The Bike Friday New World Tourist is thought by some to be the ultimate travel bike for long distance tourists. It’s small wheel base, low-step over feature, fully-loaded capabilities and its ability to fold up and fit inside an airline standard suitcase (thus saving you huge amounts of money when flying with your bicycle) are certainly appealing features for any world traveler.
But does the bike really live up to its reputation? That’s what I set out to see!
Here’s my story: I purchased a Bike Friday New World Tourist in the summer of 2008 and used it on a short 8-day trip to the island of Aruba in the Caribbean Sea. I had purchased the bike, planning to use it on similar short trips and never planned on using the small-wheeled folding bike as my ultimate travel vehicle for a 9-month tour through central and eastern Europe. But that’s exactly what happened.
Since purchasing my New World Tourist in mid-2008, I’ve been riding the bike almost every single day since then. In that time, I’ve spent more than 250 days on the bike, traveled with it on 4 airplane trips, 35 train rides, 2 boats and a handful of cars and trucks. I’ve ridden on paved roads, volcanic rock, ice, snow, mud and stone. I’ve used the bike loaded and unloaded, with the optional suitcase/trailer and without. And after all of this, I feel like I finally have enough information to properly review the bike and give you my full assessment.
So, here it is. My complete review of the Bike Friday New World Tourist:
Picking Your Parts And Selecting Your Ride
Ordering a Bike Friday is a unique process. The bikes, made by Green Gear Cycling in Eurgene, Oregon, are, for the most part, custom made. You can get one made to fit just about any body type and with practically any kind of gear arrangement you can think of. You pick the gearing, the handlebar style, and the size of the bike itself.
This custom set up, however, does take time. If you’re ordering a Bike Friday and getting a custom built ride, it’s wise to order with plenty of time between the date you make your order and the day you plan to use the bicycle on your tour.
Bike Friday says the usual build time on any of their bikes is 5-9 weeks and that when you place your order they will give you a “promise date”, which is a date on which they guarantee your ride will get to you.
My recommendation here is that you leave plenty of time between the date your bike arrives and the date you depart on your tour. For some people, riding the small-wheeled bike may take a little getting used to. Bike Friday suggests you spend “a few days getting acquainted with your new Bike Friday” before taking it out on a long trip. But I think that some people may require more than just a few days, especially when you combine the feel of a folding bike with the weight of a full-loaded bicycle.
When I ordered my bike, I was in a rush and decided to get a used stock bike instead of a custom built bike. This saved me a little money, but didn’t get me the exact bike I wanted.
The photo at the top of this article shows my New World Tourist. As you can see, I have flat handlebars with cheap plastic shift grips. I can understand why these kind of shifters are put on a folding bike like the New World Tourist (to save space when packed), but they are (in my opinion at least) far from ideal for long distance riding.
Additionally, I would have preferred a different color bike (black or gun metal gray perhaps?) and opted for a third chain ring in the front to help get me and my loaded bike up over the long steep hills any world tourist is sure to encounter.
But again, this is why ordering your bike far in advance is so important. If I had planned out my trip to Aruba further in advance and ordered my bicycle at an earlier date, I would have the bike I “really” wanted.
A big part of what makes a company like Bike Friday (really Green Gear Cycling) so unique is that these bikes are, for the most part, custom built. And because of this, the service one receives from the company needs to be phenomenal.
Companies that create stock bikes and sell to bike stores around the world don’t have as much of an opportunity to excel in the customer service department as a company like Bike Friday does.
According to numerous people I’ve talked to online, their impressions of the customer service at Bike Friday were, for the most part, stellar. I on the other hand (and this is hard for me to admit, because I am close with a number of people who work at the company) feel the customer service could use improvement.
When I go to buy a bike from a small business like Bike Friday, I want to feel like they really care about me, my adventures, and my overall satisfaction with the bike I order. But at the time I ordered my bike, I never really got that feeling.
Maybe because they knew I was an experienced bicycle traveler and because I run the website here at BicycleTouringPro.com, they didn’t feel the need to treat me the same way they would treat one of their traditional customers. But in reality, they should have treated me even better. Because now, here I am, writing a review where I have to say I think their customer service is not as high as it could be.
