Travel Bikes: Couplings and Hinges

The S&S coupling joins and splits the top and down tubes of a road bike like the Modal.

sands.jpg

This hinge folds and unfolds a Dahon

dahon_hinge.jpg

and this chunky one from a Brompton does the same thing, British style.

chunky.jpg

There are also Abio’s with belt-drives, Bike Fridays, and various other folders. Before we were into bike travel, small-wheeled bikes that came apart were sold by Sears, Bianchi, and likely others.

All of these folding bikes are for travel and commuting. They’ve each got a niche and do it well, some better than others. We travel with S&S and hinged folders. For the longer rides, touring, and racing, it’s an S&S bike. While an ardent folding bike fan would likely disagree with us, we don’t like to ride on small-wheeled Dahons and Bromptons for more than 90 minutes. Those bike are best for business trips, getting out and riding instead of the hotel gym and multi-modal commutes: bus, train, ferry.

Type of Cycling Recommendation Notes
Vacation, touring S&S bike, Ritchey Breakaway Save on baggage, assemble within an hour, enjoy the ride.
Business trip, stay in shape, fitness Hinged folders: Dahon, Brompton, et al. Arrive in hotel, unfold bike, change into gym clothes and ride within ten minutes
Commuting Hinged folders: Dahon, Brompton, et al. They are purpose-built to do this.


A refined travel option is an S&S or Ritchey Breakaway that’s a single speed. After traveling several times with the Modal (a concept bike that toggles single, geared, fixed, internal), I enjoy that option the most. It significantly reduces the build/pack time and complexity. There just isn’t that much that can go wrong with a singled-speed titanium bike in an S&S case. Gear it wide enough for the flats and hills and you’re good to go. I’ve ridden the Modal as a single speed in Shanghai and San Antonio. Build a wheel up with the eccentric eno flip-flop hub and you’ve got 3 gear choices.

As the table above shows, I choose the bike by the amount of ride time I’ll have and terrain. Between the hinged folders, they’ve got their own aesthetic and price points. While you can literally just hand the gate agent your Brompton and not worry, really wish they’d modernize just a bit from the iron-age of bike building and stubborn chunkiness.

While constantly innovating, the Dahons have too many breakable, jagged edged parts waiting to get knocked out of alignment in a travel case. V-brakes are not travel compatible.

For the coupled bikes, the Breakway’s bottom-bracket located hinge is too small for that much load bearing and can creak. It’s also prone to mis-adjustment in the field, when jet-lagged out of your mind. S&S are retrofitted to steel and Ti bikes or built into a custom bike for about $1,000 dollars plus the hundreds of dollars for the case. That’ll pay for itself shortly, but it’s a big initial spend.

Once you get into it and after a few trips, you’ll find traveling with bikes is enjoyable and not that difficult. I’ve done it so much, it feels weird to not have a bike with me. Thanks to Patti for asking the question that prompted this post.

S&S coupling photo uploaded to Flickr by Revolution Cycles, Inc.



16 Comments

I have to say that after riding the single-speed Dahon in Vegas that I’ll probably get something like that soon.  I’ve always wanted to get a Ritchey or a S&S bike, but really the simplicity of the Dahon was so nice.  It’s not fast, but it’s transportation and it’s perfect.

Correct. The Dahon Uno also has no cables, with it’s coaster rear brake. The Brompton I travel with has two speeds, wish one of them spun more, but it’s good.

Updated the post with some typos that happened when published.

Interesting new option popped up at R&E Cycles of Seattle - the Rodriguez 6- Pack travel bike—a bike with 20-inch wheels plus S&S couplers (see www.rodcycle.com, look for the 6-pack travel bike). Very pricey frame, but they say it combines the small size of a folder with a stiffer frame. Would love to see you guys review it.

Also see Mark’s [BMX-based](http://bikehugger.com/2009/09/davidson-ss-bmx-armed-and-full.html) bike for another take on coupled bikes.

No doubt Mark deserves some kind of special award for his BMX bike. Or an arrest warrant - I don’t know which.

I was thinking of something a little closer to “normal,” whatever that is.

 

I’ll swing by R&E and see what they say.  I know the ‘E’ part of them :)

That looks like a bike built for someone that doesn’t travel very often, honestly—all the extra stuff on it is going to hassle the pack. And put you over the weight limit. Bike travel is about minimalism.

I think the “extra stuff” on the Rodriguez 6-pack is just ffront and rear racks, which does not have to be part of the bike it you’re taking it for business travel. I don’t understand your comment at all. But, in any case, I thought it would be worth you guys taking a look at the bike; the folks at R&E do some interesting things with bikes (I am not an owner or employee, just a fan).

They have a nice open house every year, by the way, on the same day as the Seattle bike swap - Feb. 27. Might be worth covering.

My comment regards pack times and is a concern of bike travelers and mentioned in the post. Dahon 45 seconds, Brompton 15, S&S 1/2 hour, that bikes with all the accoutrements looks like an hour or more to pack.

Yes, I read the original post. I understand the concern about pack times.

However, the Rodriguez website says it packs in 15 minutes. That seems to be in the range of the bikes you are talking about—the original post says a folder is ready in 10 minutes, and S&S bike in an hour. 15 minutes seems reasonable (if true), doesn’t it?

I really don’t give a hoot about the 6-Pack, just wondering why you’re so dismissive about a new twist on the travel-bike idea (though, really, the 6 pack is just a mini velo with S&S couplers). Generally Bike Hugger seems to embrace innovation, I thought you might want to throw a bone to a respected Seattle-based builder.

