Read what our customers SAY about Bike Friday
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Posted by: Poul Anderson
Posted by: Poul Anderson
A review of the Bike Friday Silk Alfine 11 (one year of use) by an urban dwelling Architect who enjoys clever designs that articulate and fold from one state into another.
I began a search to find a bicycle which through logic turned into what appeared to be the improbable. A fast bike that could fold neatly for compact urban life with as little compromise as possible. I read about and tested various models. Some of which came close but never quite met expectations.
Generally either performance was sacrificed for convenience or a good ride achieved with a lesser fold. Furthermore most designs relied upon a single frame size and had limited potential for adjustment. None I could see were bespoke as a Bike Friday.
From the start I had Green-Gear's Bike Friday Pocket Bikes on my list after reading about them on The Folding Society website. The concept that a bike should be made to measure appealed but I was initially put off by the overseas location. I am of the opinion that one should try a bike out first.
After months of researching I came full 'cycle' back to Green Gear, who at the time were showcasing their new bicycle designed about the Gates Carbon Drive called the Silk.
I was completely taken by this bike because of it's promised performance, clean fold and sharp aesthetic. Re-checking Green-Gear's website and a chat later I discovered there were a couple dealers in the UK. They recommend that I contact Avon Valley Cyclery in Bath, who I visited to test a bike.
In addition to being a dealer AVC build bikes based upon Bike Friday frames (shipped in from the US) in their workshop with components sourced in the UK. I was advised that this made AVC the most qualified for technical support and repair.
I tested a display model at AVC (a Pocket Llama) and was immediately impressed with the sturdy but nimble ride. Based upon this I decided that the Silk should (with the reputation that precedes Bike Friday bicycles) live up to the hype.
At the time the Silk was confined to Green Gear's production in Oregon. Quite understandably they did not yet wish to outsource it's assembly to AVC (as they already had done with the Pocket Llama, Crusoe and Rocket) because the bike was a new design.
AVC happily took the role as dealer and did all the hard work importing and testing the bike after specification. This did mean a higher UK import duty on the full bike as opposed to parts but the rationale that a couple years avoiding use of the London Underground would offset much of the cost still applied and my obsession that it would be the one bike to accomplish all held true.
Prior to living in London I'd frequently cycled but only on a clapped out second-hand mountain bike and an ancient road bike. The new Silk arrived at my flat after several months of anticipation. I carefully assembled the parts in my living room and took a good long look feeling ridiculously excited and pleased.
I practiced folding a couple times, took the bike down stairs and set off down the road. The bike just goaded me keep going faster and onwards until I was out of breath, I'd no idea a bike could do that!
One year has already passed and the bike has proven itself crucial to my life logistics (15-mile commute), mental (no stressful packed trains) and physical (busy desk job) health (good blood flow equals effective thinking).
When purchasing a Bike Friday part of the fun is in specifying it's every detail. This is undertaken with one of Green-Gear's bike consultants. Walter Lapchynski configured my bike and did a fantastic job based upon my descriptions and answered some rather detailed questions in my endeavour to understand the intricacies.
The resultant set-up was a hybrid road bike for fast riding but with the sturdiness to take on rougher tracks and a daily (rapid) commute over choked aggressive bumpy London roads.
I chose the Silk Alfine Road 11-451. It is built upon the 11-speed Alfine internally geared hub by Shimano and combined with a CDX centre-track carbon-belt drive by Gates.
To provide as high and wide as possible gear range (29-117 gear inches) we specified 60/22 tooth cogs and larger diameter 451 (Alex R390) rims. I chose broad 1 3/8" Intense Mk2 micro-knobbly tyres to take on the city roads.
The drop bars provide a nice sporty poise and support a pair of smoothly operating Alfine shifters. All this speed comes to a sharp stop with SRAM Avid Road BB7 disc breaks.
Walter adjusted the default specification to help me reduce costs. I opted for an adjustable ahead stem (also to allow plenty of adjustment as I got used to the bike) with the intention for possible replacement with Green Gear's lighter swan-neck design at a later stage.
The Chris King headset substituted with one by Cane Creek, FSA Energy cranks substituted with FSA Vero, Kalloy Thomson Elite seat post substituted with a Kalloy Uno and the Shimano Deore front hub substituted with an SRAM X7.
To the bike I added a light-weight Selle Italia SL-XC saddle (low profile lightly padded gel top with slightly springy carbon shell and magnesium rails), MKS Promenade removable pedals (nice broad and grippy even in rain) and some powerful Lezyne Macro lights.
Aesthetically I chose a monochromatic colour scheme to give the bike a striking minimal look with the frame in white paint combined with black components and grey cabling, handlebar tape and decals.
Walter again carefully specified the components to accord with this theme (hubs black, rims in black, stem, handlebars, etc). The result is quite futuristic and complements the exotic drive-chain nicely.
CRITIQUE AND EXPERIENCE
After one year of cycling I've really come to enjoy and respect the fantastic job Green Gear has done in the design and manufacture of the Silk.
It fits perfectly (with plenty of scope for adjustment), rides like a full sized bike and feels very nimble thanks to it's good proportioning, wide gearing range and clever drivetrain.
The ride is next to silent with only the sound of the wind and the hiss of tyres against the road which is something that never ceases to impress me, especially in the dead of night when cycling home after a tight project deadline.
Concerning performance the bike is perfect for the city with it's obstacles: pushing off from a green light with such acceleration (and silence) I find myself without fail ahead of the pack taking most full sized and rather more practiced riders by surprise and have begun to keep up with some of the faster riders over longer distances.
Stopping at the next set of lights I often see riders looking inquisitively at this bike that belies it's size! It's performance is of course owing to the smaller wheels combined with broad gearing and smooth and rapid gear changes that the internal hub affords over a derailleur.
