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  1. #1
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Birdy Monocoque Review

    My girlfriend just got a used 2006 Birdy Anthrocite, which is a monocoque folder available in the US. I haven't seen a review of this bike here, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

    First, I thought I might inherit the bike. It has a sport stem that puts you quite far forward and was supplied 170mm cranks. I was disappointed to find that my girlfriend wouldn't let me touch it, despite the fact that my Birdy Yellow is 165mm cranks and an upright stem, so it fits her properly!

    First glance:
    The aesthetics of the bike are a matter of opinion, but I think it's a beauty. It seems to be oddly equipped, with the Capreo groupo, ergo grips (about 250gm relative to 10gm for foam grips), and a lot of complex design intensive bits about it. As a result, it's very easy to take weight off of the bike. But it leaves you wondering why you are paying buckets of cash for the standard set up.

    First ride:
    On first ride, the bike is *amazing.* This is part of the reason I don't get to ride it. The bike is stiff and doesn't absorb one's efforts, but is smooth as silk on rough roads. The engineering is unprecedented. It is a very, very fast bike and a pleasure to ride. I don't even think the 250gm grips are coming off because they are so pleasant to hold.

    Details:
    The monocoque frame is very impressive. It's stiff and light, and the cable routing is very well thought out, running through the frame, and with extra cable ports in the event that you wish to upgrade to 2X9 speeds. The bike is completely silent, which is not unusual for most bikes, but is rare for Birdies, which are usually soundboxes.

    The stem is stiff and very well engineered. It took watching the R and M video on the stem build to figure out how to adjust the tightness, though!

    Longer ride:
    We went on a 200 mile tour of the C and O towpath from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC in 3 days (60mi-70mi-60mi on road, and about 10 off road). This path is packed dirt, mud, and gravel. It is a bit dodgy in parts, but generally well maintained. We had on road and off road riding. I can only report what my girlfriend noted, which is that it was the most comfortable bike she has ever ridden, much more so than the full size decent mountain bike we used in Thailand. We were so caked in mud after the first day that you could barely see the frame.

    There is no hands-off shimmy on this bike, and, did I mention that it is fast? It is fast.

    Other aspects:
    For those without cars, this trip is difficult to make because Amtrak, the US train system, does not allow bikes on board for small town stops for which there is no conductor to unload luggage. Folders can get around this problem, but you would be hard pressed to ride the trail on a bike with a frame hinge and no suspension, since the trail is quite rough. The Birdy got us around these problems by offering no hinged full suspension rides.

    The bikes did not fit easily in the overhead luggage, but did fit nicely in the suitcase holds. I think I could have fit a Brompton up there and had the comfort of seeing the bike.

    Conclusions:
    For those of you unfamiliar with the Birdy, it can be summarized as a bike that essentially has the same ride characteristics as the Moulton, but that actually folds to a small size (Bigger than a Brompton, smaller than a 20" Dahon.) It has no frame hinge. Instead, the wheels fold under the bike in the form of a pivot. An elastomer is wedged into the contact points between the frame and the rear triangle or forks, allowing for moderate suspension. The degree of suspension is adjustable, but the very light suspension cannot tollerate heavey riders. The bike can hold a 6'5" person and 250 pounds, including rider and luggage.

    The major downside to the bike is that it is fussy to fold. It can be folded in under 10seconds, but this takes a lot of practice. When (not if) the bike gets jostled around carrying it, the chain can fall off. When this happens, it requires a good deal of messing about trying to get it unraveled. And that's as shipped. If the rider tries to modify the gearing with a new chainring, it can make the chain even more likely to fall off.

    The other major downsde is that it is an expensive bike. The pressed monocoque frame and complex engineering features render the bike difficult to make. Therefore, the price tag is $1700 new (about $1450 online).

