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Petite review: Emily Smith

Bike Friday Pocket Crusoe Review
from Girlbike.com
January 1, 2004 by Emily Smith

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The Specific details are from 2004. In 2015 we discontinued the Crusoe model and replaced it with the New World Tourist Lite.]

Built Just For You: Your Crusoe is custom built, right down to the engraved brass nameplate. The models range from an affordable, 20lb model with standard quality componentry all the way to the lightest Crusoe Elite boasting de-lites like a carbon fibre seatpost and DuraAce/Ultegra components. Of course there are 9,18 and 27 speed models, with or without the famous SRAM DualDrive hub, and Rohloff 14-speed hub versions too - it depends on how many mountains you intend to conquer. (If you want drop bars and STI, the Pocket Rocket Pro is probably more your speed - we make minimalist versions of that bike too, starting at 19 lbs*).

Suggested retail price:  varies, depending on model, options, and upgrades
Price paid:  $2550 including rack, hard-side suitcase, soft-side bike bag
Rating:  4 out of 5

I ordered my Bike Friday Pocket Crusoe for several reasons.  First and foremost, my husband and I have been talking about trying loaded touring for years now, and it's time to stop talking and start doing.  I needed a bike with very low gears for climbing mountains with a load.  Second, I thought it would be nice to have a bike that could be taken along when we travel.  We don't fly often (which is where a folding bike like the Bike Friday really excels), but even on a road trip a folding bicycle packed in a hard-sided rolling suitcase takes up a lot less room in the car and hides the bike from prying eyes as well.  Finally, I wanted a bike I could put a rack and panniers on for running errands, which we have found ourselves doing by bicycle this summer for the first time and would like to do more of. My carbon-fiber road bike (an Aegis Swift), while perfect for fast club rides and events, is simply not the right steed for carrying a load.

Before ordering, I did my research.  I spent hours pouring over the Bike Friday web site (www.bikefriday.com) and asked a zillion questions of my friend Eileen, who has a Pocket Rocket Pro (another Friday model).  I also emailed the Bike Friday sales team and threw another zillion questions at them.  I changed my mind three times about which model I wanted; because all Bike Fridays are custom-built to fit and to allow you any component choices, there were so many decisions to make that my head was spinning at times!  But finally, with the help of all my resources, I nailed down the model and options I wanted and placed my order. (Note that there are only a handful of Bike Friday dealers; most orders are placed directly through the company, and a 30-day money-back guarantee is offered, since you won't get a test ride with a dealer unless you can travel to Eugene, Oregon.)

Because there are so many Friday models and options available, from the light, race-worthy Pocket Rocket Pro, to the trail-ready Pocket Llama, it is hard to generalize from my Bike Friday to others; however, the quality of the manufacturing and assembly is excellent and should be consistent across the lines.  Bike Fridays are steel bikes; you won't find exotic carbon, aluminum, or titanium frame options available, but that was fine with me, given my planned use of this bike.  Steel is forgiving on bumpy roads and more easily repairable than other frame materials should something happen on a tour or trip.  It's also hardy enough to handle a load.

Even though Fridays are rather basic in frame material, the sky is the limit when it comes to groupsets and components.  Within reason, anything you want, you can get. (You'll be limited on wheel sets since Fridays have 20" wheels, however.)  I chose a mix of Shimano Ultegra up front (including triple chainrings, of course!) and XT in the rear, for the low gears I would need in the mountains.  With the 20" wheels, all gears are lower than on a 650C/700C bike, so my salesperson, Walter, helped me choose the proper chainrings and cogset for the gear range I wanted.  Walter also recommended bar-end shifters, which I would have never thought of.  They work better with the Avid V-brakes and wider 406 rims on the Pocket Crusoe, which can accept the wider tires I wanted for the occasional gravel road or packed trail.  I'd never used "bar-cons" before, but had heard and read good things about them so decided to trust his advice.

I chose the "petite" model Crusoe, which simply means that the bike is constructed with narrower steel tubes than the standard size and is thus a lighter-weight bike.  Bike Friday recommends petite models for folks 5'4" and under who weigh less than 125 lbs.  The petite models also allow for carrying a small load (say, 20 lbs), so I figured I'd be okay with a 30 lb. load since I'm only 105 lbs.

The Pocket Crusoe is billed as a touring bike, and as such, the “standard” configuration (though there’s really no such thing; virtually everything on the bike is customizable) includes flat or special Bike Friday “H” handlebars.  Being used to drop bars and most comfortable with multiple hand positions, I chose drop bars, my favorite 38 cm Salsa Pocos, just like on my Aegis road bike.  Bike Friday can split nearly any handlebar you choose, except for carbon bars.  Your choice of handlebars will influence the type of shifter and brakes recommended for your bike.

During the ordering process, I was asked to supply various measurements, both my own and those from my existing road bike, so that the Bike Friday techies could determine and construct the proper size Friday for me.  I found it curious that they didn't ask for my top tube length but made sure to supply it as “extra” information.  Since I've had experience with “squirrely” front-end handling in a previous bike with a short stem, I made sure to mention to Walter that I wanted to end up with a 9 cm stem at a minimum.  He assured me that there would be no problem.

Well, there was.  When my bike arrived, I noticed fairly quickly that the "effective" top tube was longer than on my racing bike by a full inch and a half. (I say "effective", because the Friday top tube is low and slanted, so to obtain an equivalent top tube measurement to a road bike with a horizontal tube requires measuring an imaginary horizontal line from seatpost to head tube.)  In order to achieve the reach I was accustomed to the handlebars, I had to pull in the "fit stem" (a temporary stem, adjustable in height and reach, which I would later send back to have a lightweight custom stem made from) all the way, which translated to a 5 cm stem.  Too short!

