This bike has become my main means of transport. I do virtually all my shopping and other errands by bicycle, even when it’s raining. In total I ride about 3-4 times more km per year by bicycle than I drive by car. It means I don’t have to worry about parking (which is very costly in Japan) and with traffic lights and traffic jams here, a lot of the time there isn’t much if any speed advantage by car in Tokyo. By the time I include the time spent walking to and from train stations and waiting for connections, even trains are not much quicker (if at all) inside Tokyo.
The reason I picked the Bike Friday as my first new bike in over 10 years was that I wanted something that would take up less space inside my tiny house in Tokyo and would also be easier to take on trains or pack into the back of the car. However, after moving to Tokyo I found I do not actually use the train very often during bike rides. I usually avoid folding the bike unless I really have to. The truth is, it’s not as easy to fold as say a Brompton and I often end up with greasy fingers from a dropped chain. However, the smaller size has kept our entrance hall slightly less crowded. I can actually pack the complete bike into a regular size suitcase and it will stay under economy class airline weight and size limits.
Fit and comfort
I have heard a lot of comments from people who feel sorry for me, riding “that bike” on a long mountainous route. People see the 20″ wheels and think “small wheel city bike”. Sure, I wouldn’t want to ride a 200 km mountain route with 8% grades on a folding shopping bike either, but my Bike Friday is as different from cheap 3-speed city folder as a carbon road bike is from a housewife shopping bike. The Pocket Rocket is a regular road bike that also folds.
When you ride a bike Friday and you’re looking ahead and not down you wouldn’t know that you’re not riding a conventional 700C bike, unless you’re riding a really rough road. The position and geometry are the same as on any other road bike, so are shifters, handlebars, pedals and seat and everything else you touch. The smaller wheels turn faster at a given speed, but that’s what gears are for, so you won’t be pedaling any more or any harder. You’ll simply be using different cogs and chain rings than someone riding a big bike at the same speed or up the same grade of hill.
This is a bike that you can be comfortable on for hundreds of kilometers a day. As of February, 2015 I have done at least one 160 km ride (“Century”) for 30 consecutive calendar months on my Bike Friday. In total I did 47 rides of 160 km or more over those months, the longest being 574 km in 47 hours with 4,949 m of climbing. My longest uninterrupted climb was over 1,400 m of elevation at Mt Fuji. My largest daily climbing total was 4,675 m with 210 km horizontal distance. I doubt that a lot of people would ride further or climb more on a 700C road bike than I do on my Bike Friday.
Weight and gearing
The Bike Friday definitely is not the lightest bike, not surprising considering it isn’t made from carbon fibre but from durable Cro-Mo steel (4130). For practical reasons I equipped mine with a dynamo hub, a Brooks B17 leather saddle, a kick stand and mud guards, all of which added weight. I always carry my bike lock (even on club rides) and one or two water bottles. On long rides I often need to bring extra layers for varying temperatures or possible rain, for which I use a saddle bag or seat post bag.
Though the small wheels keep the overall length down (and the folding can cut it in half again), the wheel base of the bike is actually slightly longer than my son’s 700C bike. I found the ride smoother than my son’s bike, though I still don’t really enjoy rough road surfaces. When I used 20 x 1 1/8″ (28-451) tyres I ran them at 6 bar (85 psi) at the rear and 5 bar (70 psi) at the front. In early 2014 I switched to the wider 20 x 1 3/8 (37-451) format, which I run at 4.5 bar (65 psi). The ride is noticeably more comfortable with no loss in speed.
I specified the bike with a triple chain ring at the front (50/39/30) and a 9-speed cassette at the back (SRAM PG950 11-28 = 11,12,13,15,17,19,21,24,28). With 20″ ISO 451 tyres that are about 3/4 the circumference of 700C tyres these gears gives me a range of 21 to 90 gear inches. A standard 700C with compact crank (50/34 front, 11-28 rear) has a low gear of just under 33 gear inches, which means those riders have to push about 50% harder to climb a steep hill than I do for the same weight. My bike and I are not 50% heavier than most cyclists with their large road bikes. In fact, most road bike cyclists I know probably outweigh me by more than my bike outweighs their bike. 🙂
When the original SRAM PG950 cassette wore out I replaced it with a 10 speed cassette after installing a right hand 10-speed Tiagra shifter, thus changing the setup to 3×10. I kept the overall gear range the same, but narrowed the intervals.
My goal in the first year was to ride more distance on my bike than I drive in my car. That was easy to achieve: Since moving to Tokyo, I don’t use my Prius much. Sometimes I don’t use it for two weeks, but I typically ride my bicycle 5 times a week, doing anywhere from 400 to 1,000 km a month (usually around 600 km). I try to cycle a total of at least 100 km every week, as well as at least one long ride (160-200 km) per month. My total for 2012 was around 7,200 km, compared to about 4,000 km in our family car.
I have participated in brevets of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km, though I have yet to complete a brevet longer than 300 km within the official time limit. As they say, it’s easier to go further than to go faster. The biggest challenge with the longer rides is sleep deprivation. As long as you keep eating and drinking you could keep going pretty much indefinitely, if it wasn’t for the need to sleep. So you need to ride fast enough to build up a time buffer for being able to sleep and still stay within the time limit.
Ironically, I have seen more of the countryside outside Tokyo since moving to the city than when I still lived in the semi-rural outskirts of Yokohama. In my current signature line in the Tokyo Cycling Club forum, I jokingly claim my religion to be “bicycle shinto: worshipping the kami (gods) of rivers, trees, mountains and the ocean, on two wheels”. There should always be time to stop for a view or to take some pictures.
Here is a list of things I am using with my bicycle:
- Uvex i-vo helmet
- Shimano SH-MT42NV (MTB shoes)
- Shimano SH-M088LE (MTB shoes)
- Shimano PD-T780 SPD pedals
- Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedals
- Brooks B17 (leather saddle)
- Carradice Pendle (saddle bag)
- Ortlieb Seatpost Bag M
- Shimano DH-3N80 (dynamo hub)
- Lumotec IQ Cyo N plus (head light)
- Cateye Rapid 3 – TL-LD630-R (rear light, 2x)
- Cateye Omni 3 – TL-LD135-R (helmet rear light)
- Minoura iH-100-S smartphone holder
- Garmin Edge 500 (GPS unit)
- Garmin heart rate belt
- o_synce navi2coach (GPS unit)
- Bontrager Ant+ speed sensor
- Bontrager Ant+ cadence sensor
- Topeak Mini Morph pump
- Tokyo Cycle Club cycling shorts (2012 edition)
- Tokyo Cycle Club short sleeve jersey (2012 edition)
- Bicycle Line winter jacket “Eternity”
This jacket seals well at the wrists and the zip and keeps the wind off. It has three large pockets at the back and one zipped pocket in the middle.
- Bicycle Line winter gloves
These were about 5000 yen. They’re very comfortable when dry but useless if soaked by sweat, rain or melting snow.
- dhb Vaeon Zero bib tights
- Bicycle Line finger gloves
- GS Astuto Haute Route bib shorts
- GS Astuto long sleeve jersey
- GS Astuto wind breaker
- Half-Fast Cycling long sleeve jersey (2013 edition)
- Purendure bib shorts
- Purendure short sleeve jersey
- Polaris rain jacket
- Camelbak Podium 24oz water bottle (2x)
- Canon PowerShot S95
Not strictly a bicycle accessory, but I take it on virtually my rides
- Canon PowerShot S100, its successor
- Nikon D3300 (DSLR)
Last update: March 2015