After Denver we headed over to Eugene to pick up our Bike Friday bikes and some camping bits and pieces from Backcountry Gear. Unfortunately, this meant another run through LAX airport. We thought that at least it was domestic travel and we were physically in the right time zone this time … but no better … still horrid, still irrational, still rude.
Eugene was an unexpected gem; we really loved the place. It was really cool and attractive, and had a great local vibe with small unique shops, bars, cafes and craft breweries. The Husband was particularly fond of the breweries and insisted on sampling a few of the beverages on offer.
Plus, bicycles are the thing in Eugene with dedicated cycleways and cycle routes all around town. It was quite different than Denver and I have to admit that it was more our speed. We stayed at a delightful Airbnb and our hosts Frank and Deborah were lovely and made us feel very welcome. Frank gave us some great recommendations and we enjoyed a very good, and cheap, seafood chowder at the local Fisherman’s Market.
The first day, we headed off to the Bike Friday factory with a mix of excitement and nervousness. Having never actually ridden a Bike Friday and having sent a large amount of money to them over the internet, we were really hoping that:
- the company and factory would actually exist
- they had made our bikes as promised
- the bikes would be everything we’d hoped and dreamed … so no pressure!
We arrived at the factory and and our fears were allayed – they did exist and seemed to know who we were. We were introduced to our bikes and Yay! … apart from a couple of small changes, they were perfect 🙂 We tried them out in the carpark and my bike fit me like a glove. It was quite a ‘zen’ moment as it was the first time ever that I have felt truly ‘at one’ with my bike. The Husband was equally pleased.
The staff were great – really friendly and so helpful. Tim was awesome and made sure that everything was exactly as we wanted it. We left the bikes overnight for a few tweaks, then the next day we tested them on the streets for the first time. They performed brilliantly! We then dropped them back at the factory to have them boxed up for the airplane. All round great service!
Question: You might ask how we decided on Bike Fridays as THE bikes if we had never ridden one.
Answer: Well, we like folding bikes for travelling because of the flexibility they offer in transport mode and accommodation options. And after much internet searching, both before our 2014 trip and again this time, we had come to the conclusion that Bromptons and Bike Fridays are the main contenders for rideability over long distances. Obviously, we had Brompton bikes last time and we found that they had many benefits but they also have a couple of issues for us that meant we wanted to try something different this time.
Here is a quick run down of benefits and drawbacks of both Bromptons and Bike Fridays as we see them:
- They have a maximum of 6 gears – this is partially why we chose to have some electric in the front wheel but this of course added the weight of the battery, electric motor and charger to the load we were pedalling up hills, and we found that after the first few weeks we didn’t really use the electric much as our legs muscles and fitness stepped up to the job.
- They can’t take panniers – this is why we had the trailers but again this added the weight of the trailer to the load, plus the drag of two extra wheels. Having the trailer also made it very difficult to ride on narrow tracks and get through small gateways and styles that you sometimes find on cycle paths.
- They have very specific parts to enable the special fold – this meant that when we had problems or needed maintenance doing, we needed to track down a bike shop that had Brompton parts and knowledge.
- Bromptons have various options that you can choose between when you order your bike but they are limited. If you want to make any additions or changes, this is very much restricted by what will work with the fold.
- The fold was very quick and neat and allowed us to tuck the bikes away very easily on trains, small apartments and inside the tent.
- Both the bike and trailer were wheelable when the trailer was unhitched and the bike was folded. This allowed us to be mobile when everything was taken apart ready for alternate transport modes such as bus, train, ferry etc.
The Bike Fridays solve some of these problems but then create new ones as follows:
Bike Friday benefits
- We have 27 gears now – three internal gears and nine derailleur cogs (SRAM DD) and no electric motor as we anticipate that the extra gears, with plain leg power, should do the job. This has allowed us to add a dynamo hub in the front wheel instead to power our lights and also to recharge our USB devises (phones, eReader) using an Igaro.
- They can take panniers so we have 4 Arkel panniers each (Arkel Dolphins for the Husband and Arkel Orcas for me) instead of trailers.
- They use standard parts so we anticipate having less headaches around maintenance and replacements on the road.
- The Fridays are custom built so we have been able to specify all the parts and the bikes have been custom made to fit our body dimensions – this is very helpful as I have short arms, the Husband has short legs, we both have long backs and we are at either end of the size spectrum. So, as you can imagine, the ‘one size fits all’ model … just doesn’t!
Bike Friday drawbacks
- The fold is not very quick (we might get better with practice but there is still significantly more to it than with a Brompton)
- The bike is not wheelable when folded so it means that we have to lift it to move it – and it’s quite heavy and awkward for me. The panniers need to be removed to fold the bike obviously and then the 4 panniers and handlebar bag need to be carried as well – I can just about lift the bags but cannot move very quickly, and I definitely cannot lift the panniers and bike at the same time. This means that we are not at all mobile when everything is taken apart so alternate transport modes such as bus, train, ferry etc. will be much more of a problem – and we are yet to figure out how feasible this will be. We have managed to do some local trains in the UK but only because bikes are allowed on local trains free of charge so we have wheeled on the fully laden bike. This is not the case for long distance trains and ferries etc. and we have yet to discover what the rules are in the different countries.
The bottom line is that Fridays are more ‘touring bike’ and less ‘fold’ and Bromptons are less ‘touring bike’ and more ‘fold’. Given that we generally do a lot more riding than anything else, we are anticipating that the new setup will be an upgrade … but I’ll keep you posted.
Anyway, back to the story ….
The next mission was getting the camping gear from Backcountry Gear. This shop is an Aladdin’s cave of high-tech outdoor equipment. We spent hours in the shop and the staff were very patient with us, helpful and knowledgable. We went back 2 more times during our stay as our decision making capabilities escaped us faced with the number of options available. Eventually, most items on our list were ticked off.
Our 4 days in Eugene were sadly soon over and we headed to the airport to face the horrors of LAX once more – 3 times in as many weeks! Eugene airport by contrast is a delight. As we queued waiting for the customary uniformed check-in staff member to appear, we were surprised by the arrival of a young lady in a black ‘hoodie’ with face piercings instead. The check in process was pleasant, polite and ‘chill’ with no mention of ‘oversized luggage’ for our definitely oversized bike boxes and we were assured that our luggage was checked through to Heathrow. Result! This avoided large amounts of grief at LAX. Plus, as we realised when we were sitting on the plane, had we been asked the usual “have you packed your bags yourself”, there would have been a bit of a hiccup as Bike Friday had kindly boxed up the bikes for us – oops!
Eugene airport is quite small and this was born out when we saw the same young lady (black hoodie) deliver a wheelchair to the departure lounge and then again waving the plane out with paddles on the runway. There is an outside chance that she then leapt into the cockpit and piloted the plane!