Is a folding bicycle right for a train commute in Chicago?
June 15, 2008 4:46 PM   Subscribe

This is actually a two part question. First, can anybody recommend a folding bicycle? I'm going to need to travel from a train to my work and it's about 2 miles. Would you recommend one of these bicycles for this kind of commute? How do they hold up in the rain and when it gets cold? Is there anything I can do about water flying up from the front and rear wheels? 2nd, does anybody know if you can buy a monthly Metra pass that will allow you to transfer between two Metra lines?

Here is my situation. I recently took a job in the western suburbs of Chicago and I live in the northern tip of Chicago. I would need to take the Union Pacific Northern line downtown, switch to Union Station and then take the BNSF route out to the western suburbs. Then from there I would still have to trek 2 miles to my work from the station. My original idea was to buy an old clunker bicycle and leave it at the station to ride back and forth. It would sit there through rain and snow and meteor storms and all that. Now I'm wondering if I should invest in a folding bicycle. I know basically nothing about these bicyles. Does anybody have any recommendations? How easy are they to fold and unfold? How compact are they? Would people hate me on the Metra trains if I got on with one? How does it handle the wet (as well as some snow, I might be willing to ride it through light snow)? How is maintenance? Is there anything I can do about water flying up from the front and rear wheels so that I can keep my nice work clothes from getting all spattered?

As a second part to my question... does anybody know if you can buy monthly passes that will allow you to transfer from one line to another? I'm going to have to transfer from the Union Pacific North to the BNSF line. I can't find anything about this on the Metra site and if I try to buy a monthly pass online I can ONLY buy for one line. Will I have to buy two monthly passes each month?
posted by crios to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How much are you willing to spend on a folding bike?
posted by pullayup at 4:53 PM on June 15, 2008

Is there anything I can do about water flying up from the front and rear wheels?

That's the entire purpose of fenders.
posted by knave at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2008

Best answer: I'm asking because higher-end folding bikes (Bromptons, Bike Fridays, e.g.) are quite nice, come with fenders to block the spray, and fold up into weensy little briefcase-size wheeled bundles--yes, that's a set of little rollerblade-size wheels which you can use while you're dragging the folded bike onto the train. You'll still probably want to pack your work clothes separately in inclement (hot, wet, messy) weather, though. The bad news: they're fairly expensive, from ~$400 (for a made-in-Taiwan(?) Dahon, once you buy the doodads and helmet) up to more than two large. Read this for a good overview of what's available, and the price range you're looking at.
posted by pullayup at 5:15 PM on June 15, 2008

I had a Dahon Speed P7 and it wasn't so bad. Nowadays though there's a lot more variety in folders -- used to be just Dahon and the super-expensive Bromptons, Birdys, etc. I own a KHS Urban X (normal, not a foldy bike) and it's superb; I'd look at their folders if I were looking to buy another (here's one, here's another; sorry for linking to the Canada site, but their US site here seems to be broken).

I haven't ridden one of this style, but the Strida bikes look really, really interesting. Sorta spendy though.

Bromptons are largely considered the top of the line if you've got money to burn.
posted by the dief at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2008

If you're over 220 pounds, you may have a hard time finding a folding bike as many say 220 is their upper weight limit. This UK company makes solid folding bikes, but you're in Chicago. Trek makes several folding models (F100, F200, F400 and F600) and at least one of those should handle 220+ pounds. (Sorry, can't remember which). Dahon may also have some sturdy models.

if you're just under the weight limits, you may be fine on any well-rated bike for the pleasure rides in good conditions, but the wear and tear of daily commuting may push your bike to the limits. It's only 4 miles a day, but you're talking all kinds of weather, salt, and crap like that.

If you're under 200, you should be fine with just about any recommended model.
posted by maudlin at 5:32 PM on June 15, 2008

I have a Strida and really like it. It's hard to beat how quickly it can fold up and put together, and for 2 miles a day its single gear should be fine.
posted by jedicus at 5:56 PM on June 15, 2008

Best answer: I know nothing about bikes, but I can answer the Metra ticket question. Buy one monthly pass for the longest trip you have. Metra passes are done by zones, so if your ride from home to Union Station takes you from Zone C to Zone A, and your ride to your office from Union takes you from Zone A to Zone F, buy the Zone F ticket. It will work for both.

