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Andrew’s Biria folder review

Editor’s note: Once again, we bring you an excellent guest article from Andrew “Doc” Li — looks like we’ll be giving him his own place on the Bikecommuters.com staff real soon. Today’s review is of the Biria folding bike; longtime readers may remember we had ANOTHER guest review of a Biria bike a few years ago. You may also notice that Biria didn’t give Andrew much time at all on the bike; less than a week. And we had to talk them into that…they wanted to give him only three days to try out the folder! In any case, he handled the short time frame with aplomb. Andrew, let it rip!

I think that people either love or hate folding bicycles. Regardless of your personal views on the topic, folding bikes have definite benefits and applications that may come in handy. What follows is a review of the Biria folder.

Over a period of a week, I had the opportunity to test out the Biria folder. Biria, originating from Germany, is better known in Europe and introduced its line of bicycles to the US in 2002. The company’s focus is producing comfortable, commuter oriented bicycles, and its claim to fame is its easy boarding “step in” frame design. The Biria folder that I tested out (the one that is currently advertised on their website www.biria.com) has the following features:

FRAME Aluminum, folding
FORK Steel
RIMS Aluminum double wall with CNC
TIRES 20 x 1.20
GEAR Shimano 7-speed Revo
STEM Aluminum, folding
HANDLEBAR Aluminum
BRAKE Front and rear aluminum Tektro V-brakes
COLORS Black, red, white

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I measured these specifications (which I did not encounter on the website):

Weight: 24.5 pounds
Dimensions: ~24 x 20 x 14 inches
Comfortable speed: ~15 MPH (pedaling at 90 rpm, this is obviously variable)
Set up time: ~40 seconds

I arrived at Bike Attack in Santa Monica who provided the Biria folder. The first thing I learned from the friendly staff was how to fold and unfold the bike. The mechanisms are similar to other brands (e.g. Dahon), and involve a handlebar hinge, a frame hinge, folding pedals, and collapsing seatpost. A notable difference is that while the Dahon uses a quick-release clamp for the handlebar hinge, the Biria folder uses a screw-down clamp, which in my view adds some time to the folding and unfolding process . Some Dahon models come with magnets to help keep the bike folded (though I have heard of some complaints about their inefficacy). The Biria does not have this magnet feature, but the frame hinge was relatively tight such that I did not have a problem with the bike unfolding unexpectedly during transport.

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After some small talk at Bike Attack, I headed back to work. I folded up the Biria, and it fit nicely in my trunk. It took up more space than I thought it would, about 1/3 of the space. Overall, the Biria helped me save time; instead of setting up a rack and strapping on a full size bike, I just folded up the Biria and put it in the trunk. The folder also allowed me easy access to the trunk, unlike a trunk mount. The bike was also more secure as I was able to store the folder in the trunk, instead of having a full size merely strapped/locked to the rack.

From Bike Attack, I drove to a parking spot about 2 miles from my work. Parking at my workplace is excruciating and expensive. So for the past year, I became a hybrid commuter (part drive, part bike). This time however, when I arrived at the parking spot, instead of having to unstrap everything, lift off my full size, disassemble my rack, and put the rack in the trunk, all I had to do was open the trunk, lift out the folder, unfold, close trunk, and ride away.

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And ride away I did. The 2 mile trip from the parking spot to work was a good preliminary testing ground for the Biria. I also took the Biria for a grocery run. The Biria felt strong and solid, and when I didn’t look down, it rode nearly like a full size.

Small wheels made for fast acceleration and ease with uphills. The steepest hill I climbed during the testing phase was about 500 meters of 10% grade and it felt great. The braking and shifting components on my Biria folder were of good quality, well tuned (thanks Bike Attack), and felt precise and responsive.

However, small wheels also made the Biria very sensitive to even the smallest bumps in the road and created significant oversteer. These two combined meant that when I rode down hills, one particular bump caused me to veer off unexpectedly. Another issue was that the maximum extended length of seat post is just right for my height of 5’ 9”. So it might be a bit small for bigger people.

When I arrived at work, instead of locking the bike outside, I saved more time, folded it up, and took it inside. I will say that 24 pounds is not insignifcant to carry, and moreover, the limited space in my office made storing the Biria a challenge (but obviously easier than a full size). When I went grocery shopping, I actually forgot my lock, so I folded up the Biria and put it my shopping cart. Easy enough. But good thing I was only shopping for a few things, because the bike took up about the whole cart space. Brompton folders have innovated the concept of rollers and “Eazy wheels” which allows the rider to push and use the folded Brompton much like a shopping cart.

