A recent article in the Times Business section told about an increasing number of business travelers who are trying, sometimes successfully, to take their bicycle, or at least their riding, along with them. As more people commute to work on a bicycle, there have sprouted up more options for folks trying to ride while on a trip:
“Recent efforts have made biking easier and safer. Hotels often offer bicycle rentals, and many American cities have created bike paths and lanes, improved markings on streets and installed bicycle traffic lights. And public-private bicycle sharing programs, based in large part on the success of European models, have begun or are in development in more than a dozen of the largest cities in the United States”
Traveling with a bicycle continues to pose vexing problems. The article documents some of them most common problems: paying inordinate amounts to greedy airlines for a regular-sized bike box; the inaccessibility and low quality of rental bikes; and not being able to use bike share programs in Europe because of our old style credit cards. I encountered this last problem while in Paris in 2008. I couldn’t have been more frustrated when the Velib payment machine wouldn’t take my card – as I watch Parisians float along on their shared bicycles.
Rentals might be OK for an afternoon of bike-path cruising, but I would like to ride one of my own bicycles, set up with components of my choosing and fit to my riding style — and I don’t think I’m alone. So, the best option is to take a bike with you. In order to avoid airline charges, it has to weigh less than 50 lbs and generally fit within 62 inches (length + width + height). There are, of course, folding bikes that fit within these limitations. Bromptons and Bike Friday travel bikes fit the bill very well. Once you get over the initial feelings of being a bear on a circus bike, they are actually pretty cool:
I had an old Brompton for a while. It was a three speed internal hub, with generator lights front and back. It folded very, very small and people liked the way it looked. It reminded my of a cramped version of my old Raleigh 3-speed. It wasn’t terribly comfortable over longer distances and I swapped it for another folder that rode more like a regular bike:
The Bike Friday Tikit rides much more like a full sized bicycle, fits to my preferred riding style, and will take full-sized double panniers on the front rack. Its darn fun to ride and I’ve done a 100 mile ride on it – not the most comfortable over the long distance, but great scenery in Eastern Kansas. The Tikit can be set up in a more randonneuring style that would make it more comfortable, but I have flat bars on it now. I also traveled to Chicago, where I met my brother on his regular bike and we rode ALL over town. I was able to see much more than on previous trips to Chicago – from Wrigleyville to Wicker Park, South Side, and Hyde Park. It was a gas. It was also incredible to get to my hotel, open my hard shell suitcase, and assemble a funcitonal bicycle in 10 minutes.
One of the benefits of a folder is that you can use it a lot around home. If you don’t bring a lock (or don’t want to lock up in a shady area), you can wheel it into a cafe, theater, hotel, bar, or grocer. It can also be stashed in the trunk of someone picking you up by car (gasp!). But they don’t ride exactly the same as a regular-sized bike. Granted, they ride better than some poorly-designed full-sized contraptions. There are three other viable options for a full-sized bicycle without charges: a Ritchey Breakaway (which packas a bit larger than the 62 inches, so fly at your own risk), a Surly Travelers Check, or a custom S&S coupler job or Breakaway lugs. I think a very useful travel bicycle would be a S&S coupled fixie. Less cables, clean lines, and fun city riding. Velohobo has an excellent set-up here.
Traveling with a bike is one of the best ways to experience a place — especially large cities where there are great neighborhoods off the beaten path.