Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Swift Folder: First Impressions and First Commute

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy! The internet was broken at my work on Friday, so after repeated, fruitless consultation with tech support, everyone who was in the office left to work from home. That meant that by about noon, I was in my house, trying to work but knowing that my new bike was, according to UPS, "OUT FOR DELIVERY." This made it hard to concentrate. Sorry, work.

Luckily, the torture didn't last too long. At about 3:00, a 30-pound cardboard box arrived on my stoop with a resounding thud. Gadget blogs are really into "unboxing" photos, where they show you what the product looks like while still in its box, what it looks like while partially out of the box, what the packing material looks like, etc. It's a like a slow-motion strip tease, but with a thing. I'm not going to do that. The box looked like a box. Inside, it was dark, so the bike didn't look like anything till I took it out, and even then it was carefully wrapped in protective cardboard and packing material. The best thing is to see the bike fully assembled:

Initial assembly took about five minutes, and would have been quicker if I hadn't been holding a one-year-old while doing it. (Note to Xootr: It might be convenient to include some sort of childcare with each shipment.) All I had to do was put a QR skewer through the front wheel, put it on, bolt the handlebar to the stem (the brakes and shifter were already on the bar), and bolt the stem to the steering column riser thing. They even included a little allen wrench.

Click on "Read more" to get the full story.

The bike came with a straight bar with a little bit of rise, but I swapped that out for an old riser bar that I especially love (there it is in the photo above). There was nothing wrong with the straight bar, but getting the right hand position on a bike is key. (A nice thing about the angle of the stem that came with the Swift (for me, anyway) is that if I point it downward, I get a good, aggressive riding position, and if I point it upward, I have a more upright, riding-a-bike-while-wearing-a-suit-jacket position.)

The bike also came with Xootr's new Crossrack (shown above), which can be clamped to the seatpost or the steerer tube and can be set up in a number of ways. It's meant to get stuff strapped or clipped to it the way you'd put a pannier on the side of a rear rack, and, as the photo below demonstrates, it really works. Also, note the synergy: Manhattan Portage + Xootr = Bike Commute Kung Fu.

So how easily does the bike fold up? Very very easily. It really only takes about five seconds to have it ready for boarding a train, and only a few more to pop off the handlebars and steerer for trunk-ready compactness. Here is a picture of the bike folded up:

Reviews of the Swift, written mostly by British people, who prize foldiness above most other available bike characteristics, complain that the Swift doesn't fold as compact as other folding bikes. This may be so. For me, a more important question is, does it fold more compact than my other bike? One look at the photo below, which shows both the Swift and my Peugeot after being folded, tells you that the answer is a resounding "yes."

So how does the Swift perform under real-world conditions? I spent Monday finding out, by driving to New Haven, parking about a mile and a half from the train station, going to Union Station, taking Metro North to Bridgeport, and proceeding from the station there to various destinations around town. (Also, later in the evening, back in West Hartford, I switched the stem over to racy-downward-angle mode and took a fast six-mile round trip to the pharmacy on New Britain Ave. that's open late. I found that the Swift can really go fast, and feels no different than a full-sized frame (except when I hit bumps with the rear tire without bracing for them in any way - that was marginally more jarring than it would have been on 700 cm wheels, but still plenty tolerable).)

Below, photos of my first commute on the Swift:

Rise and shine! The first step in the day was to put the Swift in the ol' Corolla. Plenty o' room.

Hop on the highway.

I'm always looking out for cop cars . . .

. . . even the unmarked ones! (Do you think the cop driving this car appreciates how cool it is that his license plate is the name of a Wu-Tang member?

I get off 91 at exit 6, just before the New Haven traffic.

I park by Cross High School, unfold the bike, and before you know it I am heading down State Street with two miles to go to get to Union Station.

All folded up and ready for boarding.

Tucked away neatly by the door on the train.

I just have to make sure always to put the bike by a closed door. They don't always close the doors while the train is in motion.


Nearly an hour till my 9:15 meeting, so I may as well lock up, sit in a coffee shop, and do some work. (I wouldn't lock it so carelessly if I weren't able to keep an eye on it at all times through a large plate glass window.)

This is how I lock it if I have to let it out of my sight.

Well, that's all for now. Tomorrow I am dropping off the youngsters in Middletown, so I may give the Swift its first long-distance test on the gruelling Middletown-to-New Haven stage. Stay tuned!


Karma said...

She looks sweet man. Certainly makes me want to try a folder. What a functional machine. I particularly like the super versatile cargo rack thingy, genius!

LAS said...

Hey, I'm thinking of buying one of these bikes, found your review very helpful. So how did it do on long distance rides? Are you still happy with the bike?

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