Travel Bikes: Couplings and Hinges

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

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This hinge folds and unfolds a Dahon

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

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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.