Hungary for the pakiT
After cutting his teeth on the pakiT in NYC, Newton D. couldn’t resist taking his new bike to Europe
Newton wasn’t the very first pakiT owner, but he sure is the most excited, “I love the pakiT, it’s my Lamborghini! It’s so lightweight, this thing can really move.” Newton was so eager to get his hands on the pakiT that he ordered one before he had even finished paying off his Pocket Rocket. “I just kept watching the video of Hanna packing and unpacking the pakiT, and I thought, wow, I really need that bike,” he said.
Newton’s love of Bike Friday began in New York City, where he’d meet up for group rides using his titanium Brompton. After a number of rides with the group, he was chatting with a fellow Brompton owner about touring with a Brompton, and they told him what he really needed was a Bike Friday. Several months —and many website visits— later, Newton ordered himself a Pocket Rocket. When it arrived, Newton could hardly wait for the adventures to begin. He rode to City Island. He rode to NJ and back. He rode to Connecticut. Every time, he got a little bolder, included more people and before he knew it, he had unintentionally created NYC’s Bike Friday riding club. To make it official he gave it a name, The Bike Friday Society, and created a Meetup group. He was hooked.
Newton with his Pocket Rocket in NYC
The original vision that Newton had was to tour locally with his Bike Friday, doing longer multi-day rides through the northeast. But it didn’t take long for that vision to expand beyond our borders, “Now I’m much more interested in doing climbs and long distance rides between countries. There’s this great site, EuroVelo, with routes to go between countries in Europe and the Pocket Rocket would be perfect for that,” said Newton.
Then Along Came a pakiT
When we made the pakiT, we designed it to be the ultimate city bike- lightweight, belt driven, highly compact, and able to fit into a backpack. We imagined liberating commuters from the drudgery of the “last mile” by shaving 15-20 minutes off their commute, and doing it without getting any grease on their work clothes. Maybe, these riders would occasionally take a longer trip across town, but surely no one would ever think to tour on one of these bikes. Boy, were we wrong.
The pakiT quickly supplanted the Pocket Rocket as Newton’s favorite bike. It’s faster than his Brompton and folds more compactly than the Rocket. It didn’t take long before Newton was using it for everything, even touring Europe. “It packs up lighter, and smaller, so why not use it?” said Newton about his decision to take the pakiT on a 7 day tour with him to Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia. The tour, discovered on biketours.com, was going to be self-guided, with luggage support, and all lodging (and some meals) included. This would be Newton’s first overseas tour- he could not wait!
Billy Corgan is the name of the bike- Smashing Pumpkins (Billy Corgan’s band) gives Newton the power to ride hard with the bike!
The Impossible Bike
Day 1, Vienna to Bratislava- Joseph was the tour guide, though really more of a “launch guide” since he didn’t actually come along for the tour. A tall guy with broken english, he could not believe that Newton was about to attempt a 370 km tour on a 16″ wheeled bicycle, “impossible” he said while laughing. Newton was brimming with questions, mostly about safety, Joseph replied with amused skepticism, “on that bike, good luck!” Not exactly what Newton wanted to hear on his first day of a long solo bike tour in a foreign land, in which he didn’t speak the language. But he’d come this far, and he wasn’t about to turn around.
When they handed him a map and told him to go, he got butterflies in his stomach, it was really happening. All of the planning, the prep, the late nights poring over maps and looking at touring websites, here he was, about to take off on his first multi-day tour and his first overseas tour all in one! Since he didn’t speak the language, any of them —German, Hungarian, or Czech— Newton’s only option was to follow the signs. Understandably, he was a little turned around at first, “there are two signs on the Euro Velo 6, one west one east. I started heading west, but needed to be going east. Something felt wrong, so I stopped to ask people, no one spoke english at first, then I found a news stand where the guy spoke very basic english, eventually he understood me and told me to turn around.”
The first stage of the tour took Newton through 19 miles of forest, but not just any forest, this was the most densely wolf, bear and bobcat populated forest in all of Europe. Newton read this on the internet, but it didn’t really sink in until he was there. Newton is cycling through the forest on his pakiT and it just kept getting more rural and remote, and eventually he was all alone, not another cyclist in sight. “Great,” thought Newton, “I’m in Slovakia and there are bears and wolves and bobcats. This isn’t the discovery channel!” Feeling a little nervous, Newton waited for some people to show up, a French couple, and they stayed together all the way to Bratislava. Once in the Slovakian capital, Newton where they checked into his provided lodging, luggage already there. That night he tried the national dish of Slovakia, Halusky. Halusky is smoked sheep cheese in a cream sauce with fried bacon and dill sauce. It was “Ooey gooey delicious!” he said.