Overall, the Biria is a well built folder with standard features. It rides nearly like a full size, and is easy to fold and unfold.

From my past experiences and brief time with the Biria, I feel that the following situations would make the Biria useful, and in some cases, more advantageous than a full size:

1. Park away from a busy (e.g. downtown) area, then bike in, avoiding parking nightmares and often expensive fees.
2. Bring with you on vacation in your car, RV etc. Great for short range exploration without the hassle of trying to find parking or storing a full size on a rack.
3. If you bike to work and then go out to dinner after, you can easily put the folder into your friend’s trunk, and then after a night out, then bike back from that location. In contrast, I have never been able to store my full size in my friend’s trunk. In these situations, I either had to bike to the restaurant from work or carpool with my friend and then have him drive me back to the workplace where I parked my bike.
4. Store the folder in a car that needs to be dropped off at the mechanic and bike back home (if your mechanic is near your home).

Do good and ride well.

Redline R530 — Review

In my first impressions of the Redline R530, I promised to come back in a few weeks with a full review. It’s been more than a few weeks, but finally, I’m ready!

Redline R530

I’ve had a chance to ride the R530 for a couple months now; I’ve put 300 or 400 miles on it so I feel I’ve got a good grasp of what this bike is capable of — where it shines and where it doesn’t.

As mentioned in my first article about the bike, this machine comes with a couple of components not usually seen on commuter bikes…in particular, the Shimano roller brakes. In addition, this bike comes stock with a rear rack, fenders, a good kickstand, full chainguard and even a handlebar-mounted bell! Apparently, someone at Redline is listening to what folks want in a city bike. Styling-wise, the bike has a very European flavor, with full chainguard and a very upright and commanding rider position.

The parts spec, for the MSRP of $589.99, is quite adequate — a buyer gets a lot of functional value for that price. With the rack, fenders and chainguard, this bike is truly a “turnkey” commuter option. The only accessories needed would be front and rear lights (which often come stock on similarly-spec’ed but far more expensive bikes). And Redline didn’t skimp on hardware: all mounting bolts for the rack and fenders appear to be stainless steel. Because I am totally out of storage room at my house and my wife was tired of a bike in the kitchen, I was forced to store this bike out in the elements…and am happy to say that no rust has appeared anywhere! The same goes with the chain — I’m not exactly sure of the brand (I suspect KMC), but it is completely rust-free. The chainguard is partly to thank for that, but in addition, the chain itself has a matte silver finish that shrugs off grime and corrosion. Good stuff.

The R530 frame is welded from 6061 aluminum. The welds are clean and the frame is sleek, with a deep, glossy paint finish and subdued graphics. The bike looks classy and modern at the same time, with strong echoes of that functional “Euro” look. The top tube is radically sloped and the headtube seems really high — good for a nice, upright riding position. One small nitpick I have with the frame is Redline’s choice of a threaded 1 1/8″ headset — when it is time to replace the bearings, threaded headsets of that size can be somewhat difficult to source without a bit of searching.

Suntour suspension fork

Folks who live in fear of “harsh-riding” aluminum frames need not be worried, because comfort-wise, this bike has few competitors. With some tricks, the rider is pretty well isolated from the frame. As I mentioned earlier, some might think the standard suspension seatpost and 50mm-travel front suspension fork are somewhat “gimmicky” for a bike like this, but I feel they really take the comfort level to a whole new dimension for a bicycle of this type. The SR/Suntour fork does its job well enough…soaking up small bumps and smoothing the ride. The saddle and ergo-shaped grips add to the comfort level for most folks, too. I personally didn’t like the cushy, gel-filled saddle, but everyone else who rode this bike raved about it. I’m cursed with a narrow, bony butt, and I just sank too far down into it, irritating my “tender bits” (sorry!). A quick swap with something a touch firmer did the trick for me. Saddles are such a personal choice that I can’t knock a bike for coming stock with one I don’t like, though. In my opinion, a cushy saddle like this makes a low-travel suspension seatpost seem like overkill…it’s probably not necessary to have one in order to keep comfort levels high.

