Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

See the World with a Folding Bike

I packed my $65 folding bike on the Amtrak, got off in Chicago and cycled everywhere.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Jun 21st, 2013 10:13 am
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Pedal, fold, carry, nap, wake up at your destination.

Pedal, fold, carry, nap, wake up at your destination.

My brother’s band, The Waco Brothers, played in Chicago over the weekend. They don’t do as many gigs, and I don’t see my brother as much since he moved to Austin, so I really wanted to make the show. My wife had a horseback riding clinic at the Wayne Dupage Hunt Club, so she would have the car. That meant I needed to bike down to the Intermodal Station and take Amtrak. A few years ago I made making these multi-modal trips easier by purchasing a used Dahon folding bike for $65 at the Brazen Dropouts swap meet in Madison. It was one of the best cycling purchases I have made.

 

The folding bike also means I have a way to get around once I get to Chicago. Thanks to all the great protected bike lanes, like this one on Milwaukee Ave., Chicago is a great place to get around by bicycle. Why can’t Milwaukee get protected bike lanes?

The folding bike also means I have a way to get around once I get to Chicago. Thanks to all the great protected bike lanes, like this one on Milwaukee Ave., Chicago is a great place to get around by bicycle. Why can’t Milwaukee get protected bike lanes?

Amtrak allows regular bicycles on board, but they ask you to box them up. The boxes they sell are bigger than regular bike boxes to make it easy for non-mechanical folks to bring their bicycles along. All you have to do is turn your handlebars sideways and remove the pedals to fit your bike into the box. Still, this requires you get to the station early, spend an extra $10 each way, and you need to check the bike as baggage. For those who are curious, I recently contacted  a senior Amtrak official in Chicago to discuss developing a roll-on bike service for regular bicycles. No other updates on progress, but the official was open to discussing the idea.

You can bring full-sized bikes on Metra, which goes as far into Wisconsin as Kenosha. Just bring along a bungy cord so you can strap your bike to the railing inside the passenger cars. At $7, a weekend pass to ride Metra is a really inexpensive and pleasant way to get to Chicago and back, but their schedule is very limited. On Saturdays, the last train leaves Kenosha at 8:34 am, which means I have to get up really early to ride the 43 miles to the Metra Station in Kenosha. I have done that, but if I am getting up that early and riding 43 miles,  I might as well ride the rest of the 100 miles to Chicago.

More often than not, I don’t have time for that, so I take Amtrak out of Milwaukee, a short 6 mile ride from my home. Besides, the schedule has trains that get me into Chicago early in the afternoon, and folding bikes like my Dahon can be carried on board and stowed on the shelves just inside the door of the passenger cars. I can ride down to the station, the Dahon takes less than a minute to fold, and I hop on board for a relaxing, comfortable ride to Chicago. Unlike driving, on the train I can read, plug in my computer and do work, or even take a nap. Round trip tickets are only $48. If you factor in the true cost of driving our car, a Honda Element SUV, $.757/mile, the 180 mile trip costs about $136. That makes the cost of my little folding bike and the train ticket seem like a bargain, in addition to being a more pleasant way to travel than the interstate and the Tollway.

The AAA’s 2o12 estimate for cost of driving per mile:

Based on Driving 15,000 miles annually

Small

Sedan

Medium Sedan

Large Sedan

Sedan Average

SUV 4WD

Minivan

Cost Per Mile

44.9 cents

58.5 cents

75.5 cents

59.6 cents

75.7 cents

63.4 cents

Cost Per Year

$6,735

$8,780

$11,324

$8,946

$11,360

$9,504

And despite the small wheels and non-traditional frame, modern folding bikes provide a comfortable and reasonably quick ride. You might not be entering any of the Tour of America’s Dairyland crits on a folding bike, but you can do just about anything else on them. Many people do cross-country tours on folding bikes and use them for daily commuters.

My Dahon and the DIY trailer (my carry-on suitcase is inside it) outside the Mitchell Field.

My Dahon and the DIY trailer (my carry-on suitcase is inside it) outside the Mitchell Field.

My bike all folded up and the carry-on luggage removed from the DIY suitcase/trailer.

My bike all folded up and the carry-on luggage removed from the DIY suitcase/trailer.

I have even taken my folding bike on airplanes. In the past, I always used my folding bike when I went to Washington, D.C. for the National Bike Summit. I even rigged up a regular suitcase as a trailer with some parts from my local hardware store and a couple of the tiny swivel wheels from Burley Jogger attachments. In this way, my bike flew for free since it fit in a standard size suitcase. Some of the regular readers may remember, as this post tells, I no longer have to do that thanks to Capital BikeShare. Now I just ride my regular bike to Mitchell Field and lock it up at the covered bike racks near the motor cycle parking area across from the terminal.

Me using B-cycle in Madison.

Me using B-cycle in Madison.

I do the same now when I go to Madison, even though Badger Bus allows full-size, unboxed bicycles in the luggage bay under the bus. I just ride my regular bike to the Badger Bus stop at 84th Street, lock it and use B-cycle when I get to Madison. Chicago’s bikeshare (Divvy) is currently rolling out, so my folding bike may get even less use for my trips across the cheddar curtain.

This story was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Categories: Bike Czar

5 thoughts on “Bike Czar: See the World with a Folding Bike”

  1. Brian Otten says:

    Great story! I’m going to add a link to it on the site I manage, Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Karen says:

    Dahon is a great little bike and really fun to travel with. I packed mine in the Dahon Airporter case and flew with it to San Francisco. Handled the famous hills just fine. Probably bike 0ver 20 miles one day. Currently, pedaling a Brompton I purchased because it was a bit easier to take on the city bus and light rail here in Phoenix – my cousin bought the Dahon and loves it. Really, I think a folding bike is essential for city living, especially if you live in a small space.

  3. Bromptons are really the best folding bike for urban travel. I would love one, but have not been able to find one used anywhere.

  4. Napole says:

    @Karen, you rammed up those SF hills with a Dahon?!! I could barely make it up the 1/4 mile slope by my house with my Dahon Mariner without passing out. Since I only use the Dahon for flats. My hybrid for other terrains.

  5. @Napole,

    Perhaps you have an older Mariner. I have ridden my Dahon from Milwaukee to Racine. It goes uphill pretty well. People even tour on some models. Brompton has an entire touring blog. There are other folding bikes with twenty inch wheels that are specifically designed for touring. The Bike Friday is a good example.

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