Introduction - about the show
Today I visited the Cycle Show at ExCeL in London. The show is billed as “the UK cycling industry's premier event”, and it is taking place from 5-8 October 2006. I chose to go on the 5th as this was the trade and press day, and therefore potentially less crowded than the other days.
This report will concentrate on what I think will be of most interest to owners and prospective owners of folding bikes.
This year we were warned beforehand that the credentials of those visiting on the trade day would be scrutinised more thoroughly than in previous years - I didn't see any evidence of this, and I got in without trouble, or you would not be getting this report!
At a big show like this it's difficult to know where to start, so I first took a quick walk round the whole show before homing in on particular stands.
The main stands that I identified before the event as being potentially worthy of detailed inspection for folding bikes were (stand numbers in brackets):
Others that I had on my list before the event were:
At the event I added two more:
latest Sinclair effort, the A-bike, has attracted a lot of press publicity. It
really is very
compact when folded (67cm x 30cm x 20cm), and very
light (5.6Kg). This was the first time I had seen one in the flesh. I rode
one a short distance in the hall (!); it felt a bit unstable, but
that is a question of familiarity, and a very nice young lady from the stand
seemed to have no problems with it. The odd saddle design is certainly not very
comfortable, but it's done this way to as part of the way it folds into such a
compact package, and it seems unlikely that anyone would spend a lot of time on
it anyway, as the bike is clearly intended for only quite short journeys. I remain to be convinced about
the tiny wheels, but at this stage I'd rate it better than I expected, and I really
would like to give it a more thorough test.
Dave Holladay (who, for those who don't know him, is very tall) riding the A-bike to follow. The leaflet quotes a maximum weight of rider and any luggage as 85Kg (13 stone 5 lb), but does not give any guidance on rider height!
A-bike web site: http://www.a-bike.co.uk.
Airnimal have expanded from the original, mainly sporting, Chameleon to a range of 3 machines – the others being the Rhino and the Joey. All three machines are designed as high performance machines which can be folded – rather than folding being the primary design objective. They all fold and disassemble into quite small packages quite easily, but aren't so suitable for regular train-assisted commuting. Each of the 3 basic models is available in various component specifications. The frames are built in Taiwan, to a British design, and are assembled and sold from Cambridge here in the UK.
While it lacks some of the refinement of the Chameleon, the newer Joey is quite competitively priced, and is a little easier to fold and pack. Originally it used the same 24 inch 520 sized wheels as the Chameleon. One down side of these wheels is that although there are plenty of narrow high pressure road tyres this size, there is little in the way of more rugged tyres suited more to light, or heavy, off road work. Now some Joey models use the 507 sized wheel and tyre, for which heavier duty tyres are more readily available.
The Rhino is the off-road Airnimal, and uses 20 inch 406 wheels – more choice of mud-plugging tyres, and the bike features long-travel suspension front and rear.
I spoke to Richard Loke or Airnimal about the existing models, and these are some of the points which came up:
A single-speed Rhino has been added to the range, with carbon-fibre forks. As the Rhino is normally thought of as the off-road model, this might seem strange, but in this very lightweight form (around 21 pounds) this is billed as a fast city bike.
Some versions of the Rhino and Joey now offer the Rohloff hub. I have a Rohloff on one of my folders (the Dahon), so I was interested in Richard's experience. He tells me that most of those who choose it are very happy. However, he and some others (and I) have started very enthusiastic (14 gears, a good range, very evenly spaced, and only one control lever), but have become somewhat less enthusiastic with time, noting extra weight, loss of efficiency, and the extra noise in the lower 7 gears. I may discuss this in the futurre in another article.
The exciting news for this show is that as well as the new single-speed version of the Rhino, Airnimal have some other completely new bikes to offer. As many may know, their frames are built by Pacific Cycles in Taiwan, and extending the collaboration, Airnimal are now bringing into the UK one of the Pacific machines, the Reach, and a very attractive one at that. It has a cross bar, rather than a step-through frame, a folding rear rack, front and rear suspension (anti-dive at the front, an elastomer at the back, though it looks like an air shock) – suspension was very firm. I rode the Pacific around the terrace outside ExCeL, and in this extremely short distance it felt good.
