Philly Folder Roundup: whirlwind weekend!
June 12, 2007
Wow, what a weekend!
Mike McGettigan of Philly's Trophy Bikes shop hosted the USA's biggest annual folder event once again.
This time he invited me out to join the fun and participate in a panel presentation.
[Pics are at the bottom of this report.]
I don't travel much and lift-off kind of freaked me out, with trying to find cheap airfare, etc. But last Friday morning I woke up before the kids and then phoned home to Martha just after they got on the bus...with my feet splashing in the waves of the Atlantic ocean. Man, planes are time travel machines.
While chatting with a guy who flew in with me I made an astounding discovery: airlines are always having fare sales. Get on their email lists and you can buy 1¢, 5¢, $10 flights up to a week beforehand. There are so many that you can piece together coming and going quite readily.
ENTER THE FOLDER
I got a warm welcome from the crew at Mike's shop. Then Mike pulled a titanium Brompton folder off the floor and loaned it to me for the weekend. Later that afternoon a big herd of us folders rode a few miles down the lovely river trail to the Manayunk Wall neighborhood and did the famous hillclimb race up the 1km 17% grade. On Sunday we were to watch the national pro championship race blast up this same wall---only they had to do it 10 times. It seemed like a dozen folders were on hand for the hillclimb. I never saw so many freaky little bikes at the start of a USCF event. The promoter loved us---and Mike, too, who has been pushing bikes in Philly forever. We got the star treatment.
Like Mike said: "If you want to be left alone, ride a Trek Madone---if you want fun ride a Brompton!"
Mike used to be in punk rock bands for years. He had wild white hair with wings. Super high energy! Then he was also a journalist for years. --And he had a great way with words to match. A funny guy! Problems solved in a blink, left and right, no missing a beat.
The best folder finished in the middle of the big Citizen field. I noticed that most of the Cats had winners at about 1 min 33 seconds. Even the Cat 4, 5 and Cits! Best folder was a 2-sp ti Brompton at 1:46. The winning pro was 1:20 --- he was a twig from the mountains of Uruguay. The pros were often blasting up the tip-over grade in their BIG RING! I was in my 2nd gear on hitting the first incline, then it got steeper and I was in 1st. Sadly, I did a little tacking. Not knowing the course was a misery---when would it end? I got 2:33. Not last! Hub gears aren't the best for extreme effort. That 2-sp would be best for intense urban hopping. But, hey, the folders rocked! The next day we rode past that neighborhood again and couldn't resist another go---we out of towners felt we did better after knowing the hill. Mike is considering offering a Trophy Bikes trophy for Fastest Folder next year.
For the real-life scoop, check out this sponsor-produced video of the event! And catch the guy in the seersucker... http://www.jumpcut.com/view?id=95F37C9E174811DCBBF8000423CF382E
I met some amazing people on this trip! First was Lynette Chiang, "Customer Evangelist" for Bike Friday, http://bikefriday.com/evangelist. She rides the world visiting with Bike Friday people and spreading the word. She lives out of a shoulderbag, with her laptop, minicam and Blackberry. She makes movies this way, runs blogs and does her CR job. Amazing! And what a high-energy positive gal! Check out her blog at: http://galfromdownunder.com.
Still, near the end of our weekend even she marveled at the pace of events that Mike had set up! If you can get Lyn a bit tired, I know you're moving fast! : )
She traveled down from NYC by bus with her friend Dave Holowka, an architect and bike lover. Mike got us all a hotel suite to share. Lyn and Dave were totally welcoming to my 3rd wheel presence.
We talked into the wee hours at the hotel about life on the road, the single life, life doing something different, of service.
She just had her first book (written on the road) get a rave review in the Sunday NYTimes Summer Reading section. Wow!
[Update: Here's Lynn's pics and report on the event: http://www.bikefriday.com/roundup2007?time=current.]
We all got to use folders the way they were meant to be used. And we were all impressed. Our bikes were zipping in and out of the hotel, elevators, bars and trains without a hiccup or glitch---or need for a lock. The public was continuously in awe. What fun!
I was a bit rusty at first with my fold action, but near the end I got in a superfast, supersmooth fold to oblige some folks who were watching the pro race near me. What a nice fold the Brompy has!
All sorts of folder folk showed up to the events. Curious newbies also appeared...and did some hard shopping at Mike's shop afterward.
