Friday, August 31, 2012

The DIYBIKING.COM Essential Guide to the Last Days of Summer

It's the end of summer. I know this only because some of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of their children wearing new clothes and pained expressions.

However, Labor Day weekend is here and that means summer isn't over and you therefore have one or two more chances to attend the kind of gathering that requires you to put your name on a red Solo Cup.

No matter what's in store, I recommend that you follow the Rules of Summer. I don't have the time to go over all of them, but I'll just share a few:

Summer Rule # 8: Silliness

Now if your last days of summer are at a nice resort, you may come across one of these; probably near the pool area.

These are Italian-made Sirenetta surry bikes; you can actually buy them through the great American bike and trike company, Worksman. They are sometimes built for two or four. They are heavy, slow, look weird, are expensive to rent and can't go very far.

And you gotta try one.

On the last days of a recent vacation I was in a hotel that had these. I had already ridden a considerable distance on my New World Tourist but since I had put it away and had 20 minutes before I needed to meet my wife to head to the airport, I decided to give it a go.

Of course, since this is DIYBIKING.COM, I decided to take the surry bike for a great adventure and to answer a simple question that I'm sure has been on the mind of many a surry bike rider: what is the top speed?

When I travel, it's B.Y.O.G.P.S.

It is impossible not to feel relaxed as you pedal one of these. As a single-speed vehicle the size of a Smart Car it just ambles along. However, if you put your feet down (and I would have installed my clipless pedals if I had them on me and the hotel staff wasn't looking) you can build up some speed. I did three runs along the promenade - and may have scattered a tourist or two in my wake - and I got it up to...12.8 miles an hour!

And I intentionally went through a puddle. Yes, intentionally.

I also tried several times to make it skid but each time it would lurch, silently, to a stop.

Worried I'd be banned from the resort, I ended the ride after the third run and returned the surry bike...with a big grin. So if you have the time or the ability to ride something that has absolutely no purpose or value whatsoever, do it. It's summer.

Summer Rule #22: Local Ice Cream Shops

You know where they are, and if you don't or are visiting an unfamiliar area, ride around until you find one (this one, Annabelle's, is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Exploring the area very early one recent morning it was too early to go in, but my wife and I were able to go a few days later and it was excellent). Try to bring friends and family when you go and try to ride or walk to get there. There's nothing additional to say, really.

Summer Rule #13: Bluff Point State Park

I know, if you aren't within driving distance of Bluff Point State Park in Groton, this rule doesn't mean very much to you. But it means a lot to me. Bluff Point State Park has been a consistent mountain bike stomping grounds for me and my cousin since before we were old enough to drive there ourselves. The trails are that much fun.

On our one and only trip there this summer, I followed him closely on my second homemade mountain bike and after just a few minutes, we came to a dropoff that my cousin, M.C., barely noticed but gave me pause. Taking a 'safe way' around the dropoff, I almost immediately lost control and crashed; pitching over the handlebars for my bike to land on top of me.

After a crash, you know you are biking with a great partner when he or she can say “Are you okay?” and still be understood through their laughter. 

After I assured M.C. I was fine, he offered to show me how it was done. So I took a picture of him on his second run.

When I uploaded this, I could only shake my head: there are photographs of Sasquatch that are more in focus than any picture I've taken of M.C. on a bike.

So Bluff Point is a must for anyone in Connecticut. At the moment you may not know this because a search for 'mountain biking' at the new Connecticut tourism site, doesn't give you a hit for Bluff Point State Park. It's not that I expected the governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, to mention road or mountain biking in his introductory letter (though it would have been nice). It's not that I expected a clip of cyclists on the bluff to be featured in one of the 'Still Revolutionary' ads.

Though it would have been nice.

But a search for mountain biking on doesn't bring you to Bluff Point. Now, if you search for 'Bluff Point' you will eventually find your way to the state site, but a random person with a smartphone at a rest stop with two Specialized mountain bikes on the roof isn't going to know that as they head through the state looking for a place to ride. Now does seems useful in finding out what is going on in the state this weekend, but be aware the The Bluff Point Omission (that sounds like a good name for a Robert Ludlum novel, doesn't it?) may not be the only gap in mountain biking coverage on the site.

