Tiny Bikes and Changing Needs

Regular readers of the blog may have noticed the recent addition of a pair of folding bikes to our stable. Our transportation needs, as well as our future plans, have been evolving, and as a result we’re making a few adjustments.

As we’ve become more involved with the bicycling community in the larger surrounding area, we’ve had a need to transport our bikes more frequently. When we can, we either ride or take the train to various events, but often times the distances are too great or the transit schedules simply don’t work. In these cases, we’ve had to resort to renting or borrowing a truck, or simply skipping the event (we’re not fond of vehicle bike racks, but I’d rather not go into that here). Now, with a pair of folding bikes, we can either drop them in the back of our little car and drive to the event, or take them on the bus when the train schedule doesn’t work (not all of our buses have bike racks).

As our family is growing up and heading off to college, we have mid-term plans to downsize fairly dramatically. When that happens, storage will become even more of a premium than it is now. Because of the work we do here at the blog, we often have at least one or two extra bikes around that we’re evaluating or photographing, so it only makes sense to keep the physical footprint of our personal quiver to a minimum, something the folders help with immensely (see above). This doesn’t mean we’ll replace our everyday, full-sized rides with folders, but it does mean we’ll have a mix of bikes that have less overlap and more completely cover our range of needs as we continue to do less driving and move toward a 100% car-free lifestyle.

We also hope to do some multi-modal touring in the future. We love trains, and nothing goes together better than a tiny folding bike and a passenger train. Bromptons are one of the select few bikes that will fit between the seat backs on passenger trains, which makes them packable on almost any train in the country. We envision a day when we take a trip across the country, partially on trains, partially on bikes, stopping along the way to do some bike touring in interesting towns, then getting back on the train to move to the next interesting town for another day or two of exploring. We can’t think of a better way to see the country (for us).

Some people will say owning 4-6 bikes to share among 2-3 people is extravagant. From our perspective, what is extravagant is the fact that 70% of Americans drive to work in cars, and that as a country we own 1.17 motor vehicles per licensed driver at an average cost of $9,641 per year, excluding loan payments (according to figures from the AAA). In this context, owning a few specialized bikes to help reduce your automobile use appears to be a great investment.

People who live in urban areas just a few blocks from their work and essential services have completely different needs than those who live in suburban or rural areas. Physical terrain such as hills, and weather considerations such as snow and rain, also factor into the equation. The goal is to figure out how best to utilize bicycles as car replacements in your life. This could mean anything from a simple one-speed crusier, to a garage full of specialized machines, and it could mean making a few adjustments as your transportaton needs evolve over time.

32 Responses to “Tiny Bikes and Changing Needs”

  • Dottie says:

    Well said! I really want a Brompton. Maybe one day.

  • Rene says:

    If you have young children you might want to try out the itChair for the brompton. I use it to get my daughter to her preschool an it is fantastic and when we go to Europe I just bring the itChair and put it on an other Bromptons we have there.

  • Sbcommute says:

    I agree completly. Everyone is different but I think most people who drive exclusively would be surprised at how most trips can be done easily on a bike. In fact, I would argue that a car is rarely essential.

    The more I ride the more I think cars are just plain silly.

  • Chris says:

    We saw our first Bromptons last summer in Paris. Had heard all about the ‘compromise’, but they sure looked well engineered, unlike my folder at home.

    Now, we were touring all over Paris on the Velibs. Hours a day. The seatpost didn’t extend far enough for me (6’1″), they didn’t have drop bars, or barcons, and (get this) — no Brooks saddle! I was never less than comfortable. The real revelation was the step through frame.

    Back in the states, bought one Brommie (white), sold our other folder, then got another Brommie (black); now the 650b bikes (from that wonderful place in Walnut Creek!) are gone too! Don’t miss them at all. We go into the supermarkets pushing them like carts, and into the library. Occasionally, if at work someone wants to give me a ride somewhere, it stuffs into the trunk.

    My commute in the desert Southwest is bimodal. I grew tired of the front bus rack; the Brommie is perfect for stowing aboard. Brompton UK owes us some back wages: We show the bikes wherever we go.

    We are also looking into train travel this summer, and will be stowing them in a little car for a northward journey.

    (Wildly jealous of the yellow and green model, btw — but I want a light blue and orange mix).

    Now, what will you do for luggage — Carradice or Brompton bags, or the (pricey!) Ortlieb?

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    We own several bikes per person and a car. The car is used for long-distance trips and for trips involving hauling large objects. Otherwise, mostly bikes. Does our lifestyle “justify” all our bikes, or are they “extravagant”? I think that should not even be a question posed to anyone. When someone says “You don’t need 6 bikes per household!” what they really mean is that *they* don’t need 6 bikes per household, and they are using this to determine what should be the standard for others. What people value, what they consider necessary to their quality of life, what they consider essential or beneficial – these are such personal choices, and I feel that regardless of our feelings about cycling, the environment, consumerism, etc., the right to an individual’s sovereignty needs to be respected first and foremost.