I'd truly like to see what a seasoned rider could make of it! Not only is the bike fast, it can also take on hills and headwinds with force for the same reasons (I tackle Crouch Hill in London daily).
The lowest gear at 29” makes light work of this (even when loaded up) and a few gears up one can really force up hills out of the saddle with the small 20” wheels whirring rapidly beneath.
I am excited about the prospect of taking the Silk touring at some point in the future and will report when I do. Weight distribution on a smaller wheeled bike is critical for balance and Green Gear have done a good job of this. Similarly to their other Pocket Bikes the Silk feels very stable and is designed to replicate the geometry of a full sized bike.
Small wheels are more sensitive to terrain and exerted forces but this is more a concern of riding style. The bike is as a result very responsive. My only concern really is that with hard 110 PSI tyres the small wheels do exaggerate bumps in the road. As a result I have tended to lower tire pressure to 90psi to provide a smoother ride when commuting.
Although this reduces overall top speed the overall trip time is similar because ride quality is as a result less erratic. Looking at the frame perhaps there would have been opportunity to integrate a shock absorber into the rear fork which already articulates about a pivot.
There is also an interesting recent development in the design of a wheel with integrated suspension by a company called Loopwheel. It would be interesting to see if they are compatible! It may sound off but the design of the folding mechanism is very well considered in how it remains unfolded. This is quite logical if one considers how some folding bikes have large rather cumbersome joints to compensate for their fold against the bike\'s structure.
Bike Friday's are designed in an intelligent way to keep the frame as pure and simple as possible. The the bulk of the mechanism is reduced by maintaining the 'body' (central tube) as one piece and pivoting the frame only at points that work with the force of gravity and in few locations as possible. Folding happens only at the rear triangle/fork, the stem and seat mast when their quick releases are undone.
As the bike is grasped by the seat mast and lifted the rear wheel easily flips beneath under the force of gravity (and can roll freely without fenders). The stem and handlebars unlatch to hook on top whilst the seat mast pivots over. All of which is held together by a strap in a neat package.
It's easy to accomplish in within 20 seconds (with practice) and can just fit beneath a table/desk. The fold is made yet cleaner by the carbon drive 'chain' which lacking a dérailleur cannot slip off during the fold and has no oily parts that might come into contact with one's clothes.
Furthermore the folding seat-mast and detachable stem maintains one's positioning on the bike maintained 100% as opposed to a telescopic design which many other folders employ.
The folded bike is very compact which makes it convenient to store in house and office and at times carry on public transport. I've taken it on the underground train or a bus when meeting friends (or suffering a flat tyre) and sometimes traveling out of the city by train for a ride.
My only criticism regarding the folded bike is its weight. At about 12kg (stripped to it's essentials) it is manageable but not light work (although over time it has become progressively easier owing to cycling and unintended weight lifting!
To be honest most other internally geared bikes on the market are a similar weight and I have noticed that Green Gear have updated their website to indicate the weight of their bikes related to specification.
The Silk is stated at somewhere between 10.5 to 11 Kg. I assume the weight of my bike is in part due to the sizing of it's frame (being built for someone who is just over 6' tall) and it's reduced specification (accrued weight from slightly heavier components).
I would be interested to know if Green Gear could build the Silk any lighter using butted tubing like the Crusoe but I have to admit that the weight is hardly noticeable when riding and can be mostly attributed to the internally geared hub which for it's intended function as an urban bike is a worth-while sacrifice (weight traded for fantastic gearing).
In terms of build quality the Silk is put together very well. Unfortunately there should have been a little more prototyping because there was an issue with the rear triangle (which has since been resolved).
After 6 months of use a fracture developed at its base. I notified Green Gear who were very helpful and assured me that it was down to a design issue which they had since rectified. They sent a replacement part to AVC who fixed the bike in their workshop.
I am happy to report that the reinforcement worked and there has since been no issues. The mudguards are full coverage and absolutely crucial for the UK! As I keep them on most of the time I would really like to see a more graceful design. The fenders do reduce the ease of folding and are too easily scuffed being made of a soft plastic. The rear fender rests on the ground when folded with the weight of the bike resting upon it.
There's also a slight issue that the front fender can't fit over a 1 3/8" on a 451 wheel. I have since changed to 1 1/4” inch Schwalbe Duranos to resolve the problem (which are also a fantastic fast rolling yet supple tyre).
There really is scope for the development of a quick release/retractable fender set for lighter rain for this bike. I have come across a roll-up design by Plume which has potential if it fits.
After riding with a backpack for too long I added a rear rack but found this also reduced the effectiveness of the fold because the rack follows the wheel as it swings beneath. The bike when resting upon the rack will not keep it's balance and topples toward the drive-chain which I'd not be happy having the bike's weight resting upon.
I note on the forums one Silk owner has come up with a solution to extend the rear tripod. The rear rack is in my opinion best for longer term use where the bike does not need to be folded regularly.
For daily use I have found a very good alternative by Xootr (to hold a single pannier up to 11kg) which works perfectly with the folding mechanism and frame of the Silk. The rack mounts only to the seat mast so allows the rear wheel to fold freely beneath. The rack is so unobtrusive that the bike can fold with it left on, and fold completely if removed using the rack\'s quick release.
To conclude the Silk is fantastic, tailored, nimble, fast rolling, silent and incredibly enjoyable ride and rather unique and far more compact than it's performance suggests. There is some scope to refine the (already brilliant) design in terms of weight and the way how added parts such as mudguards and racks interact with the frame and fold. I would not hesitate to recommend Green Gear because as a company they are friendly, very knowledgeable and definitely passionate about their folding bikes.