Absolutely not 15 minutes—maybe tossed into a bucket like they show or a big duffle bag. The perfect pack requires a lot of planning, trial and error, and preventive measures for TSA. This packing is about flying with a bike, not getting noticed by the gate agent, keeping it under the weight limit, and having it arrive safely. You’ve got to consider what to bring v. not for the various conditions you’ll encounter. I’m a Jedi packer, while Mark V is a Jedi Master. See this [post for more](http://bikehugger.com/2007/11/spatial-relationships-and-the.html). I have no reason to think it’s not a good bike and we’d like to check it out. Please don’t read too much into my initial response and we most certainly do embrace innovation, but I wonder why you’d have 6 couplings on a frame? S&S bikes usually have two. Added cost, more work, more exposed sharp parts, etc. Like I said, at first glance that looks like an exercise in S&S couplings, not a travel bike. There’s a throwdown challenge for you: a Fold Off.

Also note, [Davidson makes a Bus Bike](http://www.flickr.com/photos/huggerindustries/3414662834/), as he calls it, a coupled bike that you toss into a bag and you can do it while watching the bus approach. I rode it in vegas. [So did Matt](http://bikehugger.com/2009/09/titanium-carbon-belt-drive-tra.html).

i’ve seen the 6-pack from rodriguez firsthand.  basically you use more than 2 S&S couplings to break the bike down into smaller pieces.  actually i saw japanese custom builders using this idea on mini velo bikes (adult bikes with wheels 20” or smaller) five years ago, though they used 4 instead of 6 couplings.  also, Lennard Zinn has used 4 S&S couplings for his custom 700C bikes for tall riders (6’6”+ like Lennard himself), since only using 2 would not break a 64cm+ frame down into pieces small enough to fit in the standard S&S cases.

i have mixed feelings about the 6-pack because on one hand it should fit easily and possibly more quickly (assuming no rack or other accessories) into an S&S case given the small wheels and 6 couplings, yet on the other hand it doesn’t offer that much more convenience compared to a 2 coupling bike.  theoretically it could fit into a smaller case than the offerings from S&S, but what would that case be? the S&S case is optimized for 700C wheels (and very close to optimal for 26”), whereas there really isn’t such an item for 20” wheels.  the rodriguez website shows a picture of a 6-pack frame in a bucket, but that’s a far cry from a complete bike, as it is without handlebar and saddle or even wheels. maybe there is a case that can take advantage of the smaller size of the disassembled 6-pack, but then it won’t offer a faster pack than a more normal coupling bike in an S&S case. 

typically when building a steel frame, a single S&S coupling costs as much or more than all the tubes and fittings (except for maybe premium steel tubing) .  Regular 4130 chromium molybdenum steel is way cheaper than a coupling. couplings are only a benefit when you are disassembling the bike.  now triple the number of couplings…you aren’t paying for features that will improve the performance of the bike.

most likely the 6-pack is stiffer than a folding bike, because the handlebar “mast” is the most flexible part of any folder, but it would several times slower to pack, and requires tools as well.  beyond that, i’d be more interested if there was a dedicated and well-engineered case to take advantage of the potentially smaller pack, but such a situation would then be no faster than a regular coupling bike packed into a S&S issue case.  it is no longer fast and easy to pack small pieces of bike into a case when the case gets proportionally smaller as well. and even if it was smaller, it would not weigh any less. and the airlines aren’t going to give you a credit for having a case that is marginally smaller than their size limits.

so to sum up my evaluations, the 6-pack gains a smaller pack potential but no dedicated cases exist. if packed into a regular S&S case, it is a faster pack by way of less strenuous spacial relations tasking, but only by about 5 min tops.  if airlines tightening the dimensional limits on non-oversize luggage, then maybe it would be more attractive.

Thanks, gents, for your thoughtful replies.

A couple of things—first, I’ve never owned a coupled bikes, so I have no idea whether to believe Rodriguez’s claim of 15 minutes. If they are being “overly optimistic” on their website, I’d be disappointed. I am going to their open house on Feb. 27, and will ask them—they’ve done YouTube videos on packing their full-size bikes before, so maybe I’ll challenge them to a real-time YouTube demonstration of the 15-minute claim. (Or maybe I was the only person gullible enough to believe this!).

Second, I had not seen the Davidson bus bike before. It looks interesting.

Personally I think the idea of an internal hub + carbon belt drive on a traveler bike sounds very interesting; I think it just gives you fewer thins to get knocked around while packing and unpacking, and you avoid the grease of a chain.

To combine this with one more random cycling thought—this week Shimano announced a new, 11-speed Alfine hub (a much cheaper competitor to the Rohloff). That + carbon drive + s&s couplers would be a very interesting travel bike.

Thanks for listening!

OK, my last comments on the 6 -pack (honest). Totally by coincidence, I met the owner of The 6 Pack while on a ride last weekend. He was riding another very interesting bike, and I started chatting with him, and turned out he was the fellow who commissioned the 6-pack on Rodriguez’s website. He already owns a Bike Friday *and* an S&S-coupled touring bike, and has traveled extensively with both.

He wanted the 6 Pack because (a) it fits into a smaller suitcase than the full-size S&S bike and (b) he says it rides *much* better than the Bike Friday. (He now owns all 3 “travel” bikes).  FYI, he says he has only disassembled and reassembled the 6 pack once, and says it took him an hour, about the same as the full-sized bike.

He may have the 6 pack at the R&E open house mentioned above, if anyone is interested.

Like to see what case it fits in and not just a bucket.

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