Despite its plethora of hills, oceans of smartphone zombie pedestrians, seas of taxis, and rivers of bulky buses, Tokyo is a fairly convenient city to cycle in because it's both compact and brimming with transportation options. Hacking through some pithy calculations, I determined that I could likely cycle to work daily, thus building a daily calorie-burning workout into my lifestyle routine. I'm a huge fan of such natural exercise because I don't have to think about it nor remember to schedule it. Next was to find the ultimate two-wheeled solution for my daily commute conundrum. Perhaps this is Japan's influence on me, or perhaps this is my own obsessive personality connecting with Japan's, but this is what I love--researching the ultimate solution to a life project.
I started by compiling my requirements.
* I want a folding bike. A folder would expand my transportation options exponentially. I could store it in my office, avoiding the various risks of parking it outside all day long. I could leave it in my office overnight in case of inclement evening weather or a wild after-work binge drinking party. I could fold it up and hop on the subway if the need arose.
* I want a decent quality bike. Cheap bikes abound in this world, and I had had enough of them. If this was going to be my daily ride, then I want something good. It doesn't have to be pro-level, but something reliable and comfortable. Likewise, I want it to fold well. Higher-grade folding bikes include small but key features like magnets that hold the wheels together and straps that hold the handlebar in place.
* I want something light. I personally can't stand heavy bikes, and folding bikes in general are heavier due to the extra hardware they require to perform the folding functions. Plus, if I'm going to carry this up to my office and/or on the subway, then every kilogram is going to count.
* I want something multi-speed. While not exactly mountainous, Tokyo has enough hills that a multi-speed bike would prove a godsend for my daily commute. There are times I like to pedal fast to release workday tensions, and a multi-speed bike would make that all the more therapeutically precipitous.
Next I researched the top and/or most innovative folding bicycle manufacturers and bikes.
I narrowed my shortlist down to the following makers. There are far more folding bikes out there than this list suggests. I focused my searchlight solely on bikes both available in Japan and receiving overall positive reviews elsewhere on the web.
Well-designed and well-engineered, Brompton is widely touted as the best folding bike money can buy. The only problem is that it takes a lot of money to buy one. Even the least expensive one (in Japan) was out of my price range. I don't doubt Brompton's quality--people sing their praises and their folding styles are extremely innovative and compact. But the cost of entry into the Brompton world forced me to look elsewhere.
Strida's offerings have a unique frame and folding style that might be for you. The folded bike is long with the wheels parallel, allowing you to tow it like a suitcase or push it like a cart. I watched a very comprehensive video on YouTube showing it in a wide range of usage scenarios. I was really attracted to this bike, but feared that the folding style might not be compatible with Tokyo subway commutes, building elevator rides, or the empty space in front of my office desk. In other words, its folding style seems more focused on convenient walking as opposed to convenient carrying or storing.
I see Pacific's folding bike designs everywhere, leading me to believe they often OEM and/or re-brand their bikes with business partners (example: Riese and Muller). They have some unique offerings, including a tiny folder with 8" wheels. However, considering the cost and features, I trounced onward.
When I found Dahon, I said to myself, "Whoa...I think this is what I've been looking for!" Clean designs, elegant folding styles, and a wide range of models and features had me pouring through the specifications posted on their website.
The first thing I noticed about Tern is that the designs and model offerings seem similar to Dahon's, leading me to suspect an OEM or re-branding relationship. However, upon further research I found that the company was founded by Dahon founder David T. Hon's estranged wife and son. I suppose the two companies are family relatives of sorts, yet technically competitors. As I browsed Tern's website I again exclaimed, "I think this could be the one!" Like Dahon, Tern has some really slick folding bikes.
The final decision
After narrowing it down to just Dahon and Tern, I finally decided on the Tern Verge P9. It was a tough call, and the deciding factors were admittedly superficial. Like a little girl, I liked Tern's colors. They're pretty.
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