    One minor problem with the bike is that, while it uses standard components, it is put together in a strange way. A sophisticated bike mechanic can deal with things like the upside down headset, but most mechanics will mess something up when trying to work on the bike. Finally, there are few dealers in the US. Unless you are fortunate enought to live in the UK, Japan, Germany, or Australia, it can be difficult to get ahold of a dealer.

    Still, there is no other bike I would want to ride, big or small, on a long tour. I think it would make a fine racing bike as well. While a Dahon Mu will get you into a cafe or most buisnesses as easily as the smaller Birdy, it does not offer the same stiff riding characteristics or versatility (you can't take it off road, for instance). Thus, with the possible exception of the Go Bike reviewed recently, there is nothing in the category of small performance folder. I can see why there are so many fanatics out there. I've become one of them!

  2. #2
    Raleigh20 PugFixie, Merc LittlePixel's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Always nice to read a dedicated hands-on review.
    I thought I'd add links to a pic so people can picture it more when they read.
    It is a pretty beast - though I still find the forks ugly. It wouldn't fold without them though right?



    Just a quick mockup with a Dahon Groove fork (sacrilege!)
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by LittlePixel; 06-10-07 at 03:34 PM.

  3. #3
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    you get a Birdy in USA and we get Bike Friday here in Germany
    enjoy it!!
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  4. #4
    Señor Mambo
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    Quote Originally Posted by pm124
    ... but you would be hard pressed to ride the trail on a bike with a frame hinge and no suspension, since the trail is quite rough. The Birdy got us around these problems by offering no hinged full suspension rides.
    I don't understand your statement about the frame hinge, and think this is just your bias extrapolated widely from a bad experience with a Mu. Frame-hinged bikes are not inherently worse on such roads, with or without suspension. No one's riding such roads at 20+ mph anyway, so how much worse is a frame-hinged bike going to be, and why would a Birdy fare better?

    Thanks for the review otherwise. Your gf has a beautiful bike.

  5. #5
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittlePixel
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Always nice to read a dedicated hands-on review.
    I thought I'd add links to a pic so people can picture it more when they read.
    It is a pretty beast - though I still find the forks ugly. It wouldn't fold without them though right?



    Just a quick mockup with a Dahon Groove fork (sacrilege!)
    Yes, the forks are comical. It seems taht the engineering team could come up with something that used a bit less aluminum.

    That mock up is hilarious. Sure would be cool if they could figure out how to fold those forks.

  6. #6
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    gdlerner, Bike Friday would be a great option if you could fold it into a small package. Sadly, we don't use your German bikes enough here!

    Spambait, you are absolutely correct. My bias stems from my limited experience. The Downtube we have has an excellent hinge. (It's on it's way to Craigslist, sadly!) I just like the elegance of having the vectors of force generated by gravity holding the bike together rather than trying to tear it apart.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pm124
    I just like the elegance of having the vectors of force generated by gravity holding the bike together rather than trying to tear it apart.
    That's exactly how I feel, interesting.

    On Saturday I managed to get about 10 minutes riding a black Birdy, the first Birdy I've ever seen. As it was a bit rushed when I handed it back, I completely forgot to ask *which* Birdy it was :-)

    I was surprised that the wheelbase seemed about the same as my Strida, although I haven't yet checked the specifications. We rode over a parkway clay type surface, & the ride was quite nice. There were no big bumps to check out the suspension unfortunately.

    Thanks for your monocoque appraisal.

  8. #8
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclistjohn
    That's exactly how I feel, interesting.

    On Saturday I managed to get about 10 minutes riding a black Birdy, the first Birdy I've ever seen. As it was a bit rushed when I handed it back, I completely forgot to ask *which* Birdy it was :-)

    I was surprised that the wheelbase seemed about the same as my Strida, although I haven't yet checked the specifications. We rode over a parkway clay type surface, & the ride was quite nice. There were no big bumps to check out the suspension unfortunately.