Plush saddle and suspension seatpost

Riding position was excellent also — no hunching or stretching required. Because the bottom bracket is pretty high and the handlebars rise up quite a bit from the radically jacked-up headtube, standing up on the pedals is a treat. I felt like the Pope addressing the St. Peter’s Square crowds from his apartment balcony! All this upright positioning comes at a cost, though; there is NOWHERE to hide from headwinds and your body will catch any breeze like a sail, reducing efficiency. There were a couple times when I got quite tired riding this bike around, desperately wishing for a way to get more “aero”. This is no time trial rig, though — Redline made this bike as an around-town cruiser, not a race machine.

Shifting and rear braking were flawless. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to try a Shimano Nexus hub, you’re really missing out. Shifting is effortless; just a quick twist of the shifter gives you clean, crisp gear changes. And, you can shift while standing still or under some load — good for getting a jump off the line at intersections or whenever you need a higher or lower gear right now. The Nexus hub is maintenance-free and easy to adjust, too. In fact, I can’t think of an easier-to-adjust shifting system. For adjustment of the shifting, refer to an article we wrote a while back that addresses the simple steps needed to get the shifting performance spot-on.

Nexus and roller brake

Shimano’s roller brake assembly handles the rear braking — the brake is quite powerful, low maintenance and easy to modulate. There’s plenty of range between gentle feathering, firm stopping and a tire-smoking lockup, and I really liked it. These roller brakes are immune to wet weather, too — unlike rim brakes, which lose power in the rain.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about front braking…yet. But here it is — Shimano’s front roller brake stinks! In my “first impressions” article, I griped about the lack of stopping power from the front brake, thinking it was the way I set it up or something. Val Kleitz of Seattle Bike Supply (Redline’s U.S. distributor) informed me that Shimano built this brake with safety in mind by employing an internal clutch they refer to as the “Power Regulator”. Well, Shimano regulated most of the power right out of this brake — I get nothing more than a dribble of anemic friction, allowing me to slow down a bit but not nearly enough for serious panic stops. If 70% or so of a bike’s braking ability comes from the front, why is this roller brake so weak?

I don't like you!

It gets worse, too — the suspension fork that comes on the R530 is designed specifically for this roller brake (there’s a mounting point for the brake’s reaction arm built right into the fork), and other braking systems are not compatible. No V-brake bosses…no disc mount. You’re stuck with this brake.

The important thing is that the front brake is not very confidence-inspiring by itself. When used in tandem with the rear brake, though, stopping is not affected. Just be sure to rely more on the rear than the front (which may be counterintuitive to some riders).

The wheelset that comes on the R530 is bulletproof, so far. Stout 700c Weinmann Taurus 2000 double-wall rims are some of my favorites…no spoke hole eyelets, but these rims are beefy and tough as nails. No truing has been needed, even with some curb-hopping, lengthy traverses over cobblestones and a couple of trips down the stairs at full throttle. Kenda 700×38 tires and Slime-filled inner tubes keep the punctures away, and the wheels seem to roll quickly and smoothly.

Puncture-proof tires and tubes are a really good idea on this bike for a very important reason: changing a road-side flat is a fiddly process, at best, especially on the rear-end of this bike. As I mentioned earlier, the bike comes stock with a full chainguard. Well, part of this chainguard must be removed in order to pull the back wheel out of the frame. Luckily, Redline designed the chainguard with a small, removable “window” to access the frame’s dropouts. Here’s one of the spots where it gets fiddly: the two screws holding this portion of the chainguard on are incredibly tiny and easy to lose. Here’s a picture illustrating this “window” (red lines indicate the portion that is removed):

removable chainguard section

So, to remove the back wheel, you will need at minimum a small screwdriver and a 15mm wrench. If, like the bike I’m reviewing, the brake cable is really tight, you may also need a 10mm wrench to loosen the brake cable pinchbolt in order to release the brake’s cable stop from its keyhole slot. Not a quick process, in any case. Have no fear: if you lose one (or both) of the chainguard screws, the bike is still completely rideable! If you manage to hang onto those screws, be careful when reinstalling them — the plastic guard is a touch brittle and I slightly cracked the guard right at the screw hole. What I’m trying to say is, if you get a flat, be prepared to take it slowly and carefully when replacing the tube (or call for backup from a friend who can get you to work on time).

