Complex to be Simple

My desire was simple: ride a bicycle to work. I’ve done it for my last three positions (and college before that), so I wasn’t going to stop now. More importantly, I don’t feel like I know a city until I’ve really cycled it. The solution to this simple desire, however, was very complex.

We shipped four bicycles to London (and my Bike Friday tandem in a suitcase), I built them up a few weekends ago, and we went for a ride as a family. This trip almost killed me. Our flat involves going up and down three narrow, tight flights of stairs, complete with 180 degree hairpin turns. I did this trip almost sixteen times to bring down and carry back up the four bikes in parts. There was no way to negotiate the adult bikes down the stairs with the front wheels on (and, of course, the walls are freshly painted).

After that experience, my enthusiasm for doing multiple trips a day with my bike up and down the stairs wasn’t very strong. That, and there were several bike thefts from the bike parking area at work, so I had all sorts of excuses not to ride.

Then I saw the Brompton bike ads– this amazing British bike that folds into a small suitcase size in 30 seconds and goes on the bus with you, or the train or the tube, or into your office and under your desk. Or up three flights of narrow stairs to our flat.

A few hours of web surfing later, and I was at a bike shop ready to test ride a Brompton (only 660 pounds sterling). Disaster. The one-size-fits-all didn’t fit me– too short in the cockpit, only three gears, and a poor ride for my size. I test rode another type of folding bike, called a Mezzo, and it was a better fit but still a flaky ride for a $1,500 bike.

My Birdy, FoldedSensing my anguish, my wife went to London’s uber-urban cycling shop (Velorution), and test rode a German-made Birdy and super high-end Airnimal (only $3,100), and she reported back that I had to try the Birdy folding bike. Today I did, and bought it, and rode it home from Oxford Circus.

It was the most fun and invigorating ride I’ve had in a long time– I hand copied a 28-turn recommended cycling route from the London Transport web page (our new printer hasn’t arrived yet), which had an estimated ride time of 21 minutes. When I rode it with penciled notes and the London A-Zed map book, I got lost 2 dozen times and was out for almost an hour and a half. And it was a blast.

I got lost but found the zoo, and Camden’s high street (where Goth is still in bloom). I rode behind a wooden Handyman van releasing thousands of soap bubbles, and found my son’s favorite fishing shop (Sharpe’s), and downtown Belsize Park before stumbling across Hampstead Heath and then home. The bike has elastomer front and rear suspension, which did a great job of eating up about a 100 yards of pure cobblestone I came across in Chalk Farm.

On my doorstep, I folded the bike into a small package (in about one minute), and carried it up to the flat with no problem. It’s a go machine. It also fits my wife, and I’m going to insist that she goes out tomorrow morning (Sunday morning is the best time to ride) for a half hour ride (so she’ll be back in an hour and a half).

I wanted to do a simple thing, but the solution is an expensive, highly calibrated and over-engineered German bike. Lots of complexity, but the end result is simple joy. On Monday morning, I’ll ride to work and put the bike in a tech storage room until it’s time to find my way home. (Space is tight at work, but this is my tech.)

Birdy Light in Blue

Footnotes: My bike is a Birdy Light with rack, mud guards, and kickstand. 1,054 British pounds Sterling. My bike is gray, and shown as folded. The picture of an unfolded blue Birdy Light is from the Velorution web page. I opted for the nine-speed dérailleur, since the future might take us places where the internal rear hub model would be hard to have serviced. I plan the buy the hard case for airline travel with the bike. The ride isn’t as “road bike” as my Bike Friday, but it’s way beyond the Brompton and Mezzo. For riding in downtown London, I find the flat bars a comfort, and the elastomer front and rear suspension is amazing, but I plan to add lights and bar-ends for more hand positions. I need a name for the bike, but “Origami” is too hard to say and think all the time…

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