The Bike Friday New World Tourist (NWT), from Green Gear, is a capable touring bike that happens to pack into a suitcase that most airlines accept as regular-sized baggage. I've used mine on two tours so far, as well as for hundreds of shorter rides, and I'm very happy with it. If you're a multimodal commuter and you need to fold and unfold your bike several times a day, it might not be for you, but if you want a performance-oriented touring bike that can be packed for airline travel and folded occasionally, you should give the NWT serious consideration. In this review I will discuss my bike's configuration, its handling, its carrying capacity, how it packs and unpacks, and a few of the consequences and quirks of having small wheels.
Configuration: I ordered my customized NWT as a touring and randonneuring bike, with drop handlebars (Nitto Randonneurs), a SONdelux (formerly SON-20) dynamo hub to power headlights and taillights, a wide triple crank (30-44-54), and a relatively wide 11-28 8-speed cassette. I have Shimano bar-end shifters: friction in front, and indexed in the back. A Microshift front derailleur handles the 24-tooth difference with aplomb; I'm considering removing the 44-tooth ring, moving the 54 to the middle position, and making a chain guard for the outer position so I can also use the bike for commuting without risking getting chain crud on my trouser leg.
The basic NWT configuration from Green Gear has touring H-handlebars and trigger shifters, with a 3x9 drivetrain. If you don't need or want drop handlebars, I strongly suggest getting the H-bars, which I have on my Tikit; they're quite comfortable for long rides. However, they are narrower than a standard flat bar, so if you prefer a wider grip, you might be better off with a flat bar plus bar ends.
I have a few pictures of my bike in this set on Flickr.
Handling and comfort: Bike Fridays are marketed as performance bikes that happen to pack or fold. I haven't tried other brands of folding bicycles yet, but the New World Tourist certainly lives up to the reputation of being a bike that handles like one with full-sized wheels. I took the dimensions of my Surly Long Haul Trucker and gave them to Green Gear to reproduce. They succeeded; aside from the narrower handlebars (which I requested), and a couple handling differences (see below), the NWT feels like the LHT if I close my eyes.
There is a little flex in the stem, due to the long stem riser, but only enough to dampen some light bumps. I also have a Bike Friday Tikit, which is a lot flexier in the stem (I initially thought the Tikit would suit my needs as an all-purpose travel bike, but for the moment I have put it aside). The bike has less trail than the LHT, which makes the steering a little more lively, but there's less wheel flop at slow speeds. With a handlebar bag on the stem riser, the NWT feels stable but nimble. And the 20" wheels mean that there is less steering effect from crosswinds, which was nice while I was touring in Ireland!
Aside from the flex in the stem, which is really only noticeable when climbing out of the saddle, the NWT feels just as comfortable as my LHT. I occasionally miss having a top tube to help me stabilize the bike between my legs when I'm stopped, but my U-lock can serve that function reasonably well.
Luggage carrying: With front and rear racks, the NWT can haul everything that a full-sized bike can take. I have Bike Friday from racks, which attach to braze-ons at the dropout and mid-fork, with plastic spacers to hold them far enough from the fork. I was a little concerned about the plastic, but they've held up well (though most of my touring has involved credit-card touring with little or no weight up front). BF also sells a folding rear rack, but it was out of stock when I got my bike, and a Racktime Foldit folding rear rack cost about a third of the BF rack's price. It is aluminum, not steel, and it takes longer to set up than the BF rack (an extra 5 minutes or so when packing and unpacking), but it's sturdy, seems durable, and was available when I needed it! Plus it has a taillight mount, which the BF rack lacks.
My full touring kit involves two large rear Ortlieb panniers, two small front Ortlieb panniers, an Ortlieb handlebar bag, a saddlebag with tools, and anything else I need strapped to the top of the rack.
One advantage of the small wheels and stem riser of the NWT is that I could put a Rixen & Kaul KlickFix adapter on the riser to hold an Ortlieb handlebar bag slightly below the handlebars. Since the 42cm Nitto Randonneur bars are much narrower on the tops, my hands have a lot more room with the top of the bag more or less even with the drops.
Since I use a Brooks saddle, I have loops for a saddlebag. At the moment I have a Carradice Zip Roll bag (2 liter capacity) mounted there. It holds most of my tools and spare parts; the handlebar bag holds food, phone, flashlight, maps, a monocular or binoculars (sometimes) and other things that I might want while riding, and with the KlickFix mount it's easily removed when I park the bike and go inside a store. I had initially hoped to be able to remove the rear rack when using the bike for day rides and randonnées, but the Zip Roll blocks the taillight mount that I attached to the seat post binder. For the present, then, the rear rack is a permanent fixture, which does make it easier to throw on a pannier if I need to carry more.
The NWT has braze-ons for three water bottle cages: one on top of the monotube, one behind the seat mast, and a third on the bottom of the monotube. I've used the first two, but so far not the third. As of January 2012, I've put a Topeak coffee cup holder on the seat mast; it's the perfect size to hold a half-liter stainless steel thermos for winter rides.
Packing and unpacking: The "pocket series" bikes from Green Gear, like the NWT, Pocket Llama, Pocket Rocket, etc. are billed as packable bikes, not as frequent folders. I find that it takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to pack and unpack my bike. About half of the time is required to remove racks, lights, fenders, and the second and third water bottle cages (the one on the top of the monotube can stay attached), and the other half to pad, fold, and pack the bike, including removing the seat post, front wheel, stem riser, and handlebars (which are split for easier packing). At the fastest, I have gotten the bike into rideable shape (without racks, fenders, or lights) in 10 minutes. I use MKS EZY quick-release pedals, which makes adding and removing pedals a cinch.