Summer Rule # 31: Stop at Lemonade Stands

You see them every summer. Under no circumstances do you keep going. I don't care if you're in the middle of the bike (or the swimming) portion of a triathalon. You stop. Even if you can see from the color of the liquid on the table that the kids are using Crystal Light and are, in the words of Stringer Bell, 'cutting their product' with warm water, no refridgeration and tiny cups you'd normally associate with NyQuil, you stop.

I stopped at a few this summer. My favorite was one on a random side trip in Pennsylvania. These two little girls were running both it and a tag sale, and one of them upsold me from a $0.25 cup of lemonade to a $10 bike that belonged to her mom. When I bought it, the two of them ran up to their mom,who was on the porch of the house, to share their excitement. I ended up chatting with the mom as I loaded the bike into my car. Since I was to be carrying passengers (one of them being my mother-in-law) I couldn't use my homemade Honda Element bike rack and instead was thankful I keep a number of tools in the car.

I later brought the bike home to tune it. Chatting with the mom told me she had used the bike when her girls were small and it hadn't left the garage in ten years. But the tires, brakes and the drivetrain were all good, and when I cleaned it up I found myself with a very good road bike.

After I removed the baby seat and gave it to my cousin for his young son to use, I rode it to work several times. Since I saved a dollar each time I was more than halfway to paying back the $10.25 cost of the lemonade/bicycle combo. It was a great bike, but I already have a lot of great bikes, so I gave it to a good friend in New Haven who needed one. I had a decent cup of lemonade, got a new bike, and made a couple of people (and me) smile, so that's why I always follow Summer Rule # 31.

Summer Rule #18: Stop to help

To often when going to or coming from things, we are On A Mission and don't let anything distract us. But stop to help if at all possible; everyone else is On A Mission too.

This very week, in glorious weather, I was riding during a lunchbreak on High Ridge Road in Stamford and came across an Otter-box encased iPhone on the shoulder. I thought about the day I met Stacey (which can happen any time of the year if you keep your eyes open) when I picked it up and carried it back to my office.

Unlike finding credit cards, I had no name. I don't have an iPhone myself, but I knew enough about this one to know I needed a four digit code to access it. All I could see on the screen was a very short list of missed calls, including a phone number (that led nowhere when I called it) and a woman's name followed by the '2' in parentheses, and no phone number displayed.

But when I pushed the power button after I put it on my iPod cord to charge, I noticed Siri, that voice-assistant thing that may or may not be a little creepy, switched on. So I decided to interrogate the iPhone:

“Siri, whose phone is this?”

“Siri, who does this phone belong to?”

The responses looked mostly like this, and its disembodied voice was talking so loudly I had to shut my office door.
I got the digital assistant equivalent of staring at someone blankly two more times as I pressed Siri to tell me whose phone it was. As I realized Siri 'thought' I was the owner, I asked Siri 'what is my home address' and even though it said it wasn't in the address book, an email address was briefly displayed, so I followed with “Siri, what is my email address?”

I got an email hit, and promptly sent a note with 'did you lose your phone?' in the subject line.

To hedge my bets, I decided to ask Siri to tell me the phone number of the woman whose name was displayed on the incoming call. Though Siri kept misspelling the name, it eventually gave me the woman's number, and I called to ask if anyone she knew had lost a phone recently. She quickly and excitedly told me it was her husband, who had left his phone on the roof of his car when he left the house that morning. Thanks to the phone call and the email, which did reach the owner, I was able to reunite the iPhone with the owner (they both asked if there was anything they could do to repay me and I said they didn't have to do anything, but looking back on it I wish I just asked if they'd drive safely around all cyclists, which is what everyone needs to do in summer and the other three seasons of the year).

So those are some of the Rules of Summer. You can follow them and add to the list if need be, but whatever you do have fun, travel safe, and let's have a party, let's have a party. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Folding Bike Week 2012: Seeing Brompton

On a recent intercontinental red-eye flight, my wife and I sat on a Virgin Atlantic plane in the darkness. We were both wearing the red eyemasks that came with the strange-smelling kit - Sir Richard Branson, please get to the bottom of that - the flight attendants hand out at takeoff. We were settled in and our seats were reclined, and most of the plane was silent.

