In April I wrote about experiencing more and more knee pain after several years of riding my 2004 Xootr Swift increasingly longer distances, and more frequently, to work. One of the problems was that the clamps holding the saddle weren’t tight enough. Even if I got the saddle at the right height after unfolding, it could slowly slide down while I was riding. Fixing the saddle at the proper height with a clamp, was an improvement – but not enough.
In August, I heard/felt a noise from the rear wheel. I saw that a three inch segment of the Swift’s rear rim was pushing out and grabbing the pad during every rotation. While Light St Cycles was working on that in Baltimore, I had my 1988 Trek 1100, a full size road bike, refurbished at Pedal Power in Altoona. I brought the Trek to Baltimore and started riding it to and from work. The dimensions of the Trek are almost identical to those of my custom-fit Serotta, and I soon noticed that my knees weren’t hurting after commuting on the Trek every day.
A cycling buddy at work advised me that saddle height was important, but so were ‘stack’ and ‘reach’ – which define the distance from the pedal hub to the handlebars. I measured, and the Swift’s reach is much shorter than my other bikes. I could have tried a much longer handlebar stem, but instead I have just continued to ride the Trek.
Fortunately I now ride the light rail early, and there are so few passengers that I no longer need a folding bike in the morning. The Trek is not as compact as a folded Swift, but does fit under my desk. And since I ride home, I don’t have to deal with a crowded train at rush hour.
It has been well over a month since I felt any knee pain at all. I now have the Swift setup with grocery bags for one mile rides to the nearby stores, but ride the old Trek to and from work.
I’ve been looking into folding electric bicycles – as if I can afford one – so I can climb the three hills on my ten mile commute to work without getting too sweaty. There are dedicated folding electric bikes – which I’ll discuss later – but most are just folding bikes retrofitted with kits by Bionx or Currie.
The neatest retrofit I had seen until today was NyceWheels’ Tern Link + Bionx RR (rear rack) install. With the battery tucked in a rack, it is well-disguised for the streets of NYC, where blatantly electric bikes are technorata-non-grata. Unfortunately the $2,150 Tern Link is only for riders who weigh less than 110 kg/242 lbs – and I fluctuate ten lbs above and below that number depending on the season. The 110 kg weight limit cuts out all the Dahons and most of the Terns and Bromptons for me.
The 26″ wheel Tern Joes and the 24″ wheel Tern Eclipses will carry 115 kg, and fold as well as the Link. I emailed NyceW about doing an RR install on the $900 P24, but Steve claims that it would be difficult because of the disc brakes. (I have seen it done in another NyceW video.) The DT – downtube – installs look clumsy, and I suspect that swinging my leg over the top tube-mounted battery would be a pain at stoplights. The Joe weighs in at 30.7 lbs and Bionx kits range from 14 to 20 lbs, so a retrofitted Joe should weigh 45 to 51 lbs.
Two of the Tern Eclipses come with rear racks, but the S11i already costs $2,500 and the S18 already costs $2,100 without any electrics. These Eclipses are already 32.4 and 34.8 lbs so electric assist would increase weight to between 47 and 55 lbs. The $1,100 P9 looks like a good candidate for electric assist, but with no rear rack and disc brakes, I’m guessing Steve would say I’d need a DT install. A P9 with the DTs should weigh between 41 and 47 lbs.
NyceW’s front wheel drive retrofit of a Brompton should attract even less police attention. The M3L would carry me, but putting both the weight of the electric hub motor and the battery bag forward of the rider should radically change the weight distribution of the tiny bike. Also, the M3L plus the battery bag will cost $3,000 dollars or more.
Almost ten years ago, I test rode a Montague Paratrooper trail bike configured as the Wavecrest Tidalforce e-bike, with a hub motor in one wheel and a hub battery in the other. Wavecrest is long since defunct, but NyceW offers two sturdy Montague packages, the $1,950 to $2,850 Crosstown + Bionx and the $2,100 to $3,000 Paratrooper + Bionx. In these 43 lb packages the battery is mounted DT style on a locking tube just above and ahead of the pedal axle. It isn’t as elegant as the hub battery, but it looks less clumsy than mounting above the top tube. Either of these will carry 250 lb riders, and rather quickly.