    So anyhow… yes, I want a Brompton. It would have to be 2 Bromptons, since my husband and I usually travel together. Not likely to afford that any time soon, but there is always the future.

  • Hercule says:

    “4-6 bikes to share amongst 2-3 people” is excessive? I’m not sure how we would be described with a lot more than that between 2 people! Unlike the car scenario, though, they’re ALL mine. I am slowly trying to rationalise my fleet, but saying that rationality doesn’t necessarily come into it. Whilst I’ll keep some because they are the best tool for a specific job, others I’ll keep because they’re fun/look fantastic/or we’ve been many miles together. The latter reason is one of the major ones for the size of my collection. I can’t consign old friends to the garbage.

  • voyage says:

    I get the folding bikes thing when you-are-on-the-perma-vacay-lifestyle. The RV crowd has been doing this for decades. But not everyone has reached that bliss point. And not everyone wants to ride a folder.

    Any inside on this operation:

    RentaBikeNow

    http://www.rentabikenow.com/

    ??

  • John Lascurettes says:

    Someday I hope to get a Brompton and travel as well. It’s 12 more years before my boy is off to college though.

    Just curious about your bike rack aversion; have your written previously about it? My family relies on our van when we need to portage more than one bike (or just my bike as removing the front dyno-hubbed, roller-braked wheel is not a casual affair).

  • jim says:

    We bought 2 Dahons last week & so far have been mightily impressed. Our idea, as was yours, was to use them when we needed to transport our bikes before riding them. Sure is a lot easier than hauling our beloved Opa & Oma onto a bike rack on the back of our tiny car. We transported them for the first time today and rode a 40 mile trail loop in a neighboring city. What a delight to ride! Maybe someday we’ll upgrade to a Brompton or a Bike Friday, but for the time being, we’re very happy.

  • voyage says:

    Next week I will test my 2.1 mile commute to work (three minutes by car, 12ish minutes by bike, 35ish minutes walking) by leaving an hour early for work on bike and spend 48ish minutes riding fast laps around the hospital/campus upon arrival. When I commuted straight in by bike (12ish minutes) I would arrive at work unsatisfied and not in the mood to work. And grouchy (you know, “Who died and named you Dante?” stuff like that). Walking in was okay, but I’ll try this new plan.

  • Renny says:

    Well Said Alan! I have many bikes myself, all for different purposes. I am liking the idea of owning a Brompton more and more; it would make multi-modal transport so much easier.

  • Helton says:

    Excellent post, and excellent points of view. Sometimes us riders become a bit unflexible about our hardly learned (self-taught) riding dogmas, and reformulate these thoughts as the time passes by, as we grow older, and as our needs change, is a most healthy habit.

  • Bill says:

    Great post. As readers here know, many people who don’t bike regularly still see bicycles as something akin to a luxury. They often don’t think of them as a full or part-time alternative to a car. I’ve spent about 15 of my 26 adult years without a car while using a bike as my primary means of transportation. I really should do the math sometime to see the dollar savings. Of course, that is only one small part of the savings and benefits that using a bike brings. A few months ago I purchased a Bike Friday as my touring bike and I’ve found it’s a great city bike. In fact, I could be completely happy with it as my only bicycle since it works for around town as well as world tour and it carries 4 panniers and/or a trailer.

  • Alan says:

    @Chris

    “Now, what will you do for luggage — Carradice or Brompton bags, or the (pricey!) Ortlieb?”

    Hi Chris,

    We have a number of Brompton bags we’re currently evaluating for an upcoming review. From what I can tell they’re all made by Radical Design in the Netherlands. The quality looks super. My favorite so far is the C-Bag. It holds plenty without being too big to lug around off the bike. The folding basket is also very handy for quick trips to the grocery store.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle

    “…I feel that regardless of our feelings about cycling, the environment, consumerism, etc., the right to an individual’s sovereignty needs to be respected first and foremost.”

    Well said and agreed!

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @John

    “Just curious about your bike rack aversion; have your written previously about it? “

    We’ve only discussed it a bit in the comments under a couple of prior posts. Without going into great detail, I can say I generally find them to be hard on cars, hard on bikes, overpriced, and lacking in versatility. I’m sure others will disagree, which is fine… :-)

    Alan

  • Nicolas says:

    Thank you for this post. I already own 3 bikes (+3 frames I have to do something with). Your arguments will help me convince my wife that it is essential for me to buy this folding bike I saw at the store ;-).

  • MTT says:

    Thanks for the post and sharing! Really like the application and couldn’t agree more about attitude towards driving vs biking in N. America. I think it is changing!!

  • Tom says:

    Thanks Alan for your views on bike racks! As usual your assessment is very accurate. I wish you would go into more detail about this subject. As a paddler too I’m not fond of spending $536 to carry a kayak on my roof, and that the “big 2″ rack makers don’t even have a safe fit for my 2009 vehicle? I’ve also suffered bike damage from racks and can’t imagine loading a Rivendell onto a swinging, swaying rack clacking into possibly another Riv.

