Thursday, July 17, 2008

Adventures on a folding bicycle

Assuming that the cars my family owns are operating at peak performance (which is never the case for any car driven outside of the factory), I can expect to pay $15 per week in gas to drive from my home to Brampton GO station. This assumes, of course, that I can find parking (almost impossible after about 7:20 am). When I can't, I have to drive to Bramalea GO station, a $30 per week proposition.

Clearly, I could use an extra $15 in my pocket, but I suffer from a problem that so many residents of the GTHA face - living too far from the bus stop. From my area, there are three different options for getting to the GO station by transit. However, the 20 minute walk to the bus stop makes it unattractive - and that's just to reach the stop with minimal service. To reach a stop which offers frequent (for Brampton) service, I'm looking at a 2.3 km walk in the ditch along a former provincial highway.

Recently, I refurbished my fathers' trusty 10-speed and have been cycling a 10km route between my home and the heart lake area of Brampton every few days for exercise. It was during these rides that I realized that the 20 minute walk became a 5 minute bike ride. And, the stop with "frequent" service was less than 10 minutes away. Clearly, cycling was an option to make eliminating the car more attractive. However, there were some roadblocks. I wanted to ride my bike from my house to the bus stop, but also from Union Station to Ryerson in order to reduce the need to take the subway to complete my journey. But, while GO is in the process of installing bicycle racks on their buses, they currently do not allow bicycles into the luggage compartment, or on any train which called at Union Station during the peak hours. Since locking it up in Brampton would defeat half the purpose of buying it, I needed a solution that would come to me through a youtube video.

A folding bicycle was the solution to all of the roadblocks I came across. It was sturdy enough to carry me to the bus stop and through the streets of downtown Toronto, and light enough to be carried around during the day. GO Transit does allow folding bicycles in the luggage compartment of their buses, provided they are in their carrying case, and that very same case would allow me to bring it onto rush hour trains (as of the beginning of July, folding bicycles are officially exempt from the bicycle rule on trains as part of a pilot project). As for the TTC, staff prepared a report for me indicating that while folding bicycles did not require an official exemption, they felt that operators would be more lenient since it did not take up as much space. Of course, if it were placed in its bag, I think it would be even less likely to be refused.

After some shopping around, I found a bicycle store in Scone, Ontario called Wheelfast the Bicycle Shoppe, where Tim Green gave me an amazing deal on an Avenir aluminum 6-speed folding bicycle. I saved at least $100 off the average retail price in the GTA and made a day trip out of it, visiting quaint towns in Bruce, Grey and Dufferin counties. The Avenir aluminum weighs about 25 pounds, and folds to less than 1' x 2' x 3'. It's a Canadian re-badge of a 2004 Dahon Impulse D6, which makes it a product of one of the largest manufacturers of folding bicycles in the world.

After riding around the neighbourhood for a while and familiarizing myself with the way the bike folds, I tested my plan back in June by riding to the bus stop and taking the bicycle on Brampton Transit to get to work and back. I didn't experience any problems, and reception from other passengers was quite warm. The 15 minute drive to downtown Brampton became 60 minutes using the option with the most frequent service, but maximizing GO Transit will bring those times down quickly - possibly cutting it in half and brining it to within 5 minutes of a normal travel time.

On Thursday July 3rd, to get to a Metronauts community meetup, I decided to take the bicycle downtown for the first time. Starting on the Lakseshore line, I brought the bike in its bag to Exhibition station before unfolding it and going on a tour of the town. My first stop was at my aunt's house off Harbord near Ossington, where I raided her bottled water and showed her and my cousin the new bicycle. Upon seeing how the bicycle worked, my cousin turned to my aunt and said "grandma, I need a new bike." Next, I rode across Harbord and Wellesley to Church, then back across town to Bathurst and Dundas before doing laps around Chinatown to kill time. After the meeting, I again rode to Church and Wellesley before heading down to Front Street and into Union Station for the westbound train ride. It was a test of my own physical endurance, and a mental test to see if I could endure the stress of downtown cycling. While nothing can prepare your for the latter, I did prove the concept that spurred me to purchase the bike - it is practical to bring a folding bicycle on a GO train.

