It all began in Portland
When I first started taking up cycling seriously, it was back during my early college days. I had a Marin mountain bike that was used to hit the trails on weekends, and to commute during weekdays. I grew up in the Southeast neighborhoods of Portland (yes, the Pacific Northwest one) and enjoyed my rides into the Downtown areas crossing the Hawthorne and Burnside bridges. On the east side, there was Mount Tabor and Powell Butte for some fun recreational rides. And everything else in between and beyond.
Then I uprooted and moved to the other side of the planet and found myself all the way in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Quite a stark difference after living in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years. Temperature, humidity, landscape, culture, language – all new healthy challenges. I did bring back my Marin, but unfortunately it stayed in storage for years.
About a year ago, I decided to take up cycling again after a ten-year hiatus. I live in a tiny box in the city with no space to realistically store a bike, and obviously my significant other wanted a bike as well. There was absolutely no way that two full-sized bikes could have fit. The Marin took up way too much space and the only place I could park it was in the balcony, which wasn't ideal. So what options did we have?
After some research, I found out more about folding bikes. There was only so much that I could do from reading reviews, so the only way to experience folding bikes was by looking for bike shops that allowed test rides. I had the following points in mind when I tried going for test rides:
- How fast does the bike feel?
- How stable does the bike feel?
- How complicated/compact is the fold?
- How easy is it to move the bike around when it is folded?
- How heavy is the bike overall?
- How cool (and competent) are the bike shop dudes who can help with maintenance?
Most importantly though is to know what your rides will be. What do you actually want to do?
Based on my own experience of living in Kuala Lumpur, I will be riding mostly on tarmac (potholes and all) with the occasional hard packed dirt roads and gravel. I want to be able to easily toss my bike into my car and bring it anywhere for rides, with room for another. I want to be able to cover distances of at least 50km in comfort and not feel like the bike is about to fall apart (or my hands and derriere). And because I live in a country that is ideal for regional travel, I want to be able to bring my bike with me when I explore different countries.
So with that in mind, I tried a few folding bikes. I knew I wanted quality right off the bat, so that narrowed my search to a handful of brands and models that were locally available. Dahon. Tern. Tyrell. Brompton. Birdy. Montague.
In the end, I chose the Birdy for the following reasons:
- It feels like riding a full-sized bike. It has a long wheel base which gives it quite a stable ride, and the general handling inspires confidence. A huge advantage that the Birdy has is its full suspension – both front and rear suspension units cushion the ride and adds to the feeling of riding a bike with bigger wheels. This means comfort, and the ability to clock in distance without feeling too much fatigue.
- It rides relatively fast. The gear ratios on the Birdy ensure that you can keep up with bigger bikes with the same number of pedal strokes. Obviously pure road bikes are going to be a lot faster as those are configured and built for speed, but when riding in a mixed group of hybrids and mountain bikes, the Birdy manages to hold its own quite easily.
- It folds quickly and has a relatively compact fold. It's close to the size of the Brompton when folded (Bromptons are still the most compact hands down) and fairly easy to wheel around. You could fit two Birdy bikes in the rear of a compact hatchback vehicle. The folding process takes a bit of getting used to at first, but once I figured it out, it took less than a minute to fold. It is also relatively light for a folding bike, weighing slightly under 11kg depending on the configuration.
- It fits under the stairs in my condo! You know that small useless space underneath the lower half of the stairs that nobody ever gets to use for anything? Yep, it fits in that space.
There's a lot more to write about, so I will share my collective experience with the Birdy across a few articles. In summary, I would say that having a folding bike expands your options to explore places on two wheels much more easily. A year has passed since my cycling journey with a folding bike began and it's been a great ride so far (pun intended).
Have bike. Will travel!
Read my other articles about what I've done with my Graphite Birdy