Folding bikes have many advantages over regular bikes; you can take them to your office or your apartment instead of leaving them locked up somewhere else; you can go multimodal and mix a bike ride in with a train, car or plane trip.
But they are also often a compromise in ride quality and comfort, and are often not as portable as one would like.
That’s why I am so intrigued by the new pakiT City Bike; they understand the role of a folding bike in the city. Designer Alan Scholz of Bike Friday is quoted in a press release:
"People need a great bike for going to the local store, taking a nice drive around town on the weekend, and they need a bike for getting from home to the train or bus, and from public transportation to the office. With small urban apartments, condos and townhomes, you don't have space for three bikes for three purposes. I had in mind a fantastic, lightweight, city bike that just happens to fold up really small. So small it would fit into a back pack."
That’s music to TreeHugger ears. It is up on Kickstarter, and after a couple of crowdfunding debacles where the bike never showed up (and in one case where it did) I swore to myself I would never write about a crowdfunded bike again. But this is different:
- It is from an experienced, 24 year old bike fabricator, Bike Friday, in Eugene, Oregon; TreeHugger Emeritus Andrew Posner had one of their earlier versions of a folding bike and loved it.
- They previously did a Kickstarter for a cargo bike and delivered as promised;
- They are building the bike themselves, not farming out the order to China;
- They are probably one of those companies using the Kickstarter more as a marketing tool- since they are made to order, they could have just put it out there for sale; In fact they ”have already spent over $100,000 with hundreds of work hours from our small, talented team of two designers to get the pakiT to this stage. We have made ten prototypes for testing and have begun development of the backpack, rear rack, and fenders.”
- They are offering it in sizes that can accommodate people of all sizes, including us short people, and that always gets my attention.
The bike is extremely light, starting at just under 15 pounds for the top end model, rising to 22 pounds. It folds up into a very neat little package that can fit in a suitcase or a backpack. They claim that “It surpasses all other bikes in history with an amazing combination of being light weight, folding compactly, very clean (no chain oil), built to your size, and with a high quality ride!”
That is perhaps a bit hyperbolic; Brompton owners might argue the point. I also have a folding bike, and my Strida folds up in a third the time, and I really don’t like the way their handlebars come off, leaving all the cables loose, even though they have a place to put it on the frame. (see video of folding here) There are always compromises. Others will complain about the price, with the cheapest version all gone on Kickstarter and an $1500 estimated retail, three times the price of a Chinese folder, but they seem to be making no compromises on parts or build quality. Price has always been an issue with folding bikes; Bike expert David Fiedler wrote years ago:
It's a three-legged comparison between the durability of the bike, how much it's going to cost and how much it's going to weigh. If you want something that's very light and very durable, you're going to pay for it. If it's going to be durable and reasonably priced, it's going to be heavier.
And still others will complain that small wheels are a compromise, but I have found that in the city, they are a real advantage in maneuverability and handling. The Bike Friday people concur:
Now what about those 16-inch wheels? "16" inches was great for my kid's bike, but won't I give up power or speed or something on an adult sized bike?" The clear answer is in fact, just the opposite. You will gain agility and acceleration compared to 26 and 27-inch wheeled bikes. The smaller wheels are stronger and will stay in true longer.
Folding bikes can make a huge difference in the way people use bikes in the city; the ability to carry it up to one’s apartment or office, or to use it for that last mile or two home from a subway or rail station, or to travel by train or air. This looks like one of the best yet. More on Kickstarter, where it has already blown through its target.