Airnimal also had a Joey with BionX electric drive. This offers progressive motor assistance, and has a potential range of around 40 miles, depending on how the motor is used. The bike is remarkably light, quite reasonably priced, and, on a very short ride on a flat surface it felt very nice. Power feeds in very smoothly - on the flat terrace where I was trying the machine it felt as though I was riding down hill. There were a multitude of settings available on the control, which I did not explore in this brief test. I've never ridden an electric bike before, so I can't really make comparisons with other makes.
Sort-of sharing the stand, though in a separate area, was Cyclecentric (http://www.cyclecentric.com) – an entirely separate company, but with some shared interest. They had some interesting equipment on display – Bernds tandems for example, and Bacchetta recumbent bikes. Not on the stand (that I saw), but on their web site, is also the Hase recumbent.
stand with Bacchetta recumbents; the lighting completely fooled the camera!
Seeing the recumbents, I asked Richard Loke about the possibility of a recumbent Airnimal (ie a folder), but he prefers not be be quoted on this subject at this time ...
Andrew Ritchie (who
Brompton) riding the
Pacific Reach! For someone not used to riding a bike with a cross-bar, he
mounted in a very stylish manner, but dismounting proved more of a challenge!
Airnimal web site: http://www.airnimalfoldingbikes.com
Cyclecentric web site: http://www.cyclecentric.com
The majority of members of the Folding Society, and the people who contact us, are fairly serious about their cycling, and willing to spend accordingly. We always encourage people to understand that you generally get what you pay for. However, there are people who want folders for quite limited use, and for whom the price of a Brompton, Dahon etc, is excessive. There are quite a lot of cheap folders on the market, and it's very difficult for us to keep track of these, let alone carry out test on them. Thus, for example, we haven't any real experience of machines such as some of the Mission models and the Bike-in-a bag (mentioned elsewhere in this report). AS Bikes is one of those companies which offer some very cheap, basic folders. Unlike other suppliers of such machines, AS asked us to test one of their bikes a few months ago, and provide them with feedback. , and hence rather basic for our real enthusiast owners, but apparently very committed to improving his products; I tested one a few months ago, and a lot has improved since then, partly because he not only asked for an opinion, but thought about and reacted to the comments that were made. Since I tested the bike earlier this year a number of changes have been made (partly in response to my comments), and although I haven't had a chance to ride one of the new versions, they certainly show a number of improvements, and it is also rather nice to encounter a supplier who is genuinely interested in improvement of machines in this sector of the market. Both 16 inch and 20 inch wheeled models are on offer.
AS Bikes web site: http://www.asbikes.co.uk.
The Mezzo is one of the newest compact folder designs, and it created a lot of interest when it was launched. It was designed by Jon Whyte - a well-known name in mountain bike design - we are not sure how the situation is affected by the recent announcement that he is parting company with ATB. Two versions were announced originally – a model with four hub gears, and one with a 9-speed derailleur. We tested the Mezzo a while back (shortly after it was launched), and found it promising, but with a few areas which did not appeal to us personally, and to several other who tried the test bike. Unfortunately ATB were extremely unhappy with these observations, so I did not dare to approach anyone on the stand. I did, however, look at the bikes.
As well as the original silver colour, there is now an anodized black finish available (the silver paint version has apparently been discontinued, and the silver versions are now all anodized). This was the first time I had seen a Mezzo with a double chain ring, bringing the gear count up to 18. New to me (though available for quite some time I believe) was the rear rack, and the (quick release) bag to fit it. These are welcome improvements, though I am compelled to point out that the bag has to be removed early in the fold as it is mounted on the rear carrier. The rear carrier now has small wheels on it, so presumably you can tow the bike around on these when it is folded – if no rack is fitted there appear to be small wheels on the mudguard – very Brompton-like, though potentially with the same problems – ie the wheels are very small and the 'track' is very small too, so it is awkward to move the machine on anything other than a very flat surface, and it tends to want to topple over as you do this. As with the Brompton, there isn't really an answer to this (but see the section on the Birdy later), and even if this type of solution is not perfect, it is better than nothing. Overall the Mezzo people do seem to be carrying out good development of what was already a very promising machine.
