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Stephan Wilkinson



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 Friday.

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 more time-consuming.

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.

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