Join the Fold

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Brompton folding bicycles.
Brompton folding bicycles.
A happy cyclist on a Brompton folder.
Dahon folding bicycle.

Many reasons exist for stepping away from a standard bicycle and stepping onto a folder, the savvy cyclist’s name for folding bikes.

Folders, which enthusiasts love not just for their many practical attributes but also for their eye-catching look, are problem solvers in many ways. Don’t want to leave your bike locked outside? Invest the average 30 seconds it takes to fold a folder and carry it into your office, apartment or house. Don’t have a lot of room for bike storage at home? A folder takes up less than half the space of a standard bike. Don’t want to buy an expensive rack and carry your bike on the back or roof of your car? Put your folder into the trunk or backseat.

In addition, folders get you quickly from place to place on campus, whether business or university, fitting easily in an office or dorm room. For travel, whether on public transportation locally or on planes, trains and buses for longer trips, you can’t beat the compact folded bike. You can check it at the airport or train or bus station inside a case made for that purpose.

“I bought my first folder because I wanted a small-wheeled bike that was easy to get on and off and that would fit more easily into my car,” says Hank Ryan, owner with his wife, Ann Ryan, of Al’s Bicycles in Norman. “I had been riding a semi-recumbent bike. It was a great bike, but it weighed 50 pounds and took, of course, a special bike rack. If you have any back, neck or shoulder problems or any difficulty swinging your leg up and over a standard bike, folders are a great solution. I own my third and fourth Dahons now.”

As leaders of the cheering squad for the comfort, convenience and cool of folders, the Ryans are making Al’s Bicycles of Norman the Oklahoma center for these multi-functional bikes. It has been an authorized dealer for Dahon folders since the Ryans bought the shop in 2010 and Tern folders since they were introduced in fall 2011. The English-made Bromptons arrived in August. Al’s of Norman is the only shop in a 300-mile radius to have all three brands in stock so potential owners can see and, more importantly, ride before they buy.

“We want our customers to test ride,” Hank Ryan says. “Anyone coming into the shop can get the feel of the bike before investing in it.” To make test riding possible, the Ryans have more than a dozen different models in stock at all times. So far, they have sold bikes to folder seekers from Arkansas, Kansas and Texas, as well as from around the state.

“Other bike stores have other specialties; we want this to be ours,” Ann Ryan says. “We offer a full line of standard bikes and accessories and full repair service, but we want to focus on folders. With the ever-increasing interest on greener living, bicycles are becoming more central to not just exercise and recreation but transportation. Folders are good for all three, of course.”

Ranging in price from $400 to several thousand dollars, folders can be bought off the floor as they come or customized to fit all body sizes and individual needs. Customizing means ordering and a wait of from a few to 12 weeks, the latter for the hand-crafted English Bromptons. Brompton calls its bikes “B-spoke,” in the tradition of fine, custom-tailored suits. The bike pun lightens the analogy just enough to appeal to those who also buy off the rack.

The bikes fold as compactly as 24 inches by 24 inches by 11 inches. Larger wheel models go up to 37 inches by 41 inches by 14 inches. They weigh from 20 to 30 pounds.

“From commuters to long-haul truckers, from campers to pilots: folders offer a way to make your bicycle a take-along,” Hank Ryan says. “Adjusting the seat or handlebars is a quick, one-step process. You don’t have to ‘gear up’ to ride them; they are made for street wear. They may not have the speed and long-distance attributes of a road bike, but they are a superb general-use bicycle. They’re nimble. They spin up faster, meaning you get going faster. They are generally simpler in their gearing with more robust gear systems to withstand the folding. We sell a lot of standard bikes with 21 to 24 gear options, of which most people will use only a very few. Folders generally have from one to 11. Nicest of all, folders are unisex and can accommodate a wider range of body sizes, so they are easier to share among family members or with guests.”

The folder market is a growing one. Dahon alone is now selling more than 300,000 folding bikes a year worldwide. Al’s Bicycles of Norman wants you to join the fold.

For more information, go to www.alsbicycles.com and click on “Norman.” The company logos on that page are links to more information about each manufacturer’s full line of bicycles.

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