how to fold a bike

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The Independent Culture
People often ask me why I feel motivated to ride a small-wheeled collapsible bicycle through some of Europe's busiest traffic. A rugged looking mountain bike may be one thing, but a three-speed abbreviation with a one-and-a-half foot seat post?

Four years ago, with traffic chaos unchecked, I realised that my car could no longer offer the "unlimited mobility" the world of motoring had promised and I made the switch to public transport and cycling.

The folding bicycle is the most recent phase of my cycling experience. Weighing 25 pounds and folding in less than 30 seconds to make a package of four cubic feet (about the size of a small suitcase), it is small enough to be taken as luggage onto trains, buses and aircraft.

The concept of cycles for commuters was popularised by the Bickerton folding bicycle in the early 1970s. Its aluminium construction was light but notorious for its interactive flexing between machine and rider. The folding bike of the 1990s, however, has to satisfy today's discerning riders in terms of comfort and handling. The "folder" is the classic engineering compromise - rigidity, comfort and handling versus weight, foldability and compactness.

In London I use my folder on British Rail and underground services, enabling me to change travel plans if need be. Arriving at work, I take my folder straight in with me, or, alternatively, reception staff are usually happy to look after it during a meeting.

Out of the city, I use it on regional and Intercity trains. With no fee or booking required the folded package is always guaranteed a place. The large space above the small wheels allows me to carry a surprising amount of luggage.

The focal point for Britain's folders is the Folding Society which publishes a bi-monthly magazine and is dedicated to promoting the cycles. Co-founder Peter Henshaw believes that the Society has an important campaigning role. "Folders are getting all sorts of people, many from non-cycling backgrounds, on to bikes," he explains.

Design of folding bicycles is divided between those that are highly compact and can be taken anywhere (prices start at pounds 280), folders similar to full- size bikes but with a hinge (from pounds 250, including mountain-bike type folders), and bikes which dismantle rather than fold such as the Moulton bicycle (from pounds 450).

Weight is not as crucial as you might think - after all the idea is for the bicycle to be beneath you, not the other way around. My folder has a couple of intermediate folding stages that allow the package to be trundled along platforms or wheeled from one flight of stairs to the next.

As well as the obvious advantages to both your health and the environment, you will also benefit financially. A recent cost comparison between a car and a combination of folding bike and train revealed a saving of pounds 1,500 over 9,000 miles.

So has the folding cycle got the future of personal transport sewn up? This year has already seen four new models come onto the market and the Folding Society reports a sharp increase in the number of enquiries from design students.

Andrew Ritchie, a cycle-maker whose company turns out about 5,000 folders a year, believes it is not only his Brompton design that is winning customers: "People are thinking twice about taking it for granted that the car is the only way to get around and are beginning to realise there is no longer an automatic right to that luxury."


Information: The Folding Society, 19 West Park, Castle Cary, Somerset BA7 7DB (01963 351649)