First look at the CHANGE foldable road bike
May 13th 2019
In the US, a “road bike” is more than just a bike ridden on roads. There are certain…expectations. It needs drop bars, or at the very least, bullhorn bars to offer multiple upper-body positions on longer rides. It must have narrow wheels, but not too narrow. It also has a range of fast gearing, but not to the exclusion of hill gearing. And it has to feel nimble and fast.
That’s a lot to get exactly right.
For the past five months, we’ve had all the parts for a road bike on a side table in the shop, waiting patiently for some downtime to assemble into a functional bike. But 2019 had zero downtime so far and was getting even busier. So on May 1, we got an insane idea—just build it in the middle of the night instead of sleeping before the flight to Bike Expo NY…and then ride it in NYC’s 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour.
What could possibly go wrong with this plan?
The plan of the Century.
This bike is designed for fast, comfortable long rides. So we’re calling this model the CHANGE Century. What’s appropriate for a bike that you might be riding 100 road miles, over a variety of hill conditions? Here’s our spec list:
- GEARING. Fast enough to be sporty, but with enough range to handle uphills. We’re standardizing on Shimano 105. The prototype has 38-52 in the front and 11-32 in the rear, but the actual bike will likely have 11-34 gearing in the rear cassette.
- PEDALS. We’re using 2nd-generation Wellgo pop-off flat pedals, with the option for pop-off SPD pedals as well.
- STEM. We’re experimenting with a Revelo THINstem folding stem as a standard. You’ll see why shortly.
- WHEELS. Our prototype has Mavic Aksium 20-spoke 700c wheels, with 28mm Gatorskin tires. But we don’t have a guaranteed supply of wholesale wheels–Mavic hasn’t returned our calls–so this component is far from settled. Any ideas?
- SEAT. Bikeroo sport saddle. It looked comfortable online…
- KICKSTAND LATCH. It’s appreciated on the CHANGE 702, so maybe here too.
The plan was to build this, get it to NYC, get lots of feedback at Bike Expo NY, ride it in NYC around cars as primary transportation before and after the show, then ride it around zero cars in the 42nd annual Five Boro Bike Tour. How would it stack up against other road bikes in actual use?
BENY 2019 feedback.
“105 gearing is a good choice.” The first person who made this comment was still a good 15 feet from the Flatbike booth–and the bike was behind me. This was my first sense of how well road bikers can scope out the specs they appreciate. The gearing choice was solidly supported the entire weekend, although we didn’t get down to the cog level.
“I want to be able to swap quickly between SPD and flats.” That’s a comment we heard over and over, with mixed preference for flats or clip-in pedals as the primary pedals (not that it matters when it’s a 6-second swap-out operation). Interestingly, I also learned that the SPD pedals we’ve been selling are actually mountain SPD, but are often preferred by road cyclists because your foot can come out easier as needed in traffic/pothole situations.
The unique stem selection was intriguing to more riders than I expected, with nearly all seeing the benefits of a bike that folds flat for wall storage in the city. About 80% said it should be standard, with the others saying it should be an option.
The kickstand/latch combo was interesting to many road bike riders, but still represented 13 ounces to an audience that pays to make ounces go away. Verdict: Make it an add-on sell.
Real-life has a way of making priorities clear. Why fold a road bike? Because it was my main transportation and I was using Airbnb. I had a wonderful little room in Brooklyn, with just enough space for a big comfy bed, a dresser, and a desk.
But first, I needed to get my bike off the street and up to my room. Up a steep stairway, with a tall railing on one side and a collection of motorcycle jackets and helmets hanging on the other. An ordinary road bike doesn’t stand a chance.
But if the whole bike folds, why also have a folding stem? Because sometimes you want the wheel on, but the bike to be completely flat–like in a 10×10-foot bike show booth…or in the office before the show. Here’s how a road bike fits conveniently behind a door.
The combination of drop bars and Shimano 105 gearing is where things get really interesting. For those who aren’t familiar, 105 gearing combines the derailleur with the brake in a single lever, putting any gearing adjustment just a twitch away.
From my perspective, I was already leaning in on drop bars, enjoying the aerodynamics, and whenever anyone appeared ahead of me, acceleration was just a twitch away. Braking was also a twitch away, perfect for conditions like this…
The day of the Five Boro Bike Tour featured a constant drizzle and a humorous mix of responses, from wet folks hiding under awnings (avoiding getting more wet?) to wet folks under waterproof parkas (until they sweat and get wet from the inside), and folks like me who simply accept that rain and wet go together. Just take corners intelligently and you’ll be fine.
I rode this event last year on a road frame and thoroughly enjoyed it. But this year, the ride was combined with drop bars, super-responsive gearing, and a serious case of twitch-finger. It’s a tour, not a race, but a certain number of folks ride for speed anyway, and I needed to be ahead of the “squirrels”–folks who ride erratically, faster than their skills or weather conditions allow, and cause accidents for others.
This is how “road brain” works: having just rationalized going fast to stay ahead of the dangerous fast people, I resolved to use only my low chain ring to ensure that I wasn’t going too fast and being a squirrel to others. The whole event for me became a calculated exercise in fast cadence, predictable curves, and explosive straightaways. By mile 20, I was about 100 bikes behind the pace cars that were slowing the front of the pack so the finish celebration could open with a sufficient pack of riders–the real difference between a tour and a race.
Up in the front, bikes are traveling close together, there are no squirrels, and the pace is determined by the cars ahead, with alternating rippled calls of “Moving!” and “Brake check!”. All on wet pavement. This situation over miles is going to wear down any brakes, and I was actually glad that I had rim brakes instead of disc. I felt no loss of control, even in the rain, and rubber pad replacement is cheaper.
So when is the CHANGE Century orderable?
In all, a great weekend on my new favorite bike. When can it be your new favorite bike? We’re working on it…
The latest thinking is that we’ll have final testing done on multiple sizes in two months, with a wheel supplier selected and in use by mid-July. In the meantime, what guidance can you give us about making this launch work best for you?
See you out on the roads!
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.