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By Stephan Wilkinson
Committed bicycle enthusiasts have nothing but contempt
for the general run of folding bicycles. Most portables are heavy,
cheaply made, steel-pipe machines that simply fold in half in
a crude manner, apparently designed for use by golden-agers who
want something that will fit in a caravan. Others are cable-rigged,
small-wheeled, three-speed contraptions intended for city-dwellers
who need to commute and store the bike in a hall closet.
All are occasionally advertised or promoted as 'perfect
for pilots--fits in any airplane's baggage compartment.' But none
of these two-wheelers are anything you'd want to take for a 50-
or 100-mile pedal--the sort of riding that is standard daily fare
for serious touring bikers.
Several years ago, the U.S. company Green Gear Cycling
introduced their Bike Fridays, a line of true, high-quality road,
sport and mountain bikes that have miniaturized wheels, an ingenious
folding mechanism and components identical to typical custom bikes.
The Bike Friday was reviewed by me in 'Pilot Notes' for December
1992, and as a result, not only did I buy a pair buy brave Editor/Publisher
James Gilbert was persuaded to order a Bike Friday sight unseen,
for his Cessna Cardinal RG.
My wife's and my two Bike Fridays plus two helmets,
biking gear and a weekend's worth of casual clothes fill the behind-the-seats
baggage area of our Falco--which means there'll be room to spare
in any production airplane's luggage compartment. We've been as
far afield with them as Nova Scotia.
But now, however, there's a new game in town. And
if the Bike Friday has any short-comings, this new contender seems
to solve them. A California machine shop has developed a device
called the S and S Bicycle Torque Coupling. It consists of a pair
of heavily toothed but finely matched stainless steel lugs that
mate and are then fastened tightly together with a threaded collar.
With the collar snugged down tight, the joint becomes virtually
as solid as a weld.
The Torque Couplings are installed by slicing sections
out of a steel-frame bike's top and down tubes, then brazing the
couplings onto the ends of the severed tubing. With a few twists
of the threaded collar, you can then put the bike back together
again, or take it apart into two halves. Installation of the S
and S Torque Couplings is done by the bikes' custom builders when
they're welding up new frames, and a wide variety of fine bikemakers
have chosen to offer frames with them as an option.
The S and S Bicycle Torque Coupling is currently
being offered by 18 American custom builders, including such famous
names as 3D Racing and Richard Sachs. (Europeans may find it hard
to fathom, but some of the finest bicycle frames in the world
are currently being fabricated not in Northern Italy or the Midlands
but in Connecticut and California, Wisconsin and Oregon.)
Their offerings come in everything from touring
to mountain to pure fixed-gear tract bikes and even several tandems.
And if you already have a favorite frame, many of the framebuilders
will retrofit S and S Couplings for you for about $300. S and
S is currently testing a titanium version of the Torque Lock,
so suppliers may soon include the pioneering titanium framemaker
Merlin, among others.
Small, twenty-inch wheels are a key part of the Bike
Friday design's portability. Good as the little wheels are, some
serious bikers resist them, in part because they make the bike
look like a leftover from a circus act and in part because the
smaller the wheel, the greater the effect of a pothole or road
irregularity. (Which is one reason the Bike Friday folding mountain
bike will never by considered a serious contender.)
All of the bikes that carry S and S Torque Couplings,
however, have standard-size wheels, which provide a better, more
stable ride and allow for an enormous choice of tires, spoke patterns,
wheel types and designs.
The Bike Friday is a tricky, elegant design that
requires a fair amount of twisting, turning, fitting, fastening
and wrenching to assemble, though it collapses into a slightly
smaller package than an S and S Torque Coupling-equipped bike.
I found that both assembly and disassemble of the S and S-equipped
sixteen-speed Co-Motion Co-Pilot that I sampled took almost exactly
half as long as did building up and knocking down my own Bike
One problem, however, is that disassembling a Torque
Coupling-equipped bike produces a loose pile of steel tubes and
wheels that rattle around the bike's travel container. (A folded
Bike Friday, on the other hand, is a stable, coherent structure.)
Protecting the Co-Pilots's lovely Imron paint job thus requires
a dozen pieces of Velcroed padding, each of which fits a different
and specific part of the bike frame, and figuring out where each
one goes ultimately makes the disassemble-and-packing job far
Packed in its 10.5 by 26 by 26 inch case and ready
to go flying, the Co-Pilot weighs 32.5 pounds. (My equivalent
Bike Friday weighs 37 pounds, due to its heavier 10 by 24 by 29.5
inch Samsonite case.)
Bikes available with S and S Torque Couplings range
in price from the Co-Pilot's $1,795 to more than you'll ever want
to spend. Unless you're a committed bikie, that is, who gets his
or her kicks from titanium fittings, carbon-fiber componentry
and exotica forged by elves in Italian basements. For a list of
framebuilders--or if you're a British framebuilder who wants to
become a supplier--contact S and S Machine, 9334 Viking Place,
Roseville, California 95747, USA, 001 916 771-0235.
Co-Motion Cycles, builders of the Co-Pilot, are at 222 Polk Street, Eugene, Oregon 97402, USA, 001 503 342-4583. Green Gear Cycles, builders of the Bike Fridays, are at 4065 West 11th, Suite 14, Eugene, Oregon 97402, USA, 001 503 687-0403.
Phone: 011 4471 498 2506
Fax: 011 4471 498 6920