A new economy may be driving a folding bike market

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Man with his folding bike in Brussels, Belgium

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Is the growth of folding bikes an indicator that public transport is failing to adapt?

“I had another bike, but they stole it from me, so I wanted a bike that I could keep closer to me, take on trains and buses.  It is a very nice design. You break it down and it becomes very, very small. But there are a lot of new foldable bikes on the market right now. People are doing very different things. It is the economy and it its just forcing people to use bikes. And the folding bike is very good.”

Notes: One of the fastest growing commuter segments is the public transport user who brings a bicycle with them on the commute. They bring the bike on trains and buses and share the journey between public transport and cycling.

Public transport costs less and is much faster than sitting in a car, watching the bumper ahead. Roads in Belgium are already being used at over 100% capacity – yet the government still has a fixation with creating more space for cars, rather than encourage a larger cycling community and access. It is a story that repeats across many areas of Europe. And the economy, struggling for nearly decade, has forced a key change – hopeful, in this case, for the better.

Unfortunately, public transport has been slow in keeping step with commuters. Designs for stations and trains, as shown at conferences over the past year, displaying the prototypes for future train designs, have little inclusion of cyclists.

Accordingly, cyclists have been the leaders in the new face of commuting, embracing folding bikes as essential additions to their lifestyles. These new designs can slide alongside the traveller on trains, stored somewhat comfortably between the benches, or in the corridor.

There has been almost no change in trains or their stations when cycling is considered. Larger bikes still are unwanted, or less welcomed. I was at a discussion on public transport at Mad Bike last year, and was shocked at how invisible the cycling sector appeared in the design of the next generation of passenger trains. There are few bicycle carriages, stations do not have designated on/off areas to allow cyclists to band together with their bicycles.

Then there is the cost of cyclists being embraced, encouraged, in public transport. Despite the massive cost saving to governments, as well as easing traffic issues, non-folding bicycles are still heavily charged for their presence on trains. And it does not appear to be getting any better.

Folding bikes are a massive presence in cities and their numbers will only get larger. While they are brilliant, and necessary, create communities of their fellow folding cyclists, and everything good, they also are a clear sign of how governments have forced the consumer to take on the core responsibility for the next direction in public transport.

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