For me, freedom comes in the form of a folding bike that fits in the trunk of my hatchback.
Oh, and did I mention that the tires NEVER go flat?
Now that is freer than free!
I know, a folding bike with puncture-proof tires sounds like a parlor trick, but it’s true. Thanks to advances in technology and science, you can keep a small-footprint bike, with never-flat tires in the trunk of your car and experience the great outdoors like never before.
I’ve trotted around the Citizen Seoul in my trunk for the better part of six months. (The bike retails for $329; the unit I tested costs approximately $440.) I love the fact that if New York traffic gets unbearable, I can put the car in park and just cycle away. Of course, I would never do that, but simply knowing it’s an option puts me at ease in gridlock.
Needless to say, the folding wheels have helped me create a few extra adventures.
First, you should know that folding bikes are not new. In fact, the first documented instances date back to the 1890s. The French army, along with other military outfits, deployed folding bikes for infantry use. Despite their history, people are clearly unaccustomed to seeing collapsible bikes in the wild. If your riding experience is anything like mine, people will take notice. Something about the style of the bike draws attention … and questions! These convenient contraptions are a magnet for conversation. Be prepared to get grilled by cycling purists and novice riders alike.
If you are considering purchasing a folding bike or adding one to your two-wheeled fleet, let me answer some of the more common questions I’ve been asked. When riding, be sure to follow normal bike safety protocol.
Is the folding bike light?
Not really. Folding bikes generally weight around 30 pounds. The Seoul I am riding weighs 26 pounds, thanks in part to the lightweight Muffin tires. Lifting the bike in and out of the trunk or a backseat is relatively easy for people of all strength levels. However, I imagine it would be difficult to carry the bike in its folded state for any distance.
Is the folding bike fun to ride?
Kinda. It’s not as easy to propel as a full-scale bike, but convenience comes at a trade-off. You will find yourself having to pedal harder – while you are moving slower – then you would have to with standard 26-inch tires. The model I have been using has 20-inch tires. You will find that most folding bikes offer up tires between 16 to 24 inches.
Does the bike fold easily?
Yes. Lower the seat post, unhinge the handlebars, collapse the pedals and fold. It’s a very simple process that requires no tools. Once you do it two or three times, folding is a cinch.
Cool tires. What kind are they?
The Citizen Seoul I’m riding is equipped with Muffin airless tires. These tires are beasts: they are puncture proof, flat-proof and lighter than standard tires. There is a bit of trade-off when it comes to ride quality, but it pales in comparison to the benefit of never having to deal with a patch, a pump or AAA bicycle service!
If the tires don’t go flat, why don’t they use tires like that on all bikes or even on cars?
Apparently, the secret is the compounded macromolecule elastic material and natural, stable gas. This just got way too scientific for me. I checked in with John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor, who knows a lot more about tires than I do.
“I suspect the type used with Muffin tire, if scaled to a car tire, would get hot and fail,” he said. “The first tires on bikes were solid rubber, but that didn’t translate well to motor vehicles. At one time all tires had tubes and then tubeless tires replaced those. Perhaps one day when the technology is further developed motorists will be driving around on tires that never need air.”
My time with a folding bike
After several dozen rides, the Citizen Seoul has performed like a champ, requiring little maintenance (in part, thanks to those puncture-proof ties) aside from chain grease and some brake caliber shifting.
A folding bike like the Seoul will not fit everyone’s needs. If you are like me, and simply looking to add a little extra exploration and exercise into your everyday life, keeping two wheels in the back of your car feels like freedom.
Grip shifters have that familiar feel and make gear adjustments on the fly seamless. The seven speeds are sure to help reduce effort on inclines. However, the gears do not negate the extra pedaling power you will have to provide to compensate for the smaller 20-inch wheels.
The Citizen Seoul is equipped with fenders over the tires to keep dirt and mud from kicking up on your pants. A flat cargo holder allows you to transport books or other items. These two items were super helpful when using the bike during commutes and errands.
The standard brake pads work without a hitch. I own a regular-size commuter bike fitted with disc brakes. While they help you brake faster in wet conditions, they add weight and expense to the bike. Plus, how often will you find yourself riding in the rain? In my opinion, disc brakes are not essential.
For my needs, where I like to explore several miles here and several miles there, or get in a little fresh-air-inspired cardio during lunch, having a foldable bike has hit the spot.
If you are trying to determine if a folding bike is for you, start by thinking about WHY you would need to fold it. To get on a bus? To tuck underneath your desk at work? To toss in the backseat so you don’t have to hassle with a bike rack? If you’re gonna spend your hard-earned money, be sure the purchase of a folding bike is practical and necessary. The length of the Seoul I’m riding is approximately 33 inches when folded.
Personally, I love having a folding bike as an option but I will still retain my full-size commuter bike. I’m sure as the industry evolves the bikes will get lighter, fold faster and may, perhaps, one day outsell their larger counterparts. For now, a folding bike delivers extra exploration, lots of questions and a whole lotta freedom.
Feel free to leave your folding bike questions and/or experiences in the comments section below.