position.  Without doing any fancy calculations, that difference sounds reasonable and I imagine that if instead one purposely built a Bike Friday for aggressive road riding that most if not all of that 5 minutes would disappear.

Much of what I wrote above depends on how well the bike fits you.  In my experience, a well-fitting bike is necessary for "the motor", as well as, for the bike to perform well.  If you are more performance oriented and expect to get road bars with the swan stem, I highly recommend getting the Bike Friday fit stem for sizing a custom ultralight or adjustable stem.  The fit stem allows an incredible amount of adjustment: plus or minus four inches in height and a reach from 50 to 150 mm.  I also recommend getting one with a faceplate will let you swap and try out different handlebars on your new bike.  A low-trail bike with small wheels is a new experience for a lot of riders.  You might find that you want a different amount of weight on the front handlebar or that the relative position of the crank to the saddle results in small changes for the best personal fit.  The lack of a top tube might encourage you to use different handlebars with more space for "stuff".  I can go on and on; but the point is that I think that you'll discover that having the bike with you will result in a better fit than simply sending your measurements in to Bike Friday.  Alternatively, if you plan on using an ahead-type stem, then there is already some sizing flexibility.  Remember that Bike Friday can split most aluminum handlebars with a 25.4 or 26.0 mm clamp area.  So there is little need to go with the standard bars that Bike Friday offers with their models; although the Bike Friday H-bars and STI-bars are easy to pack and pretty good for recreational riding.

A folding bike for general use and travel is quite useful.  In addition to getting the bike into a suitcase, realize that on a lot of trips, you might drive or take a taxi to get from A to B at some point.  Since the boss and I can fit both of our bikes into the trunk of a Toyota Echo, just about any ordinary car can take us and our bikes for whatever purpose without a rack.  Whenever I do long solo ride, I generally take the Bike Friday since I were ever to bail on the ride or have a big mechanical failure, calling a cab is an easy option.  Many public transportation systems have prohibitions against bicycles but allow folding bikes to be carried onboard.

For most riders, ERTO 406 wheels are a far better choice.  For the unfamiliar, it turns out that there is more than one rim/tire size that is labeled 20 inches: ERTO 406 and 451.  Although ERTO 451 has a longer diameter and with some quality tires, most 451 tires are strictly road tires in narrow sizes and is generally unavailable at anything but a bicycle shop that specializes in recumbents and/or folding bikes.  Picking a size whose tires and tubes are scarce is probably not the best choice for a travel bike.  ERTO 406 is the popular BMX size.  Consequently, tires and tubes are widely available -- even at general stores like WalMart and Target -- whereas high quality 406 tires in all widths are available at good bicycle shops or mail order.  Note that all of the good 451 tires are available in 406.  Long story short, unless one is absolute positive that one is going to stick with narrow road tires and the slightly larger wheel is appealing, I strongly recommend sticking with 406.  Since I almost always recommend 406 wheels and typically these bikes are used for travel, I invariably recommend either the New World Tourist or Pocket Crusoe models according to how much the rider weighs.

Generally, I recommend sticking with the standard derailer drivetrain.  Moreover, getting low gears are not a problem with a Bike Friday.  Instead, determining how high of a gear you need is the problem.  I'm assuming that you have already read this summary by Green Gear Cycling and that you have some cycling experience.  The vast majority of people choose between a standard derailer drivertrain or the SRAM Dual Drive since internal hubs with wide gear ranges are much more expensive.  Before we begin discussing the choice, we need to understand that the 20" wheels directly leads to a drivetrain with lots of low gears -- gears where it is easy to spin the crank but not move fast.  But even recreational hybrids bicycles will still have top gears around 100+ gear inches.  Just based on personal observations, few people ever use those high gears with any frequency whereas having a low gear, particularly for touring, is quite helpful for long climbs.