Above: Left - double chainring on a Mezzo. Centre - Mezzo rear rack (allows the bag to be released easily). Right - Bag mounted on the rear rack.
Below: Left - folded Mezzo. Right - mudguard-mounted supplementary wheel to assist moving the folded bike.
It won't be visible in the very small, low quality, versions of the last picture above, but the tyre fitted on this machine was a high pressure Schwalbe (I did not note the type), which may well overcome a criticism of the bike we tested earlier in the year.
Incidentally, all the bikes on show had the familiar frame – there was no sign of the more curvaceous frame which one publication has suggested might appear at some time in the future.
Mezzo web site: http://www.mezzobikes.com
In the pre-show material the Birdy name was linked with another for the stand, but at the event only the Birdy name was visible. However, an important piece of news is that they now have a UK agent – Alan Davidson, a name familiar to some readers. There will be a UK web site I understand, though at present it points somewhere else. As well as Alan, one of the Riese und Muller people was on the stand at the show (the Birdy is probably the best known model made by German company Riese und Muller, though they do have quite a number of stylish non-folding bikes as well). I have a bit of a love ... well certainly not hate, but reservations ... relationship with the Birdy, having owned two but sold both; in its latest incarnation (see below), I'm really quite tempted ...
Birdy introduced a new, much more curvaceous, frame this year on all models except the old Red, and all the machines on the stand had the new frame (fashion is not everything, and I'm not all that influenced by it, but I do think it looks nicer, and more importantly I understand it is just a shade lighter too). I meant to ask whether the Red will eventually go the same way (two frame designs does not seem to make much sense, unless they are using up stock on the Red) – unfortunately I forgot in the excitement of the event.
Folded Birdy. This bike was in the spectacular,
and rather attractive, orange colour - which completely defeats many digital
cameras, including the one I was using on this occasion.
An interesting improvement is that if the 'folding', touring, carrier is fitted, small wheels can be fitted to allow the folded bike to be towed along behind you on, for example, a station platform. These are fitted so that the bike is actually leaning at an angle of 45 degrees, with the wheels well apart, so it seems a much better solution than the Brompton (and Mezzo) one, which is very unstable. The wheels are still very small though, and it would probably be difficult to pull it along like this on anything other than a platform (though difficult to imagine why one would want to do so.
Additional wheels on the carrier to make it easier to pull the folded bike along behind you. These wheels are quite small, but the bike is pulled in a sideways position, inclined at a bout 45 degrees, so it is very stable. As can be seen, this particular bike was fitted with hydraulic brakes
Another very attractive item on this stand was a range of Zwei bags – very stylish, light, quite weather resistant, and with effective mounting systems, including a Klikfix option for fitting on the handlebars. The bags come in 3 sizes and 4 colours, plus a laptop model (link to the web site for details below).
Alan told me that the Birdy is now assembled in Germany, and wheels are made there too; only the frame comes from Taiwan. I don't have anything against the Taiwanese, nor would I dream of doubting their quality (if the product is properly specified), but the commitment to ownership of processes seems to me important, so I welcome this change.
Birdy - Riese und Muller - web site: http://www.r-m.de
Birdy UK web site (not live just at the moment): http://www.birdybikes.co.uk
Zwei bags web site: http://www.iam2.com
Brompton has for many years set the standard by which all compact folders are judged. The design may not look much different now to that of 15 years ago, but actually a lot has changed.
