My childhood cycling days
I cycled as a child growing up in my hometown of Bandar Baru Bangi, then a quiet university town with very little traffic and plenty of secondary forest; heaven for kids who liked the outdoors. I can’t remember much about the single speed bike purchased by my financially prudent late father, beyond having bright blue rubber handlebar grips, and a matching saddle. It was nothing fancy compared to my best friends’ mountain bikes and roadies, but it served me well enough for our escapades around the neighbourhood, and the occasional jaunts off road through the shrubbery to get to the other side of town.
That’s what cycling was during my growing years, part of our daily fun after school or over the weekend. I remember full well my mother’s panic when she realised that her daughter and friends had cycled to the fairly dodgy industrial area several kilometres away from home, completely unchaperoned, on the day the chocolate factory was having a closing down sale. I also remember riding side-saddle with one of my best friends, crashing into the loose asphalt at full speed while turning a corner at the bottom of a hill, scraping the skin clear off my left shoulder.
During my teenage years, cycling faded into the background quietly. You could say my recent return to cycling was somewhat accidental, brought on by my husband digging his mountain bike out of storage, where it lay gathering dust for ten years. Once he made the decision to replace it with a foldie, his enthusiasm was very hard to resist. It could have been nostalgia for my childhood, or frustration at not being able to run because of my reduced lung capacity, a result of my scoliosis i.e. curved spine. Either way, I was sucked in.
Finding the right bike
The next step was to find the right bike. With my back problems, I knew from the start that comfort would be my main issue, which meant my riding position was of ultimate importance. My second issue was the price of the bike itself, since I didn’t want to have to shell out for something that I did not realise then, would be a long-term investment.
The first folding bike I tried was an Ori, which is also sold under the name Mezzo in Europe. It was a clever thing, folding down to a neat little package within seconds, making it the ultimate commuting bike. I’ll anger many Brompton fans for saying so, but judging by how much easier and quicker the Ori folds, I stand by that statement. The only catch with the Ori, was that it felt fairly twitchy due to the design of the handlebar stem, and it cost a pretty penny.
Once I realised that finding a bike to match my requirements would not be easy, I did months and months of research, narrowing the search down to several choices:
I was enamoured with the handsome and solid Paratrooper, but sadly crossed it off the shortlist after admitting to myself that I would not be doing much cycling off road. I came to this conclusion after remembering that while I enjoy hiking, it became too much of a hassle to find the right location to do so. Road or urban cycling would have to be the priority, with the capacity to handle long rides.
I never considered the Birdy, Brompton or Tyrell, since they were out of my self-imposed price range. On the day I’d made up my mind to make the purchase, we drove to Van’s Urban Bicycle with my husband’s newly bought Birdy 3 in the trunk. Still plagued by indecision, I vowed to give the Tern Link and Montague Crosstown one last test ride, although I was leaning more towards the Crosstown, since it was a full sized foldie. At this point, I was willing to put aside the fact that the bike could not be wheeled when folded.
As fate would have it, there were a number of obstacles in the backyard of the shop on the day. I soon realised that one advantage of the smaller frame foldies, was the better responsiveness in tight corners, which was great for city rides. However, I wasn’t completely sold on the Tern, and the staff convinced me to try the Brompton and the Tyrell, both brands they had in stock. I ruled out the Tyrell since I was not in the market for a road bike, and the price was fairly steep. Next came the Brompton, surprisingly comfortable to ride, although I wasn’t a big fan of the limited gearing, or the more upright riding position.
The staff then suggested I take out my husband’s Birdy from the car, and take it for a test ride to compare. Ironically, it was the guys at Van’s who helped convince me that the Birdy was what I’d been looking for all this while, despite the fact that they weren’t the dealers. The ride was the most comfortable thanks to the long wheel base and clever suspension system, while the gear ratios ensured it was fairly fast for a foldie. The fold was not as compact as the Ori or the Brompton, but was still fairly small without stress points like hinges on the frame. I wasn’t too happy about the price, but once the bike ticked all the right boxes, I couldn't deny that I had a clear winner.
It would be two more months before my 9-speed Birdy 3 would reach Malaysian shores, but I was confident that I’d made the right choice. It's seen a number of upgrades since then, namely the saddle, pedals, front stem, handlebars, gear set, wheel set, and I also installed a modified rear rack.
I may not be the fastest or strongest rider in the bunch, but when I’m out there on my bike, I’m pretty darn happy, and that’s all that matters to me.
If you're at the same crossroad I was at before making my decision, you can get more insight about the Birdy at GW Cycle Boutique, Van's Urban Bicycle, USJ cycles and Gin Huat Cycle Trading.