Friday, August 22, 2014

Building a City Bike on a Budget

Remember the Make Offer bike from my trip to Concord? That was supposed to be cut up and turned into a sculpture by now. But like the classic Schwinn Worldsport I got a couple of years ago - and tried unsuccessfully to sell it in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy - it just proved too nice to take it to the reciprocating saw.

So I decided to see if I could make it work for a city - with the extra challenge of not spending any money on the bike aside from tires and a chain. 

The only reservation I had is that the 700c is a new wheel size. Not only that, but deciding to keep the bike might make others think I'm endorsing the Presta valve. I'm not. I still maintain that Presta valves are to bikes the way eating a pizza with a knife and fork is to Jon Stewart. 

That is my position. But back to the build. 

First thing I needed to do was get rid of the road bike handlebar. That involved peeling off the handlebar tape and being left with a sticky result I could - barely - squeeze through the opening on the handlebars. It also meant I got to get rid of a fossilized bug that was stuck in the brake lever.

It happens. 

Next I had to push an aluminum handlebar I had lying around through the opening - after I shortened it slightly with a pipe cutter.

Then came the task I dread: putting on new grips. I made the mistake of trying a set of silicone grips I must have acquired from a joke shop. I did find, when I was building a singlespeed, that hand sanitizer works well as lube - but I wasn't getting off that easy this time. 

I reasoned that pushing a piece of bike part through the handlebar it would cause the spring to proportionally compress the grip and force it onto the bar. 

I reasoned wrong.

Instead, I pulled the grip off after 30 minutes of struggling. Rummaging around, I found two black rubber handgrips that didn't match. 

Then I remembered I had a cheap SRAM twist-grip shifter. I never understood why shifters on these old bikes are down by one's knees anyway, so it seemed like a good time to get rid of those. 

I also decided that now would be a good time to figure out if I could get away without a front derailleur - something I've always had trouble adjusting. Plus, I thought: what do I need a climbing gear for in downtown Stamford?

A 52 tooth gear from another Saved from the Scrapheap bike fit perfectly on the spider…and made the others seem quite small.

I wasn't in the mood to remove the bottom bracket, so the reciprocating saw was used to get rid of the gears I didn't want. So instead of a 21 speed bike, I had a seven speed. 

Now I needed to figure out how to get the cables to stay where I wanted them to. When I modified the recumbent a couple of years ago, I found a metal bit from an old bike that would hug the frame and give the cable a place to rest. At first I thought about using a plastic bracket from a reflector.

After worrying about the pressure it would be under - and not caring for the look - I ended up finding a metal bracket that may or may not have come from The Mysterious Raleigh Sports.

With the shifter in place, the cable where it needed to go, and a rear rack I had lying around and the bag from my former office bike, I had myself a new ride.

Riding this reminded me of the compromise that is made between speed and comfort. The ride is fast but stiff. Still, it beats spending $0.17 per mile to drive my car. 

And with little traffic I can get from my house to Lorca in about ten minutes (As an aside: there are a lot more bikes showing up on Bedford Street and in downtown Stamford so I'm hoping the city takes action with bike parking soon - I'll hopefully have more for you about that in another post).

In addition to being useful for Lorca and grocery runs, it can go a little bit further if necessary. I took it to the Rowayton Arts Center just yesterday - the day they were having their Chantey Sing.

The 700c wheel size makes it big and rather unwieldy on Metro North; I tried it on a non-peak train. And my legs felt like lead when I biked home. Still, it's a good fast bike as long as it stays in Stamford.  Look for it on the road or chained to a parking meter in front of Lorca - and be safe out there on your own bike. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: Just Go Ride, Already.

Now I was going to do a very detailed post today about the Microbike - the little Swedish folding bike I picked up at a tag sale last year. I emailed Sven (you remember Sven) and asked for an update. He said he hasn't yet found a commercial partner in Sweden but is currently - and optimistically - looking in the rest of Europe. 

That's a Microbike update I could have put in a tweet. It doesn't really lend itself to a long post.

But I decided to elaborate a bit more on that point by taking my Microbike out for a long-awaited outdoor spin - it hasn't been anywhere since I fixed it last summer. 

That meant inflating the 12" tires. The design of the rims makes it difficult to fit an ordinary pump in place - I hope Sven thinks about that if/when the Microbike is brought back. 

