Method in the (foldie) madness

Contemplating riding with the big boys?
Contemplating riding with the big boys?

By: Steven Wong

Strava – that piece of cycling social media that has turned what used to be a leisurely ride down to the corner shop into an all out race to beat a virtual KOM – has a function called ‘Fitness & Freshness’ which, via some unfathomable algorithm, plots your fitness based on your heart rate and/or power data if you have a power meter.


Boom and bust fitness

What you see above is a snapshot of my data going back a couple years.  The most striking thing about it is how many peaks and troughs there are, particularly in the last couple of years.  The explanation of course is that there have been periods when I’ve been off the bike and my fitness has gone to pot.

The last two big slides were caused by a) enforced convalescence after I had the temerity to go of the handlebars during a race – which required a shoulder reconstruction – and, b) a summer holiday where I didn’t go near a bike for three weeks.

In fact, it gets worse…you have to be of the cycling persuasion to understand why the mere sight of a hill gets cyclists excited and the bigger the hill, the bigger the excitement (I realise in writing this that this sentiment is not universally shared amongst all riders, but for the sake of this story, let’s assume it to be the case).  So on that holiday when we chanced upon Punta Veleno (literally, the “Poison Tip) one day, it was a case of, “A bike…a bike…my kingdom for a bike”.  It was great holiday…but for an opportunity missed.

How does 8km with an average of 12.5% and a central 4km section at 16.5% sound?
How does 8km with an average of 12.5% and a central 4km section at 16.5% sound?

I’ve learnt my lesson…flailing myself at the back of a Kranji steadfast ride and being dropped even before getting to Upper Bukit Timah Road after a layoff focuses the mind…no more prolonged absences from the bike.

The dilemma: how does one take a bike on holiday without incurring all those baggage penalties and having to book an HGV instead of a hire car to carry your standard OVERSIZE bike box.

The solution – which came to me (like the unfolding of so many of life’s mysteries) on the steep side of Mt Faber one morning – is to take a folding bike.

A folding bike you say?  Like a Brompton, which has about as much stiffness as bolster purchased from Harvey Norman’s, bedding department or even a Tern, all 11kg of it?

It is indeed a surprising fact that so many local riders are enamoured of folding bikes…not that I’ve ever understood why…could it be that one has to drive to a park connector and thus foldies are easily thrown into the boot?  The benefit of this interest is that there are quite a few bike shops that carry nothing but folding bikes or “mini-velos” and thus it is easy enough to test ride what is available.

To abridge the story, I settled on a Tyrell FX.

Note: this is not my bike…it is only a pictorial representation on my bike if it was while and had black wheels instead of mine which is black with silver wheels

My lofty aim was nothing less than to replicate the total 700c-sized bike riding experience but on a bike with 20-inch wheels; that meant building the bike rather than buying one off the shelf.  The most important thing was getting the geometry right.

As luck would have it, someone had an FX frame for sale on ‘togoparts’, the default home page website of serious DIY cycle enthusiasts.  I turned up with a wad of cash at the agreed meeting place and the seller turned up riding the bike and before I could say anything, opened up with, “But I thought you might like to see what the frame looked like with everything attached…” Grrr!!

I usually take a 56cm frame and I found that with a slightly longer stem, 175mm Shimano crank, 3T handlebars and a Selle SMP saddle, I was able to replicate almost exactly, the same measurements as my standard road bike – even if someone later remarked that it looked as if my rear derailleur was dragging on the road.

Finally, the big day came…a road test on the 6.00am City West ride.  For some reason, I thought that I might be able to slip in quietly at the back of the peloton and not be noticed, but in fact, even before I rolled to a stop at Rats, my fellow-peloton-riders-to-be were rolling about in laughter.  Anothe arrived a few seconds after me with a cheeky grin even before dismounting.  I can’t think why.

However, call it the ‘new bike effect’ or a phantom tail wind, but the Tyrell was able to keep it going at 46kmh when we got to Keppel Viaduct.  And that was on a pull, not at the back of the peloton.  Except to say that when we got to SBV, the full 9kg weight of the beast (the aluminium frame and fork alone weigh 3.3kg) slowed the proceedings a bit so no KOM that day.

So how does it ride?  Actually, surprisingly normally, except to say it is somewhat top heavy.   Stiff…is it stiff you ask?  Just look at the frame…not just two but four closed triangles…and that’s only the side view, mind you.

The biggest problem though, is that with such small wheels, even with a 56-tooth crank and an 11-tooth cog, pedaling cadence is about 20% higher at any given speed than on a 700c bike with a 52 x 12 gearing set up.  Rolling resistance is obviously greater too but “running out of gears” is a bigger problem.

The best bit however, is how the Tyrell packs.

For the sake of scale, that’s a 44-cm handlebar and a 56-tooth crank

Prior to assembling the bike, I took the frame down to Mustaffa’s luggage department and tried about a dozen suitcases before I found one, a 29-inch case, which seemed to fit best.

With the aid of some foam, the removal of the handlebar, crank and wheels, the whole thing fits in neatly with space for water bottles, spare tyre, etc.

Have bike will travel…

All in the case with the bike packed into it weighs in at just over 18kg.

So to conclude, I have made my peace with the fact that I may face the slings and arrows of outrageous ridicule on a foldie but in my defence that is easier to bear than being droppedFoldie6 from a Kranji Steadfast because I didn’t take my bike on holiday with me. (As I conclude, I need to apologise in advance to any long-suffering family members who thought I’d left the bike behind…”sorry”).

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