You want to know how long I have been riding a bike? My first bike as an adult was a 3-speed English-style bike that was considered hot by almost everyone, that’s how long. “Three speeds!” they would say. “What could you possibly do with three speeds?” In summer, I would ride to work, only a mile away, and come home for lunch. I would take my oldest son, now 54, on pajama rides through the neighborhood before he went to bed. He rode on a child’s seat mounted over the rear wheel with an unobstructed view of my back. I prided myself on making a bike part of my daily routine, not just for weekend exercise.
Bicycles then were considered children’s toys, and an adult on a bike stood out. I was often ridiculed on my way to work by groups of school children gathered on street corners. It was all good natured, and I would talk trash right back at them that would probably get me arrested today.
That old bike, a sturdy Schwin, almost lasted a lifetime, but not quite. The three speeds were by Sturmey-Archer gears built into the rear hub that depended on palls pushed out by springs. They had evidently rusted and no longer pushed out. I suppose I could have it repaired by an old-time bike shop, but that would cost more than the bike is worth. Besides, there were other problems: Even the lowest gear was no longer low enough for mild hills and headwinds (a constant headwind can be as tiring as a never-ending hill). I needed something still lower. It was also getting more difficult for me to swing my leg over the back wheel to get on. And the high cross-bar made it difficult to dismount quickly in an emergency. If I got a new bike, at age 80, would I get enough use out of it? And should an 80-year-old be riding at all?
I found the answer in a Durban folding bicycle sold by Costco. For years, I was familiar with Durban as a manufacturer of folding bicycles, and now it solved all of my problems at a price competitive with standard bicycles.
Folding is very handy. The seat drops down, the handlebars fold over, and the frame folds in half. Even the pedals fold in. I can then put it into the trunk of my car and drive to where I want to explore (like the Ocean City boardwalk). I could easily take it on a SEPTA train and tool around Philly’s Fairmont Park..
It folds and unfolds in seconds. The latches clamp down securely and can be periodically adjusted with a wrench to keep them tight. The design is cleaver and well thought out. For example, a strong magnet holds the halves together when folded back on themselves with just enough force to keep them from flopping open.
I expect folding will make the bike attractive to the next generations of riders. Most people who occasionally ride a bike already have one and wouldn’t want another, even for free, but they would like the folding option for a second bike. When I finally get too old to ride it, I expect it will have another life with my children or grandchildren.
The main advantage is the configuration with the small, 20-inch wheels. Because of the small wheels, the cross-bar of the frame is low enough that I can easily step over it to get on, and can quickly hop off the seat in an emergency.
I always thought a kickstand was unnecessary. Almost anywhere I stop, there is a nearby tree or building I can lean the bike against. Many times, in a pinch, I have even gently laid my old bike on its side in grass. But the Durban came with an especially small and unobtrusive kickstand. I am getting to appreciate it and will probably leave it on. It also came with an adjustable shock absorber on the back wheel. I have not yet ridden down a curb to evaluate its effectiveness. (Don’t even think about riding up a curb, especially with the Durban’s small wheels. You will end up with your face on the sidewalk.)
At my age, I would like the gearing to be lower, but that could be easily done by changing the front chain ring to a smaller one. Right now I am adapting to the bike as the bike is adapting to me, so I will wait for perhaps a year before I change anything major.
The bike rides a little squirrelly, but squirrelly can also be interpreted as responsive, and that is good (see posting “The Unridable Bicycle,” 3/20/2011). A new bike is like a new pillow. You want it to feel exactly like your old one, and it will, shortly. A bike has many adjustments (seat height, angle, etc.) and I am in process of getting them exactly right. I am particular. Each change takes some riding time to evaluate.
The bike came almost ready-to-ride right out of the box. All I really needed to do was unfold it and pump up the tires. The adjustments I am doing now are ultra-fine-tuning.
A bike can be seen as an assembly of components by different manufacturers. Usually, the manufacturers of a bike line only make the frame. The Durban components are good quality, except for the low quality Shimano shifter. (Top-quality component manufacturers used to be Italian, like Campagnolo, but they have long since been supplanted by Asian companies, such as Shimano who manufactures a range of qualities, some as good as the best, some not so good. I kid you not.)