New York Times May 15, 2005
By MIKE GUY
Marc Monzo is a jeweler in Barcelona who resembles his Brompton folding bicycle -- that is to say, he is a handsome and practical man, yet quirky and adaptable. When he arrives at a cafe on his black Brompton, he hops off and, in three economical gestures, transforms his bike into a portable package.
''I've never felt more in touch with this city than when I'm on this bicycle,'' he says. Barcelona, with its high theft rate, congested streets and appreciation of design, is ideal terrain for the folding bicycle.
Monzo is a member of a global cult, and as devoted as any Harley hog rider. With popular brands like Brompton, as well as Dahon, Birdy and Bike Friday, America is beginning to embrace the collapsible two-wheeler.
Most folding bikes have a low-slung frame that folds right in the middle. The handlebars reach high above the frame, like a chopper's. And those tiny 20-inch wheels are a dead giveaway to serious bikers. Beyond the Dahon and Birdy there is the Strida, a strange deltoid bicycle that resembles a toy. Connoisseurs recommend the Brompton ($750 to $1,200). You can even get a Brompton with a Connolly leather case for $13,240.
But are folding bikes safe? One sunny afternoon, I decided to give the Dahon Speed P8 a test ride in Central Park. The P8 is a dynamic, top-shelf ride that costs $500. Lightweight and well balanced, it folds into a pleasing jumble, smaller than a bag of groceries. But soon, the nearly perfect day became stormy. As I rode down Park Avenue in the rain, the ride turned into an endurance test. Suddenly my perch was too small. I began to teeter, and when I stopped at a red light, I felt like a fat man on a tightrope. A few blocks later, the bike slid out from under me. Later, when I had folded up the bike and hailed a cab, I was philosophical. Sure, these bikes have their limitations, but the trade-off is worth it. After all, it fit in the cab.