Design-conscious urban cyclists have a new object of desire, the Pacific Cycles IF Mode bicycle. With an enclosed chain drive, two-speed heel shifter, disc brakes, trispoke wheels, and elegant folding mechanism that takes 20 seconds to operate, it would have been a great Bauhaus thesis project, and the price is museum-grade, too: about $2,200.
But you don't need a Wall Street bonus to buy a good folding bike. You can get one these days for about $500, according to Bert Cebular, owner of NYCeWheels--one of many shops that have sprung up in U.S. cities to cater to folder aficionados. With more than 100 companies now making folders, their share of the global cycling market has expanded. (Even DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that backed the Internet, has gotten into the act, funding a collapsible mountain bike for special forces troops.) Joshua Hon, vice president of Dahon, which has 60 percent of the folder market, estimates that they account for 25 percent of Chinese and 40 percent of Korean bike sales. Before the recession, his own company was posting 20 to 30 percent annual growth, and now sells about half a million folders a year.
Inventors were patenting collapsible bicycles soon after the regular diamond frame emerged from in the 1890s as a mass-market standard. Some of the first folder buyers were European armies drawn, like DARPA, by visions of speedier infantry. But most folders remained too expensive for the masses, and too heavy and too fragile for warfare, let alone racing.