Reach Folding Bike Review

I have been riding a Pacific Cycles Reach folding bike for around 6 months and have clocked in slightly more than 1,200km of distance with it. My overall impressions of the bike so far has been quite positive. I've invested in a few quality upgrades along the way, and have a few more planned in due time.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Pacific Cycles hail from Taiwan and they are extremely well known there as a manufacturer of higher end folding bikes. Outside of Taiwan, their most recognizable output would be the Riese and Müller Birdy, the Tartaruga and the Airnimal folding bikes. As an international manufacturer and designer workshop of new bicycle concepts, their R&D team has a fantastic palette of concepts and technology to work with, and their in-house Reach model is a result of this collaboration. My Reach is the third generation model, purchased in December 2016.

The Birdy MkIII on the left, and the Reach on the right at KL's Perdana Botanical Gardens. 

The Birdy MkIII on the left, and the Reach on the right at KL's Perdana Botanical Gardens. 

In its third generation incarnation, the Reach comes in two variations off the shelf:

  • T20 - touring version, wide range of gear inches for different terrains, comes with flatbars.
  • R20 - road version, more top end gear inches, comes with dropbars.

General overview

The Reach may not be as compact as other folding bikes, but it does not exactly fall into the same category. The Reach is more of a compact road bike that retains the geometry and wheel base of a full-sized bike, but is able to fold down to a size that can fit into a suitcase. Overall, the total package weighs 10.2kgs, which is fairly light for a folding bike, but a tad heavier than an actual road bike. Upgrading components will make it lighter, but the frame itself is already a third of the total weight.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Frame and fold. It looks very much like a regular bike with a triangular frame and is extremely tough and stiff. The geometry, wheel base and riding position is the same as a full-sized road bike. The oversized down tube connects to a single-point folding pivot located near the bottom bracket, ensuring minimal stress points. Folding the bike is quite straightforward and is done by simply applying pressure on the rear triangle to separate it at the rear suspension. There are no physical latches or levers to worry about. Just pop it off and the rear swings inward to fold, very much like a Birdy. The only catch is that you need to remove the front wheel first, but at least there's a mount for it at the top tube. If you need it to be more compact, pop off the handlebars and push down the seat post. If it needs to go into a suitcase, the rear wheel will need to be taken off to make an extremely compact package.

Handling. The bike has the geometry of a road bike, but you can opt for a more aerodynamic riding position with drop bars, or a more relaxed position with flat bars. Either way, it tracks extremely well and handles just like a full-sized bike with no compromises. You can swap the stem and handlebars to any you like as it accepts standard components and sizing. If you are confident enough, this bike is stable enough to be ridden with no hands on the handlebars!

Riding through mixed road surfaces in Central Java, Indonesia. The suspension really helps in the comfort department here. 

Riding through mixed road surfaces in Central Java, Indonesia. The suspension really helps in the comfort department here. 

Suspension. The Reach has a simple suspension system that utilizes elastomers. The rear suspension is fitted to the rear triangle and functions in exactly the same way as the Birdy's rear suspension. The front suspension is built into the fork and functions like a Lauf fork, but in a much simpler scale. These elastomers are not meant for taking the bike off road (although a bit of light gravel and hard packed dirt is okay) but reduces the road chatter and buzz for a much more compliant and comfortable ride. Pedal light or pedal hard, the bike feels well rooted and firm, but with added comfort for those longer rides!

Exploring the waterway canals of Singapore. 

Exploring the waterway canals of Singapore. 

Components. Depending on the variant you get, the drivetrain will be stock Shimano components with either the Deore derailleur and 11-36T 10-speed cassette for the T20 model, or the Tiagra derailleur and a customized 9-26T 10-speed cassette for the R20 model. Both variants come with Avid disc brakes using 120mm rotors at the front and 140mm rotors at the rear, and also double chainrings using the same Shimano Tiagra brazed on front derailleur. 

Wheels. The 20-inch (ISO size 451) wheels are fairly light, rolls better than smaller diameter wheels found on many folding bikes, and can still fit within a standard 29 or 30 inch suitcase without being too cumbersome.

T20 vs R20

Both models utilize the same frame, but are fitted with different components. Here's a brief overview of the key differences:

T20 touring model

The T20 comes with flat handlebars, with a wide gearing range of 19 to 90 gear inches and a compact crankset. That's plenty of gear inches for touring across all kinds of terrain.