    Thanks for your monocoque appraisal.
    I think that the UK and Europe (funny how we make that distinction) have any Birdy available in any color. In the US, the Black is the Rolhoff model, which is the heaviest and most expensive. (Not dissing the great Rolhoff Speedhub, which give a great range of gearing and reliability.) It would be cool to see some deluxe versions like those offered in Japan. Chris King makes a narrow flange hub that would work perfectly with this bike.

  9. #9
    Senior Member wubrew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclistjohn
    That's exactly how I feel, interesting.

    On Saturday I managed to get about 10 minutes riding a black Birdy, the first Birdy I've ever seen. As it was a bit rushed when I handed it back, I completely forgot to ask *which* Birdy it was :-)

    I was surprised that the wheelbase seemed about the same as my Strida, although I haven't yet checked the specifications. We rode over a parkway clay type surface, & the ride was quite nice. There were no big bumps to check out the suspension unfortunately.

    Thanks for your monocoque appraisal.
    What Birdy is Birdy does. One ride on it and you are forever thinking about how sweet that ride has been. Get one soon. I got two. No other bike quite like it.

  10. #10
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    I just got back from the bike store and the owner mentioned that he saw a Birdy with a cracked steerer tube. Has anyone ever seen such a thing?

  11. #11
    jur
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    There are a few reports of cracked or downright broken off steerer tubes as well as seat posts on the yahoo birdy group.
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

  12. #12
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Well, I now have over 3000 miles on my Yellow and quite a few on the monocoque (no odometer installed). I would have to say that the major downsides are: 1) the new chain catch mechanism doesn't catch the chain as well as the old one; and 2) black anodized parts don't make sense on a folding bike as they show scratches. There are a lot of positive details. For instance, there is a hole drilled in the bottom bracket tube. (What is that thing called?) Thus, water doesn't collect in there over time, making your bike heavier. Though removing a bottom bracket on most bikes is always satisfying for that reason.

    Speaking of which, the bike is now equipped with an XTR bottom bracket, 105 cranks, and an Ultegra derailleur. The hubs are still Capreo. Since it's not my bike, the heavier Marathon Racer tires are stying. They make a bit of noise at high speeds (25-30MPH) and subjectively seem sluggish relative to the Stelvios. But they are better utility tires for NYC.

    I rebuilt the stem, as it was the recalled model (Jan-June of 2006). I can't decide if it's over engineered or genius. Or not that I can't decide, but rather that I'm not smart enough to discern whether this is better done more simply. But whatever it is, it's amzingly complicated an beautiful.

    My Yellow is lighter and my body is more broken in to the bike, so I am fond of it. But I have to admit that the monocoque is still more fun to ride with the sport stem and Ergon-like grips.

    Having watched various people try to fold their Birdies now, I'm coming to believe that the fold requires a lot of practice at home on a soft surface. Otherwise, no serious complaints, and still a big fan.

    This is a pic before the mods. A more recent pic will come with the repair of my camera:
    Last edited by pm124; 07-31-07 at 08:18 AM.

  13. #13
    Life in Mono
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    Thanks for the review - I have always liked the look of birdy's , especially the new monocoque frame, but the folding aspect (along with price) has put me off - your review seems to reinforce this, the folded photo shows chain failling off and all sorts of 'Bits' sticking out and not much means of holding the bundle together.

    I guess this makes a great folding bike for long rides and few folds, but not so much the other way round.
    Last edited by Simple Simon; 07-31-07 at 03:21 AM. Reason: mistake

  14. #14
    jur
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    I recommend sizing photos to 1024x768 or something before linking to them, to avoid page distortion.
    My folding bike photo essays www.dekter.net/

  15. #15
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Sorry, I removed the pic. I'll use imaging editing software and re-post.

    The chain doesn't fall off when folded, but does go slack. On one occasion, it wrapped itself into a knot and wouldn't unfold properly, and I had to get my hands greasy undoing it. A major pain. It's also important to note that if you modify the bike, you need to keep the chain grabber tuned close to the chain in high gear, and you must keep the front chainrings on the bike or the chain will fall off when folded. But I do fold 3-4 times a day, and it does take me almost no time.