I turned to my wife. I couldn't see her because I was still wearing the eyemask, but I knew she was there.

“Did you know,” I whispered quietly, “that the Prime Minister of Japan recently received a custom-built Brompton as a gift from the Prime Minister of the U.K?”

“No, I didn't know that,” my wife whispered back after a slight pause. She may have turned to 'look' at me without taking off her mask either.

“Yes,” I said as I settled back into my seat. “That's a folding bike fact.” We both soon fell asleep.

I was still processing all of the information I had accumulated about ten hours earlier, when I walked through a simple-looking industrial building near the Kew Bridge in London and wiped my feet.

Between my U.K. and India Biking Nations posts, I was able to visit the Brompton factory. In advance I would like to thank Brompton for allowing a blogger they don't know from a hole in the wall to visit a folding bike nerd's paradise...and I'd like to apologize to Brompton for not being able to do the visit justice in my post.

I began my trip to Brompton by taking a double-decker bus, which is a must-take for anyone visiting London (and everyone should visit London). I especially like riding on the upper level up front so I can look around.

After disembarking, I walked a short distance to the building and met Hanna, a Brompton employee I had corresponded with via email a few weeks earlier. After pleasant introductions one of the first things she had me do was put on a pair of work boots. You know when you're a kid and you get to see big construction equipment up close for the very first time? I had that kind of excitement as I clomped along behind her as she opened the doors that led to the birthplace of Brompton folding bikes.

I had expected to be overwhelmed by the size of the place, but it really isn't that large inside. It didn't look like the image of an assembly line I had in my head, probably because so much of the build, as I learned years before setting foot in the building, is very precise work. The first person I saw, for example, pretty much set the tone by working methodically: turning a part over and over in a special workstand while he carefully brazed the steel.

Hanna showed me one of parts up close that, for any Brompton owners reading this, is normally hidden by paint. It was only upon looking at the unpainted part my guide was holding that I understood Brompton's attention to detail and how durable the finished product – which is made up of about 1,200 parts – would be.

I was then allowed to hold a key part of the Brompton folding bike: the central hinge. Even though Bromptons are lightweight folding bikes fully assembled – especially if you go with the titanium frame option - the weight of this one part made me think I was holding the hinge for a bank vault. As Hanna took the hinge back, I snapped a quick picture.

I thought about the smooth riding Brompton I rode at Trophy Bikes last year - featured in Folding Bike Week 2011 - and had a strangely humbling moment: the hinge and every other part of that bike had passed through the very building I was standing in.

We passed a few more brazing stations and stepped into a cramped and noisy room. Above the din, I heard Hanna tell me that newly-braised parts take a tumble with ceramic beads to clean them before reentering the build area.

After leaving the noisy room, we stepped through a door that did mute some of the sounds of factory floor. Stepping through some offices, I then came upon the rear part of a Brompton frame being run through what I first thought was a CAT scanner, but I learned from the workers there that it was a precise measuring tool to make sure that any random piece plucked from the factory floor was exactly right. At least one of the workers recoiled in horror upon learning that I owned several folding bikes but that a Brompton was not one of them. I had begun wondering the same thing.

While passing out of that work area, I was shown the 'Rogue's Gallery' which is basically a glass-enclosed bookcase containing defective parts that had been collected from Bromptons over the years. At first glance, I didn't see much, if anything, wrong with some of the bits on the small bookcase and realized that considering the sheer number of bikes that flow from the factory year after year, there weren't a whole lot of defects. Still, if I worked there and had to walk by that bookcase every day, I'd be incentivized to build a bike right.

I saw yet another reminder of Brompton's commitment to detail a few minutes later, when we stepped into 'Factory B' which is the portion of the building where the painted parts (the bits are painted offsite and sent back to the factory for final assembly) were waiting for the next stage of the build.

“Are these ready to be assembled?” I asked, gesturing a wooden crate of pristine-looking red and black parts that had white circles of chalk drawn onto them.

“No,” said Hanna, showing me the label on the crate. “These are the defects that are not going to be used.”