Lucky for me, I didn't have to hook up my air compressor at 6:30 in the morning - because I have the seatpost that came with my Dahon Matrix when I bought it in 2009. Today, I have a Cane Creek Thudbuster which makes a more comfortable ride, but I do like the idea of a pump integrated within a seatpost. 

The tire inflated easily, and I rode off to the beach. The belt was very smooth and the bike was quiet. When I came to the sand, the bike fit right in.

So that's how best to bring folding bike week to an end: get on your bike, whether it has hinges or not, and ride somewhere. Somewhere fun that brings a smile or incites laughter. I don't know where that is, but I'm sure that you do. So log off and take a ride. Thanks so much for joining DIYBIKING.COM for Folding Bike Week 2014, and thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: The Mystery of South Norwalk…Revisited

Two years ago I was out on a bike ride and I found small, abandoned folding bike on a sidewalk in South Norwalk. I figured out how to attach it to the side of the bike I was riding and carried it 13 miles to get it home - where I nursed it back to health - eventually adding a DIYBIKING.COM sticker to the blank top tube. 

I began using it, but quickly realized I wanted a bigger chainring and crank arms that were less stubby, so about a year and a half ago I went ahead and changed the bottom bracket from a Saved from the Scrapheap bike, which was tricky but successful operation.

When I welded a homemade tow package to the bike, I found I could use it to transport bicycles short distances and have a way to get back home - such as my Free to a Good Home - in Cleveland trip that brought me to the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op

Even without the rack - or when I wasn't using it - I found myself using the bike quite often - usually for trips when I wanted to ride but didn't want to have to lock a large bike someplace. 

It's small size also gets it on board Amtrak easily, which is why the bike went with me to the League of American Bicyclists 2014 National Bike Summit this past winter - where the bike stood up to an incredible amount of Hoth-like abuse.

And who can forget the bike's role helping Bike Walk Connecticut promote a successful Bike to Work Day Event in Stamford?

Just the sight of Lorca makes me want an alfajore cookie.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice subtle changes to the bike over time. I replaced the handgrips, seat, tires, both wheels, chain, the chainring, brake cables, brake levers and the front and rear brakes. I knew it would never be a disposable bike or something I'd turn into a sculpture, but I didn't expect it to carve out a respectable place in my life. Today, the newest change is the wonderfully loud bell I bought for 100 Rupees ($1.66 U.S.) during my Delhi and Gurgaon adventure earlier this year. 

But over time it began to bother me that I've never seen another bike like it - anywhere. So I decided I needed to find out where the bike came from. 

Like Philomena in reverse. 

So I started looking online. The 14" wheel size was a distinguishing characteristic so I used that for a lot of the Google searches hoping to find a match.

I didn't find anything.

I emailed Michael Embacher, the famed bicycle collector in Vienna who is responsible for the great coffee table book Cyclepedia (also an app, of course) but haven't (yet) heard back. A search for the serial number gave me nothing. Posting on a bike forum also gave me nothing. A visit to also didn't get me closer to the origins of my ride, but I did get to learn quite a lot from them about the long history of folding bikes

Some of the searches of South Norwalk's partial or complete serial number (which starts with the letters: KD) brought me to truly odd results, such as the Canadian Police Information Center, which briefly made me wonder if South Norwalk was a fugitive from the Canadian government. But that was a dead end, too. Even though I finally found a folding bike that had 14" wheels, SoloRock, at Bike Expo New York, I knew it wasn't related to my ride.

Unbelievably enough, I found my answer on eBay. All I did was type in the words 'folding bike.'

Rolling through the pictures, I came to find someone selling what looked to be an identical bike (two days left on that auction, if you're interested). Even comes with a bag to carry it in. And on the top tube the words "Roll N Fold" appear.

A few more searches of that term brought me a couple of more online classified ads for identical bikes. That clinched it. 

"You have brothers and sisters," I said to South Norwalk, which was sitting in my home office at the time. 

Even though I found the name of the bike…the search quickly went cold again. From what I could find, 'Roll N Fold' had been an  'abandoned' trademark for more than a dozen years, and the trademark had been (or, possibly, still is) owned by T.V. Products USA Inc.

This made me wonder if my bike was once the star of a television informercial: some cheery woman with perfect teeth pulling out a bike and riding it off only for Ron Popeil to tell her: "You're not going to pay $100 for my product."