Although it was done a while back, the new main frame hinge has made the distance from the bars to the saddle slightly longer, so that larger riders, or those who prefer to adopt a less upright riding position, are more comfortable.
Another change which makes it easier for riders to feel more comfortable is the choice between 3 types of handlebar – the original upright ones, the dual position bars, and a completely flat bar.
Some of the more expensive versions now make use of titanium parts, which reduces the weight of these models quite substantially.
Currently demand for Bromptons exceeds supply, despite increases in output, and there is quite a waiting list. Andrew Ritchie was heard to say, jokingly, that in view of this he was not sure why they were at a show drumming up more orders. Incidentally, he and at least one other member of the stand staff had ridden to the show on their Bromptons, which were parked in one corner of the stand.
There did not seem anything new on the stand, but really at present the only thing that might be needed is more gears. I asked Andrew Ritchie about this, but he apparently didn't hear the question (I did not get an answer). Quite reasonably, Brompton have always been quite secretive about developments. The other comment I would make to those who are forever complaining about the fact that an 8-speed hub has not yet found its way onto the Brompton is that while many will complain if the latest components are not fitted, the very same people would be the first to be outraged if the latest components were fitted, and were found to be les than perfect in use.
I did mean to ask if there was any particular reason why they have not re-introduced a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed version, but forgot.
Brompton web site: http://www.bromptonbicycle.co.uk
Dahon is the biggest manufacturer of folding bikes in the world. It offers a huge range of machines, and the range is updated every year, usually involving major changes. A rather odd feature of the way that new models are introduced is that there is usually a new catalogue for each year, but the models are typically not available (at least here in the UK) until the middle of the year concerned.
The main outlet for Dahon in the UK is now Fisher Outdoor Leisure, though Mark Bickerton of Cyclemotion does also retain a role.
On the Fisher stand there was a very comprehensive display of various models of Dahon, although nothing that I could see that has not been in their recent catalogues. Even if there was nothing especially new, there was a lot to look at. I had hoped to discuss the range and developments, but something went wrong with the plans, so I was not able to do this on the day.
Probably the most striking model on display was the Curve - particularly suited to those who have problems getting on and off a bike, even with a more conventional step-through frame. Another interesting model looks initially like a 'conventional' bike, but which has an ingenious method of quickly separating the frame. The trailer was also new to me.
Above: Some of the large-wheeled Dahon folders, plus what I thought was a 'Hammerhead', but is labelled here as a 'Smothhound'
Dahon UK web site: http://www.dahon.co.uk
Dahon USA web site: http://www.dahon.com
Mission have a number of fairly typical folding
bikes, with distinct design similarities to Brompton and Dahon. What was
particularly interesting was that they had a couple of DiBlasi folding tricycles
on the stand. Conventional tricycles which fold are quite rare, and we get
enquiries sometimes from people who for one reason or another (eg balance
problems) need a trike, but also want one that folds. Recently a number of
manufacturers of recumbent trikes have introduced folding models, but DiBlasi
seem the only people making a more conventional trike which can be folded.
Mission are apparently acting as distributors to the trade for these DiBlasis.
The two models on display seemed quite solidly built, and although they were
inevitably still quite bulky when folded, they do meet the needs of some people.
Mission web site: http://www.missioncycles.co.uk.
Pashley produce a version of the Moulton under licence. Originally it was known as the APB – All Purpose Bike, and the design was based on that of the earlier Moulton ATB. Last year they announced a major upgrade, and it's now known as the TSR (I understand I am very unusual in having correctly have guessed the derivation of the name!). The original APBs were all separable designs – the frame split at a kingpin joint in the middle of the frame. Subsequently a fixed frame version was produced, the fx8, which was cheaper and lighter. With the TSR, the fixed frame has become standard, and the separable frame is an option at a higher price.
Three versions of the TSR were originally announced – a town model with a hub gear, a touring/off road version with a 3 x 8 combined hub and derailleur, and a more sporting version with 9-speed derailleur and a triple chainring, Campag components, dropped bars and caliper rather than V brakes.