I got to test-ride all the major folders for the first time. I was burnin' up the road in front of Mike's shop. Next! Next! Next!
The panel seminar was a blast. Mike sat in the audience and interviewed me---as the media---and Lynette---as the global people person---and Peter Reich---inventor of the Swift. He asked us questions round-robin style. All around our front table were folders representing the various approaches to the craft. I think the crowd got a great overall view of the whole scene.
I give a presentation about once a decade. I was nervous but had fun. I would do it differently next time. Practice is everything. I would love to dial in a show and work on what provokes people.
In her panel chat Lynette talked about how neat it was to live in the world of folder buffs. She said the Bike Friday scene worked like a family. The bike helped people get out and do stuff and it was a reason to party together. Its innovative nature appealed to creative types...who then appealed to each other. Folders are a "high sign" that help you make friends. She, too, said there's a folder for everyone and every use. She helped Mike show off the new BF Tikit---a lightning-fast folding model that, once folded, can be wheeled along on one of its wheels (better than a Brompy on its casters).
Peter Reich was a quiet, mischievous type who told about being a bike builder who saw complex, stodgy folders out there and was compelled to build a cheap, simple version that could whip onto a subway in a jiffy yet ride like the wind. He said his hopes for cheapness didn't work out so well but his bike is available as a frame (with stem and post) for the same price as other small shop road frames. His Swift is popular among the wild'n'wooly messenger types of NYC. They often build it up as a single or fixie. It's a simple, compact frame. Perfect for street action. He recently hooked up with a biz-savvy team and is making his bike better than ever in Taiwan as the Xootr Swift. He seemed pleased as punch. He still makes special orders and modifies the factory frames to whatever spec someone likes. His bike rides real clean, tight and stiff. What's neat is that it takes up a tiny footprint. It doesn't stand---it stands next to you. So you hop onto a subway and you just hold it right next to you---it takes up less floorspace than the shorter-folding Brompy. Its greater tallness is no problem on a subway.
PROOF IN PUDDING
Then we did more test-riding. Man, these bikes really are all totally different from each other. A lot like recumbents. People talk about them being "fast" or "comfy." But each does it in a different way. What I found was that every bike fit into its category with very little crossover to another category. The BF is the fastest with the slowest fold---for airline action or more spacious folds. I mean, it was designed by bike racers---duh! Dahon and other bikes were designed by engineers to make getting to classes easier---and that's what they do! When taking bikes into buildings an invisible fold really is the best---so the Brompy wins here, hands down. The new BF Tikit folds fast but still ends up a bit big. It rides better than a Brompy, though. Probably mostly due to its derailleur. A hub bike is simply slower. I haven't tried a Rohloff---but they're heavier. The Swift is a street rocket, but seems more like a blaster than a roadie. The new Pacific Reach is possibly a BF killer due to its roadiness---but its dual sus brings up possible complexity issues. For roady action is it really needed? Maybe they'll make a rigid version sometime. An old Moulton rode so sweet, clean and smooth. It was heavy. But the new bikes aren't. I test-rode a new dual sus Moulton, too: but it had a rock hard new Brooks saddle. Too me, its dual sus felt too cushy, and the bike felt a bit heavy and slow due to small-wheel vibration. Its dual integral racks are gorgeous though! The Dahons seemed like decent all-rounders: not too small of a fold, not too fast of a ride, but surely a handy bike, and relatively thrifty. The Brompy still rules the urban all-mode scene---truly rocking the "bring it inside" scene. Its 2-speed version might be perfect for common moderate urban riding.
I note that only the BF's could be ridden no-handed. Folders ride fine, but different. I also noted that only the BF and Swift had normal stems, which can be easily changed to fit. The other folders offer a rather short reach. At least they tend to fit tall or long torso riders worse. This reach aspect is probably what locks them into short-hop status more than anything. Maybe some models could be altered (bar-ends added?) but parts nesting into the fold have to be kept in mind.
After test-riding we all dashed to the train station and took a ride out of town, with Bromptons stealthily stashed in every nook and cranny, then pedaled back. What a lovely river trail. It passed an ancient overgrown relic grotto building, crossed an elderly stone bridge, went past a row of rowing club houses of different colors, all from the 1800's it looked like. Lots of old stuff in Philly.