Since my trip will involve buses, I knew I had to examine the practicality of bringing the bike on a GO bus, and on using the TTC bike-rack equipped buses. Earlier today, starting at Bramalea City Centre, I boarded a bus bound for Yorkdale with the bike in the luggage compartment. The GO bus operator was very helpful, ensuring that he knew where I was getting off. As I stood up to get off, I observed him already putting on gloves to open the luggage compartment door. I walked over to the 47 LANSDOWNE stop, unfolded the bike, and put it on the rack of the next bus for my ride into the city. Eventually reaching College and Lansdowne with the bike still secure despite a bumpy road, I headed east on College through Little Italy and past U of T until I reached Church, where I met a friend for a meal. By the time we finished, night had fallen and a ride to Parliament and down to Queens Quay gave me a chance to enjoy the fresh air before heading to Union Station. Passing the Redpath Sugar plant, the unloading of a ship added a different aroma to the night air.

I caught the 10:30 bus back to Brampton, and as I sit here finishing a post that I have worked on infrequently for almost a month, I believe that I have found a tool for mobility that might be ideal for many people. Apartment dwellers will appreciate the little space it takes up, and car-dependent suburbanites will equally appreciate the fact that it can fit easily in the trunk of a car. It can do everything a normal sized bicycle can, but takes up half the space, and looks cool as "Japanese-speaking mice balls" while doing it.

There is a blog from Spain called Vida Plegable, which means "Folding Life". While I don't speak Spanish, I now know that this is a good life.



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9 Comments:

At 7/21/2008 6:54 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How complicated and time consuming is the folding process?

Personally the folding bike that caught my eye is called Strida. It's selling point is the simplicity. Unfortunately due to this it is a single-speed.

I'm yet to try it, haven't found it to be actually in stock anywhere in Toronto.

 
At 7/21/2008 6:58 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, I forgot to add the obligator you tube link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWBl58EDXnM

 
At 7/21/2008 8:23 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

The Avenir (and most Dahons) take about 10 to 15 seconds to fold - once you get the hang of it of course.

Looking at the Strida, it does look to be more portable than mine. You'll have an easier time convincing a bus driver that he should let you on board. It beats mine in folding time too.

Don't knock a single speed bike until you try one! Unless you're ride takes you up and down the Lake Iroquois shoreline (aka Davenport Hill), a multi-speed might not be necessary.

As for finding one in stock, now is a terrible time to find folders in the city. At Urbane Cyclists on John Street, they only had 4 models in stock a few weeks ago, but had the full range of Dahons even as recent as Mother's Day weekend. Of course, some shops might be able to order them in.

 
At 7/22/2008 3:22 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Test comment from mobile safari

Andrae

 
At 9/07/2008 2:54 p.m. , Blogger Folding Bike Destinations said...

I was thinking about visiting Toronto on my folding bike. Any must see destinations that you would recomend in Toronto?

 
At 3/29/2009 1:47 a.m. , Anonymous r1chard said...

wow, nice article.
i'm planning to get a folding bike soon. how much did you pay for it?
does it come with the carrying bag?

 
At 3/29/2009 2:00 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

It's a great investment!

The one I have is an Avenir Alluminum 6-speed, and if you buy one in Toronto you'll pay around $450. The single speed steel version costs around $300. But, if you're willing to travel to Wheelfast the Bicycle Shoppe in Scone Ontario you can save about $100 to $150.

If you want to upgrade to a higher quality folder then take a look at Dahon. They have a full range and they start at around $500.

The Avenir alluminum comes with a bag, but bags range from $20 (if you can find one) to $80.

I love my folder and I encourage anyone out there to take a look at one. It turns heads wherever I ride!

 
At 6/11/2009 8:54 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, just wondering how is your Avenir holding up. Anything wrong happening with it yet? Would you still highly recommend it or have you found something else better?

 
At 6/11/2009 10:50 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

The folder is holding up well, but the wear and tear shows. The linkages in the folding mechanism are quite delicate, and I have had to replace some when it got bent after I tinkered with it too much.

If you're looking for a budget folder I would highly recommend an Avenir, but my next folder will probably be a Dahon. They have a greater range of products, have stronger linkages and spare parts will be easier to order. Despite the avenir being a Dahon design, you have to go through Raleigh to get parts and it took weeks.

 

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