    Also, I agree that these bikes are expensive. They are hand built frames with a lot of complexities that most frame builders couldn't replicate. This is part of the reason why there aren't any clones out there. It's really for folks that need a small folding bike that rides well but that has no frame hinge. If you don't mind a frame hinge, Dahon makes some good alternatives.

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    No Birdy review can exclude: Non standard rims, tubes, tires, spoke lengths are a pain in the butt, many other non standard parts. Fenders and racks are also a problem. From the picture you can see that the seatpost clamps to the rear of the seat which I claim reduces some of the shock absorption.
    2000 Montague CX, I do not recommend it, but still ride it.
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    1996 Birdy, Recommend.
    Wieleder CARiBIKE (folding), decent frame.

  17. #17
    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    What's the folded size, by the way? And can you attach standard racks? If the "Birdy 2" could fit into a suitcase without major disassembly, I'd seriously consider it for touring....

  18. #18
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacciagalupe View Post
    What's the folded size, by the way? And can you attach standard racks? If the "Birdy 2" could fit into a suitcase without major disassembly, I'd seriously consider it for touring....

    As with everything, the answer is: it depends. If you are using a wheel with a Birdy front hub and low profile pedals (say Speedplay), then it's folded size is about what the MFR claims, or maybe smaller.

    Standard sized racks can be attached, front and rear. But you have to use the folding racks made by R and M. I travel light and don't use a rear rack. The front can only hold 10Kg (though I use aluminum screws and routinely exceed that amount.) Both bikes fit easily into a 29" legal suitcase with just the wheels removed. However, if you have normal, non-foldable pedals, you may have to remove one or both of them. You may also have to remove the seatpost. That said, it packs very quickly. I don't know about the folding rear rack in the suitcase.

    We use one 29" suitcase found on the sidewalk and a Samonsite Oyster. There is some left over room for tools, spare tires, and some clothing.

    Edit: also, if you are using thick tires, it helps to deflate them.

  19. #19
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    Where can you pick this bike up for $1,400?!

    Currently I'm messing around with a Citizenbike Gotham - which is the first bike I've gotten for quite a while. It's really too big and heavy to be useful for commuting (NYC metro area) so I'm already looking for alternatives.

  20. #20
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Thanks for the review. You've stoked my Birdy lust once again - my VISA is grateful that I won't consider buying one without a test ride as my Tikits meet all my needs so well and I'd need to really feel confident I was getting something I loved before adding another folder to the mix. Hopefully one day I'll run into one and the owner won't get too freaked out when I race after him/her and ask to ride their bike.

    Just a couple comments on what you've said:

    - if those heavy grips are Ergons I find them well worth the weight penalty
    - you can get the water out of any bike I own by removing the seatpost and inverting the bike for a while. I wouldn't remove the BB to accomplish this - way too much work.
    - what's your online source for a $1450 Birdy - which model?
    safe riding - Vik
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  21. #21
    Senior Member Lalato's Avatar
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    I don't think you can find a Birdy Monocoque for $1400. However, there are other Birdy models available through various online shops for $1400 (or less). Since you're in NYC, you might also try one of the local stores that carry Birdy (though I don't know of any in particular).

    Every so often, a Birdy will also appear on eBay or Craigslist.

    --sam

  22. #22
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Hi everyone. Up 'till recently, the multicolored new models were sold by a distributor on eBay. The $1400 quote comes from Don at Black Dog: http://blackdogbicycles.com/birdyfoldingtravelbike.html. But this thread is over a year old. Since then, the dollar has tanked, so I'm not sure what they are going for now.

  23. #23
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    I asked Don from Black Dog a few weeks ago out of curiosity what the availability and pricing was for the Birdy. He said he could get the 8 speed Birdy Silver for $1250 and the 9 speed Birdy II Monocoque for $1850. Feel free to check out his website and shoot him an email, he's very helpful and easy to work with.

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