The triple whammy of road congestion, pollution and public transport price hikes is enough to make even the most exercise-averse commuter saddle up and cycle to work. For longer distances, however, there may be no avoiding the train - which is where folding bikes come in.
Providing a quick and easy way to cover the miles at either end of your journey, a collapsable bike can be a godsend. But before you put in your order for the ubiquitous Brompton, check out the increasing number of alternatives on the market.
One of the latest additions to this growing field is the Hummingbird, billed as the world’s fastest and lightest folding bike. It’s certainly fast to pack down, with a three-step folding process that its makers say can be completed in less than five seconds (presumably, after a bit of practise: The Week Portfolio’s best time during a recent test was about 15 seconds).
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And at just 6.9kg, around half the weight of its nearest rivals, the Hummingbird is easy for even the weediest of commuters to lift. It’s also easy on the eye, in a genre of bikes not known for their beauty.
Combining functionality with sleek styling, the Hummingbird is the brainchild of designer Petre Craciun, who a few years back set out to design an attractive yet lightweight folding bike when other models proved too heavy for his girlfriend to carry around.
As Craciun explains: “Cycling is the future of transportation but until now, there has been one thing missing – a lightweight, portable bicycle that feels more like an accessory than a means of transportation.”
Engineered by Prodrive, the motorsport group behind world championship-winning race and rally cars, the Hummingbird’s frame is made from ultra-lightweight, ultra-strong carbon fibre, and underwent stringent testing using the latest computer engineering software during the design phase.
Each frame is manufactured at the Prodrive dedicated composites facility in Milton Keynes, and starts out as sheets of reinforced carbon fibre. These sheets are sliced into strips before being aligned to make the frame shape. The layers are then fused together into one piece, under high pressure and heat, for maximum strength.
The bikes are assembled at Prodrive’s Banbury factory - alongside the race and rally cars that the company makes for Aston Martin, Subaru and Volkswagen - and are available in a choice of four colours: Hummingbird Yellow, Prestige Black, Freedom Blue or Burnt Orange.
We tried out the standard single speed model, though there is also a top-of-the-range four-speed version.
The first stage of our trial was a train ride from London to Surrey. The folded-up Hummingbird is very narrow, at less than 20cm across. It is, however, a fair bit longer than the Brompton, although this can be improved by ejecting the quick-release front wheel.
Truth be told, this reviewer still found the Hummingbird a little too bulky for comfortable commuting during rush hour, proving too big to fit into the overhead luggage racks, or to tuck to one side without provoking glares.
On the other hand, the company points out that the Hummingbird is longer because there is no fold in the frame itself - and therefore no weakness. As with most purchasing decisions, it comes down to a matter of where the user’s priorities lie.
The collapsed Hummingbird is easy to carry with a relatively straight arm, and the “jabby” bits, such as the handlebars, sit safely on the far side of the folded package.
Once reassembled, the bike is a pleasure to ride. The lower rolling resistance of the high-pressure slick tyres, and the lower drag of the high-quality sealed bearings, allow this well-crafted machine to go faster with less effort. Add in almost comically small wheels - 16in on the single speed model - and you get super-speedy acceleration and more responsive steering.
Although the wheels are teeny and the frame is stiff, the long and flexible carbon seatpost does a good job of absorbing jolts from the road. The saddle may be a little light on padding for bonier behinds, but that’s a minor quibble.
What is considerably less minor is the Hummingbird’s price, which starts at £3,495 - at least three times as much as a basic Brompton. If you use the Hummingbird regularly for zipping around town, or maybe if you live in an upper-storey flat, this folding bike should ultimately pay for itself in terms of fitness, convenience and saved fares.
The Hummingbird is undeniably top of the range for quality and looks, and it’s great to support another British brand. Whether all that justifies the high price tag ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the size of your bank balance.
For more information, see hummingbirdbike.com
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