It is several months now since I first noticed Raleigh “Ikea” folding bikes on Ebay at what seemed to be reasonable prices. Apparently, Ikea gave each of its 9,000 UK employees a folding bicycle for Christmas in 2006. The idea was to encourage more cycling and thus a healthier environment for everyone. The bikes, which were made in Poland for Raleigh, are in a fetching shade of blue and have a Raleigh badge at the front, Raleigh stickers on the rear wheel struts and IKEA logos on stickers on both sides of the main frame.
Well, several of these bikes were on Ebay during the latter half of 2008, many of them as new or hardly used. Their numbers on Ebay were falling towards the end of the year while prices were increasing quite sharply. They were certainly the least expensive folding bikes in new or as new condition but at first I wasn’t really interested in them but settled instead for a bicycle rack to fit roof bars on top of my car on which to carry my Raleigh Oakland. It was the wrong decision, though as I saw the situation at the time it seemed an almost ideal solution.
It now seems likely that I will have more cycle rides, starting and finishing at least a few miles from home, than I thought previously. A folding bike in the boot of the car is clearly a more convenient and secure option than a gleaming, almost new Raleigh on a roof rack. So I have looked again at folding bikes. I have a perfectly good bike in the garage already so all I need is an inexpensive folder a bit like the one on which I cycled to work (not that far from the Raleigh factory in Nottingham) 30 years ago.
Given the falling numbers of these bikes for sale and the rising prices (and that similar secondhand folders cost a great deal more, apparently) I decided recently to take the plunge while there was still a chance of acquiring one of these bikes for well under £100. Actually, I didn’t expect to win the auction but I was lucky.
The picture shows my bike minus the IKEA stickers (sorry IKEA but they made it look too much like a commercial vehicle!). There is also a bag in which to carry the bike, making it a more civilised proposition to be taken on buses and trains. This is similar in size to a large suitcase with a much smaller bag attached to one side. The larger bag folds away into the smaller bag which, in turn, can be attached to the handlebars or rear luggage carrier by two Velcro straps. Very convenient, though I have yet to discover a way to fold the bike (in particular the handlebars) so that it will all go into the bag convincingly. Any advice on this will be welcomed but there is no rush, I am not likely to use the bag very often.
As can be seen in the picture, the bike is quite well equipped, with a sturdy luggage rack, front and rear reflectors, wheel reflectors and a kickstand and small bell. There are metal mudguards but the chain guard is a miserably fragile plastic, which is exposed to damage by contact with the ground when the bike is folded. Mine was found to be damaged on arrival (despite careful packing including generous quantities of foam rubber) which leads me to believe that the extent of the damage went unnoticed before the bike was packed. There were no signs of wear on the tyres or pedals, confirming the vendor’s claim that the bike had never been used, but a small amount of paint is missing, presumably due to an error while folding. No doubt I will make similar errors!
So how does it ride? Well, I have had a brief test ride around the block and will have to ride it a lot further soon to give it a proper assessment. Having become accustomed to my full-size bike (Raleigh Oakland with 19in. frame and 26in. wheels – with panniers containing tools, maps and waterproofs) the folder, not surprisingly, felt strange at first. In particular the steering felt twitchy until I persuaded myself to concentrate and remember that I was dealing with a shorter wheelbase, smaller wheels and a much lighter bike. The six-speed Shimano gears worked smoothly and quietly and the whole set seemed to be quite low and close together, which is no bad thing on this type of bike. However, the gearchange mechanism refused to engage fifth gear, though all the others worked perfectly. The saddle was comfortable (but I will review it after I have sat on it for several miles) as was the position of the handlebars. The saddle is much further forward in relation to the pedals, than on the Oakland, with practically no further scope for adjustment. No doubt I will get used to it but it also has to be set very high so that I can almost straighten each leg as its pedal reaches its lowest position. My guess is that if my inside leg measurement was much in excess of 30-32in. this bike might be just too uncomfortable.
However, to be fair I think that this type of folding bike (and even some of those which are vastly more expensive) are, inevitably, compromises between practicality and portability. They need to be compared with each other rather than with conventional bikes and I am not able to do that. Mind you, this folder is smaller and lighter than the one I owned 30 years ago, so that’s progress I suppose!
Overall I am happy with my new toy so long as I can fix that gear change problem.