Automakers dabbling in the world of cycling is nothing new. Peugeot was a bike maker way before they switched to cars, and bikes bearing the Peugeot name continue to be made in Europe to this day. Lotus famously designed the Type 108, one of the first carbon-monocoque aero bikes used in competition, and the bike Chris Boardman rode on in the 1992 Olympics to give Britain its first cycling medal in 72 years. And I wouldn’t have created my Supporting Cast articles, describing the materials used by bike-makers and auto companies alike, if I hadn’t been inspired by Caterham partnering with Reynolds to make frames out of the steel tubing used in bike frames.
It isn’t just engineering that gets shared. Estonian bike maker Viks, for instance, used Lamborghini as artistic inspiration for their eye-catching GT bike—the frames are even sprayed in official Lambo factory colors. German bike company Rotwild took a similar route with their R.S2 racing bike; a limited-edition version was sprayed with the Mercedes-AMG GT R’s gorgeous “Hell Green” paint.
Sadly, slapping a badge and a name onto something often turns into shameless (and shameful) money-grabbing. Alfa Romeo wine anyone?
It was with some apprehension that I read The Drive’s article on the follow-up announcement of a MINI folding bike. $800 for a fold-up bike with the MINI wings on it? “Total rip-off,” I thought. But doing some more research, it might just be one of the most reasonably-priced BMW products on sale today.
$800 for a bike that folds up? Yeah, no.
Spending that much cash on a folding bike may seem grossly pointless. I would’ve said the same. Folding bikes have always seemed too much like toys for my taste. Maybe it was my assumption that all those hinges and other design elements compromised the bike’s performance somehow. Reading an article in Bicycling about the author’s week-long folding bike experience in San Francisco didn’t exactly cure me of that.
My steel-frame Jamis Renegade adventure bike cost only $400 more, and it has enough mounting points in its frame to carry equipment for a cross-country bike tour, not to mention being able to tackle gravel, grass, and pavement with aplomb. And if you’re interested in buying a bike exclusively for the road, there’s a bunch of fairly decent ones available for the same price as the MINI bike with way more to offer in terms of speed and handling.
Part of that would come from decreased weight: the MINI folding bike, despite having an aluminum frame, comes in at just under 11 kg, or 24 lbs. While that’s actually fairly reasonable for a folding bike, the heaviest bike listed in the article above came in around 1.5 lbs lighter. Doesn’t sound like much, until you have to lug it up a staircase or through a door. Heck, my steel frame bike weighs roughly as much as the MINI bike (admittedly, that was before I added the rear rack).
At first glance, then, it looks like BMW’s selling a fairly heavy, compromised bike that doesn’t offer tremendous value for money. Huh, I guess branding it with the MINI logo was a good idea, then.
But once you look closer, it turns out that BMW might be on to something.
How? Does the pricing actually make sense?
In a recent review of some of the best folding bikes on sale today, Bicycling magazine listed models ranging in price from $379 all the way up to $3000.
Just to put that into perspective, the all-conquering Jeep of a bike I rode a few weeks ago on Mackinac Island retailed at $1700, or roughly half that upper price.
Admittedly, paying that kind of money for a folding bike nets you a carbon crank, an aero-focused hydroformed aluminum frame, and some fairly high-end drivetrain components. The Lotus Evora GT430 of fold-up bikes, in a way.
But looking at the MINI bike, it’s not like BMW skimped on the materials. The Shimano Acera 8 drivetrain isn’t exactly Tour de France grade, but plenty of other folding bikes in this price range offer similar gearsets. The handlebars and seat also covered in rich-looking cognac leather, which will be protected from road grime by the bike’s built-in fenders. The chain’s even coated with Teflon.
Compared to other folding bikes, the asking price isn’t actually that crazy. So unlike some other BMW products, this means normal people will be able to afford it.
But you just said a folding bike isn’t as good as a normal bike! Why would I want to buy one?
Having cycled to work in the past, I do understand the difficulty in storing your wheels if your office building doesn’t have bike racks. Not only do you have to wheel the bike around, trying not to knock stuff off desktops, but if the rack area isn’t well secured, you may spend the whole day fretting over whether or not it’ll get stolen (even if it’s locked up).
A bike you can stow away underneath your desk, unfold in a few minutes, and quickly use to carve through traffic on the way to a bus or train station? Yeah, I’m starting to see the appeal.
Folding the bike doesn’t just make it easier to maneuver in and around doors and cubicles, though. Although folding bikes can and are used to commute, they work best when they fill in the gaps other public transportation options leave behind. The last mile between the subway station and the office, or going to that new Thai place a few blocks away for lunch. Situations that don’t necessarily call for a car or bus, but where walking would require significant time investment. One could argue, in these scenarios, investing in a folding bike would save more money in the long run than using Lyft.
It would certainly cut down health care costs: lifting and moving that bike, not to mention riding the thing, is great exercise. Turns out, thanks to a fairly low center of gravity, riding a folding bike is way more fun than the tall handlebars and small wheels would suggest. Actually, quite a few reviews talk about how riding one of these bikes is just silly fun. There’s no need to act like a ‘serious’ cyclist; you don’t need Lycra or fancy shades. Just strap on a helmet, unfold the bike, and go.
TL;DR, a folding bike may not be as fast or as light as other bikes, but the ability to take it basically everywhere and ride it at any time make it a great urban companion, as long as you know how to work with it.
Huh. Are you going to buy one, then?
Nah. Don’t need it, don’t want it.
Storage may be at a premium in my apartment, but I have enough room for a non-folding bike. I may ride on city roads, but they’re not the kind of cramped, downtown streets that a folding bike was made to slice down. I also plan on riding long-distance, which isn’t really a folding bike’s forte. I’m just not the right customer for this bike.
But that doesn’t mean this is just a marketing stunt. Folding bikes can fill a market niche, and BMW didn’t just slap the MINI logo on a random Walmart beater and call it a day. This MINI folding bike is proof that good things can happen when cars and bikes play nice.