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: http://utilitycyclist.blogspot.com/2007/10/good-affordable-folding-bike-review-of.html ) 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.