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Introduction to Folding Bike Commuting

About a month ago, I was having a tough time deciding which folder to get. The Bromptons were (and continue to be) appealing, but I had a hard time rationalizing spending $1400-$1600 on a commuter which is, let’s be honest, less than sexy. I’d much rather put that type of money towards a new Canyon or some other type of road bike. As a result, I had really decided on either a Tern or a Dahon.

However, on a whim, I decided to check out the Performance Bike website. After all, I had purchased my Roubaix through them and it continues to serve me well, as well as being an excellent value. While some have an issue with Performance Bike since it is a chain and not a local bike shop, they’ve always done well by me. Anyways, I went onto the website and typed in “folding bike.” One result came up. Just one.

The photo had an error, I couldn’t find any reviews online, and there were none in stock. However, it was listed on sale for about $450. That was less than half of what I was thinking I was going to need to spend on the Tern that I was considering. I decided to take a chance. After all, I’d get a warranty and Fuji’s quality has been pretty good on our other bikes.

About a week later, the bicycle arrived at the local shop. I went to pick it up. It was strange not having to bring a bike rack and to have the ability to throw it in the trunk. I get the feeling that someone may have returned this bike at some point as it had a few chips in the frame and a tiny crack in the shifter plastic. However, it was special order only and half of the cost of my other alternatives. Who knew if they would even have any others in stock? Happily, I took my bizarre clown bike and went on my way.

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Quick stop in downtown Phoenix.

 

I’d be lying if I said that it was initially easy to start my multimodal commute. On my first day taking the express bus, a rude bus driver was unwilling to allow me to board the bus home and unwilling to review the policy which I attempted to provide him which indicated that folding bikes were permitted onboard. This culminated in a telephone call to Valley Metro, as well as an online complaint which included multiple bicycle advocacy groups here in the metropolitan Phoenix area. The issue was quickly addressed by Valley Metro and they were very receptive to hear about my complaint. As a matter of fact, the next day, I boarded the bus with no issues and the driver even showed me the memo which he had received about folding bikes. I felt somewhat bad that he had to receive the complaint, but, since I had attempted to show him the policy, I knew that this had to be done.

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Folded up onboard the Express Bus!

Since that time, I’ve continued to use the little Fuji. It’s not perfect as it does have a few issues. The bottom bracket creaks under a heavy pedal effort and the front folding handlebar can rattle over very rough roads. The front V-brake also creaks under heavy braking, which I’ll need to address. I’m also going to attempt to grease the folding mechanism as it seems somewhat stiff to operate. Last Friday, I also walked out to the garage to discover a flat tire on the front Kenda Kwest. A large thorn had punctured through. I don’t fault the bike for that as flats happen. This was easily fixed through an Amazon Prime order and I also took the opportunity to fill both tires with slime. While I was at it, I also ordered an asset tag and registered the funky little thing with Bike Guard.

Now, it sounds like a nightmare at first and I don’t mean to discourage anyone from bike commuting. Now that I’ve identified the challenges, my commute continues to get easier. Each day, I am saving 52 miles of travel from my car. This is greatly reducing my personal expense, as well as reducing my carbon output and providing me with the ability to continue to bike commute. Consequently, I’d highly recommend a folding bike to anyone. They may look weird, but the benefits are worth it!

 

 

 

Carbon Conscious With A Car

Can you be a motorsports fan while also advocating for multi-modal commuting? Can you believe in carbon awareness while also appreciating a suburban lifestyle? Are these types of behaviors contradictory? I don’t believe that they are at all. In fact, just like most aspects of life in America today, I believe that the general absence of a moderate viewpoint greatly polarizes the majority of those involved.

When you are cooking, you wouldn’t use a meat cleaver to slice a tomato. You also wouldn’t use a 10 pound sledgehammer in order to hang a picture on the wall. It’s all about using the right tool for the job. In my commute, I have a “first and last mile” issue. This is where the express bus is a very convenient option for the majority of the trip. However, there is a 1-2 mile gap from my home to the bus departure, as well as from the bus arrival point to my work.