And a guy watching at home, slouched on a couch in a dark living room,  smearing peanut butter on Cheetos*, looks at the TV and thinks: "That's what my life needs. A folding bike."

Eventually, I got an email reply from someone had sent him a photo of a Roll N Fold some years earlier and notes suggested the bike was bought at an RV dealership. The person who contacted me speculated the bike may have been imported from Asia and sold through RV dealerships or RV magazines. 

But anyway: I couldn't find anything more. But I did find out South Norwalk's name: Roll N Fold. It's a cheap folding bike that actually, in my opinion, works very well…after swapping every component but the frame. 

From here on out, I am still going to refer to that bike as South Norwalk. There is precedence, here: when you found out the name of the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files he was still the Cigarette Smoking Man, wasn't he?

Whatever the name is on your folding bike: enjoy your ride. 

*I've never tried that. I don't think anyone should. Not so much the taste but the tensile strength of the Cheeto couldn't support…never mind. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: The Dahon Formula P18

As most of you know, my appreciation of folding bikes began when I bought the Dahon Matrix in 2009. I still use that bike to this day: 26" wheels, easy enough to go on Metro North, durable enough to hook a trail-a-bike to, and dignified enough to ride in Manhattan in a suit and tie.

But I've soured on Dahon since finding out the Matrix had been discontinued. There really wasn't another one like it and it was frankly irritating to be the owner of yet another 'orphaned' bicycle model. 

Now Dahon never said the words: "How can I make it up to you?" but they may as well have...because I've had the chance to ride this.

This is the Dahon Formula P18 lent to me by NYCeWheels. This bike doesn't have the same M.A.S.K.* vibe as the Matrix - because the Matrix doesn't look like a folding bike and this obviously does - but Dahon packed enough folding bike goodness in this thing to make it something special. 

For starters, you've got disc brakes. You never realize how massive disc brakes are until they're fitted on 20" wheels. You also never realize how powerful disc brakes are until you're on a little bike like this. I'm pretty sure if enough Dahon Formulas rode on the equator and they all stopped at once it would affect the tides. But if you're riding in a place where you'd want the ability to stop suddenly (like New York City) sensitive brakes are a nice feature. 

You also have plenty of speeds thanks to the 9 speed cassette in the back on the dinner plate-sized chainring in the front. The flat handlebar allows you to grip the bike like you mean it - but comfortably - while the push button shifters make you feel like you're on a mountain bike.

But this bike isn't made for off-roading. What it seems to be built for is long-haul road rides - and I got to take it on a couple that were more than 20 miles each. This bike likes speed, and I found myself standing out of the saddle quite often to really feel the wind roar by. 

And unlike the Tern I reviewed earlier, which is a little on the large side, this bike actually becomes quite small when you fold it. However, the fold is different since you have to adjust the handlebar height so the bars can fit between the wheels on the fold - and not interfere with the magnetic clasp. That also means that each time you unfold the bike you have to take a few moments to bring the bars back to the preferred position. But on the plus side: when it is folded, one can bring it into a coffee shop without seeming to bother anyone. 

I also carried the bike into Whole Foods just to see if anyone would try to stop me. Nobody did, but that may have been because I smelled pretty bad at the time (it was a very hot day) and store managers may have just wanted to avoid my Pig-Pen cloud. And carrying it a long distance - to the dairy aisle and back - reminded me how pleasantly light it is. 

So I still miss the bigger, heavier, slower, cheaper but stealthier Dahon Matrix, but I do have to give credit where it is due for the Formula (available, of course, at NYCeWheels). Having to adjust the handlebars to get it to fold (and the fact one should carry a mini tool with them at all times in case a hinge needs an adjustment) isn't a deal breaker: if you want a pedal-powered rocket sled, the Dahon Formula P18 will not disappoint.

*If you had to look at this, you probably didn't grow up watching cartoons in the 1980s. You also probably don't know that V.E.N.O.M. stands for Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: Selling REI's Novara Flyby

It's a little known fact that I recently applied for a part-time job at REI.

The key word here is applied - I've held an REI membership for years but I do not now nor have I ever worked there. 

In addition to managing this site, I am a freelance writer and researcher. Freelancing is the Texas hold 'em of careers - you're either winning big or you're broke. So I've been hoping to find regular work that is fun, meaningful and challenging - but I'll settle for two out of the three. 

