For whatever reason - hefty gas prices, bloated airline baggage fees, a desire to save the planet - folding bikes have gone from novelty to mainstream. They check as regular luggage on business trips. They help train and bus commuters go the last mile from station to office. And they're better than ever, with some, like the four here, offering the solid feel and high performance of those old-fashioned, impractical bikes that don't fold up.
RITCHEY BREAK-AWAY -- Exotic titanium/carbon-fiber racing bike.
Likes -- It's hard to tell this isn't a regular bike. The folding mechanism is elegant, simple and virtually invisible. The two-piece frame has a tube-within-a-tube locking system that separates in seconds with the loosening of two standard-size Allen bolts on the seat tube and down tube. Light, shock-absorbing titanium/carbon frame. Top-end Shimano Dura-Ace drive train. Packs into a 9-inch-by-26-inch-by-29-inch wheeled case (included).
Dislikes -- None.
Price -- $5,000 (steel frame model is $2,800.) 800-748-2439; ritcheylogic.com
SLINGSHOT FOLDTECH -- Off-road race bike with a cable in place of a down tube.
Likes -- Unique but effective suspension allows the middle of the bike to flex upon contact with bumps. Result: eye-catching looks ("Hey, part of your frame is missing!") and a fast and exciting ride some say is more natural than a standard full-suspension mountain bike.
Dislikes -- Takes minutes to fold up, not seconds, like the Ritchey or Dahon. Folding is easy but involves several steps: loosen seat post, unhook frame cable (requiring an enclosed strap to put slack in cable and remove holding pin), remove front wheel, then decouple the seat tube and the boom tube.
Price -- $799 (frame only). 888-530-5556; www.slingshotbikes.com DAHON CADENZA -- City/fitness bike loaded with convenient features.
Likes -- Versatility. Fast urban/fitness bike with 26-inch street tires that can be used for touring (due to built-in rack mounts) or light mountain biking (room for knobby tires) and that can be converted to a single-speed format. The aluminum frame folds in half with a quarter turn of two Allen bolts, which loosen unique, teethlike hinges on the top and down tubes. Unexpected touches include Ergon non-numbing handgrips and a clever, space-saving tire pump that is integrated into the seat post.
Dislikes -- No granny gear on the 16-speed Shimano Tiagra drive train, adding difficulty to steep hills and heavy touring loads.
Price -- $599. 626-305-5264; dahon.com/us/cadenza.htm
BIKE FRIDAY XLQ -- The only tandem that converts to a single bike.
Likes -- Rather than folding, the Q comes apart. The removal of the two horizontal frame members connecting the two seats allows compact packing into two suitcases and setup in single or tandem configurations. All Bike Friday XLQs are custom-fitted to the partners' dimensions.
Dislikes -- Longer assembly/disassembly time than other folding bikes (30 minutes or more depending on packing care). Small wheels require tires and tubes not available at many bike shops.
Price -- $3,500 and up, depending upon component selection. 800-777-0258; bikefriday.com
Roy M. Wallack wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.