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Strida: The Ethiopian Food of Folding Bikes

Seoul and Strida

About ten years ago, I developed a case of folder envy after a trip to The Netherlands.In a leap of faith, I ordered a folding bike from a Web site without having ever ridden that model–or any other folding bike. The Website was Yahoo Auctions (if anyone in the US can remember that). The bike was a Dahon Speed 7.

Strida LT
The Strida SX | Image: Strida
The buyer’s remorse set in before the bike even arrived. I’m going to look and feel like a freakin’ circus bear on a ridiculous little bike.To my surprise, I did not feel like a circus bear when I rode the bike for the first time. And if I looked like one, nobody said anything to me, presumably because I looked like a dangerous animal.I became a big fan of folding bikes, and I’ve rambled on and on about them because nobody has yet told me to give it a rest. (Perhaps that’s the looking-like-a-bear thing again.)The feeling-like-a-circus-bear thing finally came the first time I rode a Strida.
Ethiopian Food
Mmmm… Strida!
The Strida SX has the same triangular design and geometry as other Strida bikes. The axis of the steering is right between your legs. It just feels weird at first. To get used to it, you just have to make it through the first few minutes of riding–and there will be times when you’ll swear that the seat is moving out from under you like a swing bike.It’s like the first time you ever had Ethopian food. You probably thought (unless you’re Ethopian), This is strange. By the time you finished it, you either did or didn’t think, I never want to eat that again.And if you did have it again, you were probably telling your uninitiated friends, You’ve got to try this.That’s certainly how it was for me with the Strida. Given half a chance, I’ve been inviting people to ride the Strida just to watch their reactions.Just because you can get used to the weird ride of the Strida, doesn’t mean it’s right for any commute. At speeds of more than 20 miles per hour, I got premonitions of speed wobble. This bike is not built for speed. It’s not really built for distance either. It’s a single-speed, and I wouldn’t want to commute with it for more than a few miles. And another thing, it’s not built for hills–at least not the kind of hills where you would want to stand on your pedals. In fact, the manual explicitly says, “do not stand on pedals.”

Robin on Strida
“It’s a deathtrap”
Franky on Strida
“I like it. I might get one.”
Pete on Strida
“What warning labels?”
Lowell Guy with Strida
“Do I have to ride this? I just wanted to buy some tires.”
Bear on Bike
“I hate this job.”

Between the manual and all the warning labels on the bike itself, there are enough thou shalt nots to make you think you’re reading and abridged Ten Commandments (which, by the way, are believed by some to be safe kept in Ethiopia).

  • No stunt riding
  • No wheelies
  • No loose clothing
  • Do not rolling mount
  • Do not stand on pedals

To understand why, you only have to look at the diagram and imagine your center of gravity edging over the top of the steering axis. Your anti-faceplant instincts kick in pretty fast, if you have them, and you sit back in the saddle like you were told.

Strida: Do not stand on pedals

Strida: No, No, No!With all the things you can’t do on the Strida, it took me awhile to figure out what it was best suited to do.The ideal user, I surmised, is someone who needs an easily-portable bike to bridge some of the gaps in a multimodal commute.If I’d been paying attention, I would have realized that Mark Sanders, inventor of the Strida, had already told me as much in a link-filled e-mail message:

Its basically used like an upright Dutch bike, that also folds for multimodal use. So, typically: ride one to five miles to station, train it at 80+mph, then ride one to five miles to the destination–probably THE fastest way to commute! One of Strida’s main features is it properly rolls when folded,so no carrying 20 to 30Lbs! Using its own wheels–like a wheeled umbrella–it rolls along l-o-n-g train platforms, office corridors, and even inside the train car corridors, into stores, etc., etc. And then, on the train, it can be put in the (long thin) overhead rack, propped up in a corner, under the seat, or in the trunk–especially long thin trunks designed for golf bags! A superfast fold also helps.