While the people at Bike Friday have done nothing in particular to wrong me or make me feel as though their company is flawed in some way, I simply feel that a company that builds custom bikes should have a customer service team that is so far above and beyond any other bike company that it makes me feel like my decision to do business with them was the best decision I ever made. I feel like they have an opportunity to be that kind of a business, but they aren’t yet living up to it. If they could make that change, then I think their sales numbers would skyrocket and everyone who ever does business with them in the future would be extremely happy.
Do you have to pedal more?
One of the first thing most people ask me when they see me on my Bike Friday is, “Don’t you have to pedal more in order to ride that thing?”
And the answer I always give them is easy: “No!”
No, you don’t have to pedal more. It rides very much like a normal 26 inch or 700c wheeled bike. According to Bike Friday, “it’s all in the gearing.” The gears on a Bike Friday are set to match that of a full size bicycle, so one revolution on a folding bike matches (or nearly matches) that of a full size bicycle.
So, no! You don’t have to pedal more on a Bike Friday.
Is It Twitchy?
The second big question I am constantly asked about the bike is, “Does it feel twitchy because of the smaller wheels?”
The answer here is, “Kinda…. To a certain degree.”
When I stepped onto the bike for the very first time, the bike did feel a bit twitchy. It wasn’t as though I felt like I was going to fall over or anything, but it did make me feel as though I might be a bear riding a unicycle.
That said, the initial twitches go away after just a few minutes of riding. And after about 5 days, the twitch goes away almost completely. So much so, that you don’t really notice it on flat level roads.
Now that I’ve been traveling with my Bike Friday for over 250+ days, I don’t feel the the slightest bit twitchy on the bike.
The only time the small wheel size concerns me is when I’m riding over big, rocky cracks, which the smaller wheels are more likely to get caught in and be unable to roll over.
How does it feel?
Those that have never ridden a folding bike before usually want to know, “What does it feel like?” And I typically answer that question by explaining that the Bike Friday New World Tourist (the way I have it configured with flat handlebars) feels very much like riding a mountain bike.
After you get used to the handling of the bike and the stares that one gets when riding around on a small-wheeled bicycle (more on this in a minute), you actually forget that you are riding a folding bike at all. I personally no longer see my bike as a “folder.” It’s just my bike! And it feels just like my normal mountain bike back home. I don’t know how else to explain it.
It Looks A Little Funny
The last thing you should know about riding a folding bike is that in some parts of the world, the bike attracts strange looks from people you pass on the road.
In Switzerland and Austria, few people turned their heads when I rode past on my Bike Friday. Folding bikes are fairly common in these countries. But in Montenegro, for example, adults and children alike stopped and stared as I rode past, wondering how I was moving so quickly on such a strange looking bike.
When you purchase a folding bike like a Bike Friday, you have to realize that some people are going to gawk and stare (and occasionally make comments about your bicycle). If you’re okay with that, then great! But if you want a bike that doesn’t draw as much attention, then a folding bike may not be the best choice for you.
The advantages of having a folding bike are obvious – especially for the world traveler.
Having a bike that folds allows you to travel by train, plane, boat and automobile and, in many cases, avoid paying the excess baggage fees that are most commonly charged to passengers traveling with a full size bicycle.
The Bike Friday New World Tourist excels in this department because it is a fully-equipped touring bicycle that folds up and fits inside an airline standard suitcase.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve now flown with the bike four separate times and have yet to have any problems with the bike at the airport. I haven’t been charged extra for flying with the bike, nor have airport security or baggage handlers given me any problems.
That said, many airlines are now charging extra for checked baggage (or at least charging extra for a second checked bag), so being able to fly a folding bike for free may not last forever. However, I assume the costs associated with flying a compact folding bike that fits inside a normal sized suitcase will be dramatically less than the cost of flying a full-size bicycle.
One of the biggest reasons I wanted a folding bike in the first place was because I’ve flown with my bicycle a lot over the years… and I plan to fly with my bike a lot more in the future. I wanted to have a bike that I could bring with me on my travels and that did not require me paying hundreds of extra dollars each time I flew. In this regards, the Bike Friday New World Tourist is superb.
