JRA with the Angry Asian: Lemons, lemonade, and odd little wheels

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I find myself in uncharted territory today: I’m lusting after a bike with 20in wheels that folds up and fits into a suitcase. It’s heavy, unquestionably weird-looking, and undoubtedly slower than any one of the multitude of high-performance bikes sitting in my garage right now. But yet I find the prospect of what it offers so incredibly enticing.

Let me explain.

Life has gotten awfully busy since my wife and I decided to start a family a few years ago, and it’s a constant struggle to try to carve out time to ride (or sleep, or eat, or clean the house, or…). The all-day weekend rides of yesteryear have given way to shorter — but at least more frequent — weekday rides. And as I’m guessing is the case for most new cyclist parents, I can usually predict within a couple of minutes how long each of those rides will take. Can’t be late to pick up the kiddo from school, after all! So much for casual two-wheeled lollygagging. Those days are OVER.

I’ve also gotten more creative about where I cram those rides in. Just the other day, I rode out to meet my wife and daughter at a place about 20 miles away where we were planning to spend the afternoon. It was a maybe a 30-minute drive by car, but less than an hour by bike, and it turned out to be a perfect way to shoehorn a ride into the day (and since my wife rode home while I drove, we both got rides in that day, which was a nice bonus). There have also been a couple of occasions where I drove with our daughter up to events in little mountain towns that sit high above Boulder, while my wife rode up with a friend.

There are limits to how much juice you can squeeze out of that lemon, though, and regardless of how creative you get, the reality is that you’re still trying to extract a fair chunk of time out of the day for recreation — and sometimes, that time just isn’t there.

Time to get even more creative.

As far as I’m concerned, utility bikes are only as good as how much they can carry. And this thing can carry a lot.

I’ve been incorporating commuting into my regular routing a lot more in recent years, particularly after I decided to add an e-assist cargo bike to our stable a little over 3 1/2 years ago. I wasn’t entirely sure how much we’d use it, but that thing now has nearly 12,000km (7,500mi) on it, and it’s become our default mode of transportation for shuttling the kiddo around, grocery shopping, just getting somewhere in town, and seemingly everything in between.

For whatever reason, it also seems easier to hop aboard a utility bike when the weather is ugly than it is to get on one of my nicer bikes (despite the fact that the costs aren’t actually all that different). We’ve been going through an unusually cold, grey, and rainy May here in Colorado, but the to-do list doesn’t go away. Conveniently, though, I also have a new Yuba Electric Supermarche bakfiets-style cargo bike in for review, and the other day, I had a hefty shopping list from Costco, too.

Rain was in the forecast, and heading out into an incoming storm rarely seems fun when on the road bike. But on that Yuba, I just tossed a giant covered plastic tub into the forward cargo hold, donned some waterproof gear, and rolled out the door. The skies did open up on me on the way home, but I still walked back into my front door smugly satisfied in the fact that I had spent 90 minutes more time on a bike than I otherwise would have.

Mission accomplished.

Not surprisingly, my daughter loves the view from up front.

Having a cargo bike all this time has changed my day-to-day life dramatically, to the point where I’d almost consider it the most important bike in my garage. But there are still gaps that can be filled with saddle time here and there, particularly when I’m on the road somewhere (often without a bike).

So what would life look like if I always had a bike with me?

Back to that folding bike.

Almost without fail, I open up my email inbox in the morning and find it overflowing with press releases touting the latest this, the newest that. Much of the stuff isn’t worth sharing. But tucked into the pile yesterday was an announcement from Tern showing off its latest creation, the BYB (“Bring Your Bike”) folding bike.

The double-hinged frame is the secret to the BYB’s remarkably compact dimensions when folded. Photo: Tern Bicycles.

Tern is no stranger to folding bikes, and I’ve been very familiar with the brand since it was founded in 2011. I reviewed one of Tern’s folding bikes for another publication in 2013, I’ve commuted to and from various trade shows on loaners that company has graciously provided, and more recently, I spent several months reviewing the GSD, an innovative cargo bike that boasted immense capability despite its unusually small footprint.

Both of the bikes I reviewed certainly had their fair share of quirks — dual 20in wheels seem to be inherently quirky, after all — but the design inspirations behind them, and their intended usages, have always resonated with me.

This latest BYB ups the ante with not one, but two locking hinges in the frame, a collapsible steering column, and a double-telescoping seatpost arrangement. It’s an especially clever layout that lets it collapse into a smaller package than ever before while still offering the relative stability of 20in wheels (Brompton uses 16in wheels). You can even mount a pair of panniers on the built-in rear rack, and there’s an option of bolting a front parcel rack on to the puny head tube, too.

Little wheels, but still plenty of cargo possibilities. I dig it. Photo: Tern Bicycles.

Fully folded, Tern says the BYB measures just 35x52x81cm (14x21x32in), or roughly 35% smaller than the company’s other 20in folders. That’s not quite small enough to make the optional Airport Slim travel case ok to use as a carry-on bag for air travel (oh, to dream…), but it’s certainly small enough to work as a standard checked bag without incurring additional fees. Tern also claims that the BYB will fit into that dedicated suitcase with no tools required, which I certainly can’t say about my standard bike when I stuff it into an Orucase Airport Ninja (my favorite in the segment), or any Ritchey Breakaway or S&S coupled bike I’ve used in years past.

But this BYB now offers the very real possibility that I could essentially never be without a bicycle, never be stuck in some random hotel without an easy way to get around, never have to rely on Uber or Lyft or a bus or anything else to just head out for some fresh air. And no longer would I have to perform the mental calculus required to see if the extra time required to disassemble and assemble a full-sized travel bike is worth the payoff.

Being so small, so (relatively) light, and so easy to transport, there’s little reason not to bring something like the BYB with me everywhere.

This is so mega cool. Photo: Tern Bicycles.

Should something like the Tern BYB really be lustworthy? Maybe not by typical performance bike standards, but think of it this way. There used to be a time when my primary goal with respect to riding was just going faster, going farther, or just plain becoming a more skilled rider in general. More recently, the goal was to figure out how to just ride more. But now, with the idea of this BYB in mind, I’m wondering if the real target is devising a way to integrate riding into everything I do, and everywhere I happen to be. The cargo bike has taken care of the utility part of that problem, but having a bike on hand, all the time, would seemingly fill what holes remain.

I’ve admittedly been pining for a new car for ages now. However, I also paradoxically find myself doing more to minimize the time I spend inside a motorized vehicle, period.

So is the answer to my vehicle lust a 20in folder? I was originally thinking it’d come more in the form of a turbocharged engine and a six-speed manual transmission, but now I can’t help but wonder.

How’s that N+1 rule go again?

JRA is an acronym well known to bike shop employees, usually applied to customers submitting warranty claims that are clearly invalid (“I was just riding along when my top tube dented!“). It’s in part an homage to James Huang’s long tenure as a shop mechanic, but also the title we’ve given to the collection of random musings that will regularly be published here on CyclingTips. Most — but not all — of them will tech-related, but either way, they’ll reflect what’s been on his mind and what he’s been thinking about when he’s just riding along.

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