Test report originally issued
18 June 2006
It's a funny thing the internet. One minute you're wondering where to sell off your old tat, the next, you're considering buying a folding bike. In my case the old tat was a rather natty Ridgeback Genesis road bike. Tatty it was not, nor old, but it wouldn't fit into my new house, and anyway, it scared me to death every time I rode it in traffic. Too fast for me, I thought, as I looked for an excuse to sell it and get something smaller and less stealable. There was nearly three hundred pounds tied up in that bike, and every time I left it parked outside a shop, I was always surprised to find it still there when I returned. It also required eighty quids worth of roof bars and a further fifty quids worth of bike rack to transport the thing anywhere by car.
Browsing through the bike section on Ebay I noticed those funny looking folding-bike contraptions. Nobody in their right mind would want one of course – they look like giant mousetraps. And they are expensive. But I was hooked on the idea of a bike that would fit in the back of my car, could be taken on trains, and a bike that NO-ONE WOULD EVER STEAL.
Google turned up the Folding Society and A-To-B magazine, I read all the reviews and soon became an armchair expert on Bromptons, Dahons, and Bike Fridays. Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing is one of my traits, and I realised that the money I would get from selling the Ridgeback would only buy a folder at the 'rubber mat' end of the market, as my car-salesman friend used to say. And I wanted gears, at least six, and sixteen inch wheels for portability.
As it turned out, folders with sixteen inch wheels and plenty of gears are way above my budget of £200.00. I liked the look of the Dahons, I liked the idea of a Brompton, and I would kill for a Bike Friday. None were available on my budget. But the Towsure Lightweight Folder was. It has a simple steel frame, six 'Shimano Gears', sixteen inch wheels, and a telescopic handlebar stem. Best of all it costs £129.00. I picked one up the next time I was Towsuring, stuck it in the back of my stretch limo and drove home.
Unpacking it was a surprise. It's tiny when folded, and de-origami-ing it takes about a minute or less. It has lustrous silver paint and stickers proclaiming it to be a 'Surf Sure' It does indeed have six gears, but they are labelled 'Monsoon' and not 'Shimano'. But they're indexed which is nice, and shift freely once I'd spent an hour on Google figuring out how to adjust the cable.
There's a single folding pedal (the other pedal doesn't) and a double sided chainguard on the chainwheel. It came with metal mudguards too, (but no rear rack) and a bag to transport it in, quite a bargain when you see other companies charging up to £40.00 for a bike bag. The saddle is wide and sprung, and the adjustable height handlebars, er, adjust in height. The bike comes with a bell, which emits a soft 'ching' when operated – not enough to move a mouse out of the way, never mind a pedestrian.
Riding the bike is interesting. It's a little twitchy, but no more so than the Ridgeback. It has good quality Kenda tyres which take some of the shock out of the ride, at the moment they are pumped up to the maximum 40psi. It's even relatively comfortable. The only downside are the brakes. The originals were stamped out of sheet steel and only slowed the bike because of their weight. I live next door to a bike shop, and got a pair of alloy BMX brake calipers and pads for £15.00 . Fitting took all of ten minutes and stopping power is now doubled.
Folded up the bike easily fits in my aforementioned stretch limo – a Fiat Panda. This has a boot just big enough for a toothbrush, but takes the bike with space to spare for toothpaste. There are gasps of astonishment from onlookers as I lift out and unfold the bike. So far it's met with incredulity from everyone who has seen it. When folded the bike presents the chain on the outside. Will this mean oily legs when carrying it? Time will tell.
I took the mudguards (fenders) off and weighed the bike on my bathroom scales. It's just 11.6 kilos or 25.5736224 pounds, if you like to be accurate. I've added LED lights and a computer to it, so the weight has gone up a little, but even at 11.6 kilos I wouldn't want to carry it too far. There's a lot of extra weight in the one-piece crank. (Ashtabula type). This is a forged Z shaped lump of steel with a pedal at each end. According to Sheldon Brown's web page this is the strongest crank type of all and is easily serviced with household tools. But I don't like the extra weight when carrying the bike, and it may get changed for a lightweight Shimano three-speed something or other. Adapters to change the bottom bracket are widely available, so that might be my major upgrade – bringing total expenditure to a heady £170.00 plus the huge sum I spent on the brakes. My clever biking buddy reckons we can also fit a front-derailleur mech – bringing in an 18 speed folder for under £200.00. I'll believe it when I ride it.
In terms of bangs for buck it's a winner, it rides pretty well, it's got six gears, it feels well made, and it came with a bag. And it looks a little like the Dahon I wanted in the first place but is less than half the price. It doesn't have the street cred of a Brompton, but it folds and rides well. It lacks suspension and other frills although it's a buzz to ride round town and the indexed gears have reasonably useful ratios. As a commuting six speed bike, there's not much around at the price to beat it, but if you buy one you may want to do the brake-ectomy and fit better stoppers.
Best of all, nobody would ever want to steal it.
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©2006 Suzi Jones
Last updated 18 June 2006