26 June 2011
My £30 fold-up
They do say you get what you pay for. Fork out hundreds of pounds and you can fetch the queen of fold-ups, that jewel of the dying breed of British engineering excellence, a magnificent Brompton. Spend a couple of hundred quid and you can get one of the cheaper imports, reasonably decent items that may well take a few more seconds to put together or pack away, with gears that perhaps don’t purr along quite as smoothly as those I am told a Brompton offers.
Spend £30 on ebay and you get a cross between a circus prop and a sophisticated instrument of torture, bound in equal measure to amuse passers-by and set you up, on an early morning, to be grumpy and on a short fuse all day, dwelling on the prospect of having to ride it up hill back home when the train finally makes it to whatever God-forsaken sleeper town you happen to have your lodgings in.
That is exactly what I am contending with. The bike, pictured, is something I bought for completely different purposes – mainly, the idea was that if we wanted to take the kids to the park to ride their bikes, we could only fit three bikes on the bike rack, and two small bikes in the boot: this meant we could only have one adult bike – so I got a fold up for the other adult. The seller was the Brazilian wife of some bloke who lived on the Cheshire plain, West of the M6 somewhere between Chester, Wrexham and the civilised world. The chap, the Brazilian assured me, had an identical one he used every morning to cycle to a train station from which he then carried on to Liverpool. That, the cynics may say, explains a lot. The fact that is a single-speed is not in my view its main shortcoming – it may not be great up the hill but it would be bearable. Nor is so badly made – it may be heavier than the better bikes, being made of steel, but the joints lock well enough and have only a little play in them. The main problem is that the wheels are smaller than those of the more expensive folding bikes, and the frame is proportionally shorter. This results in an awful ride, really unstable. Stopping becomes an act of defiance, as is steering too much, and since it has no racks and all the load has to go in my rucksack, I am forced to ride leaning forwards a lot, because with the seat-post fully extended to suit even my modest height, the saddle actually hangs almost further back than the rear whell – lean back and you’ll land the back of your head on the tarmac.
So, what next? I have to choose from a number of options. To be fair, the little bike has done the job, reducing the time it would take me to reach the train station from 45’ (on foot) to 20’. I could therefore grin and bear it. I could buy a Dawes fold up for as little as £165 at a shop I know. I could look for a good second hand fold-up on ebay. I could transport my proper bike to my commuting base and enjoy the experience. My host – my ever generous and helpful Father-in-Law – has offered to dust off his long-forgotten bike – in which he used to cover pretty much the same distance – for me. This would be the most efficient option in terms of cost and effort. It would also catapult me into the world of 1970s cycling, as the machine in question has the features we all regarded then as innovative – a smaller frame with longer, V-shaped handlebars, looking almost like a bigger fold-up bike except that it doesn’t fold. To be honest, I don’t mind that – it will be better than my £30 eBay bargain, and for the time being that is enough for me.