It was here where I understood where a lot of the money goes when one buys a Brompton. The white circles weren't labels, they were drawing attention to whatever defect the part had, and in most cases it was a tiny pin hole or bubble in the paint finish that you'd simply lose in the finish if the white circle wasn't there. I'd imagine that 99.9% of Brompton buyers wouldn't notice it, but the employees do.

The parts that had made it through the brazing, the cleaning, the meticulous measuring, the offsite painting and had returned without defects were being made into recognizable bikes in this part of the building. And each one was telling a story: what kind of handlebars the buyer likes, how many speeds they felt they could live with in the internal hub and what color(s) they prefered.

After walking past a few shelves containing Brompton bikes that were ready to be shipped, I saw an area of the building that looked like a cross between my dream workshop and miniaturized version of the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The building stocks parts from older models of Bromptons so they can ship a part when and where it is needed.
Though they aren't made at the place I was visiting, Hanna showed me the Brompton Oratory Jacket the company had released last year. I always have mixed emotions about companies that push into new product categories (Subway serving breakfast, Pizza Hut serving subs, Porsche building an ugly sports utility vehicle named after a pepper, and so forth) because I don't want said company to branch too far and lose their focus. But I am willing to give Brompton the benefit of the doubt, because whatever team designed this clearly didn't phone it in.

The exterior is weatherproof cotton and the interior is made from moisture-wicking bamboo. Zippered vents are hidden in the sides, and the shoulders are sewn in such a way that the jacket won't stretch or become uncomfortable when crouched over handlebars. Not only that but the jacket somehow understands the nuance between being seen and being noticed: When the collar is turned up it exposes reflective material, and in the back there's a retractable yellow flap that makes it easier to be seen by London cabs while you're pedalling home from a pub at night.

When the collar is turned down and the yellow flap is hidden, it no longer looks like cycling-specific attire but looks like the kind of jacket that would get noticed – possibly by women in the pub. Now I would wear disposable paper clothing if it was socially acceptable - but the truth is I haven't been this excited about men's cycling fashion since my last visit to Pacific Swim Bike Run.

Never mind.

Before leaving the factory, I got to see some of the older models hanging in the stairwell by the entrance, along with a framed letter from Raleigh that was sent to the founder of Brompton, A.W. Ritchie in 1982, rejecting his design for a folding bike. It made me think of Stephen King impaling his rejection letters on a metal spike as well as a couple of my friends early in their writing careers hanging onto their rejection letters. The whole area just made me smile.

Finally, it was time to go. I removed my heavy work boots, thanked Hanna profusely for the tour, and left the building. Touring a bike factory, especially a folding bike factory, was a decidedly nerdy thing to do in my final afternoon in the U.K., but it was well worth my time. Until that point, I had only knew of Brompton's commitment to their bikes from retailers like NYCEwheels (the NYC retailer on York Avenue between 84th and 85th) and Trophy Bikes, but the trip to their headquarters gave me a completely different perspective. The bikes are expensive, but when you ride one, you know where the money went. When you fold one, you know where the money went. When you pick one up and it doesn't flop around and bash you on the shin, you know where the money went. And when you see them being made, at a company that chose not to have their manufacturing processes outsourced to the lowest bidder, you know where the money went.

I walked past the Kew Bridge Steam Museum before catching a bus back to the hotel. As it sometimes – only sometimes – does in London, the rain began bucketing down from the sky. However, I was still able to make out the stores along the route, and as soon as I saw an unfamiliar bike shop I got off the bus. In the pouring rain and carrying my wimpy umbrella, I made my way to the store, went inside, and was immediately drawn to a display in the back. At that moment I was unsure of two things: whether I would look at a Brompton the same way again...and what the checked bag limit was for my flight.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking part in Folding Bike Week 2012.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Folding Bike Week 2012: The Bike Friday New World Tourist

It was last summer, during the height of Folding Bike Week 2011, that I purchased a Bike Friday New World Tourist.

And I didn't write about it.

By introducing the New World Tourist on a random trip to Boston last fall, I had committed the blog equivalent of switching Dick York to Dick Sargent in the middle of Bewitched. However, I promised to save the details of that purchase for Folding Bike Week 2012, and I'm keeping my word.

