I was on a roll this week, contacting the fine folk at Bike Friday regarding a customized folding bicycle for Hitomi. She picked up a magazine at Uwajimaya about traveling with bicycles and trains in Japan, and I suppose interested in the same experience. A lot of inspiration has come from various enthusiast-specific magazines. We went on a trip to Japan a few years ago in folding kayaks, similar to one talked about in a Sea Kayaker Magazine-like travelogue.
Back in those days, I was yearning for a more "expedition" style trip, since I really was into the various adventures of people like John Dowd. It did seem remarkably easy to do, with enough money saved up and a few months of preparation (training) and time to complete a trip, I too could find an island to circumnavigate. The rub was, I had nobody to go with, and vacation time's hard to come by as a salary man. Being married, and owning a house, is a hindrance. Though, with money in the bank I could easily disappear for a few months. Why don't I? …
For Hitomi I had assumed she'd love it with a fairly high-end bicycle configuration, like the one I have. Spending $3500 for a good bicycle doesn't seem like a throwaway if it's essential to those once-in-a-lifetime trips. In some faraway country, having a highly reliable, efficient, lightweight machine seems like a prudent plan. If it can give you a lifetime of service, why not get the best? I came up with a Google spreadsheet, after a few e-mails, that planned out what would be a high-quality configuration.
Of course, spending a ton of money hardly increases your chances for realizing such a trip, especially if your bicycle spends more time in your garage than outside of it. Hitomi set a budget of $1,500 a few days ago, and a target bicycle weight of 10 kilograms. Actually, this budget is surprisingly high, as her concept of a bicycle is a utilitarian machine, that one rides to work or school, and not something that is a luxury good one spends over $300 on.
What does one get for $1,500? For the drivetrain, instead of Shimano road parts, mostly SRAM parts are included. The wheels don't have nice hubs, the rims are heavier, and the spokes aren't has high-tension. Shifters are grip or clicker shifters. The brakes are cheaper mountain-bike V-brakes, not fancy calipers. The seatpost and stem aren't as lightweight. Etc.
That being said, the most important thing is still fit, and for that price, a bicycle that built to your body dimensions is better than one too large with fancy parts.
Hitomi tried a few folding bicycle brands at a store in Fremont, Saturday. Dahon, Brompton, and Birdy were available for test rides. Due to their larger size, and being built for people potentially 2.5 times Hitomi's weight, they weren't very light. Though they were probably good for someone big like myself, if I didn't already have a suitable solution already to travel. Hitomi didn't eagerly go and climb any wheels, and turned down a long test-ride that the owner or manager offered to us.
In the afternoon, we went to Perfect Wheels for a scheduled fitting. Larry set Hitomi's bicycle up on rollers, and she rode. Larry's analysis was Hitomi's bicycle's actually not a bad fit, given the frame issues themselves. She did try a shorter stem, and this might help. Given Hitomi's discomfort post-STP, Larry explained that the only way to really become comfortable for a long ride is to have more longer rides. With a perfect fit, one still must have the endurance to sit in the saddle for six to eight hours.
The frame issues are thus: The wheels on Hitomi's bicycle are full 700C (622mm), and if she had (less common) 650C (571mm) wheels instead, the frame geometry could have been that the seat post angle would be less vertical, and she would be pedaling more behind than above the pedals. Why does this matter? Where the center of the riders gravity in relation to the pedals is actually important. It also determines where the rider weight is on a bicycle, affecting handling and comfort. The difference in just a few degrees is actually significant in changing this.
(Now I know better than to buy a bicycle off of eBay. As I learn more about yacht design, and having read a lot on kayak design, I really feel naive for not paying attention to the nuances of bicycle design. In kayaking, women often end up buying kayaks too long and wide (for men), which are actually less efficient at cruising speed than men's designs. But many believe, shorter is slower, thus companies build them.)
After gathering Hitomi's various body dimensions, Larry produced a spreadsheet with suggested bicycle frame tube sizes and angles. With this information, we are prepared to order what will hopefully be a better fitting bicycle for Hitomi in the future. I hope we can get a nice folding bicycle that Hitomi will enjoy on many trips.