Taking hold of the fold By Wayland Austin, founder and director of British performance folding bike brand Austin Cycles
rban cycling is on the increase. Clearly, cycling is great for our health and for the environment, and it’s good to see the encouragement being offered by various schemes in the UK – take the Mayor of London’s transport strategy for example, which aims to increase the number of cycle journeys in the capital. London is investing £170 million per year on cycling, and there were some 730,000 bicycle journeys per day in London in 2017. Other towns and cities in the UK are beginning to follow this example. However, we still lag some way behind countries like Holland and Denmark in how we integrate the bicycle into our daily lives. Copenhageners on bikes account for over 50% of trips within the city centre; in Amsterdam, it’s 48% in the urban core. London is behind these benchmarks but it is increasing over time. This is where folding bikes can make all the difference. A bike that can be taken on any train or tram, or put in the back of a taxi on a Friday night. A bike that can be wheeled into the office and stored beneath your desk. And a bike that remains fun and fast to ride across town with a smile on your face. The folding bike is an integral part of the truly integrated transport solution. In the last 20 years, the folding bike has changed beyond all recognition. While it’s possible to buy a cheap and poor quality option, for the most part, they’re just like any other, except they will collapse in seconds, and fit in a car boot or train luggage rack.
6 | October 2019
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Some models will even let you hit the mountain bike trails or go off exploring the world. As with any product, there are downsides, of course. They are comparatively stiff to a classic diamond frame bike, but this varies from model to model. Nearly all folding bike brands use small 16-inch wheels. This can lead to a skittish ride and increased rolling resistance, and smaller wheels are going to struggle with road irregularities significantly more than larger wheeled bikes. With these downsides in mind, we took a completely different approach with the AC Atto. We wanted to build a bike that was the absolute opposite of all those typical folding bikes; clean, light, strong and fast. A performance bike that just happened to fold. We wanted to build a folding bike, with the best real-world performance and high-quality components, without being slaves to the cheapest price. This is why we decided to use carbon fibre for the frame and forks. It allows us to make the Atto light without compromising strength or resilience. That’s also why we chose a carbon belt drive to keep the bike completely oil-free. We decided it was important to use larger 20-inch wheels, as these deliver a better, more stable ride than the usual 16-inch. But we chose carbon fibre wheels to keep rotating mass low, as that is one of the most important areas in weight reduction on a bicycle. Regardless of what’s next for the folding bike world – electric or otherwise – for Austin Cycles, it’s about concentrating on existing products and making them the best we possibly can. n