Sanders even is okay with the fact that, like Ethiopian food, people tend to either love or hate the Strida. “Some people who have not even really tried it still hate it.”I have to confess that, the first time I ever mentioned the Strida–before I ever rode one–I’d been influenced by some of the knee-jerk Strida haters I’d found online. One of these was Rebecca Romero, the reigning Olympic champion track cyclist (see video).But why would someone like Romero be impressed by a Strida? Its strengths are found at slow speeds, short distances, and in the conveniences it provides when you’re not riding it.

Seoul Subway with Strida
An ideal use of a Strida: Cap ends on a long public transportation commute
I would guess that a typical Strida lover uses the Strida for its specific utilitarian strengths, and uses another bike for long pleasure rides, recreation, and the other things they need a bike to do. Like wheelies.The Strida SX sells for about $925.00 US.Next we will be reviewing a folding bike with opposite strengths and weaknesses to those of the Strida. Any guesses?

Creative Commons License Urban Hero by Rockit_Dogg is licensed under a Attribution (3.0).

Video Clips Used:

Update: This bike was originally misidentified as a Strida LT ($600 US). The post has been updated, but the video still gives the wrong name. This doesn’t substantively change the critique of the usability and the ride of the Strida bikes. The SX has 18-inch wheels. The LT has 16-inch wheels. If anything, the LT is probably more squirrely than the SX.

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Strida 5.0 on the bus and train

Strida’s publicity material brag about their folding bike’s “umbrella like folding.” While folding this bike is amazingly fast and easy, it does not fold to the size of an umbrella, unless you have a 20 pound umbrella with wheels.

While the Strida doesn’t fold exceptionally small, it can have a smaller footprint because you can hold it upright. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is that I toss the Strida over in the handicap area of the bus along with everybody’s luggage and other folding bikes.

To be honest, it’s easier to just put the Strida on the front bike rack of a bus if there’s space available. While the wheel retention lever won’t push against the tiny wheels with enough pressure to stay in place, I found that I can hook the retention lever over the rear rack by placing the bike in the rack backwards. In other words, I put the rear wheel where the front wheel should go and then hook the lever over the bike’s rear rack. I had one bus driver give me some grief about it (she even called her dispatcher to ask for instructions), but mostly the bus drivers ignore what I do as long as it looks secure to them.

[ XXX measure square inches of area that bike takes up on the floor ]

[ XXX photo of Strida on train, bus bike rack, in corner of apartment ]

Read more about the Strida 5.0 folding bicycle.

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Strida and skirt

I’ve mentioned previously that the unique design on the Strida 5.0 folding bicycle prevents anyone in a skirt from riding the bike because the top tube slopes sharply up directly in front of the saddle.

True story: The skinny redhead sashayed into my office this morning and saw the Strida leaning against my desk. “Oooh, zat is very cool,” she said with her German accent. She immediately pulled it out into the hallway to try it out.

“You can’t ride this bike with a skirt on,” I told the redhead.

“Oh nonsense,” she replied as she hiked her skirt up to her hips and bunched the fabric up on the saddle as she hopped on the Strida. The redhead is my height so the saddle adjustment was just fine as she pedaled down the hallway and back. “Oooh, zis is so much fun!”

So if you don’t mind showing a lot of thigh, the Strida can indeed by ridden by those who wear skirts and dresses.

Read more about the Strida 5.0 folding bicycle. I’m at the Sun Eco Summit right now where attendees are oohing and ahing over the Strida.

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Strida 5.0: The Shakedown

I’ve had a chance to ride the Strida for a full week of commuting. My bike commute is usually a 3 mile ride from the train station to my office, though last night I took it about seven miles across Silicon Valley. The single speed and light weight Strida 5.0 is perfect for short commutes to get you the last mile from the bus stop or train station. I average about 10 mph without breaking a sweat over the 3 mile commute. While it’s no speed demon, riding this bike is certainly faster and easier than walking. Details about the shakedown cruise are below the photo of my son with the Strida.