The SRAM Dual Drive has several advantages/disadvantages relative to the derailer drivetrain:
  1. No front derailer that can be damaged ... this is particularly good for folding the bike.
  2. Lowering or raising the gear range is very easy ... just change the chainring.
  3. A wide cassette leads to a very wide drivetrain; i.e., lots of low and high gears.
  4. Three speed internal hubs are a very mature technology and very robust.  Although there are anecdotes to the contrary.  For instance, there are a few discussions on where people tell stories of their failures in various situations.  But my take is that three speed hubs have been around forever in a wide variety of uses.
  5. Internal hub can shift at a standstill.
  6. Annoying "clickbox" is at an exposed part of the bike: outside the rear derailer.
  7. Parts can be hard to obtain.
The derailer drivetrain has several advantages over the SRAM Dual Drive:
  1. It is the standard for bicycles and consequently much easier to repair.
  2. It is about 1 to 1.5 pounds lighter.
  3. A maintained derailer drivetrain shifts faster and crisper.
  4. Supposedly the derailer drivetrain is more efficient; although other than some articles in the Journal of Human Power -- see issues 50 and 51 -- I see little evidence for the statement.  But my personal anecdote says that it is true and a lot of high-level technical people seem to believe it.   
  5. Despite being subject to damage from travel and being dropped, derailers are still quite robust in my experience.  
  6. Relative to the SRAM Dual Drive, there are much cheaper derailer options available.
My take on all of this is to go with a derailer drivetrain.  One, weight does matter with a folding/travel bike.  Sometimes you might carry the bike a long distance -- say you fold the bike and carry it through a train station.  When you travel with the bike it is my experience that airlines roughly check luggage size whereas they carefully check its weight.  Two, by my tastes, efficiency matters on anything other than short rides and keeping a well-maintained system is second nature to me.  Lastly, in the case of a travel bike, standard components that are easily and cheaply fixed are preferred to a system that is more robust but a complete disaster when broken.  With a derailer drivetrain, good advice and service is very easy to acquire.

The best derailer drivetrain will depend on the top gear you want.  Pick a Shimano Capreo hub/cassette if you want a top gear over 100 gear inches or wish to use index shifting; otherwise stick with a standard hub/cassette.  Essentially, the Capreo cassette will let a rider stick with a standard Shimano crank/chainring combination -- or presumably Campagnolo or SRAM -- that will shift really ... really well and be better for packing in a suitcase: a big chainring will get very close to the edges of a suitcase which makes it more likely to get damaged in transit.  Of course, going with the Capreo cassette/hub means you are getting something "special" that will be hard to acquire from anyone other than Bike Friday or the Harris Cyclery in a pinch: For a price you can get anything delivered FedEx!  To some extent you have some of the same problems as the SRAM Dual Drive.  But there is an important difference, the Capreo hub/cassette works the same way as other hubs/cassettes such that a competent mechanic will know what to do and how to fix the problem.  From what I observe, Capreo components are actually carried by a few online retailers; but Bike Friday and the Harris Cyclery are the two that I use.  The alternative which I strongly recommend if you're comfortable with bar ends and would be happy with a top end around 95 gear inches -- I believe that most people have gearing that is way too high -- then you can get a decent gear range with marginally larger than normal chainrings.  Here I propose a chainring/cassette combination with a normal cassette and compare it to a standard Capreo cassette.      
    The one case where I would pick the SRAM Dual Drive is if one were going to fold the bike often and in somewhat of a hurry.  On 20" wheel Bike Fridays, the folding rear triangle is independent of the front derailer mount.  Moreover, the distance between the rear axle and front derailer gets shorter as the bike is folded.  Consequently, the chain will flop around a bit, fall off, and, if one is somewhat careless, the chain will hang on the front derailer such that spinning the rear wheel will put a lot of force on the front derailer.

    Check out Bike Friday's Youtube videos for more information on the folding process.  The fold with a single chainringThe fold with multiple chainrings.  Now that you have seen the single chainring video, note that you can install Bike Friday's chain retainer to avoid chain drop issues during folds.  Note that if you intend on folding/unfolding the bike a lot and in somewhat of a hurry, you might consider the folding stem.  Of course, if you want a bike that will be folded a lot and in somewhat of a hurry, the Bike Friday tikit or Brompton might be a better fit for you.  But I can imagine some scenarios where one would prefer the bigger and more robust bike that still folds easily.

    Get a high-end head set for the Bike Friday.  In the past, Bike Friday offered the Chris King headset which by no means is cheap.  But considering the extra forces on the headset -- the super long stem mast is a giant lever -- I think it is worth every penny spent.  Recently I noticed them carrying the Cane Creek 110 which has a 110-year "no questions asked" warranty.  I have no experience with it, but I suspect that it is pretty good too.

    Use rims drilled for schraeder-valves and use adapters for presta-valve tubes.  Personally, I think presta valve tubes are superior to shraeder valve tubes.  But it is the case that most ERTO 406 tubes at common stores will be schraeder.  If you're traveling and desperate for a tube, being able to remove the adapter is a great option at a trivial weight cost.