That said, the time it takes to get the bike folded down and into it’s travel suitcase is not nearly as great.
When I first purchased the bike, I was expecting to get a vehicle that folded down in 12 seconds or less, much like Bike Friday’s Tikit folding bike. However, the New World Tourist is no fast folder.
Taking the New World Tourist apart requires Allen wrenches, about 15 minutes, and a little practice. You not only have to fold the bike in half, but you have to remove the front wheel, take off both the front and rear racks, remove the fenders and unscrew the water bottle cages from the frame.
When I first purchased the bike, I set up my video camera and recorded the process of me putting the bike back into it’s travel case for the very first time. The result was an hour-and-a-half long video of me struggling to wrestle the bike into place, finally getting it inside its case only after removing both water bottle cages from the frame.
The next time I tried to get the bike in its case, it took no more than 30 minutes. And each time after that has taken me no more than 15.
Now that I’ve taken the bike on 35+ trains and numerous plane rides, I can pack and unpack the bike in just a matter of minutes. And surprisingly enough, the bike does a pretty good job of staying in gear and not getting too whacked out of place, which would require me to make adjustments to the derailleur(s) each and every time I unpacked the bike.
The fold isn’t the quickest in the world. But for a folding bike like the New World Tourist (which many people will use with both racks and fenders) maybe it doesn’t need to be?
The Fold Joint
Other reviews of the Bike Friday New World Tourist talk about the fold joint (or hinge) being the weakest part of the bike. But I disagree. From my experiences, the hinge itself is quite strong.
The weakest part of the New World Tourist’s design, in my opinion at least, is not actually the hinge where the fold occurs, but the place where the back half of bike locks into place with the front half of the bike via the quick release (See photo above).
It’s a weak point on the bike because it’s difficult to tell when the quick release is set correctly. Sometimes it feels as though you have it set too tight… and other times it feels too loose.
With a little practice you discover how to quickly and easily set the quick release and properly lock the rear half of the bike in place. But for new owners of a New World Tourist, I could see how this might be a bit worrisome.
You would think that carrying a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, clothes, food, computer and all your other travel gear on a tiny little folding bike would be almost impossible. But this again is an area where the New World Tourist excels.
Just like my normal, full-size touring bike, the New World Tourist is capable of carrying panniers on both the front and back of the bike. In addition, an optional handlebar bag and/or trailer can be used as well.
There are two water bottle cages built in, just like most touring bikes on the market. And if you opt for the foldable rear rack (like I did), then you’ll save even more space when packing the bike inside its suitcase on trips made via plane, train or automobile.
If you want a folding bike that can handle the demands of a fully-loaded bike tour (whether that be with the use of panniers or a trailer), then the New World Tourist is for you!
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy the optional suitcase/trailer when I first purchased the bike. I did end up getting one (a used one) however… mainly because I wanted to review it here on the site – as I believed it was a crucial part of telling the bike’s story.
I purchased the suitcase and trailer, which are sold separately and cost a good bit more than one would expect for a plastic suitcase and a homemade aluminum trailer.
I used the suitcase/trailer on my trip to Aruba and here is what I have to say about it:
As a suitcase, the Samsonite case that Bike Friday sells is great. The bike fits right inside and airport officials have never questioned me about it or it’s contents.
That said, the suitcase as a trailer, is a different story.
My experiences pulling the trailer in Aruba left me in a state of fear. On narrow windy roads with tons of traffic and no shoulders, the wide “travel case” (as Bike Friday calls it) was not only a hindrance to my riding, but it caused cars to slow behind me before swerving into oncoming traffic in an attempt to get around me and my bike.
By the time I arrived at my hotel (only 6 miles from the airport) I was thinking to myself, “There is no way I could ever imagine myself pulling this trailer behind my bike for days on end!”
There were two reasons the Bike Friday trailer left me in such a negative state.
The first reason I don’t like the suitcase as a trailer is because it is just too wide. It sticks out into traffic. On narrow roads with no shoulders, the trailer requires you to ride almost completely in the lane, forcing cars to come to a near stop before scooting around you. This is just plain dangerous… and something you don’t experience when riding with panniers or with a more narrow trailer, like a BOB.
