Over our last 4 seasons aboard Maringret we have not carried bicycles of any sort. After cruising alongside boats that did have bicycles we noticed the limits imposed by depending on “shanks pony” or the local transport systems. However a Maxi 95 can not store as much as a voluminous 45 foot cruiser with abundant storage, rather it is a economical 31 foot boat that sails wells, accomodates it’s crew well and carries stores well for coastal cruising.
Having cycling backgrounds and a pair of Trek bicycles ashore, one of which has seen over 30,000 km of roads, we hoped to bring these bikes aboard. Although not impossible, fitting them into the forepeak would have had serious implications for the remaining amount of storage and also access to that storage. This prodded us into a research phase of the different options available for the cyclist afloat. Much progress has been made in the field of folding bicycles over the last 20 years and as many of the companies involved are either young themselves or have a young market in mind they have encompassed the internet with sites from both manufacturers and advocacy groups eaasily locatable. This greatly simplified our research.
Some of the better links we found are:
- Transportation Alternatives site of New York City
- A To B Magazine of Great Britain (“www.atob.org.uk” seems to be out of service but they seem to be on FaceBook)
- Folding Society of Great Britain
These sites have information advocating folding bikes, their use and ways to improve services available for folding bicycles. Articles seem to be submitted by persons owning the bicycles under review but seem to be essentially unbiased. The “A To B” magazine site also lists contacts for the different manufacturers and current prices for both the UK and US. There are general articles covering how to choose a folding bicycle, why to choose and how to decide what price range to concentrate on (some of the folding bicycles are almost priced to require a mortgage).
Manufacturer sites are easily found through the 3 sites above which presumably will be updated more frequently than this page should changes occur. One interesting site for the excellent animation display of folding in action is the Strida company (their animation reminded us of the animation on the Porta-Bote site).
Through our research we discovered that a number of factors come into play:
- although information is readily available via the Internet and websites, actually finding the bikes to “lay your hands on” is somewhat more difficult;
- the bikes predominantly seem to be manufactured in Taiwan and then badged under a number of different names depending on geographical area and target market (e.g. the leisure marine market);
- determining which bikes are more suitable to a salt water environment is generally not dealt with on the web sites listed above.
Finding bikes to try
It seems that stockists for these bikes are hard to come by, predominantly they are located in the larger urban areas. Secondly, the folding bikes usually occupy the corner of a store selling regular bicycles. This tends to imply that the bread and butter for that merchant is not the folding bicycle. Advice received in such stores can be totally suspect although is not necessarily so. Thirdly any store that decides to display a folding bicycle in it’s window to bring in additional custom will usually only stock that brand and furthermore quite often only the specific model and size that is on display. Finding a specialist store that restricts itself to folding bicycles is really only to be found in the bigger metropolitan areas.
Folding bikes are generally expensive and it is understandable why specialty stores for these bicycles are not more frequent. But the flip side is that it is very hard to find a range of models and sizes to try in order to decide which is best suited for a each rider. Test reports as printed in “A To B” magazine are great but not a substitute for a test ride. We considered a couple of models and brands that were immediately discounted once we either sat on them in the store or took them for a brief ride.
Confusion of Brands
The web sites above try to clarify which bikes and brands are actually the same model. One of the brands advertised in British yachting magazines turns out to be the same as a well known general market brand. This does not mean it is better or worse but rather that information available on one is equally applicable to the other.
Suitability to Marine Environment
It is usually bikes targeted at the yachting market which emphasise such things as stainless steel compenents (possibly even the whole frame), aluminum components or frame, plastic parts. As the marine market is a rather small offshoot of what is a small market to start with, these bikes tend to be general market folding bikes that are rebadged. Whether the main market equivalent models are equally “marinized” is unkown to us. One weak point of the websites listed above is they fail to aknowledge the special requirements of marine usage. They ask why one bicycle (an Italian model) is still made as they feel it is no longer “state of the art”. We feel that one reason is that it is that bike that is sold by the large French marine supplier Plastimo.
So what did Maringret do?
Although we were able to locate much information on the internet, we were frustrated by not being able to try out all these fabulously described products. Given the prices involved for items that we couldn’t try before ordering, we ended up buying two 20 year old bicycles we found second hand in Sweden (for less than $50 each). One folds while the other comes apart at the bottom bracket.
