Micro Bikes- Worth the Price?
Micro Bikes- Worth the Price?
By Steve Robson
In recent times, a new breed of bike has come on to the market. These are micro bikes, small folding bikes promise reduced travel times and increased mobility with transportition systems like buses, trains and airplanes. It offers the need for a small basic bike so the time to get around is reduced when compared to walking only. How well do these bikes really work in the real world? Are they worth the price or are they just another gadget that do not live up the the designed promise. I will be looking at these bikes and see how they work. I own one of these myself and will base a lot of information on my useage of the bike I use on a daily basis.
With the increasing cost of running a car today, people are looking at alternate ways of getting around for shorter distance trips. Some people live in apartments so space to put a bike can be limited. A full-sized bike can be placed in a separate lock-up area but depending on how well it is placed how it is set-up, your bike could be at risk of being stolen or damaged. The best place to keep a bike is in an enclosed place like am apartment or garage but for some this can not be done. Space can be so tight, there is no storage space left to put the bike in a safe spot.
This is when the design of the compact micro bike comes into play. These bikes fold down into a very small package and can be stored almost anyway. The one big feature of these bikes is the reduced tire size of the wheel/ tire. They are 16" and under in size. The bike I own uses 7.5" wheels and I feel that anything smaller on real world roads is not really safe. The smallest micro bike designs use the same sized tire as a scooter. Pot holes and other road hazards will cause problems for safe bike handling. I would like to test to see how one of these super small bikes would work if money allowed me to buy one of these just to see how they would work.
Before jumping on the internet and buying one of these mirco bike designs, you should look into what these bikes are designed like and look at the weakness and strengths. There are a number areas you should look at to see how well these smaller bikes compared to there larger full sized cousins.
Let's look at how these bikes are to be used and compare this to how they really work. On any given day, if a car is not being used as your main mode of transportation, public transportation will become the next logical form of getting around. Given your location, it way work out that this will be the only way you will go or the use of a micro bike may come into effect. There could some distance from you bus or subway stops. A micro bike could cut down the amount of to get this location. The smaller size of the bike allows it to be carried on to the public transportation system, depending on the size of the folded down bike being used. Another factor in seeing if a small folding bike can be used is the time of day the bike is being used. At busy times, you may not be allowed to carry the bike on a transist vehicle due to lack of space. Most of the times, transist systems are now allowing people to use a bike as an extended means of getting people around. Bike racks are put on the buses to allow a full sized to be carried on the outside of the vehicle. Smaller micro bikes can be carried on to a bus or subway without problems.
There are a number of designs used in the way the micro bike can be built. Whatever design is used, the real challenge is to get a compact folded structure into bike that can fit a average sized adult. A very popular design being used is a A-type design. There a number of ways to handle this structure. The Strida is a very popular folding bike design. Though up in the late 1980s as a school project, it evoloved into very simple but effective production design. A top mounted pivot point allows the bike frame to fold in on itself. A secondary folding bar that has the drive train folds off the rear bottom section of the bike frame. Simply un-locking the front section of drive train section of the bike at the front attachment point allows bike fold up into simple tall easy to carry package. The A-bike uses a more complex folding system that allows the bike to be reduced to about 25% of it's opened sizing. It can be stored in a small space when not in use. The bike uses a series of telescopic tubes to help it gain it's small folded package. Other bikes use a fixed bottom frame section and the various folding points get the bike down to it's folded size. The larger folding bikes will use a folding frame that folds the bike in half. The steering column folds down and the seat tube will slides down into the frame. On some of these bikes have the rear drive train that fold into the main frame and fork is designed fold as well. The A-bike and it's copy versions use plastic as part of frame structure. When I first saw this feature, I was wondering just how well this would hold up to being used. After using one of these bike for one year, it looks like it holds up well as long as the user of the bike is gentle with the bike and stays within the weigh limits of the frame design. Other micro bikes will use all steel/ alloy metal and have great structural strength. The weight limits on these types of bikes can range from 187 lb to 234 lb. range, depending on the design style and folding methods.