  • Crankset. Reach 50/34T 170mm (GXP)
  • Cassette. Shimano CS-HG-50 11-36T 10-speed
  • Rear derailleur. Shimano Deore RD-M615 10-speed SGS
  • Handlebar. Tranz-X AL6061 31.8x520mm w/sandblast black
  • Brake levers. Shimano L:SL-R460/R:SL-M610 Avid Speed Dial 7
  • Saddle. Velo VL-2064
  • Tires: Primo Comet 20x1-3/8" (28-451) - 85 PSI
  • Rims: Alex DA22 20x1-3/8" F:24H R:24H FV
  • MSRP: USD $2,160

R20 road model

The R20 comes with drop handlebars and gives closely spaced gearing that ranges from 31 to 117 gear inches with a standard crankset. That's definitely a bit more at the top end to go faster. It also has a much nicer saddle compared to the T20's generic Velo saddle.

  • Crankset. Reach 53/39T 170mm (GXP)
  • Cassette. Reach customized 9-26T 10-speed
  • Rear derailleur. Shimano Tiagra RD-4601 10-speed SS
  • Handlebar. HL AL6061 racing bar 31.8x420mm w/sandblast black
  • Brake levers. Shimano Tiagra ST-4600 with display
  • Saddle. San Marco Aspide, black w/red trim
  • Tires: Schwalbe Durano 20x1-1/8" (28-451) - 115 PSI
  • Rims: Kin Lin NB-RX20 20x1-1/8" F:20H R:24H FV
  • MSRP: USD $2,450

What if I just want the frame set?

At the time of my purchase, the frame set was not yet available on its own. This is a good option if you prefer building your bike from scratch, particularly if you already have parts lying around or have a list of custom components. However, the frame on its own is already half the price of the fully built-up bike, which makes it the more expensive option if you have high end components in mind.

The frame set comes with the following:

  • Frame. Aluminum 7005 T6 with 30mm PU rear elastomer.
  • Fork. Reach fork with trailing link front suspension with 15mm PU elastomer, 120mm disc rotor and Reach front hub and quick release.
  • Headset. Reach headset tapered integrated threadless headset top 1-1/8" bottom 1-1/4" black
  • Stem raiser. Reach exclusive 28.6x225.8mm sandblast black
  • Seat post. AL 6061 34.9X400mm anodized black
  • MSRP: USD $1,190.

The ride experience

My first folding bike was the Graphite Birdy which continues to be part of my stable. Naturally, friends have asked how the Reach compares to the Birdy. Actually, the question goes more like: Why in the world would you have two folding bikes?

Both folding bikes have a longer wheel base than other foldies, but the geometry of the Reach matches a full-sized road bike. With that question in mind, I will try to compare the riding experience of the Reach and the Birdy. 

My Reach with 451 wheels on the left, and Nadiah's Birdy with 406 wheels on the right.

My Reach with 451 wheels on the left, and Nadiah's Birdy with 406 wheels on the right.

Wheel size matters. When it comes to rolling, it all boils down to physics. A larger diameter wheel is able to overcome road imperfections better and has a bit more momentum at speed. A smaller diameter wheel however has an advantage when it comes to climbing hills and initial acceleration.

  • The Reach is running on 451 sized wheels and the geometry of the front fork provides more stable handling compared to the Birdy. The larger wheels soak up bumps better, and gives better ground clearance for the rear derailleur. It does give you extra gear inches on flats that will naturally let you cover more ground faster. For longer distances, the Reach has the advantage.
  • The Birdy in its stock configuration uses 355 sized (18 inch) wheels and is a much more responsive bike. Some would say that the handling is twitchier due to the smaller wheels, but allows you to nimbly maneuver in tight spaces and fit better in smaller places while still retaining a great ride as it also has full suspension. In ultra hilly areas, the smaller wheels also make it easier for climbing. You can upgrade to 406 sized wheels (20 inch) which is what I did with mine.

*Here's my list of touring upgrades for the Birdy, while Maya configured hers differently.

From left to right: Reach with 451 wheels, Birdy Mk2 with 355 wheels, Birdy Mk3 with 406 wheels. 

From left to right: Reach with 451 wheels, Birdy Mk2 with 355 wheels, Birdy Mk3 with 406 wheels. 

My Reach outfitted with a Zipp SL-70 Ergo dropbar, Zipp SL stem, SRAM Force 22 shifters, and a Spurcycle bell. 

My Reach outfitted with a Zipp SL-70 Ergo dropbar, Zipp SL stem, SRAM Force 22 shifters, and a Spurcycle bell. 

