Getting around Metro Manila has always been a problem. Prior to COVID-19, I can choose to ride public transport when I can bear the heavy traffic, but for the most part, I’d choose to bike commute. And for the longest time, I chose to ride my trusted steed: A Tern folding bike.
Why a folding bike?
I did not really start off with a folding bike. My #bike2work story started with the devastating Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 when transport options were still scarce after the onslaught of the typhoon. I borrowed my brother’s bike so that I could get to my workplace after the floods subsided, who had no idea how I was doing until I got there because even the cellsite signals were absent.
That bike was a mountain bike (MTB), which was ill-fitted for me. As I have a mild dextroscoliosis, the ill fit soon manifested itself with back pains. By 2010, I had to buy a Dahon Vitesse D7 folding bike since I had gotten to try a couple of folding bikes from some friends beforehand and loved the fact that the totally upright stance was super friendly with my scoliosis!
Nowadays I often end up using my folding bike even for long rides up the Sierra Madre and elsewhere! There were a couple of times that I brought my own road bike but even with a good fit to my height, my scoliosis still sometimes starts to make its presence felt with back pains after say, 30 kilometers.
Folding bikes in general have a lot of benefit. The fact that they can be folded means it’s highly portable. You can easily bring it along on trips without removing tires or dismantling some parts.
For a beginner bike commuter, it’s also helpful in several ways! For one, when I started out bike commuting ten years ago, I didn’t know right away how to do “bike first aid”. I had to learn how to patch flat tires along the way, but I always had that peace of mind that if in case I needed to get to my destination pressed for time, I can always stop, fold my bike, and hail a cab to get to my destination. There were several times I got caught in a bind like that, and thankfully, I just had to stow my bike away in the car’s trunk right away!
Friends would ask me if they can try riding my bike. And it’s easy to share the fun of riding a bicycle with a folding bike, because it can accommodate different heights. The only thing I need to do is adjust the seat post up or down, and voila! They can ride it with ease.
In retrospect, this is probably one of the reasons why I fell in love with folding bikes. It seems so much simpler than the other types of bicycles.
Motor vehicles will take each and every square inch of the road. Motorcycles too. One of the things I also love about my bike is that it’s able to go along spaces where it would be difficult with bigger bikes. Narrower profile, narrower handlebars — can go anywhere!
Like I mentioned, I encounter some difficulties when using mountain bikes after an extended period of time due to my dextroscoliosis. Riding folding bikes helps maintain an upright stance, so even if you don’t have a condition like mine, if you’re a fan of riding upright, then this bike is for you.
Of course, using folding bikes does not go without its fair share of tradeoffs. I’ve learned to acknowledge these and see that no single bike is perfect.
Top speed — not so fast
I had been joining some duathlons and triathlons for some time now. The first time I joined one, a couple of bike friends and I signed up using our folding bikes! That was crazy… Not so much because it was difficult but more because you can’t really match your speed against the other kinds of bikes! Thankfully we got to finish within the appointed time, but I think we were almost last in the ranking.
…But then again, who knows? I’m just an average Juan when it comes to competitions, maybe someone else can pull off a podium finish on a folding bike?… 😉
Stability — or lack of it
Malikot. This is a common description for those trying out this bike. These kinds generally have smaller and narrower tires. Twenty-inch-diameter tires are probably the most common sizes. Expectedly, riding them feels “loose” compared to MTBs. Be careful when riding them on steep hills! You’d have much more peace of mind riding when your steed is quite stable especially on downhills.
Road hazards — not as comfortable and manageable
Road hazards to bike commuting are out there: Potholes, bumps, cracks, and the occasional out-of-place drainage covers. Going over some of these on a folding bike (if unavoidable) may not be as comfortable as say, riding those fat bikes or an MTB with suspension. As I went with my daily bike commutes, I’ve learned to avoid those road issues thanks to muscle memory. However, when I’m going on unfamiliar roads or those I don’t frequent, I take extra precaution, especially after dark.
I’ve grown so used to folding bikes that I use them for the most part when I ride. Except maybe for bike-related sports where I’d use my “race” bike, I’d use folding bikes whether it’s the usual 5x-a-week bike to work or the weekend long rides. Maybe you might have your own pros or cons why you would or wouldn’t choose a folding bike. But if you are considering getting one to start your own bike commute scheme soon, you might find the above reasons worth pondering about. Good luck!