(I used to have to ride two different train lines and zones from my place downtown to my friends' houses about twice a week and I did this and it worked.)
posted by MeetMegan at 6:19 PM on June 15, 2008

Everyone I know who had a Brompton loved it.
posted by unSane at 7:03 PM on June 15, 2008

I've had my Strida for about 7 years. I commute on it about 2 miles each way every day. I bring it with me everywhere, trains, cabs, wherever. It's the perfect solution for me. Prices have about doubled in the last few years tho.
posted by pmaxwell at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2008

I have two clunkers at the train station, and alternate between them so they don't stay locked up in one place looking abandoned. This way I have a backup in case one gets stolen or has a flat tire. The total cost for both was under $50, and I don't have to carry anything on the train. It's a pretty cheap experiment to see whether this would work for you.
posted by gum at 7:41 PM on June 15, 2008

Response by poster: I don't weigh 220 lbs... yet. I didn't put a price range because I have no idea what a good folder costs. Can you install fenders on any folder? Also how is the maintenance on a folder? Is there anything special you have to do with hinges?
posted by crios at 7:41 PM on June 15, 2008

Best answer: Honestly, your idea about buying a clunker and leaving it secured over night at your stop is probably a way better option.

You can buy an old Schwinn townie style bike with fenders for maybe $50 bucks. Read up on securing it, double lock it with two u-locks and it will never get stolen. Old Schwinns are nearly bullet proof, can be abused and full of rust and still run for years. Keep an eye on your tire pressure - bring a pump ocasionaly. Familiarize yourself with any bike shops nearby your work or train stop in case you do need help.

Afraid it'll get stolen and leave you stranded? Buy two and switch off. Make sure you move them around and lock them at different ends of the bike rack less someone think it's abandoned.

Way better than schlepping around trains and stations with a folder. Unless you spend big bucks folders are clunky and heavy. (Schwinns are clunky and heavy too, but that's the point.)

Good job working out how to commute by bike.
posted by wfrgms at 8:35 PM on June 15, 2008

Will I have to buy two monthly passes each month?

What's stopping you from just calling Metra or asking at the ticket station?
posted by wfrgms at 8:37 PM on June 15, 2008

I've raved a few times about Bromptons in the past: once, twice, thrice. For your intended-use, don't even bother with anything else.
posted by randomstriker at 9:11 PM on June 15, 2008

I paid about $270 for my Dahon Espresso - mainly because it was easy folding (turn one lever and literally fold the entire bike in half, roll. People are still impressed, so no one's growled at me on BART yet), but 'regular' size, unlike many other Dahons.

I am able to take it onto BART (public transport San Francisco Bay Area). I've had it about 4 years, and love it. So do others since two people tried to steal it :). Gut a very good lock. The kryptonite fuggtaboutit is nice.......

Still i'd suggest you test one out, to see it you think it's too heavy.
posted by anitanita at 9:19 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]
xootr is an adult size push scooter (like a big, well made Razor). It is more convenient that my commuter bicycle in going 1.5 mi. between the ferry & my office in SF. Almost equal to bicycle in speed. Faster thru some parts of town.
posted by watson415 at 9:28 PM on June 15, 2008

I"m not sure how the folding bikes are today, but I remember trying to ride an older one about 10 years ago, more or less, and I got hurt pretty bad by it while I tried riding it. I agree with trying maybe a small scooter (motorized) or even they have bikes now that you pedal and can charge a motor in it. I'm assuming its kind of a bike/vespa type of concoction. Bike's are very easy to take traveling, small and easy to carry. I don't recommend fold up ones.
posted by Mikimi at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2008

Moulton is a superb folding bike, have a look.
posted by X4ster at 11:11 PM on June 15, 2008

Best answer: I'm another Brompton owener who loves it. They're ideal for short distances - though I also have a friend who regularly does 120-mile rides on his, so they're not to be underestimated. They also fold more neatly than anything else.

Although you're not in the UK, you'll find the UK-based A to B magazine's folding bike buyers guide useful. Most bikes are probably cheaper in the US anyway!
posted by hatmandu at 2:25 AM on June 16, 2008

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