The other reason I don’t like the trailer as a whole is that it is just too flimsy. It’s not really made to be a bike trailer. It is, in fact, just a suitcase, which has been bolted to a homemade aluminum frame with two wheels on it.
It’s a great idea and works wonderfully for short trips on bike paths or roads with wide shoulders. But if you are considering the use of the suitcase/trailer as the ultimate round-the-world luggage transport system, I’d encourage you to think again.
Trains, Planes, Boats and Automobiles
I’ve touched on this a little already, but let me reiterate. The Bike Friday New World Tourist is made for world travel. If you travel a lot by plane, train or boat, the New World Tourist might just be the perfect bike for you.
In regards to saving money when traveling by plane, train or boat, the Bike Friday has exceeded my expectations. I’ve yet to pay extra for the bike on an airplane. and I’ve only had to pay for the bike on three different trains in Europe (a total of less than $50 for all of those three tickets).
That said, some of the trains and boats I’ve run into here in Europe did not allow bicycles of any kind – whether they were folders or not. And even though that was the case, I was able to wiggle my way onto these various modes of transport, simply because I had a folding bike and not a full sized rig.
Other than those two incidents, traveling with the Bike Friday has been a breeze.
The big question now is this: “Would I recommend the Bike Friday New World Tourist to you?“
Before I answer that, let me tell you what I would change if I were to purchase my Bike Friday all over again.
What would I change?
If I were to change anything about the new World Tourist that I have now, I would:
- Add a third chain ring to the front of the bike, allowing me to more easily climb my way up the steep inclines any world traveler is sure to encounter. I didn’t order a bike with this option, but you can! Bike Friday does sell New World Tourists with three front chain rings.
- Swap out the flat handlebars and twist shifters for something like the STI Touring Bars and Shimano STI lever shifters that Bike Friday advertises on their site.
Would I recommend the Bike Friday New World Tourist?
“Yes! I would recommend the Bike Friday New World Tourist.”
The bike does take some getting used to and because it is a folding bike, it’s not going to appeal to everyone.
But if you are someone who travels a lot and wants to take a bicycle with you on your travels, then this is a great bike for doing that. If you want a bike that you can use on long distance tours and treat just like any other loaded touring bike, then the New World Tourist is an excellent pick. And if you want a bike that can handle all kinds of conditions, from smooth paved roads to rocky, ice covered slicks, then the New World Tourist is an fantastic choice.
I’ve received a number of emails asking me, “If you could buy just one bicycle, would the New World Tourist be the one?”
My answer: “Probably not.”
For the past year-and-a-half, the Bike Friday New World Tourist has been my one and only bicycle. I’ve ridden it through all kinds of weather, on all sorts of roads, and traveled with it on numerous kinds of public transport. But faced with the decision of never riding another bike ever again, I don’t think I’d go quite that far.
The New World Tourist is indeed a great bicycle, but full-size bicycles certainly have their place in the world. For some, the New World Tourist might just be the ultimate travel bike. For others, like me, it will be just one of the many bicycles in a long line of bikes that make up my arsenal of non-motorized transport.
Photos From The Road
Finally, I’ve decided to share some of my Bike Friday New World Tourist photos with you. These are just a few of the thousands of photos I have taken over the past year while traveling with my bike. Enjoy!
Cycling through the woods in the Swiss countryside.
The red paint of my bike nearly matches the paint on the bench.
Traveling in the winter required me to wear a face mask and ski gloves almost all the time.
Traveling over ice and snow with my Bike Friday New World Tourist.
My fully-loaded bicycle and I taking a break in the woods.
Traveling by train with my fully-loaded bike.
The Bike Friday New World Tourist folded and stored on an Austrian Train.
On a day ride outside Schonberg Palace in Vienna, Austria.
Because the bike looks so small, my hotel in Salzburg had no problem with me bringing it up into my room.
Crossing a bridge in Innsbruck, Austria.
The New World Tourist folded up and waiting to board a train bound for Slovenia.
Sitting on the stairs outside a Croatian church with my New World Tourist.
My Bike Friday in Aruba – 2008
If you have any questions about Bike Friday, the New World Tourist, or anything I’ve mentioned in this review, just leave a comment below and I’ll respond shortly.