SET & SETTING
Old money, too. U-Penn is a fancy school next to the bike shop. We partied Friday night with some friends of the shop workers. I met a couple big, pasty recently fraternal lads, who spoke of beach houses (plural) and buying land in Dubai. One drank double vodkas like lemonade. Yet they had areas of competence---one knew his early US presidential history in an appreciative, casual way that I'm not used to where I live. I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few Philly people are up on their US history. He was a dissipated lad yet he had a head. Around here it's socially optimal if you do grunt talk about sports, cars or casinos.
That was Saturday. Oops, nope: we saw Lyn's Route 66 movie that night at Fergie's bar downtown. We all brought our bikes in, wowing the natives. She made her film on the road. It was pro! Her other movie won "People's Choice" at the Boston Bike Filmfest. For this movie, she rode with Lon Haldeman's PacTour group as they torched up the whole of Route 66, going onto narrow old desertified sections of the road that cars couldn't hope to travel. They went 80-150 miles a day. The group was a couple dozen tough riders---but many were quite old and didn't look physically outstanding. They were just tough. Any body type can learn to ride a bike anywhere, huh! They rode across the country, eating at diners, chugging milkshakes. Lon and his wife have several BF's, it looks like. As do many other celeb riders. Anyone doing mostly airline hops would find a BF to be super---but trains and cars are also much helped by its plenty-quick fold. People don't quite yet appreciate how wretched it is to deal with roof or trunk racks to get their bikes around---dirt, theft and disaster is the fate of racks. (A regular roadie who'd only need an airline option might find a bigwheel Ritchey Breakaway or S&S to be best.)
At the screening a local bar owner brought an A-Bike---a 10-lb plastic folder with a 170-lb rider limit. He was over it but loves it anyway. He's a bike nut. One of his young, vivacious former waitresses now works at Fergie's. She was hanging out with us, in her little black dress. She got excited about modeling the A-Bike and went all out showing it off. A bit of thrilling model runway action, it was! I'll have to get a pic from someone whose batteries worked. Folders are fun, I tell ya!
THE BIG SHOW
The next day I rode back out to Manayunk and caught the men's and women's races going up it. I worked my way thru the many thousands of folks partying on the Wall then found out I had a half hour to get to my train! I blasted the 5 miles of bike trail back to the shop where a mechanic hopped onto his race bike and escorted me police-punk style to the station. He took my folder back for me and I made the train by a minute. Thanks, Tom!!!
Everyone I met in Philly, coming and going, was great. Mike was wonderfully generous. My shuttle ride didn't show at the Atlantic City train station to take me to the airport (my secret cheap ticket option). The folks at the Sheraton lobby where I was to be picked up all helped instantly and eagerly. They got me a limo quick. The driver was apologetic about the shuttle not showing. He called ahead to the airline desk to say I was coming. When he dropped me off he said I owed him "Whatever you think is right." I was flummoxed, but he was happy in the end. For living in such an ugly city they sure were nice.
It was a bit disorienting though to hear the casino talk, about things like how everyone used to go to Canada because you didn't have to claim winnings then they headed in droves to Michigan instead because they allowed smoking. I just couldn't get my head around masses of people traveling such distances for such reasons. One guy said he came down from Canada that weekend because he didn't have anything better to do.
But then, just as fast, I was home.
From the train window leaving town. Abandoned electric company. Grand past.
Closer view of Art Museum and Waterworks.
River view --- old stuff. Boathouse Row, Art Museum and Waterworks from the 1800's.
Riding along the river --- new stuff
The men Pro's bust a move a few laps into their race. It's kinda steep here. 17%!!!
The real Manayunk racers! ---Women in action up the first part of the pitch.
Riv stylist with Moulton and a couple snazzy city bikes --- sharp DIY bike vibes were everywhere!
Five folders in front of ONE train seat! (4 Brompies and a taller but narrower and faster Swift.)
After the Sat. seminar the posse takes a train out of town then rides back. Bromptons rock the multimodal action! (All in a row.)
Folders hit the rivertrail!
On left, 3rd place Citizen --- superfreak
Getting meta with the hillclimb winner (photo of photoing in a photo)
At the hillclimb: Lynette Chiang, Bike Friday Customer Evangelist --- and Mike McGettigan, event organizer and Trophy Bikes shop owner extraordinaire
The super folders gang in front of the super folders bike shop. (Pic courtesy of L. Chiang, Bike Friday.)
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