Following many years of overseas travel where I have been limited to hiring local bikes for touring I have decided to purchase a folder. I decided that for the type of travelling I usually do it would be impractical to take my touring/mountain bike unless I was going to use it almost exclusively. With all the hassles associated with air-transport, getting from the airport to a city centre, travelling by bus/train, storage of a bike when I was engaged in other activities like hiking, getting into hotel rooms, etc. I put the whole thing into the 'too hard' basket.
It was really the internet that opened to me the full potential of folders, and though initially I only considered full-size ones from the point of view of comfort and durability, I have decided that the ability to pack a bike into an airline acceptable case it as important. There are smaller-wheeled bikes which appear to have the ability to handle rougher terrain without falling apart; I had previously considered 20" wheel machines as mere 'commuter bikes'.
Having made that 'leap of faith I'm now investigating what the various manufacturers have to offer. I am based in Australia but have spent the past 5 northern-hemisphere summers working in the UK, taking a stopover in both directions and seeing some fascinating parts of the world. I shall probably be in the US during the spring of 2007, and this seems the ideal opportunity to both purchase a folding bike and do some touring. I may well return in the autumn for some more travelling. Probable areas are southern Utah, Oregon, and California - with some travel on dirt roads of unknown quality. I'm not really into mountain biking but will take rough roads to reach areas containing fine scenery. I'd expect to be camping most of the time so would be carrying a fair bit.
Over the next few years I'd like to do some touring in various parts of India, including the Himalayan states, travelling by train to cover some of the less interesting (to me) areas. Add to that Nepal (if the improving politial situation makes the country safer to travel in the mountain areas), also northern Vietnam and Laos. I have travelled in all of these countries previously, in some cases extensively, so I know the kind of terrain/road-conditions I would have to contend with.
Having looked at numerous websites I have provisionally narrowed my choices to the following, with some of my perceived pros & cons. I'd be interested to hear the views of those who have had first-hand experience with the bikes or companies involved.
BIKE-FRIDAY: Their Pocket Llama looks pretty good for the kind of touring I'd anticipate.
Pros: excellent quality, standard replacement parts in the main, seems like good company support, enthusiastic riders who can offer advice (user groups in UK & Australia), good reputation, custom built to size
Cons: price (hardly surprising considering it's made in Oregon - not Kaoshung or Shianghai) - unfortunately for me this is important, folding takes a bit of time
DAHON: modified Speed P8 (see below)
Pros: price - relatively cheap, simple fold very fast, many Dahon users seem quite satisfied
Cons: the bikes seem to have a number of quality problems (like spokes breaking), sometimes poor finishing. I'd be buying from a dealer rather than mail-order, and would expect to spend some time in the local area so as to get the teething problems sorted out before setting out on a major trip. Many components seem to be non-standard.
A number of Dahon forum entries have stresses the importance of a good dealer/supplier, and in this regard, Gaerlan have been mentioned on a number of occasions. They sell a modified/improved version of a Speed P8 aimed at touring cyclists.
GAERLAN: their own bike - the "Gotravel'
Pros: like the Bike Fridays, manufactured by folding-bike specialists who should be aware of design problems & limitations. Designed to accept standard components.
Cons: seems to be something of an unknown quantity, presumably they haven't made very many. I've never come across one mentioned anywhere.
I notice that their Speed P3x9 has a 3-speed dual-drive hub, but not their own 'Gotravel'. Comparison with the PF Pocket Llama may not be reasonable, but it is a good deal cheaper.
I've written a fair bit, hoping that this level of detail will yield some useful advice.
Thanks in advance.