Carry two spare wheels to work

By some miracle you have managed to find a parking space in London. Trouble is, your appointment is in 10 minutes, it's more than a mile away, and every black cab has its light out. What you need is another miracle in the shape of a conveniently sized conveyance that slips easily out of the boot and gets you quickly back on the road.

As life president of the Reluctant Pedestrian Club, I am uniquely qualified to find an alternative to Shanks's, slow, sweaty and rather unfit pony. Pure pedal power is the obvious way to cycle your way from a stationary car, and there are several folding bikes on the market.

One I liked is the Mistral, which is assembled in Slovakia. Unlike similar machines, it does not break down into a multitude of component parts to resemble a jigsaw. This is a simple, sturdy bike with a U-shaped frame that simply folds in the middle.

It also rides like a decent bike, as opposed to some titchy-wheeled collapsibles, which can feel downright dangerous. The average price in most London cycle stores is a reasonable pounds 120.

A bike that is not strictly a folder, although it has the ability to split in half, is the Moulton APB. Designed by Dr Alex Moulton, who was responsible for a range of unique cycles in the Sixties, these all-purpose bikes look like no other bike on earth, with their spidery frames and 20in wheels.

An enthusiast will appreciate the suspension system. An added feature is that the frame splits in two and can then be bagged and carried around on your shoulders. Prices start at pounds 449.95 for this All Purpose Bike, rising to pounds 899.95.

The Rolls-Royce of folding bikes, according to all the shops I visited, is the Brompton. An amazing machine, it folds to a tiny package of 22in x 21in x 9.5in, and weighs just 25lb. Even when parking, the Brompton folds almost in half as the rear wheel tucks underneath the frame. Yet on the road it rides like a proper bicycle should.

The folding is achieved in five easy stages and the overall impression is one of superb build quality, especially as the Chiswick-based firm is confident enough to offer a 10-year frame guarantee. Prices start at pounds 357.20, rising to pounds 491.15 for a five-speed touring model.

Among all the park and ride options, what appeals most to the dedicated disciple of the internal combustion engine is something that requires no physical effort whatever, such as a mini-motorbike. You may have seen them used in the paddock at race tracks, on private land, or even at foreign holiday resorts. But few are available, or even street-legal in the UK. Probably the best known of its type is the Honda ST series, popularly known as a 'monkey bike.

It resembles a full-size machine that has been shrunk in the wash and is powered by a 50cc engine. Although easy to ride and well-built, it is heavy.

The other problem is that Honda no longer imports it. After a word with their head office in Chiswick, I was able to locate at least one dealer who still had some in stock - pounds 999 on the road from a showroom in Stafford. Alternatively, you can check the advertisements in a specialist magazine like Motorcycle News, where you might be able to pick one up for a few hundred pounds.

There is one mini-bike that can be bought new, and that is the Italjet Pack 3. I went to the headquarters in Woodford Green, E18 to take a closer look. This is a truly tiny thing that gets even smaller once the handlebars have been folded flat and the seat dropped, to a compact 43in x 19in x 22in. A handle in the middle of the bike means that it is easy enough to shift around at 75lb, which is lighter than the Honda. With an automatic gearbox, it is simple to drive too, all for pounds 995 on the road and free delivery within the London area.

The rules of this park and ride parlour game are that you own a standard saloon, hatchback or estate car. However, you can bend the rules with a cycle rack if you can't cope with a folding bike. A Hollywood F1, distributed by Fisher in Finchley, costs pounds 49.95 from most shops and allows you to transport an extra couple of bikes for friends.

But I'd be tempted to pop back to Italjet and buy one of their Tiffany or Class motorised bikes at pounds 749. They have brilliant styling and a 50cc engine that takes over when you are tired of pedalling - the perfect park and ride solution.

WHERE TO BUY YOUR PARK AND RIDE BIKE

Brompton Bicycle: 081-742 8251.

Italjet: 081-506 1166.

Phoenix Cycles, Battersea: 071-738 2766.

Smith Brothers, Wimbledon: 081-946 2270.

Condor Cycles, Holborn: 071-837 7641.

Bridge Bikes, Putney: 081-870 3934

Cyclecare Olympia: 071-602 9757.

Swift Cycles, Forest Hill: 081-699 2961.

W F Holdsworth, Putney: 081-788 1060.

Burts Cycles, Hampton Hill: 081-979 2124.

Ealing Cycle Centre: 081-567 3557.

Brian Simpson, Kentish Town: 071-485 1706.

(Photograph omitted)

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