Monday, September 22, 2003

Use of packable bikes picks up

By Bob Modersohn
The Des Moines Register

Standing outside an airport terminal, Ken and Kristin Sherman look like a typical tourist couple. Look inside their luggage, though, and packed under their clothes is a bicycle built for two.

Like golfers who will do most anything to haul their own bag of clubs on jet trips, the Shermans would rather transport their "coupled" Co-Motion tandem than rent a bike at their destination.

They don't mind 45-minute take-apart and 30-minute assembly procedures.

"I probably haven't put it together the same way twice," says Ken, 42, while wrapping padded protective sleeves around each frame part.

Packable bikes come in two basic forms: Folding frames - the most typical, using hinges - and separable frames, which are less common, using couplers.

Although these bikes represent only a small fraction of the market, their numbers have continued to grow worldwide since the early 1990s. Dahon, the largest maker of folders, reports that sales have increased by 20 percent each year since 1999.

"They're popular with people who do a lot of traveling and need to be able to store the bike in a compact area," says Donny Quixote, 26, at a Bike World in Des Moines, Iowa.

Commuters favor folders because the bikes can be ridden to work, folded and tucked under a desk, then unfolded and pedaled home. Standard on most folding bikes is a small rack for holding a briefcase or backpack.

Unlike early folders, the performance and stability of newer models like Giant's Halfway ($550), is closer to a fixed frame bike than one might think.

Today, super-compact folders made by companies like Dahon, Bike Friday, Montique and Birdy are building a market thanks to improved small-tire technology and stronger, lighter frame materials.

Unlike the goofy-looking folding relatives with their long seat tubes and small wheels, many packable bikes - like the Shermans' "coupled" Co-Motion - look just like regular bicycles.

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