Over the shoulder Strida

  • Control. The Strida folding bicycle is squirrelly and takes some getting used to. You’re not going to ride a straight line with this bike, but once you remember to keep your hands on the handlebar you should be okay.
  • Standover. Some people express concern about the lack of standover — the “top tube” angles straight up directly in front of your sensitive parts. It was only a problem for me once, when I veered into a curb and came to a sudden stop and *crunch*. Mostly, though, you don’t even notice that you’re straddling a metal tube. Mounting and dismounting is a breeze.
  • Skirts. Women and men who like to bike in skirts won’t like the Strida.
  • Upright seating. If you like sitting upright on a bike, you’ll really like the Strida. Unfortunately for me, the drawbacks of upright seating outweigh the benefits. There’s a reason long distance cyclists like to be hunched over — we’re leaning on the handlebars to split our body weight three ways between our arms, our legs and our rear, with probably 20% of our weight on the saddle. The upright, feet-forward geometry of the Strida, however, means that almost all of my weight is on the bicycle saddle. That’s okay for short distances, but my three mile commute is about the limit of what I can comfortably handle.
  • Carrying stuff. Messenger bags typically work well for me because they ride low on my hip. When I ride even moderately ‘hunched over’ on a road bike, the weight is on my hip, not on my shoulder or back. The Strida 5.0 with its upright seating means almost all the weight I’m carrying is on my right shoulder and my back. I don’t carry too much weight, but I can feel the bag compressing my spine as I ride. For the Strida, a more conventional backpack of some kind might be more appropriate.
  • Rear rack. My panniers can kind of hook on the thick plastic tubes of that rear rack. I haven’t actually tried using panniers on a real commute yet, though. The 10 lb. weight limit is a real limitation for me.
  • Hills & belt slippage. In normal riding the belt rolls smoothly. I can make it slip if I really jam down on the pedals while going up a steep grade, but this isn’t a bike for hard riding so it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Power. A warning sticker tells me to avoid pedaling out of the saddle, and standing to apply power to the pedals feels very awkward and unbalanced on the Strida. I’ve had to walk this bike up very steep grades such as pedestrian overpass ramps.
  • Disc brakes. The disc brakes on the Strida 5.0 are reliable and strong. The bike came with the brakes perfectly adjusted. There’s a goofy warning sticker advising riders to apply the rear brake before the front brake — with the uneven weight distribution toward the rear, there’s almost no way you can flip this bike end over front. The brakes are strong enough that I can easily make the rear wheel jump up, so there is a danger of stopping quickly enough so that you can rack yourself against the upward sloping top tube.
  • Wheelies and other tricks. Another sticker cautions against popping wheelies, and the user manual warns against riding off curbs. While the bike is solidly constructed, it is very lightweight. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already popped the top ball joint out by accident so I can picture the frame coming apart if I try riding down some stairs. That said, when I first hopped on the Strida I rode a wheelie a good 20 yards almost by accident because the front end is so unweighted. You get used to it pretty quickly, but for the first little bit of riding the Strida folding bicycle you have to think to keep that front end on the ground.
  • Rain riding. The Strida 5.0 performs admirably in light rain. I was a little skeptical of the flimsy looking half fenders on the Striday, but they do a good job keeping my shoes and legs dry. The tires hold rain slicked road just fine, and of course the disc brakes are not affected by wet conditions. I haven’t tried riding the Strida in a real rain storm yet, and I’m not sure I ever will. Strida advises against riding this bike in snowy or icy conditions. Strida also advises against riding their folding bikes in extreme cold, probably because the plastic parts become more brittle and can break.
  • Gawkers. The Strida is a major nerd magnet. Children like it, too. Everybody wants to try this bike. The Strida 5.0 is reviewed in the January 2008 issue of ID Magazine , in which reviewer Cliff Kuang writes “the Strida, with its suave, brushed-aluminum finish, is that rare combination of function and flash; from day one, it drew more stares than Gisele Bundchen in a see-through dress.”
  • My next post on the Strida 5.0 will be about the practicality of hauling this folder on buses and trains. Read more on the Strida 5.0 folding bicycle. Other Strida 5.0 reviews are at Ride This Bike and Bicycle Design.

