Here's an idea for a troubled time: A folding bike that's, well, really a bike.
The other day I logged 15 miles riding in and around Manhattan -- to and from my Metro-North train station, south to midtown for coffee with a colleague, and then up to Times Square to tape my radio show -- on the latest in folding bicycles from Montague Corp, the SwissBike XO ($1,995).
My verdict? The XO is far from perfect -- it's bulky, tough to manage at times and misses on some crucial details -- but the bike has definite legs.
In fact, if you're considering shuffling off this mortal internal-combustion-engine coil (and nothing beats riding your bike to do local errands), you should consider the XO.
In many ways, the bike is a revelation.
Know When to Fold Them
Folding bikes traditionally have been the lunatic, circus-act fringe of the peddling domain. Makers such as
Dahon cranked out folding cyclic mini-me's that offered nominally full-featured biking -- gears, brakes and all -- that could also be folded down in seconds into a backpack or case.
But there were two penalties: Performance and style.
Small bikes had tiny wheels and tiny frames, so they were hilariously unstable at high speeds. And the poor schleps riding them looked like Ronald McDonald's relative, rolling around town perched atop 8-inch wheels.
Montague has taken a different tack. It started with a full-featured, normal-weight mountain bike and engineered it to fold just small enough to fit into a car trunk or into the included large shoulder bag.
And the company has the fold-up bike chops for the job: Montague has supplied collapsing cycles to the military since the late 1980s. (The company's literature brags that paratroopers use these bikes. That may be true, but my hunch is that the troops mostly ride these things on base, not in battle.)
On road or trail, the XO shines.
It has a tough, stylish aluminum frame, 27 speeds, full-suspension RockShox front fork, Juicy front disc brakes and Sram shifter/derailleurs. The ride is on par with better, traditional-production hard-tail bikes -- say a
Trek Jack -- but a step below a custom bike from a maker such as
And there is real speed in this bike. When I opened up the XO, taking the fancy-schmancy bike trail along the Hudson River from where the Circle Line docks at 44th Street to the Boat Basin up 79th Street, man, this baby flew. I passed all comers.
And on the wooded trails in the 10 acres hidden behind my house, the bike was tough enough to really jump. I caught some decent air where the kids think only they know of.
The bottom line? There is simply no way a normal folding bikes looks -- or rides -- this good.
Handle With Care
But -- and this is a serious caveat -- the XO's bulk, so great while riding, becomes a real liability when folding and carrying.
Sure, I got the thing small enough to get by the guard in my office building. (Here in New York, no bikes are allowed in most elevators.) But the XO was far tougher to manage than other folding bikes. Instead of one or two folding points and the 30 seconds it takes to break down, say, a Brompton, the XO is at least a four-step, five-minute process: The front wheel, seat tube, and frame itself must collapse.
And then there was the wrestling with the shoulder bag, which, frankly needs a complete redo. It is way off the design and functionality mark for a $2,000 bike.
However, there is still no denying what the XO offers, if you accept if for what it is: A high-performance bike that is nominally portable.
After taping my radio show one recent night, I carried the folded XO from the studio out to 45th St. I spent five minutes or more putting it together. But then I rewarded myself with a rare, long night ride up Madison Avenue to 125th Street, near where Bill Clinton keeps an office: Racing the M1 bus uptown; cruising by the back of St. Patrick's cathedral and the Prada Store; hauling the long hill up to 96th St. and then down into Spanish Harlem and to the Metro-North station.
Then the bike and I were right onto the train and, finally, home.
Especially for city dwellers, the XO offers quite a ride.
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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.