18 February 2013

Folding Bikes: The Best Things on Earth

Courtesy of http://otisfunkmeyer.com

It turns out that the most important possession in my life is my folding bicycle. Serving as my primary form of transportation, it is the friend that keeps on giving. It gives me exercise, it gets me where I need to go, it interacts nicely with other forms of transportation, it is sturdy, it will stay put no matter where I seem to put it, and it allows me to travel in the best way that I have ever found.
So please, let me expound upon the virtues of the (folding) bicycle.
My Surprising Discovery
My Dahon Boardwalk turns out to, surprisingly, actually trump my iProduct-of-the-moment as the most important thing that I own.
In 2005, while backpacking in the Middle East, my life took a turn and I decided that when I moved back to Los Angeles, I was no longer willing to “stop traveling.” I was just going to continue traveling, in LA. I decided I would never stop traveling. I wouldn’t let my location dictate my lifestyle. I would become the master of my fate.
As I thought about what that meant to me, the main thing that I noticed was that when I was traveling, I used public transportation. So I decided to keep right on using public transportation in LA. As if to challenge my meddle, I was immediately offered a free, perfectly good car, a Saturn, upon my return to LA. I expressed gratitude and promptly rejected the gift. Thus began my new life.
At the time, I didn’t know how to ride a bike but I sure did learn. And I think that as an adult learner, I might appreciate it more. I don’t take bicycle riding for granted. I don’t get jaded at how amazing an experience it is to just bike around. I love it. I love it so much. So so much.
After being carless in LA for four years with a bicycle (plus bus) as my primary form of transportation, I had a new thought. See, in most cities, you can put 2 or 3 bicycles on the front of a bus. This is rad. Unfortunately, if those slots are full, you have to just wait for the next bus.
Unless you have a folding bike.
Enter the Folding Bicycle
I first heard about folding bikes from David Byrne of Talking Heads fame. He whetted my appetite upon explaining that he brings his folding bike with him everywhere he goes. He flies with it and then comes out of the airport, hops on a bus, and then bikes off. He said that bikes make you feel immediately like a local more than any other form of transportation. He turned out to be correct.
I didn’t know much about folding bikes but I quickly discovered the Dahon brand. Dahon was started by a Chinese guy with the last name Dahon from Cal Tech. He created this really flexible but stable steel frame in the Seventies and has improved upon it ever since. Dahon is like the classic Trek/Schwinn of folding bicycles–good enough and super sturdy. I got me one on craigslist and I’ve never looked back and I don’t think I ever will.
I use my bike everywhere I go and I travel with it too, just like David Byrne. Once folded, you can check it on airplanes, often for free, bring it on trains and buses and boats and toss it in the trunk or backseat of a friend or a Craigslist ride share.
And what this means is that everywhere I go, I have a bicycle.
This is so life-changing that I wish I could squeeze your brain and jam the life-changingness into your head so that you could experience it, know it, and thus choose to immediately begin living it.
To hop out of a subway in Manhattan or a BART train in Oakland and hop on your bike, the bike you know, the bike that you use everyday, makes you feel more alive than I can possibly tell you. You immediately feel like you live there. Like it’s YOUR city.
Why Bikes Rock
I have many “bike theories” and this is my favorite. A bicycle is the ultimate form of urban transportation because it has the lowest penalty for exploring new places. With walking, if you see something interesting, you must take the time to walk toward it. If it’s a bust, it’s slightly demoralizing and you have to walk back. After having this happen a few times, you usually decide to just go where you’re going. With a car, you have the whole parking hassle to deal with. After one or two stops, it feels like too much of a hassle to find a place to park or worry about quickly parking illegally and maybe getting a ticket or towed. But with a bicycle, you can hop off your route and within 20 seconds know what’s up and if it’s good, just lock your bike to the closest pole. If it’s a bust, you’ve wasted extremely little effort.
As an inveterate traveler, what I have just said is so important to me that I now think there is nothing more important when you travel to a city than having a bike with you. It’s a completely night and day experience–with and without a bike. It’s more different than low-budget vs. high-budget, backpack vs. suitcase, visiting friends vs. going to a new place, or even traveling locally or internationally. It is a completely different experience. And with a bike, a much much superior one.
Steve Jobs and Bicycles
A little known story about Apple is that when designing the computer that became the Macintosh, for some time Steve Jobs was planning on calling it the Bicycle. The reason goes back to a story he read in Scientific American as a child.
A researcher ranked a variety of animals on how much distance they could cover while expending a certain amount of energy. The cheetah came out on top, followed by some birds. Humans came in way down the list. However, when the researcher included a human on a bicycle, the human was almost twice as efficient as the cheetah, by far the most energy-efficient animal on the planet.
What Steve Jobs took from this is that the unique aspect of humans is that we are tool makers. We create tools to extend our capabilities beyond what we are naturally biologically capable of. He wanted to call his computer the Bicycle because he felt it was a bicycle for the mind, a tool to expand us mentally in the way a bicycle expands us physically.
Interestingly, these are by far my two favorite possessions: my folding bike and my iPad mini. With them in hand, life is very very good.
Answering Some Final Questions
To be fair, some people are totally unaware of folding bikes or even skeptical. The most common concerns are the stability and the look and the speed. I will address both.
The stability of a folding bicycle in my experience is literally no different at all from a non-folding bicycle. I have never once felt “unstable” or like the thing could just “fall apart.” This technology is very developed and pretty basic. The thing snaps together with a giant lever and it stays shut. I’ve never once had it open on me and I’ve never heard of anyone having it open on them. People die in the shower much more often than because of folding bicycles. Let’s put it that way.
Now, in terms of looks, I understand this one a little better. For me, this is a good argument for why being *overly* concerned with fashion is detrimental to one’s well-being. I would say that a folding bike looks a little bit goofy. On the other hand, the utility it provides is so great that I think that is a tiny tiny price to pay. Many other people don’t think it looks goofy at all and I get complements on my “cool bike” at least once a week. But I think it’s important to at least mention.
The most “real” concern is the speed of the bike. Most folding bikes have much smaller wheels than full-size bikes–for portability–and thus they are slower. I am not a speed demon cyclist; for me it’s mostly a form of transportation. For those who are, I still think the pros outweight the cons but you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. There are also definitely full-size folding bikes but they’ve always seemed a little bulky for my taste.
Life as a cyclist is a wonderful thing. A folding bike is like a regular bike on steroids because you can bring it with you everywhere you go, no matter how you decide to get there. I think this is probably among the most positive day-to-day changes one who lives in a city can make–for their own well-being. The eco-friendliness is a happy side benefit.
Please feel free to ask me any questions because this is something I love to talk about.
May your cycles take you to places unknown.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

do you have a particular model of folding bicycle of reasonable price that you would recommend? thanks