Folding Bike for a College Student and Region Rat
Hey CalKing - greetings from a former fellow Region Rat who moved to Glen Ellyn to follow a career. I lived in Chesterton for 11 years.
Most folding bikes come in 20" wheel but there are several that come in 26" as well. Bike Friday claims their 20" wheels do not affect performance unless you regularly go over I believe 28 mph or something unusual for a casual rider.
Knowing that you're close to Chicago you might consider getting a Dahon with the F.I.T. Stem. That is a handlebar that is not only adjustable but removable. This keeps the bike as flat as possible for both storage in a dorm or a trunk, and for on-train travel. I have a Dahon Jack - this is a 7-speed I bought at Dan's Bike Shop in Berwyn. This ran me just under $500 with tax.
A really great store to shop for Folding Bikes is Rapid Transit Cycle Shop on North Avenue. They carry about five brands, more than any store I know of anywhere. Bike Friday, Dahon, Brompton, and they claim Strida though I've never seen one at their store.
If you want to ever take it on the South Shore you can but it MUST be in a bag. They are pretty nasty about this. Dahon makes a bag called the Bolso that you can wear like a backpack. Some praise it, others find it awkward. I personally have a bag from Bazooka Sports www.bazookasports.com that I like because the bag folds up and clips to your handlebars.
Bazooka Sports makes a good folding bike. Your user sounds like he is light enough for a folding bike. One thing I llike about Bazooka is that the handlebars have a stem that fits into a gasket into the bike frame that locks the two folded halves of the bike together, something I wish the Dahon did. www.Bazookasports.com. But you can only order in the mail so unless you are confident you know his frame size you want be careful.
Finally if compactness is key and you don't mind a single speed take a look at the Strida. If you go to their site I know the dealer in Oak Park has some in stock - you can find them at the Strida.com web site. And there are some pretty cool videos on YouTube.