Bicycles and airplanes go way back. When Orville and Wilbur sloughed their cycle shop to experiment with airfoils at Kitty Hawk, the bond was born. Bikes are still a cheap, readily transportable means to get from A to B.
But putting bicycles in airplanes has been a different story. Some owners have been stuffing $20 Raleighs into Cessnas and dont want to hear of anything else while others have spent thousands on jeweled little cycling machines with zero utility. The problem: If you could get a bike into an airplane easily, you didnt want to ride it very far when you got it out.
Thats changed. Technology is giving us better bikes. Lightweight alloys, new designs and sturdy running gear have made touring bikes profoundly portable; mountain bike development has produced tough contenders for any imaginable outback course. Still, theres no easy way to put a three-foot square of pointy aluminum alloy and two 26-inch wheels into an airplane without sacrificing seats.
Practical Or Not?
Folding bicycles werent created for airplanes but for cars and boats, New York City apartments and sporting enthusiasts who travel the world in search of challenge. Pilots who pedal have purchased lots of folders, however, so now airplanes appear in the bike brochures.
Unfortuately, that doesnt mean theyll slide through baggage doors and two bagged bikes will fill up a four-place airplane with room for little else.
Four people and bikes? Better buy a Cessna Caravan. These bikes stow small, but not that small. So the folder is not the ideal solution it appears to be. Bikes are certainly practical for the casual or recreational user but probably not at all reasonable for a trip to a business meeting traveling any distances along SUV-infested freeways. Plan on a car rental or a cab for that.
A day trip to a rural midwest village where the all-but-abandoned airport is typically two or three miles from town, is a realistic biking scenario for much of the year. Bring a passenger and another bike and youre in it for sport, whether you like it or not.
In our view, there are three ways to think about transporting a bicycle in a GA airplane: Find the bike you like and modify the airplane to accept it; find the bike you like and modify it to fit in your airplane; or buy a bike that fits. For the sake of expediency, most owners will likely choose the latter.
The Bike That Fits
No bike fits an airplane, of course, but golf clubs and Jepp cases dont fit either. In fact, if you cant get it into a Ziploc baggy, there isnt much of anything that actually fits into a four-place airplane. The folding bike, however, comes close.
During the late 1970s and 1980s when cyclist/engineers like David Hon and Hanz Scholz started fooling around with combinations of high-tech hardware and super light alloys-all of which rode well and could be folded into the trunk of a car- useful folding bikes found their way to the market. Although many early folders, like the Dahon (David Hon) failed to attract serious cyclists until the wheel-size reached at least 26-inches, the bikes were generally well constructed, light weight and adorned with high-quality gearing, brakes and saddles. These days, most folding bike manufacturers believe they have created the technology to fold two-wheelers without compromising their function.
Before you plunk down loose change and try to stuff a bike into your airplane, you have to answer the important question: What do you plan to accomplish? There are more bike options on the market than there are reasons to bike, so unless you have a firm idea of the mission, youll probably buy the wrong equipment.
Its a sure thing that youll tire of sacrificing the backseat and cargo hold of your airplane for occasional need. But if you like to bike-even a little-and you get a rush out of pedaling around while suffering a perpetual wedgy and burning adductors, youll love filling up that empty space youve been hauling around behind the pilot seat.
Lets look at some bike options, starting in the sand for the bottom feeders.
Were talking $150 to $300. The cheapest way to get a bike into your airplane is to go out into the garage, get your bike off the rack, drive it to the airport and see if you can get it into the airplane. You may have to take the bikes seat off, and the wheels, and the handlebars. But unless youre flying an RV-4, youll be able to fit the bike parts into the airplane.
Make note of what youve taken apart and head for your local bike shop. Tell them what you want and ask them to sell you quick-release parts for the wheels and cables. If you can live with a bag of wheels and pipes and parts, youre ready to go. Happy trails to you.
The step up is to give the bike shop your baggage door and cargo hold dimensions and tell them you want to buy a utility or a mountain bike to fit it into your airplane, which will lead to the next price category.
Using less space costs more: about $300 to $500. According to our market survey and interviews with readers, Dahon is a leader in this regard.
Dahon sells bikes with 16- 20- and 26-inch wheels. The frames are all about the same size so youll look like a large circus bear on 16-inch wheels and a small clown on the 20s. But these bikes are fine, light weight and compact, 24-pounds and 11X 20X29 inches folded.
In our view, Dahons are the quickest folders of the lot, about 10 seconds. We rode a 16-inch Dahon for our comparisons and, in our estimation, its well suited for trips from the ramp to the FBO or from hangar to hangar.
But theres no way wed ride a 16-incher on a five-mile jaunt. For that, move up to the Dahon 20-inch and for off-road, extreme sport, youll want the 26-inch model.
On most folders, youll have to carry your laptop and Jepps in a backpack. But you can fold a Dahon and put it in a case and slip it into most airplane baggage compartments. The Dahon 16-inch Classic is advertised in Chief Aircraft and Aircraft Spruce and Specialty catalogs for $230 or so and claims to be the best selling folder.
The Dahon 16-inch is compromised to fold small and unfold for quick trips on solid ground. The 20-inch is engineered to maximize riding performance and the 26-inch is a true mountain bike that folds. The 26-inch model sells for about $339.
Although not top-of-the-line, Dahon is quality stuff and we think the 16s or 20s are a good choice for short rides and occasional use. If you have a conventional, 26-inch touring 10-speed at home, small wheels wont impress. But then you cant get your 10-speed in the airplane, right?