Believing a job at REI would at least cover one of the three, I applied for something in the bike department at the Norwalk store. However, I was called back and offered a chance to come in for a group interview to be an associate. I wasn't sure what that meant, but decided to go along. Since a suit wouldn't be right for this, I made sure to dress in clothing bought from REI.

Except my socks. Those were from EMS. I worried they'd know.

Most of the interview involved sitting in a warehouse-looking room with friendly applicants learning about REI from a presentation put on by three knowledgable REI associates. Eventually, they broke us off into groups to have us do a series of tasks. We all knew we'd be observed performing these tasks, but I have to hand it to REI: since we all felt comfortable with one another (in a third act of The Breakfast Club sort of way) we all worked well together and enjoyed ourselves.  

One of the tasks put us into pairs, and we were told to 'sell' to the rest of the group any product from the store. One of the associates stressed we'd have to be able to easily bring the item back to the room - which instantly ruled out kayaks.

As we left the room to go to the floor, I asked the woman I was paired with, Lauren*, if she had any ideas. Since she didn't, I told her I had an idea and we walked to where REI's bikes are. 

I pulled out the Novara FlyBy - which I believe is related to (or built by) Tern

Lauren wasn't at all familiar with folding bikes, so I gave her a few points on how folding bikes worked and what their value was. I noted that the bike was made for commuters as the chain features a covering that keeps trousers from being messed up, and the internal gearbox in the rear hub meant fewer moving parts exposed to the elements. 

I folded it fairly easily to show her how it was done - like the Tern bike I reviewed for NYCeWheels, the Flyby features a magnetic clasp to keep the bike together while folded up. That was another thing that made me wonder if the FlyBy was to Tern what CVS aspirin was to Bayer.

I unfolded the FlyBy again before we rolled it back into the room. After only spending a couple of minutes planning what to say, we waited our turn to speak. The pair that went before us put together a very strong case for one of REI's BPA free water bottles. Then it was our turn, so Lauren and I went to the front of the room with me pushing the bike and Lauren glancing at notes.

"Here we have the REI FlyBy bike," she said with the perfect level of persuasive enthusiasm.  "This is great, you know the big thing now is going green, you want to save on gas, want the air to stay clean so this is a very good alternative for commuters. If you have to make that commute, you can fold the bike up in a matter of moments..."

Even though we hadn't agreed on any sort of cue, I folded the FlyBy in front of the group as she continued to speak. 

"…if you're getting on the train, if you're getting on the bus, Metro North does accept this, and in moments you're ready to go." She then turned it over to me. 

I added that because it is a folding bike, you can get around Metro North's train restrictions for peak hours, so you can bring it on absolutely anytime. I added that money will be saved by FlyBy owners since they will "never have to park your car at the railway station again" and the small size meant it could be tucked under a desk.  

I also revealed the price: about $600. "It sounds like a lot, but it really does add up in savings and just general happiness with green living the longer you own it," I said - slightly mangling my words. 

Lauren brought us to the big finish:  "And it is fun and you're getting exercise at the same time." 

The REI associates - and the rest of the group - seemed impressed, and one of them told the group that REI actually pays a public transit subsidy to employes - a nice perk among an already good list of benefits for REI employees.

I was impressed at how quickly Lauren sounded like someone who had been around folding bikes her whole life - and soon after the third team made their presentation, the group interview ended. We said goodbye, and she half-joking told me she wanted to get the bike for her grandson. 

It wasn't until today that I actually visited the Novara Flyby page on to see how the bike - which I never actually had the chance to ride - was being sold. It's not bad, but if I could put my freelancer cap on for a moment REI: you could do better on the ad copy and I can help. If you disagree, please ask Lauren to do the rewrite - hopefully she's wearing a REI name tag by now. 

* Not her real name. But I named her 'Lauren' in this post since Lauren Bacall died yesterday. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Folding Bike Week 2014: I Take A Tern

This is the Tern Node D8 - a folding bike I got to try thanks to NYCeWheels. The picture above is how it looked the day I returned it.

And the picture below is what it looked like the day I got it. See the 30+ year-old Return of the Jedi action figure in front? That's for scale.

Now I own a Dahon Matrix, which has 26" wheels, so I'm no stranger to big folding bikes. The Tern features 24" wheels and I briefly thought I'd need an engine hoist to lift it out of the box. After some required assembly, the Tern Node D8 was sitting right there in my basement.

