21 Small Wheel Bicycles - The Zippy Revolution


Bicycles and Bikes.
When those words are uttered most brains no doubt trot off to the memory to retrieve images of diamond framed vehicles with two large wheels of about 26 inch diameter. While that might be prevailing view of bicycles, it is not the complete picture. As we shown on TreeHugger many times, bikes come in all shapes and sizes.

Smaller wheels tend to make a bike much zippier to manoeuvre, stronger (shorter spokes) more compact for storage and they turn heads. The gearing is adjusted to compensate for the wheel size. They do however, find potholes faster and don't 'track' as well on loose surfaces. Overall, however, they are hugely fun to ride and isn't that how cycling should be?

Collected here, after the fold, and in no particular order, are twenty one (21) of those bicycles with smaller than standard spinning bits. (Stay tuned for a companion round-up on trikes and quad bikes.) 1. Moulton

Introduced back in 1962 the Moulton was arguably the earliest commercially produced small wheel bicycle. It was also one of the the first such bikes to offer front and rear suspension. Oh, and the AM spaceframe model holds the world speed record for bicycles of conventional riding position, at 51mph. Here we show just one of several variants that have evolved from the past 46 years; the 20" Moulton Esprit. We've noted the Pashley - Moulton TSR and Moulton New Series.

2. Brompton

Although Moulton may have been the pioneer, it is the Brompton that 20 to 30 years later had the numbers on the road in the UK and Europe. This iconic (it was chosen to help represent London at the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony) 'Made in England" commuter bike, with its 16 inch wheels, is renowned for its swift conversion to a small folded size.

3. Bike Friday

More often spotted in the US than either of the above two would have to be Bike Fridays. Much loved the world over these fast folders were joined in the past few years by an even slicker brother, the 16 inch Tikit, which can be collapsed in a mere five seconds. Here we've pictured the 20 inch Pocket Expedition.

4. Dahon

Another well known small wheel bike is the brand conceived in Californian and made in Taiwan - the Dahon. David Hon's company would eventually lay claim the title of world's largest selling folding bicycle manufacturer, with over 2 million bikes sold throughout 30 countries, 25 years after the first model rolled off the production plant. Above is the Hammerhead.

5. Birdy

In Europe one might see quite a few small wheel bikes bearing the branding for Birdy. This German bike was designed in 1995 and like the Brompton and Bike Friday, the 18 inch Birdy is well liked for its rapid folding prowess, as well as for its suspension. Some high end models are available with the mostly maintenance free Rohloff gear hub. For our pic we've selected their top of the range, Birdy II monocoque.

6. Airnimal

Airnimal is another British company with a penchant for smaller than normal wheels. They have three basic models, the and Rhino, with a multitude of variations within each model. Two, the Chameleon and Joey, use 24" wheels, whilst the more rugged of the team, the Rhino, seen here, goes with that classic BMX standby, the 20 inch rim.

7. Strida

The Strida, was also designed by a Brit - they sure do like small wheel bikes don't they? Since it first appeared in 1987 the Strida has progressed through numerous rendering, like the Strida 3 to arrive at its current 16" wheel, aluminium framed Strida 5 version. Although originally made in the UK, then Portugal, it is now owned and made by Taiwanese manufacturer Ming Cycle. Our founder stows his in the closet
8. iXi

Not long after TreeHugger hit the web, the iXi appeared and it seemed to personify all that we stood for back then: Slick design, cool looks and supportive of a greener, less energy intensive way of life. The iXi can separate in half, it has (like the Strida) a greaseless drivechain, 16" wheels and folding pedals.

9. GoBike

When we wrote about the GoBike two years ago we noted that its availability seemed a little sketchy. And seems to still be the case. While this very cool looking machine still has a functioning website and we can find them for sale for $1,000 USD, we've also read on several occasions that the company has folded. If this is true it's shame 'coz this Canadian designed 20" wheel, 8 speed folding bike came complete with groovy front and rear suspension.

10. Swift

The Swift's heritage is too convoluted to tell in the space we have here. Suffice to say it was the early 1990's brainchild of designer, Peter Reich, ex-bike racer Jan VanderTuin, and was later commercialised by Karl Ulrich, maker of the Xootr scooter. The Swift folds by pivoting the rear forks forward, allowing the seat post to drop all the way behind its 20" (406mm) wheels.

Another ten small wheel bikes on the next page. Click Page 2 and you're there.

Tags: Biking | Car-Free | Germany | Taiwan | United Kingdom | United States

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