    Small wheels are wildly strong.  Don't be afraid to use lower spoke counts than you would on a typical touring bike.  Just because of hub and rim availability -- especially at lower prices -- one is likely limited to 32 spoke holes.  But Bike Friday will often lace 36-hole hubs to 24-hole rims as a cost effective method for low-spoke count wheels.

    Wide, high-quality tires are strongly recommended.  Ignoring my conclusion that wider tires are more efficient than most people commonly believe ...
    • Wide tires can be efficiently ridden at much lower pressures.  Consequently, it helps alleviate the additional bumpiness from small wheels.
    • Wide tires will also help slow down the steering up front.
    Of course they will be heavier, but at least this are small diameter tires and will be less heavy than typical wide tires.  Personally speaking, I think life is too short to get crappy tires and most wide tires are low end.  But thankfully, there is a good selection of high quality high end tires in ERTO 406.   Folding tires are also good for travel bike since they pack better and are somewhat lighter.  

    Carrying loads on the front wheel is recommended.  As I mentioned earlier, since the trail is so low on Bike Friday's, carrying loads on the front wheel helps slow down and improve the steering.  Moreover, the front wheel is almost always stronger than the rear wheel.  A handlebar bag also gives the rider easier access to "stuff" while riding.  
    Will you ever fold the bike?  If no, strongly consider the Easy Pack Mast.  The Easy Pack Mast is not hinged from the frame.  As the name implies, it makes it easier to pack into a suitcase.  It is also somewhat lighter than the typical folding mast.  If you have money to burn or want something even lighter, get the titanium upgrade for the easy pack mast.

    Believe it or not, that is about all that I typically recommend in a generic sense on a new (or used) Bike Friday either because I find it hard to broadly support a choice or I have little personal experience with it.  Some of the things I barely discuss are the Bike Friday tikit, fenders, suspension, and using racks versus the suitcase/trailer (you can find the Bike Friday description on their FAQ page and a negative review here).  I always recommend joining the Bike Friday YAK and talking to others in a local Bike Friday club; if you are in the DC area, you can find us here.  Generally, you will find lots of helpful folks more than willing to share their experiences and advice.  Shockingly people will disagree with my assessments, but it would be worthwhile for a potential buyer to read/hear alternative reasoning.

    Say hello if you see us.


    1. Nice summary!

      I am totally anti rear derailers on folding bikes and small wheel bikes as lots can go wrong, but that is often not a great solution for touring, but I encourage people to check out the 8-9 speed ig hubs with their BF and see if that works for them instead of a traditional touring set up or the dual drive.

      I have a fixed gear bike friday that I use extensively on travel and you should consider that too if you are experienced with fixies and enjoy riding them. THis is what it looked like when new:
      I don't really clean it or put to much effort in packing it and protecting it, so that saves time and weight with packing material, that is why it is a black bike.
      I don't really tour on it, but I usually take it with me on business trips and vacation, 6 times a year or more. I have no rear brake, plus no derailers/shifters etc. I can get my bike in and out of the case in about 10 minutes, 20 with fenders. It allows for simpler fold, less to go wrong in folding and packing. I also can fit more stuff in the case before I hit the weight limit. I have the NWT with canti's on the front and have ridden it on and off road pretty extensively. I have been really happy with it, I have had it for about 6 years now.

    2. Thanks!

      I debated including wider internal gear hubs ... which would be 8 or more nowadays ... but decided against it primarily because of post length and that it is probably still on the fringe of most people's choices.

      The Nexus/Alfine 8 essentially has the range of a road double. SRAM 9 a little more than that. The cost is similar to the Dual Drive so I can imagine them fitting a niche: I think most roadies would pass on a IGH and it is too narrow for most touring folks. The new Alfine 11 has a ~400% range which would make 25-100 gear inch drivetrains available; but it is quite expensive. Rohloff is a smoking alternative; but it too is quite expensive. But having no rear derailer is definitely a plus. They are relatively heavy; but it would be worth it for some. The Bike Friday discussion of gearing includes the Rohloff and they speak highly of it.

      I also thought about the Schlumpf Drive too. It's q-factor makes it a excludes it as an option for me. Cost will probably eliminate it for most people.

      If the Alfine 11 ever drops to something like $300, it would be a great option assuming that its reliability is good.

      I think my days of single speeds and fixed gears are long over. Knee surgery a few years ago took care of that. But I would still consider a three speed with a chain tensioner. Maybe a double chainring that I would move by hand ...

    3. Geof and Tarik--thanks for this; very educational. I think I'm going to pick up a Swift folder and alternate between fixed and IGH.