The sizing form had asked for the measurement from the center of my saddle to the center of my handlebars, and to Bike Friday’s credit, my Crusoe did have a top tube that allowed me to achieve that measurement.  However, what it appears that they neglected to take into account was that I had also ordered a setback seatpost; nor did they know (or ask) that I have to mount the saddles all the way back on the rails on my other two road bikes in order to achieve a proper knee over pedal spindle position.  As a result, I sit quite far back in relation to the seat tube and thus need a shorter-than-predicted top tube to have a reasonable-length stem.  I suspect that the Bike Friday sizing formula does not take all bike position factors into account, and this is where women of a particular build (long femurs, short upper body) can run into trouble with these bikes.  I also think that this may not have been an issue often enough for a smaller builder like Bike Friday to be aware of, since so many cyclists don't really understand bike fit, and as long as a bike is reasonably close, may just take off and ride - and suffer pain later without realizing why.  If I hadn't just recently gone through much bike fit research and the fitting process on my Aegis, I wouldn't have realized that a very short custom stem was a bad idea and would affect my bike handling.  I would like to see Bike Friday modify their sizing formula to allow for women built like myself to get a good fit without having to send the bike back to be rebuilt.  It’s possible that most of their customers are men and thus they have not had enough experience sizing women correctly. Simply asking the buyer to supply their preferred top tube length, when known, would go a long way towards achieving an appropriate frame size.

However, I have to hand it to the Bike Friday folks.  They truly do honor their "fit guarantee".  I packed the bike back into its case (not difficult to do, and good practice for traveling), and they took the bike back (paying FedEx shipping both ways).  The customer service manager called to ask some questions to understand what went wrong, and I explained to him my need for a true “WSD” bike with a very short top tube.  I’m not completely sure that he really “got” the whole WSD thing, but he was very pleasant, and assured me that they would make the changes required.  The frame was rebuilt very quickly, and after the bike was returned to me, the service department called to ensure that the fit was right.  I will say that the top tube was still not quite as short as I'd asked for; after the rebuild it measured about .4” longer than I’d requested, leaving me with a 7 cm stem, but I decided I could live with that as the bike handling was much improved, and I was not going to send it back again.  The fit and handling has proven to be fine as is on the several rides I’ve taken so far of up to 44 miles.

There were a couple of other small technical “glitches” with my Crusoe.  I discovered after riding it a couple of times that the Salsa Poco handlebars were actually 36 cm, not the 38 cm bars I ordered.  Apparently they were mislabeled.  I am sure that Bike Friday would have replaced them for free since the error was on their end, but I decided that the 36 cm bars fit me just fine, so I didn’t request they be corrected.  Also, when my pretty swan-neck custom stem arrived from Eugene, it didn’t fit into the notch on the head tube exactly straight.  When inserted, it pointed slightly the right, resulting in my handlebars not being perpendicular to the front wheel or top tube.  Fortunately, my handy husband was able to file down the notch in the head tube enough to straighten the stem and solve the problem without having to return it for modification.

Okay, I’ve pointed out the “bad”, now for the good:  My Crusoe is a dream to ride! Despite the fact that it has small wheels, it rides like any other "big wheeled" bike.  I never even know I'm riding a bike with 20" wheels unless I look down.  I had fairly fat tires put on it (1.35") and, along with the sweet steel frame, the ride is very plush and forgiving, even without a carbon fiber fork or rear triangle in sight.  It's simply not needed, and I ride some rough and gravely country roads. It’s just plain fun to ride, and I find myself smiling even more when riding this bike than my carbon-fiber whiz-bang racing bike!

The bar-end shifting is crisp and I quickly got the hang of it. Because of the small wheels, I do end up riding in my largest (53-tooth) chainring quite a bit, and my 42-tooth middle ring ends up serving as a "granny".  I haven't needed to shift to my true granny, which has 30 teeth, yet - I'm saving that one for pulling a load up a hill (or mountain)!

This bike gets a lot of attention!  Everywhere I ride it, people come up to me when I am stopped to ask questions.  Unfortunately, the most common question is "how much do they cost?"  And Bike Fridays definitely aren't cheap.  All told, with various upgrades (such as a Chris King headset) and options (including the must-have hard-sided Samsonite suitcase, a collapsible rack, and a soft-sided bike bag), my Crusoe set me back $2550 before the 5% League of American Bicyclists member discount.  However, lower-priced models are available, especially for those who don't need as many gears or covet as high-end a component line.  And it’s worth a bit more in my book to have a bike that was custom made to fit me and suit my specific needs.

The bike folds easily, and although I haven’t needed to do that much, it’s simple and quick enough for a non-mechanically inclined person like me to pull off.

I haven’t done any loaded touring on my Crusoe yet, but I feel confident that it will be up to the challenge of our upstate New York tour this fall.  And if any motel proprietor gives us a hard time about taking our bikes into our room (my husband has a Pocket Crusoe as well), we can just fold ‘em up and stash them in the soft-sided bike bags and carry them right into the room as luggage!

I'm giving the Pocket Crusoe an overall rating of 4 flowers, which is an average of 3 flowers for the sizing/build process and 5 flowers for the bike itself, now that the fit has been corrected.  This is a high quality bike that performs very well and is a blast to ride. I can recommend a Bike Friday to anyone looking for a folding or travel bicycle.  However, don't settle for less than a perfect, custom fit; you deserve it!