In the realm of dedicated folding electric bikes, Prodeco makes less expensive but heavier machines with lithium iron phosphate batteries. The $1,400 Mariner, Storm and Genesis have 8 speeds and weigh in at 46, 49 and 55 lbs, respectively. The $1,300 step-through Stride weighs 46 lbs. Prodecos are cheaper at Amazon, where Zap has a good video review of his Storm. Reviews are generally positive, but many note that the range is lower than promised, and even Zap admits that you don’t want to pedal a dead Storm uphill. Seems like a good bike for retirees.
Looking at the weights of these other bikes, I appreciated that my folding Xootr Swift is very light at about 11.2 kg/25 lbs. Some of the Bike Friday models are a pound lighter, but at twice the price. I dropped an email to Xootr asking if they had experience adding a Bionx system using the CrossRack, which mounts behind the saddle.
They did not, but they told me that Xootr will soon be selling the 16.5 kg/36 lb Swift-e – an electric assist version of the Swift – in the US. The 36V 9Ah Swift-e is reviewed in this PDF from a UK bike magazine, and should list for under $2,000. From the pictures, one would hardly notice that it is an electric bike. I only live three hours from Scranton, so I wonder if they would retrofit my Swift if I drove it up there.
For anyone contemplating the purchase of a seriously excellent bicycle, there’s a daunting article on bike theft from Priceonomics blog, What Happens to Stolen Bicycles? Reselling bikes isn’t very profitable, but …
… it begins to be clear why there is so much bike theft. For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime. It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike and if you are, the consequences are minimal.
Most of these guys are drug addicts, but a lot of them are professionals. You can cut through a u-lock in a minute and a half with the right tools.
Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street — cash, drugs, sex, and bikes… You can virtually exchange one for another.
Six years ago, a repair shop in Frederick told me that my Trek 1100’s derailleur was probably going to fall apart soon. I had been riding the Trek to work and leaving it in a small fenced in area outside. I went to Mt Airy bikes because they had a large selection of recumbents and three-wheelers, but I found that I didn’t like riding so low that I couldn’t see traffic. I asked the owner, Larry, about Bromptons, and he talked me into the heavy duty Xootr Swift, for around $700. I also bought a new helmet and a new u-lock. I hardly ever need the lock.
I commuted to work four miles each way almost every day and stowed the bike under my desk. When I moved to Baltimore, the folding Swift was perfect for riding light rail. Now I ride the rail into work, and bike the nine miles homeward. On light rail, I see a lot of dingy guys with expensive-looking bikes, and a lot of prosperous guys with beaters. It makes me glad my bike is always in my apartment or under my desk.
Probably the only other folding bikes strong enough for me would have been the Montague folding bikes. The Montague Paratrooper, a trail bike, was the platform for the elegant but expensive Wavecrest electric bikes. Their Pavement series are folding road bikes, but have full size wheels, and would be more challenging to stow at work.
Bromptons and Dahons fold a lot smaller than the Swift, but are intended for average-sized riders. If I reach my fitness goal of 225 lbs, I’ll be five pounds under the weight limit of a Dahon Vitesse. I’d like to have a really small bike that I could stuff into a bag and carry into stores.
I’d love to ride an electric bike in to work, then ride a light sport bike home. A2B and Evelo make very attractive non-folding e-bikes, but several of my coworkers have had scooters stolen from the office lot. I can’t see spending two or three thousand on something that will just be stolen.
One can add Currie or Bionx drives to many folding bikes. NYCEWheels used to sell a Swift with a Bionx drive, and they still offer kits for Dahons and Bromptons. But every time I think about getting an electric bike, I have this image of running out of juice and having to drag a dead battery up the hill to my apartment. While the initial 20 mile range is enough to bike both ways, I’ve seen with the Leaf that battery capacity declines over the years.
So for the time being, I’m sticking with the Swift.