This was my first exposure to a Tern and I had to say I was impressed out the gate. The hinges closed like the doors of a bank vault and the frame looked pleasantly overbuilt. The fenders, bell, and rear rack that came with it told me this bike is for commuting. 

It also has a rather clever feature found on some newer folding bikes: a magnetic clasp that holds the bike closed once it is folded up. The lack of something like this is a weakness of the now-discontinued Dahon Matrix, which tended to fall open whenever I'd pick it up. The magnet on the back of the Node D8's frame, though, is strong enough to hold the bike together - and hold 53 paper clips.*

But not at the same time. 

The fold of this bike is intuitive. Even though it doesn't have a nice grippy feature on the bottom of the seat like a Brompton, I found I could carry it fairly easily by lifting part of the frame. I wouldn't be inclined to move it for long distances as it is, as I said, a large folding bike.

As far as the ride goes, there's little I can tell you other than it's good. It doesn't feel at all like it is made for speed, but rather for every unfilled pothole, every seam in the concrete, every steel plate, every speed bump, every poor driveway cut and every other hazard found on city streets. The design seems to say: "you bought me to get you to work on time, and you are going to get to work on time." Therein lies the tradeoff of the large wheels: the bike may be a little less portable, but you won't react to unavoidable potholes the way the crew of the Starship Enterprise reacted to incoming photon torpedoes. 

However, as I found in the course of my testing, the bike's size when folded is small enough to fit on Metro North. If you find a car with the fold-down seats, it can sit right beside you and not bother any of the passengers who need the aisle.

When sitting beside it, the Node D8 seat also made for a comfortable armrest.

Additionally, this folding bike passed a little-known test on this commute to Manhattan: If a bike can be completely ignored by any and all Metro North employees during peak hour trains but draw admiring comments from attractive professional women, the bike is a winner.

And I have to say the Node D8 really did come alive in the city. As I said, it's not a fast bike and the rides I did in early mornings in Stamford, far from traffic, might have made the bike feel slower than it actually is. But in New York City, it behaves like it's made for all of this.

So if you're looking for a folding bike and you use the word 'rugged' when you describe to the staff at NYCeWheels or another local bike shop, the Node D8 by Tern may be the right choice. And if you want to know more about my time with the Tern, please see the posts I made for NYCeWheels

*Or however many paper clips are in the picture. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

DIYBIKING.COM Presents: Folding Bike Week 2014

Bike commuters spotted on a recent trip to London

Welcome to Folding Bike Week 2014!  When you're not looking at seals being turned into cold appetizers in front of cameras on the Discovery Channel - come straight to DIYBIKING.COM for all of your folding bike needs!

Yes, Folding Bike Week is always on during Shark Week. You may ask what folding bikes have to do with sharks, but get past the issue: Volkswagen has just about nothing to do with sharks but it doesn't stop them from sponsoring Shark Week, does it? 

Simplicity bikes (by Worksman)

This week exists because folding bikes deserve a special place - both in our hearts and on our calendars. They're our answer to tiny apartments. Our solution to high-priced car racks. And, perhaps most importantly, folding bikes are our glorious loophole of unfair travel rules on Metro North and other commuter trains. 

Yeah, that's London - which has long ago decided to encourage (or, at least, remind) commuters to take folding bikes on the train.

This Folding Bike Week you are once again encouraged to post photos or any kind of folding bike lore on Instagram or on Twitter using the hashtag #foldingbikeweek (you can also follow me on Twitter @michaelknorris or Instagram at @michael_kenneth_norris).

This week I've got a couple of new and different bikes to talk about thanks to a strategic alliance with NYCeWheels, which is an outstanding shop at 1603 York Avenue (between 84th and 85th) that specializes in electric scooters, electric bike conversion kits, and, of course, folding bikes. I'm also going try to learn some of the history of our fine small-wheeled friends, see if I can determine the origin story of The Mystery of South Norwalk and see what's new with MicroBike.

My editorial calendar is very loose this week, so hit me up if you have special folding bike news, have any folding bike events going on or, if you're a bike shop, you have a sale on folding bikes falling on Folding Bike Week. And if you own a folding bike, undo the hinges, raise your seat, and ride with pride. If you don't own a folding bike, be inspired and walk to NYCeWheels or another local bike shop and ride out in style.

Choose to be touched by Folding Bike Week.