More Money, More Capability
The more expensive solution ($500 to $1000) uses more baggage space. The Ford Taurus or Cessna Skyhawk of folding bikes is, in our opinion, the Montague. When you compare Montague folding bikes with your 10-speed, you may put the 10-speed in your garage sale this spring.
The Montague Corporation, in business since 1986, produces handcrafted Chromaly frames, 26-inch wheels and three principal models that range from $500 to $900. All the models fold into a 38-inch by 30-inch square about a foot thick. Not at all small, by airplane standards.
A friend gave us his Montague to use for a month and we loved it for its fine ride on asphalt and loose gravel and sod. But the trade off is getting it into the airplane. We had to load the bike over the back seat to get it into the baggage bin of a V-tail Bonanza and finally just shoved it into the back seat.
Our friend has two Montagues and a Navion Rangemaster. He has removed one back seat and simply slings two bikes into that space, plus a full-sized childs bike. Obviously, this is a family that takes biking seriously.Theres nothing complicated about riding the bike. The bike folds in about 30 seconds, the second time you try it and about an hour and a half the first.
Montague makes soft travel cases for their bikes and although the case doesnt do much for the folded size, it makes you feel like youre loading something manageable and it offers protection to the airplanes headliner and upholstery while saving the bikes finish.
Montagues are tough bikes. When you fold a bike, you get to know it in ways that you dont when you pull a cycle out of a rack and ride. From the stainless steel spokes to the 18- or 21-speed Shimano gearing, the 29-pound Montagues feel solid on any surface.
If we were to buy a folding bike for our Bonanza, considering our biking experience and the utility we would look for- five to10-mile commutes-wed buy a Montague Backcountry folder for about $500. Like all the folders, except Dahon, youll buy the bike on the phone or on the web and not in a retail store or bike shop.
Expensive, Less Space
Got a lot of money? Or not much space? Or both? The third bike we rode was Bike Friday. This folder is not a bicycle at all, its an experience. Its designed to fit under people who are on some kind of physical-spiritual quest.
If you find yourself in front of a mirror taking two hours to trim your beard, youre a Bike Friday kind of guy. The owners of these bikes know each other, and in most countries of the world, owners attend Bike Friday rallies. Its a cult and its leader, Hanz Scholtz, has messiah status in Europe, where folders are the rage. We rode the crown jewel, called an AirLama, and found the experience almost like soaring or para gliding. The bike looks like Scandinavian office furniture and when you sit on an AirLama, a 25-pound titanium beam with wheels, you literally glide.
All 15 models of Bike Friday are mounted on one or two inch-wide 20-inch tires and you look more like the world-class triathlete the bike was designed for, than a clown.
The bike is not sold with seats or pedals because when you reach this stage in the biking food chain, you know so much about riding that you have special ordered your own custom butt and feet holders. You can get upright or dropbar handlebars and several thousand dollars worth of knickknacks to enhance your ride. Bike Friday makes a recumbent model called the Sat R Day, which looks like a small lawn chair on wheels -the pedals and sprockets stick out in front. If you prefer to sit at your desk with your feet up, this bike wont spoil your form.
Its a $2000, 29-pound folder that rides on 16-inch wheels and fits into a 42X28-inch case. You dont just call Bike Friday and tell them to box a bike. The piece is put together just for you, your height and weight and riding habits, one dazzling element at a time. And thats $3000 worth of dazzling elements. But its a folder. And what makes Bike Fridays pre-eminent in the folding world is the geeky 20-inch wheel. On most folders that still have 20-inch wheels, the frame towers and the rider towers above the frame. The center of gravity on such a contraption is probably near the second vertebrae. Not so on a Bike Friday. When youre firmly aboard, you actually feel compact during the ensuing glide.
And 20-inch wheels make for a compact piece of baggage. The AirLama, for example folds quickly into a 37X 33X 12-inch hard case that will all but slide into an airplane back seat or baggage bin. Bike Friday is a product of Green Gear Cycling in Eugene, Oregon and they make a small travel trailer that tows behind the bike. Great for Jepps with some room left over for second thoughts.
Flying and biking are natural partners. You can get a bike into the outback quickly with an airplane and you can quickly transform long airport layovers into pure tourism by carrying a bike.
The old days of bad rides on little wheeled circus bikes are over, if youre willing to spend the cash. With that in mind, for occasional quickie transportation at the destination, the Dahon 20-incher is probably the best value. Its cheap, folds easily and will be an acceptable ride for non-enthusiasts. For regular use-say once a month-we think the Montagues are the best choice. A little more money, yes, but a better ride on most surfaces. They arent quite as readily foldable as the Dahon, but are fine once you get the hang of it.
Serious bikies dont need our airplane-delimited suggestions on Bike Friday. You know who you are and could tell us a thing or two about two-wheeled transporation. But Bike Fridays are a bit like expensive wine. Unless you can appreciate the bouquet, a bottle of beer may be a better choice.
If you live to bike, the Friday is the only way to go. Otherwise, the downmarket Dahons and Montagues get our vote.
Also With This Article
Click here to view the Folding Bike Checklist.
Click here to view the Folding Bike Contact List.
Click here to view Folding Bike Feedback.
Click here to view “Torque Couplings: Homemade Folders.”
-by Richard A. Coffey
Dick Coffey is editor of Aviation Consumers sister magazine, IFR Refresher.