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Pocket Llama - 20
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Overall Experience Rating:
Date: September 17, 2011
Posted by: Ron Kokish
Posted by: Ron Kokish
Email: ron@delko.net
Mr

Last Fall (2010), after doing a lot of web research I decided that BF would be the best travel-bike choice for us. I’m a big fan of steel, I appreciate custom fitting and building, and BF uses standard components. When something other than a frame part needs replacing you can get it from a local LBS. And these bikes could fly with us as standard luggage.

The buying experience was pleasant. Our sales rep (Walter) talked with me about how we wanted to use the bikes and recommended Llamas because they would be our only travel bikes and would have to serve in a wide variety of conditions.

We were planning to be in Oregon for Thanksgiving, so I sent him our measurements and set up an appointment. Walter had a variety of correctly sized bikes ready for us to test ride. There was no rush and no pressure to buy. For some things, he recommended lower price options than what I leaned towards.

We did get some pricey upgrades like folding stems and internally geared 3-speed rear hubs instead of front derailleurs. We got Shimano 105 or equivalent components, expensive seats, computers, rear racks, extra bottle cages . . . . By the time we were finished each bike cost near $2800 sans suitcases. (We got those too.)

I received both bikes as promised and started test-riding them mid March, as the snow began melting along our local Rocky Mt. Roads. Their first real trip was in April, where I rode 125 miles though the Hudson Valley over 2 days, meeting my wife in Manhattan for 4 days of riding all over the city. It went well but not entirely problem free. In spite of the protector, my wife’s chain ring was bent en-route and the chain skipped terribly.

When I called BF Tim knew what had happened immediately and encouraged me to straighten it myself, but I didn't feel up to the job. A local shop took care of it, costing us a ½ day. Maybe I have to pack better but I’m inclined to blame it on unavoidable TSA inspection. The click box covers came off both bikes when I reassembled them. The bike mechanic who worked on my wife’s chain ring had the whole click-box come off.

I had him call Tim again, who explained how to reattach it. I believe the click boxes are vulnerable -– especially the little rods that do the actual shifting. I now travel with an extra box and 2 rods, just as a precaution.

By the time I arrived in NYC I had climbed about 4500 vertical feet of steep rollers on country roads, major highways, town streets, paved and unpaved bike trails, and several miles of single track.

Then I arrived in the Bronx and made my way through 2 boroughs dense with colorful drivers used to local (NYC) traffic etiquette. My Llama handled all of it with aplomb. It didn’t handle the single track quite as well as a true Mt. Bike, and didn't go quite as fast as a true road bike on flat pavement. But it climbed steep hills like a Goat and in NYC traffic it turned, stopped and started quicker than any bike I have ever ridden.

Strangely though, by the time I arrived in NYC my lower back hurt. I didn’t know why –- biking never hurts my back, but on this bike it did. I checked the various dimensions and BF had in fact delivered a bike with the precise relevant dimensions of my comfortable, custom fitted touring bike. So why did I hurt?

Once home, I took the touring bike and the BF to a bike fitter. He saw the problem immediately. The BF has H bars with rapid-fires, the touring bike has standard drops with STI levers, and some aspects of the 2 bikes geometry varies slightly. Add it up and my position on the BF was more cramped.

He recommended a longer stem and maybe slightly wider bars to make it right. I spoke to BF, who sent the stem immediately and that proved sufficient -– wider bars were unnecessary. My BF had ordinary new-bike problems: minor creaking problems that a little grease fixed that easily enough and a loose head set that I tightened myself.

Locally, I’ve mostly been riding my other bikes this summer, but I have put a few hundred more miles on the BF to make sure my position on it is correct. We plan to take our Llamas on a 5-week car trip this fall to ride them around parts of Texas, CA. and Oregon. Spring 1012, we will ride them around England. Here's the long and short of my experience so far.

The Llama is becoming my favorite bike. It is certainly my most versatile bike. It is not specialized for any one type of riding, but can go just about anywhere a bike can go and can handle a variety of conditions well. As a city-bike, I’ve never ridden anything better.

The company is responsive to questions and complaints and makes things right. They are not inexpensive but they build excellent machines and stand behind them. Phone support is superb.

Still, when you have a highly engineered bike that frequently folds, that gets disassembled into a suitcase, is vulnerable to mistreatment by luggage handlers and then gets reassembled in small spaces with minimal tool availability you will likely have more problems than with bikes that stay in one piece, waiting for you on a ceiling hook in your garage.

I’ve already dealt with a bent chain wheel, a loose headset, a bent shifter rod and a loose click-box. An acquaintance had trouble fitting his seat post into the seat tube after reassembling from a trip. (We straightened the tube with ordinary household tools –- the beauty a bike made from steel.) I would certainly buy another bike from this company, but would recommend them only to people willing to pay a premium for engineering, quality and service and willing to deal with the inevitable challenges of a highly engineered folder one can travel with.

Where I think BF can improve is in bike fitting. Their “we’ll match your most comfortable bike” system is flawed. It should be replaced by professional fitting in their factory showroom and working with local fitters for customers who can’t get to the showroom.

If one is going to pay upwards of $2000 for a custom bike, another hundred or so to have it fit correctly from the outset seems a worthwhile option to me.

Overall Experience Rating:
Date: December 5, 2010
Posted by: Sunny L
Pocket Llama w/ Big Apple Tires

I chose the Pocket Llama (mountain bike version) for the smooth ride and the versatility. The thickest Schwalbe Big Apple Tires fit my Llama fork and frame. It is supposed to be an efficient tire. I don't feel like I'm losing much speed with the low rolling resistant tires. I don't feel the bumps in the roads and found out by chance that the tires will soak up a lot. It probably doesn't have the precise handling of a road tire. But the 20" rims keeps the handling predictable. Although, I usually ride on decent trails, I will probably need the semi off-road capability when I go back to Switzerland. Of the many bikes that I own, I always ride the Bike Friday. It has been reliable and comfortable. Add ons: Brooks B17 Saddle, Origin 8 Drop Bar Ends.

Overall Experience Rating:
Date: March 9, 2010
Posted by: Yvonne Goldsmith
Pocket Llama has the most flexibility for different riding situations

I've had my Pocket Llama since 2006. I have a Pocket Crusoe as well, but if I could only have 1 BF it would be the Llama for its flexibility. I've taken it to Vietnam (road and off-road), the Danube Cycleway, bike/camping around Alaska, and the roughest trip of all - Lhasa to Kathmandu. I just change the tires depending upon the road conditions. It's also my favored summer commuter bike here in Anchorage because I can take short cuts through the trails. If I don't feel like riding home I can throw it into the back of my husband's Prius, folded up. I also like the low step-over of BFs. It came in handy when I was hit by a right-turning vehicle and was able to hop off the bike and avoid a fall. I have the Samsonite suitcase which has taken a beating but is still functional with the help of duct tape. My Llama has H-handlebars with the brakes mounted on the vertical part (very comfortable and ergonomic), twist shifters (very reliable), and the Thud Buster seat post. Despite the frequent packing/unpacking, I haven't had any issues with parts knocked out of alignment. I made a spacer from PVC pipe to hold the bike in place in the suitcase to prevent the chain ring from hitting the suitcase and getting bent. I highly recommend the Llama.

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