I almost bought the bike unexpectedly. I had been saving to buy a Brompton almost 90% of the time I was socking money away, but in the final months, I became conflicted.

If I was a sophisticated marketer I would have written about the savings goal a la Two Broke Girls, and if I wanted to shoot for the cover of Advertising Age I would have divided DIYBIKING.COM readers into two T-shirt slogan-ready 'Team Bike Friday' and 'Team Brompton' camps – a folding bike equivalent of a 'Team Edward' and 'Team...Guy-Who-Is-Not Called Edward' from the Twilight series.

In the end, I kept the conflict to myself. I knew a Brompton would fold easier and neater than a New World Tourist, but I knew I'd only fold and unfold the bike half a dozen or so times a year; the long distance travel credentials were more important than everyday convenience. I also knew that any kind of long haul travel bike needed to have parts I could find anywhere and share components with the rest of my fleet if need be. So I bought a used 1998 New World Tourist instead of a Brompton, but I still wish I could have chosen both: if there were a few more numbers on my paystub I'd have a Brompton on general principles (more on that in another post).

But there was a lot of excitement around getting this particular Bike Friday. I found it particularly attractive that the bike – which had a wheel upgrade years earlier - not only came with an airline-ready case (which the previous owner simply taped shut and slapped a UPS label on) but a bunch of additional parts: the original wheels, tires and brakes, as well as the original owner's manual, a VHS tape and assorted tools – which arrived later in another box.

The most difficult challenge I faced during the first day after I brought my new purchase home was remembering where I had put my VCR. After rummaging a few boxes, I found it and hooked it up to my $5 tag sale television. Though a little grainy, the narrator on the eleven-year-old tape congratulated me for buying a Bike Friday, which produces 'a line of comfortable bikes with nothing to be ashamed of.'

The video showed a Bike Friday-specific option that I didn't have: one could (and still can) buy a special trailer kit so that when you land at your destination, you unpack your bike from the suitcase, put a pair of wheels and a small frame onto said suitcase, put your other luggage into said suitcase and then you can tow said suitcase away from the airport.

There's a technical term for that. Ah, yes: brilliant.

After several minutes of watching glowing testimonials and reminicing about how hairstyles looked in the 1990s, I set to work assembling my bike. I first unfolded the main body and seatmast and set it on the workbench.

I did take several minutes to assemble, but I also thought the bike might need and endless series of adjustments to make the chain and shifters work properly. But they worked fine, and the rear wheel turned easily. I put the rear rack on, added a seatpost bag and a bracket for my Garmin Edge GPS. I set the bike on the floor, and despite the old tires and ugly handlebar tape (both would be replaced later) it really was a pretty good looking bike.

Since I was new to this whole Presta valve thing, I didn't have a pump, so I inflated the tires with a CO2 inflator, and made a note to myself to buy a Presta valve pump (and I would later regret buying a cheap one). I also added a DIYBIKING.COM branded bike box before setting off early one morning on a test ride to answer one question: how good of a folding bike is this?

The big adjustment was the U-shaped handelbars. Save for the ones that showed up on a few Saved from the Scrapheap bikes, I had very limited experience with them. The old-school shifters on the ends of the bars had something to be desired too: I found that I could ride with my hands in a comfortable position. I found I could ride with my fingers near the shifters. I also found I could ride with my hands at the brakes. I just couldn't do all three of those things at the same time. Thankfully, I got used to it, and as a chronic overshifter I found that having the levers where they were kept me from clicking too much into a new gear for no reason.

The bike was fast. The seat was surprisingly comfortable. The steel frame did a decent job absorbing some of the bumps. Crossing the train tracks the pass diagnally across Rt. 106 was a little intimidating because of the small wheels – until I remembered the recumbent's front wheel is even smaller than these.