Day 2 Bratislava to Mosonmagyarovar- With the scariest part (or so he thought) of the trip behind him Newton hit the road early after a hearty breakfast. Jumping back onto the Euro Velo 6, he met a couple on their way from Paris to Serbia and the three rode together for a while. One of them had a large touring bike and he and Newton switched bikes for a while. The Parisian gentleman was impressed by the pakiT, but after about 5 miles Newton said “Okay, I want my bike back!”
Still early on the day’s ride, as Newton was passing through the town of Rajka a big ferocious barking dog started running toward him, and picking up speed- it wasn’t on a leash! Newton pushed it hard on the pakiT and “left that dog in the dust!” Riding on his high of adrenaline, Newton cycled as hard as he could until he got to Mosonmagyarovar. “I just kept biking and biking, I really wanted to get the most time in the city to explore. I got there before the luggage arrived!”
Earlier that day riding along the country roads, a farmer almost crashed his tractor because he couldn’t stop staring at Newton on his little bike. “Outside of the cities, no one had ever seen a black man before, or a bike with such little wheels. I guess I was pretty unusual,” said Newton. Though, he was quick to clarify that “people were very respectful, very warm.” For instance, later that night he was he trying Hungarian cuisine in a small restaurant, and they just kept bringing him additional food and beer on the house. At first he was confused and told them that he hadn’t ordered these things, but the little old lady running the kitchen waved and smiled as if to say “eat up!” Newton continued, “humanity and diplomacy goes along way, even without a common language,” though eventually he did have to tell them to stop, patting his full belly with a big grin. “I wanted to eat more, but I just couldn’t eat another pierogi! The food they make is with love, hand made, fresh ingredients, it’s the soul food of Europe.”
Day 3 Mosonmagyarovar to Gyor- Gyor is a Hungarian city right on the river Danube. The city is halfway between Budapest and Vienna—situated along Eurovelo Route 6, one of the important roads of Central Europe. The city is the sixth-largest in Hungary, and one of the seven main regional centers of the country.
The city is littered with gorgeous historic buildings, many of which were restored in the 1970’s following decades of neglect. Newton stayed the night in one of them, a Monastery turned boutique hotel. His room was a originally a prayer room, giant statue of Christ on the wall; a very simple, spartan, contemplative space. The highlight of Gyor, however, was the duck, oh the duck! Sült töltött kacsa is a traditional Hungarian meal, it consists of a deboned duck, stuffed with paprika, garlic, onion, and fennel with a side of garlic whipped potatoes. “Very tender meat, amazing…” Newton raved, and “it only came out to 12 euros!” This may very well have been Newton’s favorite meal of the entire trip (he did mention it several times).
Gravel and Grit
Day 4 Gyor to Komárom- This was hands down the most challenging day of the entire tour, and for one reason, and one reason alone- the roads. As you move closer toward the eastern bloc the roads are progressively less developed. At points they are virtually impassable, at least on a bike. But did that stop our small-wheeled protagonist? Heck no! Newton persisted in the way that only a Bike Friday owner can. Thankfully, he wasn’t caught completely off guard- a cop warned him that he’d have a long stretch of terrible riding. So he pumped up his tires, braced himself, and started in. “I was weaving the bike like a figure 8 to avoid the sharp gravel, and rode through 12 miles of grass,” said Newton. “It was nerve racking, I’m not going to lie,” Newton continued, “but I ran the tires at 115 psi, took it slow, and I didn’t get a flat the entire time! On Kojaks!” Boy, there’s nothing like that Bike Friday Spirit.
Eventually, Newton made it to the pavement, where he met a Swiss couple on the same tour. The three rode together until they got to Komárom to make sure that he didn’t have any issues with his bike. To reward himself after such a stressful ride, Newton stopped at a cafe, famous for its homemade raspberry cakes, and dove in! It was a mom and pop organization, and the daughters wanted a picture with him, it was like “being a celebrity!”