    Find local dealers and online purchase information in the UK, Europe, Canada, the USA and worldwide at

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    Strida 5.0: Out of box experience

    Look, Ma! No seatpost!

    I tried a Strida 3.2 folding bike on the show floor at Interbike 2007 last September and looked at the early pre-production 5.0 models. I liked it enough that I put a Strida on my Christmas wish list. Santa Claus arrived a little early to my household in the form of the FedEx man dropping off a big brown box labeled “Strida” and “DESIGNED IN THE UK” in big bold letters. My Strida 5.0 folding bicycle had arrived!

    The distinctive features of the Strida 5.0 include its triangular frame, light weight (19.4 pounds), a clean belt drive, incredibly fast folding, and compact size both folded and unfolded.

    Assembly required

    Areaware in New York is the U.S. importer and distributor of this UK designed folding bicycle. While they’re working on developing their US dealer network, most purchases right now will be through online purchases over the Internet. That means you’ll receive your bike in a box just like I did and some assembly is required.

    Strida 5.0 folding bicycle

    The Strida bicycle comes “folded” and partially unassembled in the box. While folding and unfolding the Strida is amazingly fast and easy, the first time was a little tricky. I’d say it’s helpful to read the instructions first, but to be honest, the instructions are non-intuitive illustrations. It might be handy for some people to find a YouTube video and watch that in addition to looking at the instruction book. Beware when folding the bike for the first time — the first time I tried folding this Strida, I did it completely wrong and popped the top part of the triangle out of its ball joint. It took some spirited whacks with a mallet to get the pieces back together. (Don’t worry, Areaware — I put padding on the tube to protect the finish!)

    The bike comes with almost everything attached and adjusted. Handlebars, brakes, pedals, tires and wheels and belt are already put together. It’s up to the end user to install the saddle and rear rack. On a conventional bike, saddle adjustment is trivial: you just loosen the seatpost binder and slide the saddle up and down. The saddle attachment on the Strida folding bike is somewhat less trivial and involves four bolts and quite a bit of wiggling, so you want to get it right the first time. It might be helpful to set another bike next to the Strida so you can compare saddle heights.

    After installing the saddle, you install the plastic rear rack. With a 5 kg / 11 lb weight limit the rack’s utility is limited, but it’s a handy place to hang a rear light and stash a lock and rain jacket.

    Design engineering

    The engineering and quality on the 5.0 is a big step up from the 3.2. Besides the minor issue of saddle installation and adjustment (a one time ordeal), I was frankly very impressed with how smoothly everything just goes together on this bike. The brushed TIG welded aluminum frame looks very sharp and sleek. All of the mechanical engineers at my office are oohing and aahing over this bike right now (one of the guys literally sniffed the frame!) and absolutely love the design. These same designers won the Industrial Design Excellence Award in 2006. Another design engineer, James, gives his impressions of the Strida design on his Bicycle Design blog.

    Strida 5.0 at night

    Other features of the 5.0 include Kenda Kwest 16″ tires with reflective sidewalls on 24 spoke aluminum wheels, disc brakes, folding handlebars and folding pedals. Strida is manufactured in Taiwan by a contract bike manufacturer. Strida folding bikes are reportedly the best selling folding bike in Taiwan.

    More to come

    I’ll put the Strida 5.0 folding bicycle through its paces over the next month and let you know how it goes in this Strida category. You can also view my photos of this bike on Flickr. So far, I’m impressed with the looks, the engineering and apparent practicality of this folder.

    More information about the Strida 5.0 and other models is available at Strida’s website.