In the Bike Friday travel case (a 31" Samsonite Flite hardshell suitcase), the bike fits snugly but with room for pump, water bottles, tool bag, and some other stuff. These days the 50 lb. limit for checked bags is more of a challenge than getting stuff into the suitcase. I have not tried the trailer option, which lets you convert the travel case into a trailer.
Quick folding: The NWT has a "quick fold" mode: you can undo a quick release that holds the rear triangle and seat mast in place, then swing the rear wheel under the monotube and fold the seat mast forward. To make the bike even more compact, you can then remove the stem riser and nestle the stem and handlebars next to the rest of the bike. A strap with a Velcro closure allows you to connect the parts together. Green Gear now sells an optional folding stem riser, which I ordered with my bike. It allows you to fold the handlebars down while keeping them attached to the bike. However, with drop handlebars the resulting package is quite wide. I almost never folded the bars, so I ended up ordering a standard stem riser, which is lighter and looks more elegant.
The quick fold allows you to store the bike in a smaller space, put it in the trunk of a car, or bring it into an elevator or public transit. However, the bike has to be carried; it doesn't roll. If you remove the stem riser, you have two parts to handle. And because of the pivot design, the chain is liable to fall off when the bike is folded (Green Gear sells a chain retainer which makes that less likely, if you plan to fold your bike often).
If you need to fold and unfold your bike regularly, especially as part of a multimodal commute using public transit, the NWT is probably not for you. In that case, consider a Tikit, a Brompton, or one of the smaller Dahon folders. The NWT is better suited for those who want a bike that feels like one with full-sized wheels, but packs into a suitcase and can occasionally be folded when necessary.
Small wheels: The small wheels of the Friday are sturdier than larger wheels, other things being equal, and they catch less wind. Because they are smaller, they need larger chainrings in front: my 54t ring gives the same gear range as a 36t on a 700C bike! Note that it's possible to use a Capreo rear hub and cassette, which gives you a 9t small cog, but Shimano is the only source, and the Capreo hub isn't compatible with other cassettes. A lot of Bike Friday owners use Capreos on fast bikes like the Pocket Rocket, and I have one on my Tikit (whose wheels are even smaller), but for a touring and randonneuring bike, I prefer the standard freehub. The 54x11 gear is about 93 inches, plenty high for me.
The main problem of small wheels, though, for touring cyclists is that replacement tires can be hard to come by. The 406 mm bead seat diameter (which produces a wheel that is around 19" in diameter, depending on the tire, though they're usually called 20" wheels) is the same as used by BMX bikes, so you can usually find a tire that works, but not necessarily one that's great for touring. In western Ireland, I had to trim the knobs off of a BMX tire to make it clear my chain stays.
Schwalbe and a few other manufacturers make a nice range of tires for 406 rims, including some folding tires. I recommend tourers on Bike Fridays bring one spare tire, and some tire boots, especially if you're touring on new tires (that may have unknown defects) or old tires that are near the end of their lives.
The small spokes can be hard to find, too, but the tires are sturdy. Green Gear includes a few replacement spokes with your bike. I carry a Fiber Fix kevlar spoke or two when I tour, but I've never needed to use it.
Finally, small wheels will wear out faster than larger wheels, other things being equal. Braking will cause more rim wear (since there is only about 2/3 of the rim surface of a larger bike), and tires will wear out more quickly for the same reason.
A couple quirks: There are just a couple quirks that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention. Because the frame is designed to fold, it can occasionally squeak at the hinges. A little oil from time to time takes care of that problem. It's a good idea to regularly verify that the hinge bolts haven't come loose and that the stem riser is firmly attached. Finally, because the bike has a monotube, not a diamond frame, and because the rear triangle can be opened, it's a little trickier to lock the bike. I put Pitlock anti-theft skewers on my wheels and seatpost binder. I usually use my U-lock to lock the bike through the rear triangle so that the "seatstay" bridge keeps the lock in place even if the rear triangle is opened. But with the Pitlock skewers, I can also lock the bike through a wheel and feel reasonably secure. Even locking around the monotube works for a short period; someone with a socket set or a few adjustable wrenches could take the frame apart, and someone with an Allen key and a headset wrench could remove the stem riser and fork, then slip the frame through the U-lock. But most bike thieves don't carry those tools around. If you are in a high-risk area, you can always quick fold the bike and bring it with you.
Conclusion: My NWT is a great bike. It does everything I need a bicycle to do, it fits just like my 700C tourer, it handles well, and it comes with me when I travel. I've relocated temporarily to France, where the NWT is my only bike; I can't say that I really miss the rest of my stable. If mine were wrecked or stolen, I'd almost certainly replace it.
Addendum by Brian Ogilvie on Thu 2 Feb 2012 12:27 UTC -08:00:
By the way, I wanted to add that I have no relation with Green Gear/Bike Friday other than as a satisfied repeat customer, first as a purchaser of an Express Tikit that was technically pre-owned but never actually delivered to the person who ordered it, then as a purchaser of the NWT that I reviewed. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, and I was not solicited to do so; I just decided to post it because I thought it was weird that there were no reviews of the NWT in the folding touring bike review section!