  • Torben Finn Laursen says:

    The first tme I saw a Brompton my first impression was what a funny looking Gyro Gearloose bicycle.
    Later I tried one and ended up buying one. I have tried lots of bicycles and other folding bikes but always return to the Brommie with great pleasure . This folding bike is timeless old english fashion masterpiece, One of a kind. Which other folding bicycle has the same basic folding principle as when it was first released nearly 30 years ago ?

  • Leaf S. says:

    Great post. I own 4 bikes, 3 of which are rather nice (Rivendells). Considering I don’t drive at all (never even had a license) this probably isn’t extravagant. I’ve got the space to store them and all of them get used regularly. Still, if I did have to go down to 2 for some reason I’d definitely keep my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen and would replace my Surly Cross Check with an LHT. I could meet all my needs with those two bikes.

    –leaf

  • Leaf S. says:

    I wanted to add that I recently met this gent while out on a ride. I had never really considered a Bike Friday, but after I spoke with him it really got the wheels in my head spinning. He’s apparently toured extensively on this bike. Seems like one traditional bike and a tour ready Bike Friday would be nice for a person living in an apt or just wanting to not clutter up their space with bikes.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41335973@N00/4604952537/

    –leaf

  • d'Andre says:

    Alan,
    Thanks for this post; it’s the kind of passion + information post that I look for when I turn to you blog. I have to be honest, I feel as if your blog posts have changed a bit in the past 6 – 12 months….it’s hard to keep a blog going, keep the passion you feel for transportation biking on the front burner all the time, and I understand that, but I do feel that this post is more at the level of your blog when I first started reading it two years ago. Bravo!
    dW

  • Alan says:

    @d’Andre

    Thanks so much for the constructive feedback — it’s much appreciated. You are absolutely correct; the biggest challenge is keeping it fresh, 3-4 times per day, 365 days a year, particularly when the blogger (me) has a full-time career and family. I will definitely keep your feedback in mind when contemplating how frequently I should post and what type of content I provide in the future.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • randomray says:

    I keep thinking more about the number and types of bicycles and I wonder about the people questioning how many bicycles you have . I ask myself how many high quality bikes ” like you have ” can you buy instead of spending the money on one SUV ? Some where between 6 and 12 ? There a people that need SUV’s , but most people use them for short trips and if the weather gets bad they don’t drive them because they are so expensive and don’t want to damage them or they don’t have to go to work anyway . I’m more a middle price kind of bicycle rider , but I’m coming around to your way of thinking here . A Brompton or Bike Friday may be in my future .
    As someone with many things going on most of the time I only have time to read one of your posts a day anyway .

  • dave says:

    had a guy whistle in surprise at the huge cost of my xtracycle conversion – around $450 U.S.; wow – expensive he was saying. Especially since I already had a road bike. His 2nd car, a SUV, cost over $40,000 U.S.. And that’s just to buy. Operating expenses are another matter.

    Good friend of mine, at that. Uses the SUV on long weekend trips. But sometimes I have a hard time carrying on a conversation – often finding myself at a loss for words. So I go get a cup of coffee. Yum, coffee.

  • Mitch says:

    Hi Alan, If you don’t mind my asking, are you planning to eventually choose between the LHT and Civia? They seem to overlap a lot in function.
    Best regards.

  • Alan says:

    @Mitch

    My stable of bikes has been more or less in flux for 30 years, so even though I don’t have any immediate plans to let go of one or the other, I’m sure I will at some point. The problem is, I’m quite enjoying both of them right now, and my needs are covered well by my other bikes, so there’s no pressing reason to make a change at this point.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Dave

    “had a guy whistle in surprise at the huge cost of my xtracycle conversion – around $450 U.S.; wow – expensive he was saying. Especially since I already had a road bike. His 2nd car, a SUV, cost over $40,000 U.S.. And that’s just to buy. Operating expenses are another matter.”

    I get this all the time. Drive me nuts… LOL.

  • d'Andre says:

    As we all know, people reacting with surprise to the amount a commuter spends on their steed(s) just aren’t making the connection to the bike as a tool and mode of transport versus a toy for use on nice weekend afternoons in June. Those people should talk to a triathlete about cost for one of those bikes :-)

    In the not taking it seriously department, I got a related response from our HR group when trying to push them to sign up to allow us to take advantage of the tax break for bike commuters (if anyone has a success story to share on that topic, I’m all ears). Our HR director said that it really isn’t a significant enough benefit to justify the paperwork – after all, it’s not a year-round need since so many of our people are in the upper midwest. Indeed they are, and have you seen the cost of studded tires? Meanwhile, the program to allow staff to pay for parking with pre-tax dollars is in place and running smoothly. We also get some assistance on bus tickets, so it’s not all auto-centric.

  • Simple Living News Update says:

    […] Tiny Bikes and Changing Needs […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Fun with Folders says:

    […] between competing models, and figuring out how to fit them into our routine. As I mentioned in a recent post, we purchased a pair of Bromptons for those times where we need to take the bikes in the car or on […]

 
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