The two-wheel itch just had to be scratched. A week ago I blogged, "Folding bike! I need one to make my life complete."
Today the family dog and I drove to Eugene, a hour from our rural south Salem home, to see the folding bikes made by Bike Friday.
Yes, right here in the good old U.S.A.
In fact, in the same building as the showroom. Bike Friday has a pleasing industrial-chic vibe. Nothing fancy about the place, aside from the wonderfully well-crafted bicycles.
Tip to those who visit in person: pay more attention to the map on the Bike Friday Visit our showroom page than I did. The 3364 W. 11th Ave. address isn't right on that street. Bike Friday is in back of some other buildings. I drove past twice before locating it.
After walking in, I had one of my best sales experiences ever. Jeff Strehl-Roberts, the guy who showed the bikes to me, was terrific to work with. (Here he's telling me about a new cargo bike.)
I never felt like I was being sold anything. It was a lot like an Apple Store experience. Jeff just explained the features of the various models and answered my questions. The Bike Friday bikes sell themselves, as excellent products do.
During the week after I decided a folding bike had to come into my life, I spent a lot of time researching them on the Internet. Believe me, a lot. I kept changing my mind between various brands: Brompton, Tern, Montague, and several others.
What caused me to head down I-5 to Bike Friday was, first, that one of the oft-mentioned quality brands on folding bike discussion groups was close by here in Oregon. Folding bike retail dealers aren't very common. To find one that also makes the bike they sell -- sweet!
Secondly, while I had been tilting toward a Brompton, an undeniably impressive folding bike brand, the more I learned about Brompton's six-speed shifting mechanism, the less I liked the look of it. Two levers on the handlebars, each of which had to be moved in mysterious ways to cause the six speeds to manifest.
Seemed clunky to me. Out of place for a $2,000 bike. Hey, if I'm going to spend as much money as the VW Beetle my mother bought back in 1957, I'd like to get a bike with a 21st century vibe to it.
Which I feel like I did.
After test-riding several Bike Friday models in the roomy adjacent parking area, I realized that I preferred 20 inch wheels to the 16 inch'ers that are often wrongly derided as "clown car" wheels.
Bikes with either set of wheels felt great as I rode around. It just seemed like the 20 inch wheels had a bit more solid feel to them. And way more responsive when turning than the full-size wheels on my mountain bike.
[Update: just came across this post where a woman had the same preference for Bike Friday's 20 inch Silk over the 16 inch Tikit.]
I was instantly sold on the Carbon Drive belt that was on the Bike Friday Silk shown in the photo above. Goodbye to a clunky chain, and the need to lubricate, clean, and adjust one. Jeff and I then talked quite a bit about shifting options.
The question was how many gears, and how they should be shifted. I've become a big fan of the 8-speed internal hub with a twist handlebar shifter on my outdoor elliptical bike, the StreetStrider. The Silk I rode had a similar 14 speed hub, which seemed like overkill for the riding I'd be doing.
I was about to sign up for an 11-speed, until Jeff and I talked more about the NuVinci continuously variable hub. No gears at all. Well, an infinity of them, so to speak. I'd get a twist shifter without the discrete gears. And it was less expensive than an 11-speed internal hub.
Jeff led me through an array of other choices, made less dizzying because the standard Silk setup was pretty much what I wanted and needed.
All Bike Friday bikes are made to order for a customer.
My height and weight were dutifully recorded. As was the distance from my crotch to the floor -- measured in a pleasingly non-genital approaching manner, through the use of a thin book I held between my legs with, um, just the right amount of pressure on the sensitive area, while Jeff measured the distance between the book spine and the floor.
The showroom had lots of different models, in various colors. That made it easier to choose orange for my bike, the color in the right foreground above. Seemed energetic and bright. Plus, I was wearing an orange jacket today.
It's going to take until around April 10 to construct my bike. Two months of waiting. I'm glad I visited the Bike Friday store when I did, since I suspect that more orders will come in as spring and summer approach.
After Jeff finished up the ordering process, he asked if I wanted to take a 15-minute tour of the "factory." I sure did. Zu Zu, our dog, was put back in the car. She was inside dog-friendly Bike Friday for most of the time I was there, wandering around god-knows-where.
(Well, I'm pretty sure I know one place she went, the employee break room. Zu Zu loves people and food. People with food, even better.)
It is still in good shape, which makes me confident that my bike will be able to ride on smooth pavement a few miles to a coffeehouse, where I'll sip a latte at an outdoor table and try to look like someone who could bike all over the planet.
This is one of the first steps in the production process. The bags on the right are filled with components for special-ordered bikes that will be added to the frames at a later step. Seeing how many there were helped me understand why my bike would take eight weeks to make.
Here somebody is doing something-or-other that requires welding. Jeff explained many details during my tour, but I've already forgotten most of them. I do distinctly remember the most important thing: everybody working at Bike Friday appeared happy, competent, and good at their job.
I'm not a gung-ho Made in America guy. If another country makes a product better than we can here, hey, I'm pleased to buy it. (I love my British Mini Cooper.) But I really enjoyed buying a bike made in Oregon.
Jeff told me that 99% of bicycles, or more, are made outside of the United States. Eugene, however, has a thriving bike industry, which is great.
Bike Friday sells all over the world. They give a welcome discount to Oregonians, 13%. That brought the price of my Silk down from $2,592 to a "mere" $2,346 -- including disc brakes, upgraded tires and handlebars, fenders, kickstand, that special orange color, a Brompton front bag bracket, and a few other options.
Yeah, its a lot of money.
But having researched folding bikes quite extensively, Bike Friday offers a great product at a fair cost. I configured a Brompton. It came to $2,368. And that's with a regular chain drive, plus a rather clumsy six-speed shifter.
Some 16-inch Bike Friday models fold about as small as a Brompton. But since I'm not interested in ultimate small-size foldability, I'll be happier with the 20-inch Silk. Jeff demonstrated how it folds, which ends up in a package that isn't a whole lot bigger than a 16-inch bike.
Bottom line: take a long hard look at Bike Friday if you're in the market for a folding bike. Currently their web site gives off an erroneous vibe -- that their bikes are aimed at bicycle geeks with lots of technical knowledge and riding experience.
I have neither. Yet the couple of hours I spent at Bike Friday today were highly enjoyable.
I never felt talked-down to, or pressured in any way. Jeff assured me that their support staff are as competent as their sales people, answering phone calls at any time of the night if a Bike Friday owner anywhere in the world has a pressing problem.
[Vitally important update: Jeff, my Bike Friday man, has let me know about their referral program. Mention me -- ME, ME, ME! -- if you buy a bike from them, and I'll get $50, or a $75 in store credit. So if you read this blog post and end up buying a Bike Friday folding bike, tell them "Brian Hines sent me."]
When my bike is in my hands, I'll report on how I like it. For now, I can report that I really like the Bike Friday buying experience. Here's a video about the Silk model that I bought.