Published by Lyn on 26 January 2016
Avoid the hassle of bike boxes and excess shipping charges by bringing a folding bike to France on the Eurostar. Richard Peace looks at some options.
Following on from my experience with the dreaded 85cm Eurostar stick (the size limit for hand luggage, including folding bikes), I've looked at three very different and very interesting folder options for travelling on Eurostar that are all within the hand luggage size limit.
The lightweight option for trains, plains and just about every other form of transport
As weighed 10.03kg
Folded size: 60 x 59.5 x 28cm
S2LX as pictured £1465
Available from Brompton
Unbeatable for a small, neat fold, the Brompton S2LX is the consummate city bike for hopping over to Paris and taking the bike everywhere with you; the still unbeatably compact, quick and tidy fold allied with the nippy handling and great turn of speed make it a joy to use around town and on shorter tours.
Its quick fold and portability still make it the king of multi-modal trips and restaurants will usually have a space it can stored in while you tuck into your steak frites.
Its two gears keep the weight down but still give you moderate climbing ability (there are also three- and six-speed options). There are also numerous colour options, three handlebar designs and and a number of tyre treads and weights to choose from. Just go onto the Brompton website and use the bikebuilder there to build your own option. The X stands for the titanium rear frame and forks option which reduces weight markedly but adds quite a bit of cost.
For much longer tours, you might want to look at a brand with slightly bigger wheels and, if venturing onto unsurfaced tracks and roads even consider something with full suspension such as the Birdy (see below). However, with its capacious front luggage system and rear bag there have been plenty of extended tours on Bromptons and many riders seem quite happy with small-wheeled touring.
Brompton have a new, larger factory planned for 2016 to keep pace with demand as they clearly go from strength to strength. And production remains in the UK.
Note on electric variants; Nano have just introduced a Bosch battery powered option to complement their lightweight hub motor conversions which do fit Brompton bikes (note this is not an official Brompton product and may void the warranty on new Brompton bikes, although hundreds if not thousands of these kits are in daily use around the world). You can read more about the Nano option here.
The go anywhere full suspension option
Weight as measured 14.6kg
Approx folded size 75 x 66 x 37 cm
£1879 (range from £1000 to £2849)
Available from: Riese & Müller (Germany) or Amps UK
While the Birdy has a similarish folding design to the Brompton (fold rear wheel under and front wheel back with the seatpost sliding down to lock things in place), it doesn't pretend to compete with it in terms of the smallness or neatness of fold. Rather it plays to its strengths as being a go (almost) anywhere city / touring commuting bike.
This isn't really an exaggerated claim; the slightly larger wheels, geometry design and crucially full elastomer suspension mean its a smooth ride and Birdys will take both front and rear panniers. The gear range on our 8-speed Alfine hub-geared model gave a good spread of gears, comparable to the Brompton (though slightly narrower than the biggest ranged 6-speed). However there is a Birdy Rohloff option whose 14 gears would trump just about every folding bike gear range and be virtually maintenance free (though you pay a premium for this £2849 priced model).
You will need to fit somewhat smaller panniers to the rear explorer rack (apparently Ortlieb front roller panniers are a good fit).
The City model comes with stunningly good Supernova lights powered by a tiny front hub dynamo and equally superb hydraulic disk brakes. The bike rode as well as its reckoned to; firmly and pretty quickly with the suspension ironing out all but the biggest of humps and bumps, though it will still turn on a sixpence. Accessories include a bespoke hardcase that can be converted into a trailer.
Gripes? Being picky it could have been designed to take full size rear panniers. The fold does require care, crucially to keep the cranks in just the right place as fold, but with a practice it's about the same level of complexity as the Brompton. Birdys are generally a little heavier and pricier than Brompton models of equivalent spec. Having said that, I'd be more than happy to ride a Birdy for an extended tour over potholed roads and dirt tracks; territory I wouldn't particularly relish taking many other folders.
BH Emotion Easygo Volt
One of the few manageable electric folders
Weight as measured 16.5kg bike + 1.25kg battery = 17.75kg bike
Approx folded size 74 x 72 x 35 cm
Available from bhbikes.com
BH are a Spanish (Basque) firm with a long cycling heritage and an impressively wide range of electric bikes. Their Easygo Volt manages to pack down pretty small compared to most folding electric bikes due to a short wheelbase. This makes it lively to handle, but as with most smaller wheelers, the rider soon adapts and you fail to notice you're on a small wheeler under most riding circumstances.
The hub motor in the rear wheel gives plenty of assist and is smoothly controlled by a torque sensor housed in the rear dropouts. This is a much more sophisticated system than the cheaper motion sensors which are all too common in many other 'budget' electric bikes and lead to a delayed and often disproportionate introduction of motor power. The bike also comes with mudguards and a naturally small but very useful pannier rack.
My only real criticism of the Volt would be the small battery size, though economy was great with careful use of the three power settings (I estimated an average rider in average conditions should get around a 25-mile range). Extra batteries are pricey at around £325.
Although you need a bungee or refastenable tie-wraps to fasten the folded package together, it's still a stand out package in the world of folding electric bikes, which are normally far heavier and more unwieldy than the Volt.
And some other options ...
You might also want to consider the following. Note these have not been tested, weighed or measured by me.
Dahon Curve i3 16-inch
A neat and light looking package at 76 x 32 x 67 cm. Stated weight is 11.3kg. Gear range may be a little limited with three hub gears. Tricky to find in the UK where Tern bikes seem to be more popular with retailers, though older year models were available at the time of writing for around £600 online. The most basic spec 3-speed Brompton is £855; obviously pricier than the Curve but certainly a more compact and neater fold.
Available from Dahon
Tern Link and Verge series
Longest stated dimension 79cm. These two series of bikes have larger 20-inch wheels but should just squeeze under under the 85cm limit (checking during a test ride definitely recommended). They range from racy offerings such as the Verge X10 (claimed weight 9.6kg) to the fully kitted out for loaded pannier touring Verge Tour. The Link series are more for everyday transport, though the B7 and electric Elink caught my eye.
Available from Tern Bicycles
Claims a maximum folded measurement of 72cm which sounds impressive for an electric folding bike, though the folding demo video on Whoosh's own website doesn't seem to bother with the front hinge fold! Small 16-inch wheels. I guesstimate the 270Wh battery should give 20-mile range for 'average' size riders using the power sensibly. It's clearly built down to a price so a test ride would be essential to make sure you would be satisfied with the quality and just how easy to fold it is. Claimed folded size 72cm x 64cm and it retails for £669.
Available from Whoosh Bikes
Richard Peace is founder of Excellent Books, specialists in cycle publishing. He is author of Cycling Southern France (UK, US), Cycling Northern France (UK, US), and Electric Bicycles: The Complete Guide (UK, US). He is a regular contributor to A to B magazine, Bike Europe and writes for Eurobike Show Daily.