____I’m coming across the border at Houlton, Maine, at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon with a load of peat-moss that is to be delivered in Georgia on Saturday morning. Not far to go and a long time to do it. Normally I would be fuming at this waste of my time but I am excited. This is a heaven-sent chance to visit NYCeWheels; the only shop I know that specialises in the sale of folding bicycles.
____It’s situated on the upper eastside of Manhattan; so there is not much chance of rocking-up in an eighteen wheel semi and parking it outside. But there is the Vince Lombardi Service Area at the north end of the New Jersey Turnpike; one of the few redeeming features of the Interstate 95 that runs along the east coast of the US. Maine to Florida. Plenty of truck parking and a park-and-ride bus service across the Hudson River. Shopping and big cities aren’t really my thing but as it is something specific that I am after; then shopping in New York City it is.
____Heavy rain on Wednesday afternoon made me postpone the trip until Thursday. When I was on an early bus full of commuters; $7.50 return. Twenty-five minutes later, I was coming out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal; within a stone’s throw of Times Square. I thought the walk up to 84th and York would do me good but first; breakfast. Straight past Tiffany’s and into the nearest New York deli-diner. It didn’t have the lively atmosphere portrayed in films and TV shows but you couldn’t fault the frittata.
____NYCeWheels didn’t open until 11o’clock so I killed some time in a Starbucks with a skinny latte. There is a Starbucks on every corner in Manhattan, a Starbucks in every big store and even some of the larger Starbucks have smaller Starbucks inside them. In contrast; NYCeWheels is one very tiny store; they only sell folding bikes because the place is so small that you need to fold a bike in half if you want to turn it round. But what they lack in square feet; they make up for in customer service.
____There are a million folding bikes of all shapes and sizes for sale on the Internet. But for a big guy like myself; I really need to try before I buy and NYCeWheels is about the only place where you can have test rides on a variety of folders all at the same time. I made a mistake when I bought my 12 inch wheel Strida without knowing if it was the right size. It is a well-engineered, innovative machine; but every time I ride it; I am thinking that the circus is in town and I am the clown on the funny bike.
____I have ridden the 20 inch Dahon/Tern/Giant lookalikes but feel too cramped by the short distance between the handlebars and the seat. I came to try the larger 26 and 28 inch wheel folders but first I went round the block on a Brompton. I was impressed; it was by far the best of the small wheelers that I have ridden. Very nimble, yet felt sturdy. If I was buying a folding bike that needed to be folded very small then, without hesitation, I would go for the Brompton. But I just need something that will go in the back of the car and in the truck; so big wheels will do.
____The Dahon and Tern 26 inch wheelers were well equipped and I would have bought one or the other if I hadn’t gone for a spin on the Montague Boston Single Speed. I instantly liked the old-fashioned minimalist monochrome appearance and when I rode it, well, it just felt right. Comfortable, leaning-forward riding position, very responsive steering and geared at about number 6 on a ten-speed. I usually know within a few pedal-turns if a bike fits me properly and this one ticked all the boxes.
____The shop offered to box and ship the bike to my home address but I decided to pay and ride away. Right out into the lunch-time traffic chaos of New York City; the cycling equivalent of running with the bulls in Pamplona. But the bike was magnificent as we weaved in and out of busses, limos and taxis; zig-zagging across Manhattan. Madison
Avenue, Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, Broadway and back to Times Square. For twenty-minutes, living life dangerously in the style of a city-centre cycle-courier. And a cycle-courier’s weapon of choice is often a light-weight, flat-barred, skinny-tyred single-speed.
____Did I upset any fellow road-users during my journey? Difficult to say; so many New York drivers sound their horns so much, so often and for no apparent reason. Back at the multi-storey bus terminal; I slipped out the front wheel, folded the frame, slipped it all into its carrying bag and got on the bus back to Vince Lombardi. Mission accomplished. I was worried about being allowed on the bus with the bike, it folds down to about 3 foot by 3 foot and 12 inches wide; which is big enough to take up two seats on its own. But the driver never said anything although I think I would have been turned away if it wasn’t in a bag.
____At over $700, the Montague Boston Single Speed isn't cheap. But nobody regrets buying quality and a hundred dollar bike from Wal-Mart's wouldn’t have run that gauntlet the way the Boston did. Still, it is half the price of a British Made Brompton and there are plenty of folding exotica that will set you back over two grand. I’ve just been for ride along some country lanes in Illinois; very windy conditions and the single-speed gearing gives the rider a good cardio-vascular work-out. Great fun and I hope the first of many fitness sessions out on the road.