I had thought that the stand would be mainly Pashley, with a couple of Moultons, but in fact the Moultons represented at least 50% of the stand, and were certainly the most striking. In addition to the Pashley TSR models, there were examples of most of the more expensive models from the Alex Moulton Bicycles operation at Bradford on Avon; Shaun Moulton was on the stand, and I had a chance to talk to him, as well as Pashley staff.
The TSR has created a lot of interest, but personally I found that the original standard models did not quite suit me – I would prefer the V-brakes of the city and touring versions, but the pure derailleur configuration of the sporting model (drop or flat bars open to debate). Apparently that is going to be possible in the future – I'm not quite clear if this is going to be through a standard model which in effect inherits the virtues of the old fx8 (namely, all the braze-ons to allow you to choose your own gearing), or whether this involves buying through a dealer, who can order a frame kit from Pashley and then assemble it to your spec (such machines built from frame kits would have all the braze-ons for different gearing systems. Either way, the TSR is looking a very attractive machine, even if it is not a folder, but a separable. I asked what proportion of bikes were ordered non-separable v separable, and a rough guess the person I asked reckoned around 90% were separables. Although I understand the reasons for having a non-separable version (many people don't separate, it is cheaper and easier to manufacture, and a bit lighter), the advantage of being able to separate is so valuable, and to my mind an inherent virtue of the original design, that I could not imagine buying the non-separable version, so I was pleased to hear this.
Above and below: This TSR had V brakes, a nine-speed rear cluster (without a Sachs 3-speed hub, despite the fact that the mech had printed on it 'Dual Drive'!), a single chainring (with side plates), but braze-ons for fitting other gearing systems. This particular example was also a separable model.
On the question of separability, on to the Bradford on Avon Moultons. These made a really spectacular show, mostly all-stainless/polished machines. Pride of place must go to the Double Pylon – and there are some very major developments here (well, new to me). Firstly, the painted versions will in future have the fixed frame, but the stainless ones will be separable! The front Flexitor suspension units are completely re-designed, and the Wishbone stem arms are now parallel, not at an angle, which should make it easier to adopt an alternative hand position when riding, and/or fit more gadgets on the bars. If you need to ask the price of these stainless Double Pylons, then you can't afford one!
I meant to ask the Pashley people about the demise of the folding Micro and Fold-it, but forgot. I also meant to ask about recumbents – Pashley at one time produced the PDQ – again I forgot. At some point I hope to address issues I forgot to deal with at the show.
The big problem with this stand is that it is right next to the incredibly noisy song-and-dance-and-fashion stage, and it is difficult to hold an intelligent conversation with the stand staff in these circumstances. I fear that conditions may be even worse on public days!
Pashley web site: http://www.pashley.co.uk
TSR web site (TSR models are also on the main Pashley web site above, and this may be a better source of up to date information): http://www.tsr.uk.com
Alex Moulton Bicycles web site: http://www.alexmoulton.co.uk
Many people are familiar with the name St John Street Cycles, and Thorn is the name used for their own-brand bikes. These are machines of their own design – not just a badge-job on a standard frame. They have won an excellent reputation for thoughtful design and a high quality of assembly, and are very popular with tourists, audax riders and others. Apart from the solo bikes, they also produce a range of tandems and even triples, and these too have proved very popular.
I own a Thorn Audax – about 6 years old now – and I like it very much. My only regret is that I did not specify the optional S&S couplings, which would allow it to be separated into two parts for transport. It is very difficult to get it into my Smart car! I asked about retro-fitting: the cost of specifying the S&S couplings on a new Thorn is around £300. Apparently to retro fit it would be a bit more excluding paintwork rectification, or more of the order of £500 with paint rectification. A tandem on the stand had S&S couplings fitted, and apparently hydraulic brakes too (which introduces interesting problems, and solutions, when splitting 'cables'!).
S&S couplings - here fitted on a Thorn tandem, with hydraulic brakes, showing the 'cable' (hose) separation.