I could use a car for this gap, contributing exhaust to the already polluted Phoenix air and incurring a substantial amount of wear and tear to my beloved Mazda. After all, it’s just a mile or two, right? Wrong. There’s much better options. After some research, as well as a bit of policy reminders to Valley Metro, I purchased a Fuji Origami folding bike. It’s no Brompton, but it’s also a quarter of the price. It looks a bit funny and it’s nowhere near as much fun to ride as my Roubaix, but it is an excellent way to bridge the gap.

Rather than emitting exhaust fumes and destroying my car’s paint through hours in the Arizona sun at the park-and-ride, my low maintenance Origami goes on the bus with me. Once I disembark from the bus, I ride for another 2 miles and then park the bike under my desk. Cost of fuel? $0. Dents in the car from a parking lot? 0. Calories burned? About 150-180. It’s a bit brutal on our days of 115 degrees, but it’s not like my car interior would cool down in a 2 mile trip anyways, so no point in complaining there.

Does this mean that I am going to denounce the car and go to a car-free lifestyle? No. It’s simply not feasible. This is because I do have regular trips to locations which are not even remotely close to mass transit. My car is also paid off, very reliable, and, honestly, fun to drive. I considered an electric car. However, my 35 year old home would require a new electrical panel and the actual environmental cost of a lithium ion battery likely far outweigh usage of a 40 mpg Skyactiv that now only moves about 4000-5000 miles per year for those trips beyond mass transit.

 

Wayfinding for Bike Commuters

I live in Phoenix, which is a world renowned city for urban sprawl. Much of the city’s layout was planned during the 1950’s-1970’s As a result, many of our main thoroughfares are 2-3 lanes wide with 45 mph speed limits. A few of these roads have bike lanes, although I’m not keen to ride on those roads.

Intersection
An example in Scottsdale. This is a small intersection by Phoenix standards. 
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh great, another cyclist complaining that his city isn’t Portland and trying to make a city designed for cars into Copenhagen.” Nope. There are plenty of those blogs already. I merely bring this us up because this was a major deterrent for me from bike commuting. I feared riding among these cars on these fast stretches of road. I continued to procrastinate and drive my car instead. “I’ll start next week” quickly became “I’ll start next month”, which then became “I’ll start next winter.”

Eventually, my wife and I moved to North Scottsdale, which is one of the most friendly areas for biking in the valley. Once we were settled into our new apartment, I really had no excuse to keep driving. At the time, my employer was 5.4 miles away, allowed me to park my bicycle inside for security, and even provided a subsidy for utilizing alternate transportation. I decided that it was time to minimize my usage of the car. However, how would I safely get there?

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This path is close to the intersection above. However, few know that it exists.
At that point, I did what any self-respecting millennial would do. I fired up Google and discovered the magical “Bicycling” filter on Google Maps. Paths that I had never known existed were shown in a light shade of green. Rather than braving 50 mph traffic on a road designed like a runway, I was advised to follow little known paths that don’t permit vehicle traffic. High volumes of cars were replaced by trees, lawns, and ponds. Instead of waiting at stop lights, I cycled below them on underpasses that few Phoenicians know exist.Even more amazing, my commute on my road bike was only 3 more minutes than driving myself in my car.

 

 

Cycling for the Rest of Us

This is my second attempt at a cycling blog. My first attempt, Velocognoscenti, was a concept based upon the glamour that we see on many cycling Instagram accounts. I dreamed of beautiful photography and expensive gear tests. However, after just a few blog posts, I realized that this idea was overdone. That’s right. Just like craft breweries, the competition-based road cycling blog market is over-saturated.

Where are the blogs geared to┬áthe average Joe cyclist? You know, the ones who work a 9-to-5 in the corporate world, have family responsibilities, and enjoy one beer too many on the weekend. The ones that, while advocating for safer bicycling, also have a car in the garage which they don’t intend to sell (and *gasp!* may even enjoy driving!). The ones that dream of having expensive bikes, but also dream of having comfortable homes and well-funded retirement plans.

These are the cyclists which seem to be under-represented. These are the everyday cyclists.

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