One last thing…although the pedals are comfortable and wide enough to ride in dress shoes, they become slippery when wet despite thick rubber treads. I’ve become spoiled by grippy BMX platforms (almost all my bikes have ’em), so you may consider swapping the stock pedals out for something with more traction.

cruisin'

So, is this the perfect commuter bike? For shortish trips around town (less than 10 miles or so), the Redline R530 serves admirably, especially if one is new to bike commuting. It’s comfortable, it’s easy to shift and it is low maintenance. Over longer distances, though, the upright position will take a lot more energy out of the rider — this bike is just not efficient enough for long rides. I think this bike is best in an urban setting: short commutes, errand and grocery runs, fun cruising and path exploration. I’m pretty sure this is what Redline intended its use to be; they didn’t set out to make this bike a cross-country touring machine. Overall, this is a great bike for the price; it’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a capable around-town fun bike that also has a bit of versatility in terms of hauling a load, the R530 is tough to beat.

Hits:
— stylish design
— commanding riding position
— fully-equipped with crucial accessories straight from the dealer
— great wheelset for the price
— comfort galore
— good overall value for the price

Misses:
— Riding position sacrifices aerodynamic efficiency
— anemic front brake
— quick flat fixes are out of the question
— saddle/pedal swaps may be called for to get the most out of this bike

Check out Redline’s complete line of road, cyclocross, fitness, MTB and BMX bikes by visiting their website.

Biria “Easy Boarding Top 3” — Guest Review

Here’s a design straight out of Europe…Biria’s “Easy Boarding Top 3” city bike. With its innovative step-through frame and comfort features, the bike is ideal for around-town errands, neighborhood cruising and light commuting.

Biria Easy Boarder 3

Here are the manufacturer’s specs:

Frame – Aluminum 7005 – 40 cm (15.5″) and 46 cm (18″)
Fork – Hi-Ten unicrown
Rims – Aluminum
Tires – 26×1.75
Gear – 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear with coaster brake
Stem – Adjustable Aluminum
Handlebar – City cruiser
Brake – Rear coaster foot brake and front alloy v-brake
Weight – 31 lbs.
Colors – Red, pearl white, Satin Blue, Aqua Blue, brushed aluminum, black
Standard – Chain guard, kick-stand
Option – Rack, fenders

Biria’s wild stepthrough frame configuration — no leg-swinging required. Just step across and GO!

step on through!

I’ve only ridden this bike around the block a couple times…it was a Valentine’s Day gift to my wife. She’s the one who spends a lot of time on it, so we figured, “what better way to get a review of it than let her use her own words?” So, here goes:

This past Valentine’s Day, I was presented with a lovely Biria “Easy Boarder” bicycle by my most thoughtful husband. I wanted a utilitarian commuter bike that would serve as an errand-runner as well, but would also cater to my girlie need to wear a skirt if I damn well wanted to. The Biria delivers, baby!

This is not a bike designed for the “extreme�? sport enthusiast. It weighs approximately 622 pounds and does not at all make you look like an ass kicker. It does not inspire you to perform “sweet jumps�?. But it rates high on the Eurochic meter, with a very styling leather seat and matching handlebar grips. It is, indeed, easy to board with its cutaway frame, and the covered drivetrain makes grease stains on the hemline unheard of.

Three speeds are all I need on the relatively flat terrain of the Tampa urban jungle, and there’s plenty of room on the handlebars for pimping your sweet ride with a Basil basket. That basket comes in especially handy on account of the frame is too chunky to affix a bottle cage. Not a problem for me, as I’m sort of gawky (in the most charming and feminine way possible, of course) and fear colliding into whatever may be handy as I struggle to pull my squeezie bottle free. I’ve also got some flashy panniers on the backend, ‘cause I’m a girl what likes to accessorize.

The only source of irritation is the coaster braking system. For those who are in the habit of backpedaling whilst you coast, you could be in for a nasty surprise as you come to a screeching halt. It does, however, have a front brake that is of the more conventional handlebar variety, which I favor in order to avoid horrible 7th grade flashbacks.

All in all, I am thrilled that Jack beat the crap out of that 70-year-old couple that were eyeing my fine German-designed machine and snagged it for me first. I ride it to work every other weekend and get to feel invigorated while I’m looking all snazzy. Now if I could only master cycling no-handed so I could randomly flash the “jazz hands�? to passing motorists, I’d be the coolest girl ever!

Euro-chic, indeed…stylish and functional for those who aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere fast and who appreciate some comfort along the way.

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