Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How I Came to Choose the Brompton M3L.

I do a fair amount of airline traveling and I have been considering taking a bike with me on my trips. I own the 20” wheeled Dahon Yeah folding bike (see: ) but it’s portability is not super. It is fine for folding into the trunk of your car, but packing it into an airline regulation-sized suitcase is not that simple. I’ve seen pictures of this being done, but it requires a lot of disassembly. This involves removing the wheels, the seatpost, the stem and other sundry parts. You also have to protect certain parts from damage and (less important) scratching. Extensive assembly/disassembly is something I did not want to do. Ideally, I’d like to remove nothing, or maybe one part, to pack it in a suitcase. I certainly did not want to carry tools/wrenches with me on my trip(s).

Thus, I set about to look for a smaller wheeled (16”) folding bike that I could take with me on trips with minimal disassembly. Quickly, my choices came down to the following: Downtube mini, Dahon Curve (3 speed), Brompton M3L and the Merc 3 speed. I did see a Curve in person, but the folded state seemed a little bit large. Although I didn’t see the Downtube, I saw some good pictures of it on the 'net and the bikeforums site. Frankly, the fold did not seem as compact as a Brompton. The mini did have more than 3 gears (I think 7) a plus. The prices for the mini ($450) and curve ($350) were much lower than a Brompton. Even with the low prices, and the number of gears on the Mini, I did not think that either of these bikes would have been quickly packed in an airline-approved suitcase .

This left a choice between the Merc and the Brompton. Mercs are basically Asian-produced clones of the Brompton. Mercs are regularly available from an ebay called “Merc folding bike spares” based in the U.K. The folded state of the two bikes is the same. The Mercs components are not as high quality as a Brompton, but they do include extras like a front bag and a carry case. For the light infrequent riding I was planning to do, the Merc looked attractive.

As in many things, cost was a consideration. With the current weak dollar, a Merc would have cost $400 British pounds (shipped), which equates to about $800 USD. This Brompton cost $950 USD; $150 more. Brompton seems to sell its bikes for as close to U.K. prices here in the United States. This has something to do with the dealer network and the mass quantities it ships here. In the end, I decided to go with Brompton because of the “name” of the Brompton, even though it is more expensive. I surmised that the Brompton would hold its value better than a Merc. In addition, there is one Brompton dealer in my area, which can come in handy if I have any problems with the bike. A few years ago, with the dollar stronger, my choice would have probably been different.

I will post an entry of my folded Brompton in a suitcase when I take it on my first trip.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review of the Next Avalon Bike.

4/24/08 Update: After riding this bike for approximately 25 miles, this experiment is over. I’m getting rid of this bike. I could never get quite comfortable in the cockpit. It truly did not fit me like it should. You may have to be around 5’ foot tall to have this bike fit you. After riding it, my quads hurt, my lower back hurt, it was difficult to pedal. I did the adjustments to the seat and the handlebars, but could not get this bike “dialed in” for me. Sorry, Walmart. I’m leaving my original review for reference purposes.

Pros: Price, chain cover, cushy ride, rack eyelets, bolt on wheels

Cons: Handgrips, fit (one size will not fit all), kickstand is too far back

First, I get really excited when I see commuter-friendly bikes. That was the case when I saw this Next Avalon bike. The thing that drew me to this bike was the chain cover. A chain cover! Remember when I paid almost $100 to put a chain cover on my current everyday commuter (see: For the price of this bike ($99), I get a chain cover with an entire bike attached to it! I had to buy it.

I did purchase it at the king of all mass-market retailers, Walmart. I know that a lot of bike enthusiasts have no respect for Walmart bikes. They are always panned for being shoddily put together. And, of course, Walmart pays its vendors peanuts. This should equal lower quality. Well, why not perform my own long-term test to see if what "they" say is right? That's what I will do. My plan for this bike is for short errand running or trips to the ATM or grocery store. I plan to add a trip computer to track the mileage and the kinds of problems that I encounter as the bike piles up the miles.

Thus far, I've taken it for a short neighborhood ride and the bike seems to perform like it should. The handlebars didn't fall off. Everything is ok. The brake pads were rubbing on one side of the rear wheel so I adjusted them. The ride is very cushy. It has a springy neoprene seat as well as and single spring rear suspension. It also has a suspension front fork.

I like that this bike has bolt-on wheels. This is a good wheel theft deterrent. All you do is tie your lock cable to the frame and not worry too much about your wheels being stolen. I probably won't like this when I get a flat, but I'll deal with that when it comes.

I've added the rack so I can put stuff back there. It does have rack eyelets by the rear dropouts, but none by the seat part. I attached my rack to the rear seat stay with some P clamps. I also plan to add some fenders to it when I find them cheap or used. I don't plan to put a lot of money into this bike. I will replace the hand grips, though. They are the hard rubber kind.