Are folding bicycles the ideal form of sustainable urban mobility?
Join me in my analysis of these wonderful two-wheeled contraptions.
Does the prospect of riding a collapsible bicycle fill you with dread, are you willing to sacrifice any notion of street cred?
Supposedly there is a stigma that surrounds these small bicycles. For many, the tiny wheels are reminiscent of a circus act. This perhaps relates to the wider image problem faced by cyclists.
This image problem means folding bicycles remain the preserve of a certain demographic. The aficionado, the enthusiast, the type that line up for this quirky event.
From this, it is clear that folding bicycles have great potential, and that it is being recognised.
Brompton Bike Hire docks have recently been positioned around several UK cities, making these bikes available to hire at a very reasonable cost. From as little as £2.50 a day you can hire a folding Brompton; not bad for a bike that costs more than £700 new. Birmingham currently has five Brompton Docks around the city centre, and you can keep the bike for as long as you need then return it to any convenient Dock when you’re done. You can take the bike home, to the office, to meetings, even on the bus, train or tram when it’s folded down.
As examined in my article on parking, adequate storage is key to enabling mass cycling. In London, New York, and mega cities, and even in Copenhagen, space is at a premium. In cities that have seen a growth in interest in inner city flat living, being able to store a bike inside is a distinct advantage. Particularly for guarding against theft, which remains a very real concern in the UK. The lack of safe full-size cycle storage in many places, and the nature of most daily journeys as multi-modal to some degree, means that these bicycles represent a great transitional tool to encourage cycling in cities that have yet to accommodate greater numbers of cyclists.
I suspect that along with the stigma, these bikes are still a little bit cumbersome to carry, slightly skittish to ride, and unsuited to the low quality of roads. This, I would speculate, creates lower feelings of subjective safety than a typical full-sized bicycle.
Although the folding bicycle is a different beast, and may require some adjustment. Small wheels, and relatively low gearing mean top speeds are limited, but agility and acceleration are immediately available, meaning you can accelerate out of danger with ease. That said, you will need this maneuverability should your tiny wheels be confronted with a pothole.
Having much of the disadvantages of a full size bike, and fewer of the disadvantages. If you value convenience over performace, you might choose to buy one.
As a means of transition, adaptability makes them well-sited to an environment that doesnt neccesarily encourage cycling, which is perhaps why I haven’t seen such a high proportion of these bicycles in the Netherlands.
Up next in my examination of the ultimate urban transport machine; the ostrich.