A Royal Visit
Day 5 Komárom to Visegrád- Compared with the previous day’s riding, biking to Visegrád was a breeze. Visegrád is a very small and beautiful town up in the hills of Hungary. One of the coolest parts of the town is its namesake, the Visegrád Castle up on the hill (Visegrád translates as upper castle). It’s a beautiful structure with a long wall stretching along the ridge line of the hill. Initially built as a fortress, the castle was converted into a palace and royal residence in the 14th century. And speaking of royalty, Newton’s lodging that night was fit for a king- a full complimentary spa, with an onsite masseuse, and natural hot springs.
The Final Stage
Day 6 Visegrád to Budapest- The final stage the next day was from the quaint, small town of Visegrád to the bustling metropolis of Budapest, Hungary’s capital of more than 1.8 million. The riding from between the two was bucolic and (thankfully) uneventful- no more unchained dogs, lurking bobcats, or razor sharp gravel. It was paved roads pretty much all of the way, except for the two ferry rides on the route! Newton woke up early and rode hard to Budapest (didn’t even take a bathroom break!), wanting to capture as much of the city as he could on his final day. When he arrived at his final destination —before anyone else— he was met by a stunned Joseph, the tour guide who laughed at the pakiT on the first day. “Impossible!” he exclaimed, his jaw hung open. Joseph could just not believe that Newton made it, let alone first!
Budapest is an incredible city with beautifully preserved historic buildings. Having given himself the whole day, Newton did a lot of exploring on his pakiT. He was particularly struck by the war history of Hungary’s capital, having been an ally of the Nazis throughout most of the war, only to betray them with a series of armistices with the UK, US, and USSR. The most powerful visit of the day was to one of Hungary’s holocaust museums- The House of Terror. The House of Terror was where the Nazis had their headquarters in Hungary, as well as the Communists who followed. The building, with torture chambers in the basement, serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of that time. “It was a very visceral experience,” said Newton.
Of course, no visit on this trip would be complete without a major culinary experience. For his final meal Newton went big. His stop was the Trofea Grill- an all you can eat (and drink) buffet. They had everything, all of the food that Newton had come to love, plus wild boar, shark meat pancakes, and tons of paprika. Paprika. On. Everything.
Paking a Punch
When we asked Newton about his overall experience with the pakiT this is what he had to say:
I feel like I won the race of a lifetime with that bike, it’s not just a bike, it’s a part of me now. I would give my parents updates on Facebook, having the duck, having those really good meals that was the result of the pakiT. Even in the rain and tough roads, she held up, I got a lot more out of the bike than I ever thought I would. I want to tour on it again, in fact I’m going to next summer from Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark. Also, wondered, how well I could climb with the pakiT, there were some serious climbs and the pakiT did great.
And, besides dumbstruck Joseph, how did people react to the bike?
People loved the bike, it got me free beer, more food than I could eat, and most importantly lots of smiles- a universal language. I even got hit on a couple of times! The thing that amazed people the most, they’d say ‘where is the chain!?’ A group of French tourists were impressed how easily, effortlessly it climbed hills, they were very excited.
Had some good laughs with it too, at one place I was putting the suitcase in the room and came back with the bike. This old man, who looked like Dracula’s butler, was vacuuming more intensely than anyone I’ve ever seen… I was just waiting for lighting to strike in the distance. I came back hours later and he was still vacuuming!Any advice for people traveling with the pakiT?
I bought an Ortleib bag that extends out from the seat post, it had a spare tire (foldable Kojak), a pump, inner tubes, tools, patch kit, GoPro cameras, a map and a cold beer on occasion. Ortleib seat bag- fasteners, no zipper, maybe 16.5 liters, great bag, attaches to the seat rails – absolutely recommend it 138%! It protects everything inside, doesn’t feel like it weighs down the bike. You could even put a decent amount of clothes in there too. I think it could hold all of your gear for a 2-3 day credit card tour.
I am a firm advocate of this bike, it was battle tested, this bike knows how to flex its muscle. Its going to make the challenge of NYC seem like a disney movie. After being on those hog trails in rural Hungary, and now to be curising the streets of NY i’m going to feel like King Kong on that bike.
Watch a bird’s eye view of Newton’s trip on Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/1150797055
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