After riding into New Canaan, I sat at my favorite coffee shop and thought awhile. Ten miles into the trip and I realized that all of my criticisms of the New World Tourist had to do with things that had nothing to do with the fact it was a folding bike: the unfamiliar handlebars, brakes, shifters, riding position and the Presta valves were all common road bike issues. The small tires and strange looking frame wasn't an issue at all; the bike feels solid and fast. Even though folding it into its case involved a little bit of time and some special tools, it looked like it was ready for travel. And it was: already it has been to Boston, Orlando, New York, Cleveland, Stamford (naturally) and Santo Domingo. And here's something: the wheelbase is so small, I can fit the bike, standing up, in the back of my Honda Element and bungee it to the wall, with no need to remove a wheel or use my homemade Honda Element bike rack. And because of the low top tube, it is easy to get on and off of it: a guy in his sixties I saw riding one in Massachusetts said that was part of the reason he was using his Bike Friday everyday.

I don't name my bikes (you know, so death can't find them) but I bonded with this one in a strange way. When I discovered I couldn't bring it on my trips to Britain and India, I hung it on a hook in my shop and apologized to it. “I'll bring you next time, I swear.”

Later, when I was picking up my Five Boro Bike Tour rider number at Bike Expo New York I ran into the Bike Friday booth, and even saw the newest New World Tourist and some of their other rides. I thought that the 1998 model I bought was good, but today's version looks even better, so if you're looking for a reliable long haul travel bike and don't mind taking more than 10 minutes to (correctly) fold it into the suitcase, check out Bike Friday any day of the week.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Folding Bike Week 2012: The Mystery of South Norwalk

This past June I was on a morning bike ride with the recumbent. I had traveled early in the morning on Rt. 1 north to Westport to follow Rt. 136 on the way back. While passing through South Norwalk, with over 10 miles to go to get back home, I came across this.

I looked at it a long time to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing: an abandoned folding bike. It was on a public sidewalk far from houses and buildings. There was nobody around. The tires were flat, the wheels were bent, and the headset was terribly loose, so I figured it wasn't ridden to its current location. It also had a kickstand, and I reasoned that if someone had cared for the bike it would be sitting on it in a secure place anyway, or carried inside since it was so small.

I have a habit of picking up things I find along the ride, whether it is a piece of a trailer hitch or a nice woman's credit and debit cards. But I had to balance my impulse with my current situation, which is that I had no immediate way to get something this size home.

I folded the mysterious little bike, and at that moment the sun came out. I just knew I couldn't just leave it there. It was a very Linus from The Peanuts moment: "It isn't such a bad little folding bike. All it needs is a little love."

I then remembered a picture I saw in Momentum magazine of a pretty woman with pink hair sitting happily on Xtracycle cargo bike carrying a Brompton in the back. The photographer and the woman were one in the same (Lillian Karabaic of Portland, Oregon) and The caption was 'Carry it on a Bike'.

I didn't have an Xtracycle, but thinking of that inspiring image made me wonder: what do I have?

I opened up the bike box and rummaged in my tool kit. Ever since repairs of the recumbent began to increasingly involve welding, I had begun carrying things in the kit I didn't normally, like hose clamps normally used in plumbing applications. I also carry, on a regular basis, wire ties and duct tape; the former can be used in an emergency if a screw pops out of a rear rack or the like. But I was now using the ties and one of the clamps in non-advisable manner.

I also used some electrical tape to keep the bike from unfolding itself, and had to use some of my reusable wire ties to secure it to my rear rack. Don't try this at home – or on the road, for that matter.

Before long, I was able to secure my fine no-fendered friend to the recumbent. It looked like the bicycle equivalent of Leonard, the circus performer with the small, conjoined twin, 'Lenny' on the 'Humbug' episode of the X-Files (you know the guy), but I was reasonably sure it would hold.

It did.

The presence of a folding bike tumor on the side of the rear rack did affect the recumbent's handling, but I was still able to pedal it home (even breaking 20 miles an hour in places) using Rt. 136 and then Rt. 1 from Darien. I had to dangle my right butt cheek off of one side to act as a counterbalance, but the recumbent didn't get any more or fewer stares than normal. When I got it home, I felt more satisfied than I normally did upon the conclusion of a 30 mile ride and put the find on the PCS-12.

It really was in rough shape. In addition to its other ailments, the rear brake pads were useless so I fitted new ones. The rear tube held air, but the front one burst out of a split in the tire like a boil and, in typical fashion, exploded an hour later when I was doing something else in the shop.