They both have 20 inch wheels which the web sites above recomend over the smaller 16 inch wheels. We were able to test ride a 16 inch wheeled bike and a 20 inch wheeled bike side by side and can only concur that if the larger wheel size can be accomodated by the available storage onboard, the ride is much improved. We were also able to locate 2 rear wheels that have 2-speed hubs built as the rear axle giving us a slight mechanical advantage on those hills that seem to pop up out of nowhere.
The down side of our selections? Well these bikes are heavy. They are made out of steel but given that one of us weighs 100kg we are comfortable that the frame will have the required strength. There is little rust on the 2 bikes after 20 years but of course that time was not spent in a harsh salt water environment. Baths and showers in oil and WD-40 will now become part of their periodic service. The older models that we have purchased do not fold as compactly as the new models (some of which are quite amazing in their foldability). Also our bikes due not fold as quickly as the new designs although we do not see this as a major limitation for our style of cruising.
In the end we decided not to bring the bikes onboard – purely due to the amount of space they would have taken. We could have brought them onboard but felt that they would have severly depleted our forepeak storage for longer passages we intend. For coastal cruising they would not have been so intrusive and presumably we will bring them onboard when we return to coastal cruising.
Since we started this page we have also been able to try out one of the British manufactured Brompton bicycles. They have 16 inch wheels but seem to be the best of the 16 inch wheeled models. Also they have the most rigid frame of the collapsible 16 inch models. Unfortunately they are one of the most expensive makes. Had we taken out a mortgage and purchased two we feel that we would have been able to fit them onboard. Also they are made out of soft steel which will lead to rust concerns in the long run.
Jump ahead to the spring of 2003. After another winter of internet research, we decided to order two of the Dahon Helios collapsible bicycles. This model is constructed in aluminum (aside from the stainless steel spokes) and so should be more immune to rust than other bikes. The weight is 16 kg per bike which is quite easy to hold in one hand as you get aboard. We were checking on this model during the fall of 2002, a review and test ride were published on the website of Britain’s Folding Society. Part of that review was a response by Joshua Hon of Dahon to faults found with the product as part of the evaluation. Dahon’s main point was that the primary faults had already been rectified and were
incorporated in the new 2003 model (which is what we ordered).
There is no comparison between having the bicycles and doing without – for our first 3 years we kept wishing we had bicycles. Also there is no comparison between folding bicycles and rigid frame bicycles – they are different machines designed for different usages. We would love to be able to take some of the dirt paths and tracks on our folding bikes but they are not designed for anything except surfaced roads. This is the trade off – if we had a bigger boat then we could probably find the room to store regular rigid frame bikes. We have two regular frame bicycles already and know the difference between cycling efficiency, position and comfort between the two types of bikes.
An encouraging point is that in the two years we have been trying to research folding or collapsible bicycles, more and more information has been moving onto the internet.
Within the first week of having the bikes aboard our life style had shifted again. All of a sudden many more things were within reach, and routine errands took much less time.
For city or town use the bicycles are perfect. In hilly areas the bikes tend to stall quite early – i.e. you must start walking the bikes earlier than with normal rigid frame bicycles. This is partly due to the compact size which means you can’t fully extend your leg and get a full power thrust and also that the handlebars will not allow you to pull on them as you do on other bikes in order to increase your downward force on the pedals. But these are the trade offs that go with a collapsible bike. For smooth or rolling land the bikes are great, it is really only steep hills in cities or mountains where we have had to walk the bikes.
We intend to get the carriers and possibly the mud guards too but have not been able to find a Dahon dealer as of yet.
We sewed up storage bags for the bikes when they are collapsed. This keeps the few greased parts (e.g. the chain) and the dirt that invariably clings to the tires inside the bag and away from the boat interior.
Some of the stainless fittings (mainly screws or other fixtures) have had a bit of rust where as the aluminum frame has had no ill effects from the salt water environment.
Over the years, aluminum and salt water do not get along. Having an aluminum bike of any make is a constant issue of oxidisation. I suppose if you wiped them down every day it would remove the evidence. But aluminum oxide can leave a dirty dark grey mark on fabrics etc.
Britain’s Folding Society
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