The drive train is the heart of any bike and the gear ratio the bike has determines how fast they go. Given the small tire size being used on these bikes, a lower gear ratio will be on this style of bike. They can range from a low 40" to a high of 53" gear inches on single speed models. Multi-speed models may have slightly higher gear ratios but due the the smaller wheels and shorter wheel bases used, high speed riding is not recommended. I took my A-bicycle down a hill and reached 32 kph. It was scary being at these speeds. The nice thing about a compact folding bike is the fact that it slows you down a bit and for short rides, great speed is not really needed. The drive train set-up can vary from bike to bike.
The A-bike design uses a enclosed chain set-up. It makes for a very neat looking styled bike. The other part of the A-bike drive train set-up is that it uses a enclosed dual chain drive. This type of set-up gives a higher gear ratio then one would expect from it's small wheel size. It has a gear ratio of 5.5 to one. The free wheel assembly will be housed within the plastic crank/ axle assembly section of the bikes frame. Micro bikes can also use a smaller chain design that only 1/4 inch in length, half the size of a normal bike chain link. The A-bike makes use of both types of chain on its drive train set-up. The effective gear inches of the bike is 42 gear inches. The bike will travel about 10 feet for every pedal turn. This equals the gear range found on a regular sized folding bike. Since the A-bicycle design uses a plastic housing to hold the drive train gear in place, I find that when heavy pressure is placed it, ithe chain can skip if the rear section of the chain that is attached to the drive wheel on the loose side.The effective average speeds that the bike can travel at are from 10 kph to 15 kph depending on the terrian you are riding on and how you can maintain any given speed you are riding at. Peak speeds on level ground can reach 19 kph to 20 kph. Depending on the type of compact bike design you are using and the gear ratio's used, speeds like this and maybe a bit faster can be achived. Other compact bikes will use a single chain that is just like larger full sized bike and normal style bottom bracket. A larger then normal sized main chain ring will be used to get the bikes gearing into useable range. A 1/4 inch sized chain can be used to scale down the overall size of the drive-train. The Strida uses a belt drive rather then a chain making the bike's drivetrain very clean. There is no grease to worry about.
One of the more important areas of design one should look at is the braking systems. As the tire size is reduced, the braking systems used can play a large role in the way the bike stops. Bikes using the 16" and 12" tire size will use the same brakes used on larger bikes. They can be either side pull or V-brake type. These brakes offer great stopping power. Bikes using tires of this size will still allow the use of off the shelf bike parts making repairs easy to do. As the wheel size is reduced, the problem of space becomes more of a problem. Brake pads can come into contact with the wheel when using regular bicycle braking parts. This can becomes a problem. It makes for a challenge as how to place brake pads on the very small rims used on the bike. The Pacific Carry-me uses regular side pull brakes on it's 8" wheels. The bike design does work and makes maintainence on the easy to do. On the other hand, the British designed A-bike uses a bike industry no-standard band brake design. These parts are not found in a regular bike store. Finding replacement parts can be very difficult and should the bike wear these out, replacement parts will be difficult order, if they can replaced at all. If the bike is being used as daily form of transportation, this will be a big problem. A number of other bike designs use very small scooter wheels in the design of the bike. These bikes are very odd and have a limited market. The braking systems used on these bikes are the same side pull brakes used on a fulled sized bike. The brake pads use the sides of the wheels to stop the bike. Overall, one should look into the braking systems used as this will affect the way in which they can be repaired. The use of standard bicycle industry parts makes for easier, faster bike repair when these parts need replacing.