Still not knowing anything about this bike's identity, I decided it was worth spending a little money on. I went to Danny's Cycles with the front tire in a saddlebag and asked for help in locating tires. I had never even heard of the 14” tire size before but an associate helped me determine that they did exist. Instead of leaving to buy the tire online, I ordered a new set of tires for the mystery folder with an assurance from the store that I'd be called when the tires came in.

About a week later, I got the call and headed into the store. A different associate helped me this time, and when I said 'weird size' he knew exactly which tires were mine: 14” x 1.75” Kendas.

After returning home, I resumed working on the bike. The bent rims were so battered the side of one of them had to be bashed with a hammer before they could be placed onto a truing stand. Even after cleaning it up and straightening them the best I could, the wheels weren't perfect but they turned okay, and the brakes worked better. The amount of force needed to make the bike stop told me new cables should be in order, and the pedals looked like they needed an upgrade too.

However, I still had no way to find out how it came to be abandoned in South Norwalk. For all I know, it could have been part of a drug deal gone good or a marriage proposal gone bad...or something.

Regardless of its past, it began to find a new life in my fleet as I began trying to learn more about it. Its heavy frame and rugged construction made me wonder if it was made for a life around boats at the shore, so one weekend I brought it to Mystic to see if it would blend it.

I frequently see folding bikes at or near the marina by the Mystic Seaport that look like they could be in the same kingdom, class, order, genus or even species as my bike. But none of them shared the same strange tire size.

Later, after I finally put on new brake cables and some folding pedals I bought in Cleveland, I took the bike to Devon, Pennsylvania as I was heading there on a non-bike related trip. But I found that despite its rather heavy weight, it was a piece of cake to bring it on board Amtrak.

Even though the bike wasn't the best one to take on a ten mile ride, it was still a bike, and I had fun riding it. I took it to High Road Cycles (which has indoor bike parking, by the way) and asked the nice employees and some curious customers if they could identify it, but they were all completely stumped.

Folding Bike Week 2012 may come to a close with the Mystery of South Norwalk still unidentified, but no matter: though it is heavy, slow, and a little strange: I now have the Jason Bourne of folding bikes. If you know what it is or where it came from let me know...or feel free to suggest a name.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

DIYBIKING.COM Proudly Presents: Folding Bike Week 2012!

Welcome to Folding Bike Week 2012! The second-annual weeklong celebration that is not to be confused with Shark Week, which also, by sheer coincidence, is this week. However, sharks and folding bikes do have a lot in common: they are cool, completely misunderstood, have been around a long time, may bite if you don't respect them and aren't often found on land.

I'm not suggesting we'll find folding bikes in the water, but there are times you have to work really hard to spot one on the roads. Scrolling through the thousands of pictures I took over the past year I only found a small number of folding bikes, including this gem I saw on my trip to Boston.

Just look at it. It's a folding bike equivalent of a camouflage-painted pickup truck with jumbo tires and a gun rack in the back window...yet it oozes urban confidence. It even has a plastic bag on the seat; part of the credentials of a great city bike – or maybe he just wanted to hide his Brooks saddle.

Other than that, the sightings have been rather limited, and I am always on the lookout for unusual folding bikes. I took a picture of this elegant-looking one in Manhattan in the fall of 2011, somewhere near Grand Central Terminal.

More than six months later, on a completely unrelated trip, I watched in awe as the Space Shuttle Enterprise was being lowered onto the deck of the Intrepid Museum...

 ...and on the way back I saw an unusual folding bike on the Hudson River Greenway. Since I still had my cell phone camera out I took a quick photograph.

It wasn't until much later, when going through cell phone pictures, that I had defied all mathematical probability and had, almost certainly, taken a picture of the same bike two different times; like Harry running into Sally in five-year increments. It's a fascinating looking bike and I wish I knew what it was. If you or someone you know owns this folding bike, please step forward as I want to know what it is and/or how much you want for it.

In fact, I'd like everyone who owns a folding bike to step forward, for this is your week. Tell your folding bike story and get more people to understand our passion for bikes that are hinged somewhere in the middle third. Talk about what you own, where you go, exchange folding bike facts on Twitter at #foldingbikeweek, and check back with DIYBIKING.COM all week for folding bike fun.

Choose to be touched by Folding Bike Week.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)