St John Street Cycles and Thorn are also very well known for advocating the Rohloff 14-speed hub gear, which is standard on a lot of the models. I have a Rohloff on a folder, but I'm not really convinced. A single set of gears, with no overlaps or complicated multiple changes, and even gaps between the gears, plus an excellent range – sounds perfect. For me the problem is that, whatever you and others may say, the bike seems significantly heavier overall than comparable bikes with derailleurs. And that matters not just when riding, but also carrying the bike in the case of a folder. The thing that concerns me more, though, is that while it is superb in the top 7 gears, there is a big increase in the sound level in the lower gears, and this definitely feels associated with a reduction in efficiency. I would have liked to have asked Thorn for their comments, but did not have time.
St John Street Cycles web site: http://www.sjscycles.co.uk
Thorn Cycles web site: http://www.thorncycles.co.uk
I bought my first GPS system a few months ago. I must admit to being rather underwhelmed for a variety of reasons, which I'll elaborate on some other time. However, I took the opportunity to look at some stands related to mapping.
Cyclemaps produce (I think) only conventional maps. Their stand consisted of a table, no people and no exhibits – perhaps they will be there for the public days.
The Garmin/Memory-map stands seemed to be the same stand (round the corner on the same stand was also Bike-in-a-Bag, a fairly basic folder, but no one seemed to be looking after this exhibit). I had a useful talk to one of the Memory-map people. More to follow, perhaps much later in a separate article.
Bike-in-a-bag lurking on the corner of the Memory-map stand
Performance, availability, choice and price of tyres can be issues for users of small-wheeled bikes, and most folders do have small wheels. Schwalbe are one of the main sources of tyres, and offer a range of sizes covering most folders, with models ranging from narrow, high pressure road tyres like the Stelvio to the heavy touring Marathon and the novel Big Apple. Most of the tyre types were on display on their stand, but all seemed to be in conventional 700C or 26 inch sizes. Even though the smaller versions of the tyres wee not on display, we can get them as easily in most of the sizes of interest to us from dealers. Still, it was rather disappointing that they had not put any on display on the stand, especially as folders were quite well represented in the show.
I was a bit doubtful about going to this show, as I really do not like going to London. However, it was well worth it, as there was a great deal to interest a folder enthusiast. The only major folder manufacturer which I can think of which was not represented was Bike Friday, and all those who were there had impressive displays of their products. All the folder stands were very interesting, but personally (and it is definitely that) probably the most interesting of the new or improved things were to be found on the Airnimal (Electric assist Joey and Pacific Reach) and Pashley stands (TSR and Double Pylon New Series Moulton). Recumbents were very poorly represented this year - actually I did not see any except for the Bacchettas on the Cyclecentric stand. There were around 6 machines that I saw at the show that I would definitely like to own, or at least try.
If the Cycle Show is anything to go by, then folding bikes are thriving, and this view is supported by the number of machines I saw around London (not going to or from this show) during this visit, and the numbers I see around my own area on a frequent basis.
Robin J Commander visited the show the following day, and provides the following useful additions:
The Mezzo bike with the double chainring was using a 10 speed rear block with Campag 'straight handlebar' gears. I asked one of the marketing men on the stand about it and was told this was a proof of concept bike, not yet a production bike.
I asked a lady at the Brompton stand about the S-A 5-speed hub and she was quite definite that it wasn't planned.
I was also interested in the Dahon Curve. If the custom 'SL' 5 speed hub becomes available as a spare this could probably be fitted to Bromptons - I measured the OLD as 113mm and it used 28 spokes. The wheel size on the Curve is 305 16" so it wouldn't be quite as simple as swapping wheels. Dahon's narrow hub dynamo seems good value at £35. That was the UK price according to Fishers, the Dahon distributor.
The Cyclemaps stand was also deserted when I visited.
Folding Society home page
Copyright ©2006 The Folding Society
Last updated: 15 October 2006