By Adam Newman
Working in the cycling industry requires quite a bit of travel. We go to press camps, trade shows, bike shows, festivals, and, some- times, just-for-fun trips. Bringing a bike with you on your trip has never been simple. You can box it up and ship it ahead of time, or you can pack it and fly it in an oversize case. Both methods have their drawbacks. Enter Bike Friday.
Bike Friday got its start in 1991 when co- founder Hanz Scholz traveled to Australia with a prototype. He was able to move freely between planes, trains, and buses without hassle, while his traveling companion was forced to pay fees for her full-size bike. Bike Friday is primarily about traveling and pack- ability. Their bikes do not fold into neat little transformers like some other folding brands, but they also pride themselves on building bikes that ride like “normal” bikes.
The New World Tourist is Bike Friday’s original model; now there are several others. Each new Bike Friday is built with specifications and components customized for the customer’s needs. When we contacted Bike Friday about a test ride, I was put in touch with a “Bike Consultant” who listened to what I was going to use it for (commuting and general road rides) and what specific components I had to have (drop bars and bar-end shifters), then he put together the bike you see here. At $1,295, the bike is not flashy, but if you’re looking for something that goes faster, carries an even larger load, or is more adept at packing up small, they can make that happen.
The standard New World Tourist is available in three sizes (based on top tube length rather than the more typical seat tube length), but custom sizing and heavy rider upgrades are available as well. There are nearly 20 stock colors to choose from. All the frames are handmade of steel in Eugene, Oregon, and include a lifetime warranty.
As I requested, this bike came equipped with drop bars, Shimano bar-end shifters, a double chainring crankset, and a standard derailleur drivetrain. The wheels are 20” and are drilled for Schrader valve tubes, so you can use standard BMX tires and tubes should you need a replacement while out on tour.
The second half of this travel combo is the case-turned-trailer. Made from a standard Samsonite hard- shell suitcase, it is modified by Bike Friday to accept an undercarriage that supports the wheels and bike attachment. The trailer chassis mounts to the suitcase with butterfly nuts and lock pins, and can be completely disassembled without tools. The hitch is a piece of pneumatic tubing—just like you’d find on an air compressor—that flexes to allow for cornering, while the pneumatic coupler mechanism makes connecting and disconnecting it a snap. The materials used in the case are simple and unpretentious, with a sturdy, DIY feel. The design of the set-up isn’t refined, but it keeps the price down and allows you to repair or modify the system easily, with commonly available materials. Almost all of the pieces could be had from a big-box hardware store.
We’ve ridden and written about some folding bikes in the past year—and there are more on the way—but the Bike Friday stands out as the first one I’ve sampled that performs as well as a traditional bike. While others have steep head tube angles and short wheelbases that give them a darting, twitchy ride, the New World Tourist is nearly as long as a standard bike, giving it a smooth, comfortable ride and relaxed handling. All the contact points match my regular bike exactly. If I were riding blindfolded, I could probably still tell it apart from one with larger wheels, but not by much. Even when standing and pedaling while climbing or sprinting, the front wheel tracked straight ahead.
The smaller wheels do have a tendency to find their way into potholes and ruts a lot more easily than full-size wheels, but it just takes a little bit of awareness to avoid the bumps. Because the wheels are also spinning more quickly, it also gives you an odd sensation of moving more quickly than you really are. One last consideration is that the small wheels lower the overall gear ratio of the drivetrain, so climbing hills is a breeze, but don’t bother entering any fast races.
When it came time to pack the bike, it doesn’t fold so much as it easily disassembles. The seatpost and stem are separated with quick releases, then another quick release unhooks the frame junction to allow it to fold. The front wheel comes off, but the rear wheel stays on. I also used a 5mm hex wrench (tastefully included) to separate the seatpost from the extension and the stem from the handlebars. One concern, however: having parts that are removable with quick-releases makes locking the bike a bit of a thorny issue.
What to do with that stuff? Bike Friday includes nice felt pouches and sleeves to pro- tect the various pieces when packed. They were even labeled. The bike fits easily in the case, without any mysterious series of actions needed to make it fit. Fold the bike, put it in the case, close the case. There is an included support to keep the sides from collapsing if you sit on it, too. When packed, the bike doesn’t rattle or move around in there, and it was easily under the 50lb. weight limit on most airlines. It’s also lockable with a TSA- compatible key (not included).
When pulling the case in trailer mode, the effect on the ride is noticeable, but not detrimental. Packed with 30lbs. of gear, it didn’t pull or push the bike along; it mostly feels like you’re riding uphill all the time. I did have to keep speeds under control, as hitting a bump at speed could get it wobbling.
As a unit, the Bike Friday New World Tourist and TravelCase really impressed me. I was able to bring it with me across the country and enjoy riding “my own” bike in a distant city. It’s important to keep in mind this folder is designed for traveling, not folding up under your desk at work each day. It’s not designed to compete with the Bromptons and Dahons of the world, rather the bikes with S&S couplers that you would take on trips with you. It may seem expensive compared to other folding bikes, but remember: you’re getting a frame handbuilt in the U.S.A. that will save you hundreds in airline fees. If you’re comfortable with its unusual looks and have a safe place to lock it, I would not hesitate to recommend it for general commuting or open road riding as well.
- Age: 30
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 175lbs.
- Inseam: 33”
- Price: $1,295 for the bike, as tested; $500 for the TravelCase
- Weight: 25lbs.
- Sizes available: Small (52cm top tube), Medium (56cm), and Extra Large (60cm, tested); custom geometry available
- Country of Origin: U.S.A.
- Contact: www.bikefriday.com