The Vega and the BicyclebyPaul and Melanie Halvachsof Double Fantasy, V1826
For Melanie and I, two of the pleasures of owning a Vega are seeing new coastal towns and exploring beyond the anchorage. You could use a cab but they can be expensive and not always available. Public Transportation is good only as long you can go where they are going and can wait for the next bus. Walking is great exercise, but can be time consuming, limiting the distance you can cover.
One solution is a folding bicycle. With the addition of “fast releases” and telescoping components, most bikes can be opened and made ready to ride in under two minutes (manufacturers claim under a minute). Storage and removal in the port and starboard locker adds several minutes but even our 26-inch wheel Montague with folding pedals is stored with a minimum of work.
The “perfect” folding bicycle would be lightweight, robust, simple to repair and maintain, easy to set-up, easy to store, fast to ride, comfortable, and resist corrosion. The current crop of folding bicycles fulfills many of these criteria. Internet searches identify many manufacturers but the most commonly known to US sailors are Dahon and Montague. Dahon carries many models and even a model with corrosion resistant fittings. Montague carries only full size (26 inch)(650c) folding bikes. If you are the serious biker and can’t be parted from your “Old Reliable”, one US company sells joiners and “quick release” cables that can be installed on your personal bike.
I have divided the style of folding bike into three types based upon the distance that could be comfortably ridden. In my opinion more depends on the size of the wheel than on the gearing.
Wheels less than 20 inches: If you plan to ride under 3 miles (5 kilometers) then this might be your bike. The problem is distance for energy expended. You don’t get much bang for your buck especially uphill. The folded down size and weight are only slightly different compared to the 20-inch wheel. Many of the parts are non-standard and may be limited only to the manufacturer. I can’t get too excited about this size and somehow they always seem to be too small.
20-inch wheels: This is by far the most common size of folding bike. Everything from very expensive to inexpensive knock-offs of the more popular versions are available. Many options are available such as different gears: One speed (gear), three speed hubs, 5 speed, all the way up to 24 speed derailleurs for all different types of riding. Parts are easily purchased at any bike repair shop or even Wal-Mart Distances are more easily traveled, but more than 25 miles (45 kilometers) doesn’t seem very realistic. On the other hand, Dahon and Girl Friday claims you can easily ride 100 miles (161 km) on their high performance 24-speed models.
Greater than 20 inch Wheels: This is the other end of the spectrum. There are only a few full-size folding bikes just like there are few “smaller than 20-inch wheel” models. But these are just like your bike at home. You can ride over 25 miles (45 km) over rolling terrain in under two hours without great effort. Parts are easily obtained and customizing the bike with oversize saddles or high performance tires is limited only by your pocketbook and imagination (handle bar squirrel tails?). Dahon even has a high performance 27 inch (700c) wheel drop handlebar beauty that costs over $2,000. We personally own one of the inexpensive 26 inch Montague models. I like it, but have spent money and time getting everything just right plus I have upgraded several items. This size is good for a serious rider that loves his Vega. They can be stored in the cockpit lockers with a little angling and effort.
Considerations: As always the first consideration is not money but use. How far are you going? Over what kind of terrain? How much time and effort do you expend to get there? How often will you be using it? Seriously consider proven corporations over imitations. They have a proven track record. Basic and inexpensive models by the primary corporations are fine for occasional forays. Tires size and type depends on the riding that is planned. The
Montague DX Series has hybrid tires that are supposed to be able to handle gravel and tarmac. I have switched to a road tire but not the narrowest because sometimes we do ride gravel trails. The larger diameter tire means less effort for distance. Gearing makes the traveling easier especially on rolling terrain. The more gears, the easier it is to maintain a good cadence. But the tuning of the rig is harder and a good knock can throw the derailleur out of alignment. You will need to be more skilled at repairs. The Stumey-Archer three speed hub has all it gears inside the hub and therefore no derailleur that is so easy to deform. This has some real advantages but you will walk up the steep hills. The “Folding Society” has reviewed many models available in the UK.
The second consideration is, of course, money. Quality components cost money. Many designs use the same basic frame but different components to make a road or mountain bike. So this goes back to the first question, what is the desired use? Occasional use or short distances may mean that an inexpensive model with fewer fancy components would be the best choice.
The third consideration is maintenance and components. Too complicated frequently means fragile. And folding bike components needs to be strong and simple. Drop an anchor on a derailleur and you are a pedestrian again. Plus ease of repair should be considered unless you have experience with bike maladies.
The fourth consideration is storage on a Vega. I don’t have to tell you fellow Vega owners on the difficulty in finding storage space. However, we have found that the bikes do fit into the lockers. But folding pedals are extremely important because of the narrow lockers.
Our own experiences started with 20-inch wheel steel (heavy) folding bikes that preceded quick releases and it took about 15 minutes to set up because key components like pedals and handlebars had to be reinstalled. They had a 3-speed Stumey-Archer hub and could not handle steep hills. We bought our Montague “DX Crossover” bikes at an end of the season. It has 26-inch (650) hybrid tires and 18 gears. The price was right and we were not sure if we would enjoy or even use folding bikes considering the difficulties with the older models. We had to take it to a bike shop to get it adjusted properly because we did not know enough to adjust the components. Then take it in again after the parts wore and stretched. I can now do some of my own adjustments but it has been a learning experience. But we ride 10-20 miles on an irregular basis and we are not strong riders so the extra gears and larger tires area big help. They are our primary bikes.
Accessories: A decent helmet is an absolute. Don’t leave home without it. They are comfortable and not for wimps. Real men wear helmets, just ask my buddy, Lance.
A bag or case is needed to protect the bike from the boat and vice versa. They can be expensive but worth it.
Folding pedals are one accessory that will make storage much simpler. They function the same as the regular pedals but fold flat to the side of the bike. They really are a necessity for the limited Vega port and starboard cockpit lockers for both the 20 and 26-inch bikes.
Small tool kits, tire repair kit, lock, and pump are needed. Fortunately these items are small and easily stored.
A rear rack and bag are useful but not absolutely needed. A small backpack is almost as useful but not if something heavy is carried.