By Mike Smithson
It’s hard to know whether to be happy or sad over the entry by the mega Trek cycle company into the folder market. As a folder enthusiast for nearly a quarter of a century it’s great to see one of “the big boys” taking this market sector seriously. But you can but wonder what Trek’s massive product development and marketing capabilities will mean for the idiosyncratic individual pioneers of folding bikes who have given us such wonderful machines as the Bickerton, the Brompton, the Birdy and the Bike Friday.
For with their global brand and their global distribution Trek are the equivalent of the Ford Motor company of the bicycle business and their new folder range looks set to become the Ford Focus of Folders.
My new Trek F400e was acquired in the same sort of marketing campaign that you would expect from your local Ford dealer. An email came round at the University where I work saying that our local Trek dealership was giving all staff members a 15% discount on the whole 2004 of Trek bikes. This campaign is supported by Trek, presumably by giving extra discounts to the dealer, and has allowed me to buy the GBP 499 bike for GBP 425, a proposition that I found hard to resist.
The bike itself is everything you would expect as “The Ford Focus of Folders”. I am sure that Dahon were involved in its design but the main structure of the frame based, on its large rectangular bar, is unique to Trek. There’s clearly been a lot of money spent of research and development, the equipment is top rate and the whole folding mechanism feels to be of the highest quality.
Once you have worked out how to do it the bike folds pretty well too with the whole folded machine locked together with a magnet system. After a day I was doing this in 45 seconds. A great feature is that the folded bike stands up by itself although the chain and gears are on the outside of the package making it a bit more difficult on crowded commuter trains. The saddle has been designed to double up as a carrying handle and this works well.
The good news for Brompton, the Birdy and the Bike Friday is that Trek have no idea how to market folders – yet. The first hint of this comes when you check out the web-site to find that the three new bikes are featured in exactly the same way as the vast array of other bikes from the firm. Nowhere can you find out how much the folders weigh or how they fold. The second indicator that Trek have not got their marketing worked out is the apparent lack of information going to dealers on how the bike folds - after all these people are in the front line and customers can reasonably expect them to know what they are doing. None of the sales staff at my Trek shop seemed to know how to do it. Fortunately Google came to my rescue and I found the site of a Surrey Trek dealer which clearly has got so frustrated with the lack of information on how you fold that it has produced its own guide for people to download. The URL is http://www.wellingtontrek.co.uk/shop.html. Good on them but what an indictment of Trek that it is left to a dealer to produce this sort of vital information.
In the same way that the big car manufacturers have realised how a buyer’s first impression of a car is based on how the steering wheel and gear sticks feel Trek do the same with their bikes. This has the best designed and most comfortable handle-bar grips and twist shifter that I have ever used and this makes you feel very positive about it. Compare that with the Brompton’s old-fashioned handle bar grips and the thumb shifter and there is no contest. The Trek’s tyres, new to me, are Schwalbe Marathon 1.35 slicks and I wondered whether they have been specially produced – reflecting the purchasing power that Trek will bring to the folder component market. They are wonderfully fast and I just hope that they have the puncture resistance qualities of other Marathons.
On the road the Trek feels more like a “normal” bike than any other 20 inch wheeler that I have experienced. The huge bar that makes up the frame gives it a rigidity that feels very re-assuring. This is saying a lot but the Trek gives the same riding pleasure as my Bike Friday for less than half the price.
There are four bikes in the Trek folding range – the F200 with a Sram 3 speed; the F400 and F400e with an 8-speed derailleur and a super light 9-speed F600. The F400e is the same as the F400 but is equipped with a rack and mudguards. Make no mistake – with Trek’s huge distribution network and competitive pricing we are going to see a lot of them on the roads in the coming months.
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Copyright (C)2004 Mike Smithson
Last updated: 9 January 2004