    4. Great bike. Especially if you want a frameset only.

      You should checkout the monster swiftfolder thread on the folding bikes subforum.

    5. Thanks for the well thought out and written report on BFs. These are some really good points to consider if you are purchasing a BF especially if it new. I managed to grab a used one complete with carrying suitcase, etc; a deal so good that even if you dislike 3x7 setups you still would have gone for it.

      My main concerns were whether the Sachs hubs with internal 3 speeds were prone to problems and I can’t seem to find much pro or con. I’m a big IHG fan and have logged thousands of miles on my old Sturmey Archer hubs which I ride on a regular basis and have used my SA-AW equipped bike for lots of travel miles in “foreign” cities. Since I’m planning on a tour using the BF NWT with dual 3x7 drive this summer, I’m mainly concerned about mechanical issues since I’m not as familiar with the Sachs while I’ve pulled SA-AWs down a number of times for maintenance and bearing replacement. I got to say I also feel the 3x7 set up is a bit of the best of both worlds especially for exploring cities. Sure, I’m not setting the world on fire with my speed on the NWT, I don’t either on a full size ride…

      I use my BF on occasion when I travel to DC so maybe we’ll cross paths sometime in the future.

    6. Looking forward to guests!

      Everyone's situation is a little -- or a lot -- different. Generally, I would expect iBOBs to have a much higher bike-mechanic IQ than the typical cyclist. I came to this opinion after two separate incidents where I welcomed people who just finished the C&O Canal with complaints about IGHs that mechanics couldn't fix. Consequently, I decided that if the owner was unwilling to truly understand the internals, then the owner is probably better off with the standard stuff.

      Hugh Larkin, former Bike Friday service manager, is a big fan of the SRAM Dual Drive and has them on several of his bikes. So is my local bud Harvey S. But both of these guys are A+ mechanics.

    7. I picked up a used Bike Friday Pocket Rocket a few years back, and your post almost completely mirrors my opinions on the bike. Though mine gets only occasional use, either for recreational rides when traveling, or for credit card touring. The bike originally came with a 3x7 configuration, I converted it to a standard front derailer setup. If I could do over again, I'd get a New World Tourist with the 406 wheels, but then again I got a good deal on the Pocket Rocket with the 451 wheels, so I have no regrets. Tire selection can be a challenge, though I was able to find a decent folding tire to take along as a spare when touring. The one plus about the 451 wheels is that I could get a decent high gear without needing to go bigger than a 54 tooth chainring, making the bike easier to pack. Hope you are still enjoying your Bike Fridays!

    8. A used bike that fits is a great value. ERTO 451 is not the end of the world. At least according to specs, one can still get a Primo Comet at 37 mm wide**. And there are a few knobby versions of 451 tires too.

      For anyone thinking of getting one now, as long as the person is not looking for anything too specific, I'd definitely recommend looking at the used market. With the recession, there are more travel bikes on the market since they tend to be a second or third bike for many people. So they seem to be the first to go when a person's circumstances change.

    9. ** Oh ... I wanted to note that in the past year, I've come across a wide variety of Primo Comets and they all seem to be much narrower than their specs. For instance, measured in mm with my caliper, 20x1.75" Primo Comets are in the high 30s while 20x1.35" Comets are around 30mm .

    10. Geof, thanks for a very informative write up. Helped me a lot and found Yak from here, as well as the info on the packing seat mast. Any recommendations for good quality 406 tyres? You are right, tyres make a huge difference in ride quality and it's not worth riding on crappy tyres. Was suggested the Primo Comets by BF, and I have no idea about tyres in this sizing.

    11. With the caveat that I have never ridden them but lots of other people like them, Greenspeed offers 20x1.50 and a 20x1.75" tires that look really good. The 1.50" width is more about performance whereas the 1.75" is more about durability. But given your location, those tires might be less expensive than here in the US since they are produced in Australia. Now that I think about it more, at the very least, Greenspeed is in Australia. I have no idea where they are produced.

      I have had a lot of success with Primo Comets. It's the best value tire out there, IMO. But it has been my experience that the tires are considerably narrower than their label. Otherwise, my satisfaction with Schwalbe tires has been very high. I have a few thousand miles on Schwalbe Marathon Racers which come in a folding bead. Decent flat protection, relatively light, at 39mm wide with my caliper I can run them at a wide range of tire pressures, and they seem to roll well. Marathon Racers did pretty well in the Bicycle Quarterly roll down tests. If you're more flat adverse, you can always go with one of the other Marathons (standard or plus) or if you are willing to spend a lot of money the Marathon Supreme is available. For my tastes, the Marathon Racer is the sweet spot for price, performance, and durability. YMMV.

