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The Utility of Folding Bicycles

It’s cute, but is it practical? That’s the question many folding bikes elicit. Sure, it looks neat, but how well does it actually function?

The competition heats in blazers and ties at the Eastbourne Cycling Festival.

Form follows function. Ergo, the form of a folding bike should follow its function. Folding bikes are designed to be compactly carried and stored in other vehicles, but still provide reliable transportation. Tourists, commuters, students and soldiers all appreciate a bike that can be compactly brought along and deployed easily.

Folding bikes, or “folders,” have been around since the the first cyclist wondered, how can I get that on a train? The earliest folding bike, a penny farthing, or “high wheeler,” didn’t have a folding frame, but rather had a sectional big wheel that could break down into pie slices for storage and transport. The invention of the now-ubiquitous safety bicycle led to the contemporary standard of folding frames. The French and Italian armies were early adopters of folding bikes for their bicycle infantry, who were expected to carry their folders across terrain too rough to bike, as well as into battle (the latter proved to be suicidal in The Great War). During the Second World War the British army issued thousands of folding bikes, the “Type G Apparatus,” to its troops, and folders parachuted into battle on commando raids.

Elite Italian Bersaglieri troops pose with their folding bikes during an alpine training exercise, circa 1900.

Military history aside, folding bikes are a favorite amongst commuters and nomads. While folders are but a tiny percentage of the North American market, they dominate over a fifth of the East Asian market. In Asia, as elsewhere, commuters like a bike that they can bring onto buses, trains and ferries, where traditional bikes are often banned. Amtrak welcomes folding bikes as both checked and carry-on luggage, provided they fit a certain size. Folding bikes can be checked on airlines as well. (Be warned though, that some airlines will charge an extra fee for a bike if they’re told it’s a bike, even if it fits all other size and weight restrictions. So don’t advertise what’s in the bag.)

An American soldier rides a Montague Paratrooper folding mountain bike on Kandahar air base in Afghanistan.

The quality of folding bikes mirrors that of standard bikes: you get what you pay for. If you spend more than a thousand dollars, you can expect a quality machine. If you spend less than a couple hundred bucks, you can expect an unreliable piece of junk. (Hint: if your folding bike shares a label with a discount wristwatch or was bought at Walmart, it will make a great footrest, but little else.)

Brompton and Dahon folding bikes abound at marinas and RV parks. On boats and campers, space is at a premium. A folding bike allows travelers to make quick trips and visit places that bigger vehicles can’t go.

College campuses are also a favored abode for folding bikes. The intelligentsia appreciate a bike that’s small enough to stash in a cubicle or beside a classroom desk.

And finally, an often under looked benefit to folders is that their portability makes them more secure. It’s harder to steal a bike that’s stashed under a desk or in a hotel room, compared to a bike locked all by its lonesome to a telephone pole. Worried about having your bike stolen? Then just take it with you!

It may not be an Autobot or a Deception, but it's definitely a transformer.

Author Wesley Cheney departs for Skagway, Alaska on the Ides of April with a Peugeot Nouveau folder, where he will be working as a bicycle tour guide for Sockeye Cycle Co.

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Jumping With The Montague Paratrooper

Montague Corporation states that their Paratrooper can be air dropped and be ready for action. As a Paratrooper myself, I was more than happy to put it to the test.

A few days ago, my Unit conducted an Airborne Operation. It was the perfect opportunity to jump the Paratrooper. But before the jump was to take place I had to rig up the Paratrooper in order for it to be dropped.

Wheel in Air Pack

I used an Air Pack to rig up the Paratrooper. It was one of the few containers that I had available to fit the whole bike. Here you could see the front tire being placed inside the bag. A lot of padding was used to protect the bike.

Halo Kit Bag

The rest of the bike had to be placed inside a HALO kit bag. This was done so that none of the bike would be exposed decreasing the chance of snagging any part of the aircraft upon exit. The handle bars and pedals were removed in order to keep a uniform shape of the Drop Bag. Montague offers folding pedals as an accessory that could be used to keep from having to remove the pedals.

Paratrooper Rigged Up

Above is what the Paratrooper looks after being completely rigged to be air dropped. Every part of the Mountain Bike is included so that it could be used on the drop zone.

Before Jump

This was taken on the way to the C-130 Hercules just before station time.

Inside the C-130

Inside the C-130 just before the jump. Being in a unique Unit, a grand total of five static line jumpers owned the entire aircraft that day. For those of you who jump and are usually packed inside the bird like a can of sardines, stop drooling. Don’t worry; I’ve had my fair share of those jumps as well.

After Jump

This was taken on the drop zone after a spectacular jump. My landing could use some improvement. But the way I figure is, any jump you could walk away from is a great jump. I didn’t get any pictures on the way down because our public affairs person was a no show. I plan on jumping the Paratrooper once again. Next time I’ll just leave my camera on the ground for someone to take pictures from the ground up.

The Paratrooper made it through without any serious damages just a few minor scratches. Not bad considering the fact that it was just dropped 1,250 ft above ground level.

Interested in the Montague Paratrooper? Visit our affiliate, Commuter Bike Store.