One of my favorite things about bicycles is that they offer such a simple means to get around. In many ways, I feel the same about public transportation. Sure it takes a little longer to get from place to place, but it is just so easy and relaxing compared to driving. As an added bonus, I can read or sleep along the way. But, what can I do when pub trans can’t get me within walking distance of my destination? I recently bought a folding bike, and it seems that I’ve got a solution… at least for some destinations.
Many of our local buses have bike racks, but I’m not aware of any intercity pub trans out of Michiana that accommodates full-sized bicycles, unless they’re partially disassembled and boxed. This includes airlines, bus lines, Amtrak and the South Shore. In many cases, even when boxed and disassembled, taking a bike will incur a significant additional fee. Boxes for full-sized bikes are big and unwieldy; they’re not something you can carry with you while riding.
I frequently visit family in a Pennsylvanian town called North East (it is actually in northwestern PA), which is about 15 miles northeast from Erie — hence the name. Amtrak services Erie, which is great, but does not stop in North East. To make matters worse, the only west-bound return train leaves Erie at 1:30 AM — too late for me to feel comfortable asking for a ride.
However, I recently had a change of heart about folding bikes when I learned that they can be readily transported by Greyhound, Amtrak and even the South Shore. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always thought they were kinda silly (no offense intended to any aficionados out there!), but I decided to give it a try when I found I could get an entry-level model from a well-known company for ~$200.
I bought a Dahon Boarwalk S1. It only has one gear. It has a cantilever brake on the front and a coaster brake for the rear. It is not light-weight at 31.5 pounds (including kick stand, rear rack and fenders), but it is manageable in a $60 bag I bought for it.
It folds and unfolds quickly (supposedly those with more experience than I can do it only 15 seconds! I take closer to a minute.) And, most importantly, I find it quite decent to ride. It doesn’t even come close to the comfort and efficiency of my regular bikes, but for rides up to about 15 miles I won’t mind riding it at all — assuming I’m not in a hurry!
By all accounts, I look absolutely ridiculous riding this thing. My wife calls it my monkey bike ;). I should point out that for a couple hundred dollars more I could get one that is lighter, more adjustable for better fit, and multi-geared. Many people use these as their primary bikes and absolutely love them. There are high-end models suitable for serious touring.
I used mine for a business meeting in Cleveland last week via Greyhound, and it worked great! I rode it to the South Bend Regional Airport, folded it up, and had no problem putting it under the bus with the regular passenger luggage. When I got to Cleveland, I unfolded it, hopped on, and biked the nine miles to meet my colleagues.
I already have Amtrak tickets to and from Erie for Labor Day weekend, and look forward to riding the fifteen miles along the lake. It’s also occurred to me that I can use the folder for business trips I take to Argonne National Lab (outskirts of Chicago) by coupling it with the South Shore, Metra and biking the final five miles.
Here are a few pictures (note the cat for scale!):