Handlebar positioning. I stand at a height of 172cm and the Reach provides a more optimized reach (wait, that was a pun) when using drop handlebars. 

  • The Reach gives you the option of using different stems and handlebars. The clamping area on the stem riser has a standard 28.6mm diameter. I am currently using a Zipp SL-70 Ergo dropbar and a matching Zipp SL stem. It's quite a comfortable fit that still let's me dial in some speed when I am in the drops. I might switch to carbon one day, but that's a different story.
  • The Birdy that I have is outfitted with the sports stem, that has a more pronounced angle to better suit my longer arms. However, the adjustable stock front stem simply wasn't low enough for me, even at it's shortest height. GW Cycle helped modify my stem by cutting the height down by two inches to rectify this, since it is not compatible with normal components.

The folded package. If folding size and folding speed are your top priorities, you may need to look at other options. But if you're looking for a great ride for longer distances and folding is a secondary objective, then the Reach could be the bike for you.

  • The Reach is more of a "fold and disassemble" bike. Although you can commute with it and bring it on trains, I really wouldn't recommend it if you are mostly going to be doing frequent train-bike commutes. The amount of time it takes to fold it feels like eons compared to the Birdy, especially since you have to remove the front wheel. The only times where I do the complete fold for the Reach is when I need to fit it into my car, or if I have to pack it for transport. To be fair, when folded down it is still compact, and does not take up that much width. It's more of a rectangular package when fully folded.
  • The Birdy wins hands down when it comes to folding speed and compactness. It is the folding bike of choice if I am going to mix my rides with train hopping and is the more ideal bike for multi-modal commuting. I would say that the Birdy feels at home in urban environments due to its compactness and fast folding, but also does well in the countryside if you need to travel by train to your destination and back.

Packing for travel

A rainy moment by the Rainbow Bridge in Taipei. My Reach is on the right; on the left is Nadiah's 3rd generation Reach racing.

A rainy moment by the Rainbow Bridge in Taipei. My Reach is on the right; on the left is Nadiah's 3rd generation Reach racing.

To date, my Reach has followed me on three flights which includes one domestic flight and two international flights to Indonesia and Taiwan.

Other than a few minor scuffs and scratches on the paint, the bike has survived and remained intact. Pacific Cycles does sell a bespoke suitcase for the Reach which is what I have, but it can also fit into any standard 30-inch suitcase as long as the suitcase has a depth of 12 inches.

To fit the Reach into a suitcase, you will first need to disassemble the bike:

  1. Remove the pedals. If you have quick release pedals like the MKS Compact Ezy, then it's much easier.
  2. Remove the handlebars from the frame, separate the stem/handlebar from the stem riser. It's fine to leave the stem attached to the handlebar if you have space.
  3. Remove the seat post. Depending on the size of your suitcase, you can either leave the saddle attached to it, or you can separate the saddle from the seat post.
  4. Remove the front and rear wheels, store the quick release axles in a Ziploc bag so you don't lose it.
  5. Turn the fork 180 degrees so that it is facing the opposite direction and swing in the rear triangle. By doing this, the folded frame package is quite compact.
  6. As an extra precaution while traveling, remove the disc rotors from both wheels and put the screws in another Ziploc bag. You could leave the disc rotors on, but you will run the risk of getting them bent or warped during transport. I had this happen to me in the beginning and I ended up wasting a lot of time trying to find a bike shop that could straighten the rotor.

There are a lot of ways to fit all these parts into the suitcase, but I find the following order to be the easiest:

  1. Put in the rear wheel at the bottom of the suitcase with the cassette facing down.
  2. Put in the seat post at the side along with the stem riser.
  3. Place a protective foam layer over everything. Think of this as your first slice of protection.
  4. Gently put in the frame with the derailleur facing down.
  5. At this point, you can also fit your helmet in any of the corner areas that fit.
  6. Put another foam layer on top of the frame, then place the handlebars on top carefully.
  7. You can put in another layer of foam on top of the handlebars for added protection, then finally place the front wheel at the top.

The overall goal is to ensure that you don't have the separate components come into contact with each other directly in the suitcase as that'll give plenty of scratches if something gets dislodged. As long as you've got some layer of protection in between like foam or towels or any form of padding, you should be okay.

Here's a Youtube video from Pacific Cycles showing how the Reach gets fitted into their suitcase. The video doesn't show them put in any additional protection simply because it's easier to show how the components are being fitted in. But please take my advice and put in padding where necessary to protect all the components in there.

