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  1. #1
    Cycling is Self-Therapy pdxcyclist's Avatar
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    Complex to be Simple

    I'm a new Birdy owner, living in London, but recently moved from the US. The following is a reprint from my blog at www.k12converge.com. I like the bike...


    My desire was simple: ride a bicycle to work in London. I’ve done it for my last three positions in the US (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 Project Q 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.



    Sensing 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.)



    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…

    '99 Bruce Gordon BLT
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    Two kids bikes (Giant, Performanc)
    '03 Bike Friday Traveller "Q" (everyone's)
    2007 Birdy Light (my London machine)

  2. #2
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    My take on the Birdy as well.

    A marvelously engineered piece of equipment. I don't think it's over engineered so much as properly engineered. There isn't anything to add, and nothing to take away.

    I've only been able to do a few rides on the Silver I picked up recently but am rather impressed overall by the sheer solidness of the thing. It's a slab, and reminds me of the Laverdas I used to ride.

    But once it's folded, picking it up is virtually effortless. Relatively speaking. I think that it is one of the most well realized folders out there. If I had bags of money I'd find a Russian aerospace contractor and have them crank one out of titanium...or a couple hundred.

    I've heard there are Ti's in Japan, but so far are un-obtainium. And I'm not sure the whole thing is Ti.

  3. #3
    Senior Member jnb-rare's Avatar
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    Thank you for that delightful review -- wonderful to read.

    I couldn't locate a Birdy to try in my city and, as you have described, they are pretty pricey (especially here in Canada). But every review I've seen of them (save one, where the reviewer had trouble with the folding) has been overwhelmingly positive.

  4. #4
    Cycling is Self-Therapy pdxcyclist's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments. Perhaps I should have said "fully engineered," since it's such a complete piece of work (which also means no clear space for a water bottle mount, except maybe on top of the top tube somehow).

    It’s been a busy two days. My relaxed “find my way” to work ride yesterday was perked up by a dark fiber optic line that interrupted our 10 meg Internet connection. The 3.3 km ride from home to work only required 26 turns, according the the London Transport recommended route, so I rode it by ear and found my way.

    This morning, I got lost only once and rode to work in 20 minutes. This afternoon, I was blessed with four free tickets to Lords for a cricket match this evening, so wife and kids joined me to see most of the match between Derbyshire and Middlesex. We left at close to nine p.m., but I still wanted to ride my folding bike home.

    I’d forgotten what it was like to ride a bike in a big city at night. One feels like a ghost, silently gliding down empty monotone streets. There were some scary parts, like the red double-decker that whooshed past me in Belsize Park, but overall it was an excellent ride, not unlike riding home at night in Washington, DC. Maybe even a bit better, with the narrow streets and amazing architecture.



    Cycling at night in a great city. One of my favorite things to do.

    Image source: http://flickr.com/photos/cow-gum/1103769630/, by Tommyvision.

    '99 Bruce Gordon BLT
    '96 Canondale T700 (wife's)
    Two kids bikes (Giant, Performanc)
    '03 Bike Friday Traveller "Q" (everyone's)
    2007 Birdy Light (my London machine)

  5. #5
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    The only thing that kept us from picking up a Birdy was rolling the bike while folded ... or its inability to be rolled while folded. Otherwise, our test rides were pretty good.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand View Post
    The only thing that kept us from picking up a Birdy was rolling the bike while folded ... or its inability to be rolled while folded. Otherwise, our test rides were pretty good.
    Actually, there is a version of the Expedition rack that has wheels which allow you to roll the bike while folded. They are fairly common in Japan, and hopefully available elsewhere as I'm looking to pick one up.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdxcyclist View Post
    Thanks for the comments. Perhaps I should have said "fully engineered," since it's such a complete piece of work (which also means no clear space for a water bottle mount, except maybe on top of the top tube somehow).
    Cycling at night in a great city. One of my favorite things to do.

    Image source: http://flickr.com/photos/cow-gum/1103769630/, by Tommyvision.
    I've got an older version of the bottle holder and it works just fine with the Birdy handlepost, even folded.

    I've always liked night riding, especially in the fog.

    http://www.twofish.biz/bike.html

  8. #8
    Bicycling Gnome
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownbike View Post
    I've always liked night riding, especially in the fog.
    EEEEeek!!


    Do you enjoy Russian Roulette as well?


    “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live." - Mark Twain

  9. #9
    too many bikes
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    Clownbike, my guess is that are you under 25 y/o based on risk tolerance.

  10. #10
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    Relax, I'm not talking barreling down Divisadero in pea soup. Having lived virtually all my life on the California Coast, most places have had some sort of fog now and again. Mostly SoCal beaches as an adult.

    Friends and I would get a mild buzz and just wander around in the wee hours of the night. No traffic and the erie light and dull sounds made it a perfect way to wind down a day. I've always been rather partial to how light works in the fog.

    My suicidal tendencies came to an abrupt halt about sixteen years ago on a motorbike. Having been given a second chance I'm not too keen on spinning the barrel again.