The next item one should look into types of tires used on a micro bike. There are two basic types used on these machines. These are air filled and solid types. With the 16" and 12" tired bikes, they use industry standard tires that can be bought at any store. This makes them easy to get replacements at any store that sells bike supplies. As the tire size decreases, the items become far harder to find other then on-line stores. Bike that use small air filled tires like the original A-bike design one has to get the tires from England via a mail order purchace. Some users of this bike design have problems as far a flats go. Once again, if the bike becomes a vehicle that is a daily driver, unless you have ordered extra spare parts to help you out in times like this, your amout of time needed to get around increases a lot! Having the bike no longer helps out in reducing travel times. These types of bikes also use solid tires like the ones used on scooters on copy versions of the A-bike design. The need for spare tires is no longer needed but one has to watch the way the tires wear down. Since the tire and rim are combined into a single package, once the tire is worn out, the entire part has to be replaced. The ride quality is also very rough on rides with less then perfect conditons. Air wheeled bike. Air filled 12" and 16" handle well on paved roads as well as other surfaces. Solid tires lack good handling on surfaces like loose gravel roads.
An important part of considering any type of compact micro bike is the price. There is big range of pricing of these machines. They can range from 180.00 dollars to 1500.00 dollars. The quality of the bike, the type of warrenty, if the bike is a name brand or just a copy of a name brand are some of the things to consider A good mid-range priced with hopefully hold up to regular use. Doing some home work by looking reviews of the models you are interested in is a good start brfore buying one. If you are lucky, you may find a person that owns a micro bike and get a chance to get to ride to see how it feels. Owners can post on-going posts on the bike they are using and both good and bad point should be noted about the bike tey ride. You can get a good feel if the bike you are looking at is right for you. The bike I bought was see at a on-line hobby shop that sold mostly R/C model aircraft. After getting the bike mailed to me, I started to record all the details of owning the bike and how it was and is holding up. The cost of the A-bicycle, a copy version of the A-bike, cost me 126.00 dollars to get it to the door of my home. After getting the bike, I spent another 125.00 dollars on it to up-grade parts that needed replacement. The seat and seat post where replaced due to the uncomfortable original seat design. The original post did not support a seat aftermarket seat placement. The pedals where all-plastic and wore out in 3 hours of bike useage. The additional items like the lights and cycling computer helped me make the bike useable both day and night while the computer gave me mileage, time, and distance information. These are items that will you might to add on to your bike as well and this should be added on to the cost of buying any type of micro bike you are looking at.
The one major weakness of these micro bike design is the lack of servicing on some models may be sold. They will have some part that a regular bike shop will not carry. Whether it be custom type brakes like the ones used on the A-bike, or the tires used on a Pacfic carry-me, a bike shop may or may not get a supplier to these parts. You will have depend on a on-line supplier to get replacement parts. This means that the bike you have come to depend on is out of service and some other action plan has to be drawn up to solve you transport needs. Buying a copy version of a name brand product will mean limited or no product support. One of the reasons that a name brand product costs so much is the fact it pays for the support of the product. Copy versions do not have this service in place so the price will reflect the quality of what you get. With many of these bikes, product support is either very limited or does not exist at all making the bike just a piece of junk to be thrown out at the end of it's live cycle.I do know that when things start going wrong on the bike I own, it will become unuseable. I have been lucky with the bike I bought in the fact that it runs smooth so far.
If you get to the point where you are interested in buying a micro bike but lack any way of seeing one before buying, there are a number things that can be done to help you see if one of these small folding bikes is fore you. Since these bikes use a lower gear ratio, set-up your full-sized bike into a gear range that is the same as on the bike you are looking at. Then ride it around to see how the pedalling action feels. I did this myself using my road bike as a test mule to see what is was like to pedal at low gear range for an extended amount of time. The road bike also has a bottom bracket/ seat set-up that is close to what the A-bike copy I bought. At first, it felt very odd and light but after a bit, I got used to the feel the set gearing gave me. To test out the feel of the smaller wheels used on the A-bicycle I bought,I used a kids scooter I happen to have around. This was used to give me the feel of the solid tire assembly and the handling that these smaller wheel gave me. I put about 5 km on the bike and the same amount of mileage on the scooter for my test runs. After doing this testing I figured out that the A-bicycle was something worth looking into. I never looked back after buying the micro bike and have enjoyed it since.