The Reach verdict

The Reach is a great folding road bike that is made for long distances even in its stock configuration of either the T20 or the R20. The frost white color option is the nicest in my opinion as it is a pearl effect paint job that gives off a beautiful sheen in sunlight. However, I've also discovered that the paint isn't quite as hardy and I've had all manners of scuffs and scratches from road debris. But I suppose if you don't get any scratches at all, then you're doing something wrong as a bike is meant to be ridden!

A beautiful night ride around Putrajaya. Nadiah's Reach R on the left and my Reach on the right. 

A beautiful night ride around Putrajaya. Nadiah's Reach R on the left and my Reach on the right. 

Below are my collective thoughts on the Reach after cycling more than 1,200kms with it in the last 6 months.

Pros

  • It is a fairly light folding bike, weighing 10.2kg, but I am experimenting with component upgrades to make it lighter. I just shaved off 200g with a Brooks C13 carbon saddle and a carbon seat post, so now it's at 10kg.
  • Almost every single component utilizes standard bike parts, making maintenance and replacements easy.
  • Full suspension gives this bike an amazing ride quality, even when pedaling hard or when going through rough roads.
  • The 451-sized wheels allows you to cover longer distances in comfort, but are small enough to be nimble and portable.
  • Optional rear rack for touring with a clean design that integrates very well with the frame. Trolley wheels make it extremely easy to push the folded bike around.
  • Fits in a standard 29 or 30 inch suitcase for travel! Make sure you have some padding handy and make sure you take off the disc brake rotors!

Cons

  • I suppose they expect cyclists to swap out the saddle on the T20 model, which comes with your basic run-of-the-mill Velo saddle.
  • Slightly better stock pedals would be nice. Again, I suppose they expect cyclists to quickly swap them out for something better.
  • The front wheel hub. I don't mind removing the front wheel to make the bike compact when it needs to be folded for transport, but the design of the hub is the single biggest issue that prevents me from giving the Reach a full five stars.
A closer look into the front wheel hub. Notice how the axle in the middle floats a bit.

A closer look into the front wheel hub. Notice how the axle in the middle floats a bit.

The quick release of the front wheel is a custom hollow bolt that also goes through a hub with a floating center axle developed in-house by Pacific Cycles. The larger diameter design is meant to work with the trailing link suspension and provides a well cushioned ride. However, since it is a custom quick release component, getting a replacement will be extremely difficult if you are stuck somewhere far away.

I had one incident after my trip in Langkawi trip where the quick release bolt was completely stuck and I could not remove the front wheel at all. Luckily, this only happened when I was back home and not during the trip.

Enjoying the idyllic views along Pasir Hitam Beach in Langkawi. Look at all that sand, which I'm sure contributed to what happened to the hub of my front wheel.

Enjoying the idyllic views along Pasir Hitam Beach in Langkawi. Look at all that sand, which I'm sure contributed to what happened to the hub of my front wheel.

Somehow, road grit found its way into the front wheel hub and made removing the quick release bolt impossible. I took it to our friendly mechanic at GW Cycle and he managed to gently hammer (yes, you read that right, HAMMER) the quick release bolt out without damaging the fork or hub.

Essentially, there is a design flaw with the front wheel hub where there is a small gap at the edges of the floating axle that can allow debris to get in. To solve that problem, we applied a generous amount of mechanical grease to ensure that the quick release bolt can slide through easily and also to loosen the road grit that was inside. At least the bearings were still smooth.

I believe Pacific Cycles has already remedied this problem with a new front wheel hub design that does not leave any gaps, but if you have the one with the floating axle in the middle, just be aware that it can be a problem.

A simple application of grease seems to solve the issue by ensuring that the hub is well lubricated and things don't get stuck in it. It also makes sliding the quick release bolt in and out much easier.

So how many stars?

In the end, the Reach is a pretty awesome bike to have if you need a long distance foldie. Other models can still handle long distance travel, but the slightly larger wheel size and geometry of the Reach provides longer term comfort for when you spend eight hours on the saddle.

Overall, I would give it a rating of four stars, docking off a point for the experience I've had with the mildly problematic front wheel hub, but in general I'm quite happy with it. Now if the model I got came with the improved hub, I may change my rating if it proves to be fuss free.

*If you'd like to know more about the design philosophy behind the Reach you can also read Nadiah's Reach Racing review. Her post tells you a bit more about the 3rd generation Reach Racing (the black one photographed with mine in some pictures above) and 4th generation R20; and how the two models compare.