      If I was still doing centuries and club rides, I would go with one of the following in order of increasing width: Schwalbe Kojak (32mm), Greenspeed Scorcher (40mm), Greenspeed Duro-slick (47mm).

    12. I should add that people claim poor performance in wet weather with Primo Comets. I never noticed sub par performance with Comets over ... say a 1000 miles. But some very experienced riders in the Pacific Northwest where they get a lot of precipitation have made the claim.

    13. Glad to hear you had a trouble free buy from bike friday. I picked up my Pocket Llama in October 2011.It had a very flexible steering stem and a headset that would come loose with regular monotony. Thought the problem had been resolved after taking it to my local bike shop for a service before a 42 day tour of Japan . Well I had problems with the headset coming loose every day and had to find someone with 40mm flat spanners to tighten it up. Disappointed in the reply's I got from Bike Friday so I waited till I got back to Australia and took it straight to the distributor here. He could see the problems I tried to convey to BF (with words and photos) so I am now hoping to get it back soon with no problems.The folding stem I bought was totally ruined by this headset problem, it is light aluminum and the constant battering it took from the fork stem being loose distorted it completely. Out of 42 days on holiday I lost 10 days trying to find anyone who could resolve my problem.

      1. It sounds like you have the Chris King headset. In my experience, after riding it a bit, the headset nuts required a quick adjustment. Just based on a few personal anecdotes, people don't tighten the gripnut enough since they'll use the travel wrench that comes with the bike. I use the travel wrench to hold the bottom nut still, whereas a long wrench is necessary to get enough torque on the top nut.

        Although since you took your bike to a shop to adjust the headset, it may be the case that the collet described in the link below was out of spec.

        Hopefully, your bike is up and running again soon. It will be interesting to learn whether the headset problems are solved after riding it again for a bit.

    14. Just found your post so since I'm local thought you might like a gander at my tricked out Crusoe - really a road bike with small wheels - top gear is 58 x 9 with 451 aero wheels - aka 120+ inches - but oh so sweet ride - 3,500+ miles and counting - for those that want to know what the dark side of Bike Friday configurations can look like with as many USA made components as available.


    15. Cool bike. I'm unfamiliar with many of the Taiwanese (?) parts. But it's nice to have a few more options that take Capreo cassettes.

    16. Glad you like the bike - both the SparCo and Speedster wheelsets are available on eBay - setup a search for 451 or 406 bike wheel - and then eBay will mail you when they post a set - generally its about once a month.

      Also - see my blog posting -

      and there are several postings on upgrading and components for Bike Fridays.

    17. Is it possible use 406 tires (20x1,5) to Pocket Rocket, bro?!
      Need your opinion.

      1. Possible? Sure.

        You will have to switch brakes to a long reach caliper to reach the braking surface and reach around a wider tire. I expect the braking surface of a 406 rim to be about 22 mm further away from the brake mounting point than the stock 451 rim. Since the frame/fork can fit the 20 x 1 3/8" Primo Comet which is reported to be ~34 mm wide, the 20 x 1.5 tire (~40 mm wide) should be able to fit since there is some flare to the frame/fork.

        Note that your bottom bracket will be lower. Suppose you have 28-451 tires now. Switching to 40-406 tires should lower your bottom bracket by ( 28 + 451/2 ) - ( 40 + 406/2 ) = 12.5 mm. That will probably have some effect on the bike's geometry and make it somewhat more likely that you have a pedal strike if you pedal through a turn.

        Personally, I'd try the wide Primo Comet first. While the 40 mm tire has roughly 40% more volume than the 34 mm tire, you can get to a reasonably low tire pressure at 34 mm. There are also some off-road tires in the 20 x 1 3/8" size ... Tioga Comp 3 and Intense Micro Knobby come to mind. If you're looking for another road alternative at the maximum 451 width, you can also try the Tioga Power Block 20 x 1 3/8".

    18. Hi, What style of handlebar do you have on your Bike Friday (the one pulling the trailer)?
      Looks like one from Velo Orange.
      Great article, I am waiting for a used New World Tourist to arrive from Bike Friday headquarters.

      1. Yep ... that's the VO Porteur Bar flipped so it angles down instead of up. I have the version that fits bar ends and takes a 26.0 clamp. Although I recently switched it for a Nitto Randonneur Bar.

        It's wonderful to read you joining the fold Paul. What specifications did you choose?