  11. #11
    Cycling is Self-Therapy pdxcyclist's Avatar
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    My favorite fog is in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. It would be only 2-4 feet thick, and hang just off the ground with wispy gaps. After finishing at the fruit cannery, I'd drive home through it in full moonlight. On my bike, I'd ride through it at dawn. It was gone by about a half hour after sunrise.

    '99 Bruce Gordon BLT
    '96 Canondale T700 (wife's)
    Two kids bikes (Giant, Performanc)
    '03 Bike Friday Traveller "Q" (everyone's)
    2007 Birdy Light (my London machine)

  12. #12
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownbike View Post
    Actually, there is a version of the Expedition rack that has wheels which allow you to roll the bike while folded. They are fairly common in Japan, and hopefully available elsewhere as I'm looking to pick one up.
    Yes, I heard about that ... but it only fits the new Birdy model ... right? And the wheels look pretty small ... although I have never seen one in person.

  13. #13
    Cycling is Self-Therapy pdxcyclist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand View Post
    Yes, I heard about that ... but it only fits the new Birdy model ... right? And the wheels look pretty small ... although I have never seen one in person.
    My Birdy Light has the wheels on the rack, but to be honest they don't work well. They are pretty much completely out of alignment (since the bike is designed to roll sideways instead of in-line), and the shop said the manufacturer would have a fix out soon. At the one month check-up, they supposedly will alter the wheels to put them in alignment.

    All in all, putting the seat up and rolling the bike sideways is awkward, so I figure that riding or rolling the bike and folding at the last moment is the best approach.

    '99 Bruce Gordon BLT
    '96 Canondale T700 (wife's)
    Two kids bikes (Giant, Performanc)
    '03 Bike Friday Traveller "Q" (everyone's)
    2007 Birdy Light (my London machine)

  14. #14
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Interesting. I am still waiting for something like the following to appear in the States.

    Birdy Riders???

    Until then, on the sidelines I wait.

    -G

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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand View Post
    Yes, I heard about that ... but it only fits the new Birdy model ... right? And the wheels look pretty small ... although I have never seen one in person.
    It will fit the Classic models as well as the Monocoque. I believe it fits all the '06 and later models. A quick way to tell is if the seat post lock is in front of the seat tube and the rear swing arm has a small mounting tube on the top part where the suspension block is attached.

    No problem here with the smaller wheels. The suspension and stiff frame make for excellent handling.

  16. #16
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Yup, I'd agree. I'm more or less bought into the idea that smaller wheels are more responsive, accelerate faster, and have no clear downside with respect to maintaining speed. I had a tasty tailwind on the way to work this morning and covered the 10 miles at around 23-27MPH. Yummm.

    I'm not a strong rider, so I can't really say whether they make a difference on really fast rides. I couldn't keep up with the semi-pro folks on any bike. Perhaps if you were a very fast rider, you would notice. Or perhaps you would be faster. Who knows?

  17. #17
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownbike View Post
    It will fit the Classic models as well as the Monocoque. I believe it fits all the '06 and later models. A quick way to tell is if the seat post lock is in front of the seat tube and the rear swing arm has a small mounting tube on the top part where the suspension block is attached.

    No problem here with the smaller wheels. The suspension and stiff frame make for excellent handling.
    Thanks CB for the tidbit.

    Regarding the small wheels ... I am talking about the small roller wheels, not the wheels of the Birdy. We have test ridden a yellow and red.

    With the Merc, it rolled much better with the skate wheels than the teeny plastic wheels that came with the bike. The boss would not touch the bike with the original wheels. Once I put the skate wheels on, she used it a few times a week.

    PDX: Rolling the bike sideways? I have to think about that. Is it the case that you can't roll the bike when it is in front or behind you while moving forward? That is, you have to hold it to one's side when moving forward.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownbike View Post
    Actually, there is a version of the Expedition rack that has wheels which allow you to roll the bike while folded. They are fairly common in Japan, and hopefully available elsewhere as I'm looking to pick one up.
    I stand corrected. Ran across a Brit site that stated the Expedition rack fits 2002 and later bikes.

    Still hunting for the elusive wheeled rack. Found a reference in a review of the '07 Birdy Speed on Folding Society's site, so I at least know the bloody thing exists.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand View Post
    Thanks CB for the tidbit.

    Regarding the small wheels ... I am talking about the small roller wheels, not the wheels of the Birdy. We have test ridden a yellow and red.

    With the Merc, it rolled much better with the skate wheels than the teeny plastic wheels that came with the bike. The boss would not touch the bike with the original wheels. Once I put the skate wheels on, she used it a few times a week.

    PDX: Rolling the bike sideways? I have to think about that. Is it the case that you can't roll the bike when it is in front or behind you while moving forward? That is, you have to hold it to one's side when moving forward.
    Ah so. It seems that inline skate wheels could always be substituted.

    From what I can gather, they're referring to the bike being towed behind you with the bike perpendicular to the axis of the towed direction. So the bike is traveling with a wider stance and has less of a tendency to tip. You'd have to do something different with turnstiles and the like, but seems like a good idea overall. Hopefully I can get my mitts on one to check it out.
    Last edited by Clownbike; 09-14-07 at 09:24 PM. Reason: spelling malfunction

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