How do these bikes stand up to use in the real world? My A-bicycle is showing signs wear but is holding up well. They have a different feel to them when compared to full-sized bike. Once you learn how the small wheeled mirco bike will feel, they are great. They are slower then a full sized bike so anyone expecting to go fast will be disapointed. Other the fact that the folding frame makes a more complex structure to design the bike makes for simple slowed down way of riding. They are designed for shorter trips as well so going fast is not a major item to deal with anyway.
The other hurdle that the micro bikes design has to deal with is the fact that many people are used to seeing a full-sized bike as a set standard for a bike design. The smaller wheeled folder types just do not have sense of being a "real" bike. They are more like a toy then a working everyday tool for many. Once the need for a smaller folding bike is needed in a mixed transportation conditions, the real power on the micro bike will come into it's own. Any time I have ridden my A-bike around, I have had questions about, mostly positive. Sometimes I get the negative comments about the bike by people passing by. I just go by and enjoy my experience on the bike a a pleasant one.
For many people, the use of any bike is regarded as a step backwards. The car has become a major form of transportation and the distances needed to travel to get to their work place reflect this. The bike has become useless as a way of getting to these places. The distances and time needed to travel becomes impractical for many unless they work close to there employers. The lack of weather protection is another cause of concern. Getting wet due to rain can a real problem. Many jobs need one to be dressed in a manner that can cause problems in the way they present themselves once at work. Many work places are not set-up to support a cyclist. There is a need for a place for a cyclist to clean-up if any type of bike is to to used a form transportation. People involved in areas of work where travel is need through-out the day over great distances will find the use of any bike useless.
The need for a car in the work place has driven the need for ever increasing use of natural resources. This can only go on so long. The fast paced world we have created can not go on forever. Getting back to world where we can live and work within our community is the only way we as a people will stop destroying planet. Designing transportation systems that can use items like a bike as a major form of personal transport is needed. At that point all types of bike designs will come into there own. In some cities, space is very tight. Micro bikes come into there own in these places. In other places, they may not fit into the environment due to heavy car traffic. We as a people have to start to see what we really need to have rather then being driven into an increasing need for consumer goods. As humans still need the need to move around, the bike allows this to done.
The bicycle was designed as the first personal form of transport. When compared to car, it takes far less energy to produce and use in the long run. Until the day the energy needed to run the car becomes too expensive for people to afford, the bike is going to be a secondary form of transport for the major counrties like western Europe and North America. The transportation systems in Europe are designed to handle the use of bike use. North American's are far behind in this area. The micro bike design makes sense in a place where you have a good mix of good public transport and bike friendly road ways.
Given the fact that most bicycle users make use of there bikes over short distances anyway it would make sense that a smaller folding bike could be used in place of a larger full sized model. The road ways are for the most part, have a useable surface to allow the use of small sized tires. A bicycle gives a person greater freedom with very few operating costs. In third world countries, the bike is used as a main form of transport to carry heavy items over distances. These bikes use materials like bamboo as the frame material. It produces a light, strong frame. The material is grown so it is a renewable resource. This material could be used in the production of micro bike designs as well.
People will have a need for personal transportation and the bicycle can provide this at a very low cost. The micro bike design can fill in the need for local transportation needs and in places where storage space is tight. For those looking at a need for a neat bike design and use a mix of transportation systems, these bikes work just fine. Just keep in mind that the support for many types is limited in regards to maintainace, depending on where you live so this will affect how long it can be used. Once you get past the fact that you are riding a bike that sticks out in the crowd, it is basicly just a simple bike to get you from place to place. It can be carried and stored in a way that a full-sized bike never can done. Have fun using one!
Micro bike types.
stevbike (author) from Newbury, Ontario, Canada on July 31, 2012:
There was a lot of information to be written about these bikes. Look at getting something like the Strida or Pacific Carry-me design. The A-bike is OK but lacks some of the strength that the others look to have. The larger wheels on the Strida give it an advantage on ride quality. Try to find the brand name models since they will have good customer support with the price being paid.
Tri on July 31, 2012:
Bit of a long post but I read it anyways since I am looking at buying one to get around campus and Bus stops. Looks like I'll be getting one!!
Abel on December 05, 2011:
How much and where are these cute bikes available? Are these available in Japan?