When are two wheels better than 18? When you’re parked in some forsaken industrial park and your truck is going to be tied up in the dock for hours – if not until tomorrow – and you want to get something to eat and maybe a little exercise, and there’s nothing within walking distance. And maybe later, instead of flaking out in the bunk, it would be nice to cycle over to a nearby park and watch the sun set.
I’ve always thought that a bicycle can be a good friend to a truck driver. Health issues are a big problem in our profession and getting a daily cardio workout can often be a real challenge. But since off-duty hours are mandated these days, there’s usually some time in every 24-hour cycle for physical activity – and a good little bike could save your life.
I don’t think it’s surprising that the Wright Brothers, fathers of aviation, were bicycle mechanics. For me a bicycle represents freedom – an instantaneous adventure awaits the minute you pump the pedals. Bicycles can take you to places where cars or trucks can’t go, and you never have to worry about parking, traffic jams or the price of gasoline. Plus, riding a great cycle that’s finely tuned can be an ecstatic, almost mystical experience, providing the zen-like state of being at one with a great piece of technology, so that your vehicle becomes an extension of your body and the physical world. Truck drivers understand this.
Sure, you can probably stuff any old bike behind the bulkhead of your tractor, but leaving it outside continuously is hard on any bike, especially if it’s a high-performance model. However a well-designed fold-up bicycle will fit between the seats even if you’re driving a day cab, or tuck nicely in the corner of a sleeper bunk.
Jacob (left) and Art Lucs, a father and son who are both about 6’5” and 260 lbs, found the bikes to be comfortable and practical.
I’ve owned a variety of portable bikes over the years, some of which were cumbersome when folded and others that were terrifying to ride. Not so with my two test cycles. Both the Strida and Montague Paratrooper come equipped with mechanical disc brakes and delivered comfortable, secure rides. And both can be compacted into carrying mode within seconds.
Besides the disc brakes, both bikes weigh about the same (29 lbs), and both have won design awards, but that’s where the similarity ends. Strida’s EVO is primarily an urban vehicle that can move almost seamlessly between streets, trails, sidewalks and public transit, while the Montague Paratrooper is designed to be dropped out of airplanes, and folds out to become a bona-fide mountain bike complete with front shocks, 26-inch wheels and a choice of 24 gears.
The Strida EVO
The Strida EVO is an odd looking bird that will certainly raise some eyebrows. It’s an urban bike designed for people with minimal storage space. The 18-inch wheels make it legal to ride on sidewalks in most municipalities, which is handy when travelling alongside busy roadways or transitioning to public transport.
The aluminum tubular frame is a very cleverly designed triangle that collapses into three poles that knit together and are secured by a magnet, so no fasteners are required. The handlebars drop down and the pedals tuck away sideways, so the compressed version is about the size of a golf bag with the wheels at one end. When folded, the rider can roll the bike on its wheels, a big advantage compared to other portable velos that have to be carried.
Unfurled, the EVO rolls along pretty well. It’s not quite as stable as a big-wheeled bike, but the ride is smooth and the unit is quite responsive in tight situations with an amazingly sharp turning radius. This is not a racing bike, but the three-speed Sturmey-Archer rear hub gear system works well on a variety of terrains. Shifting is accomplished by pedaling backwards one quarter turn. The handlebar height and seat are adjustable so it can accommodate different body sizes. Truckers can weigh-in on the heavy side, so I asked a 260-lb-each father and son team to check out the bike. The six-foot-five-inch pair reported no problems with ride-ability or comfort.
One unique feature is the belt drive on the Strida, eliminating a greasy chain that could slime up your upholstery or the cuff of your pants. Belts are quieter, lighter, don’t rust, last longer, and are pretty much maintenance-free. They’re made from the same material as timing belts, and other bike manufacturers are starting to use belt-driven drives. Strida inventor Mark Sanders was a pioneer in this regard. He originally collaborated with an engineer from Gates Corp. on the prototype, and Gates continues to supply belts for Stridas.
The bike began as a project for Sanders’ thesis when he was an industrial design engineering grad student in London in the mid-1980s. It was originally manufactured in England and later Portugal. Tens of thousands have been produced but the bike has had little exposure in North America.
These days Stridas are manufactured in Taiwan by the Ming Cycle company. Apparently the bike has a cult-like following in parts of Asia, with riding clubs of Stridas taking to the roads and trails on weekends and holidays. It’s big in Japan as well, where some enthusiasts have customized them by converting the hub shift to five- or seven-speed variants.
The Strida EVO comes with plastic fenders and a small rack below the seat. I would recommend that anyone buying a Strida procure a couple of spare 18-inch tubes, as these are not often stocked in a typical bike store. If you’re concerned with economy, the single speed EVO version with 16-inch wheels is available for about half the price.
The Montague Paratroooper
The Montague Bicycle Company of Cambridge, Mass., builds a wide range of full-size bicycles that fold up – that’s an important difference. Other manufacturers give up some amount of performance and stability with smaller wheels, but I think that if you could ride the Paratrooper blindfolded, you wouldn’t be able to tell it isn’t a full-size bike. These bikes fold by swinging in half around the seat post tube, the front wheel pops off in seconds, and the entire unit fits in my trunk or truck.
The Paratroooper comes with 18- and 20-inch frames and is a no-frills, super-durable mountain bike that was originally designed for airborne use. I don’t know anyone who parachutes with a bicycle but YouTube videos show the bike strapped to the skydiver in a carrying bag. Just before touchdown the package is released on a tether and it takes a few good bounces when it hits the ground.
The Paratrooper’s beefed-up frame and suspension can handle almost any sized trucker, and extra care has been taken to secure the cables and guides so they won’t get frayed or damaged when the bike is folded (or dropped out of a helicopter). The Paratrooper has solid accessories, all standard and widely available, so you’ll never lack for parts for this bike. If you’re really game you can step up to the Paratrooper Pro, which gives you more gears and a slightly better front suspension.
Montague originally developed the Paratrooper in conjunction with the US military’s DARPA program, and has also worked on an electric-powered version. Fold-up bicycles have been used for decades by infantry and airborne divisions and the technology continues to improve. I suspect most truckers will like the military styling and Cammy Green paint job.
I got to try the Paratrooper out on a few Niagara Escarpment trails just as the spring ice was abating – loved the disc brakes and smooth shifting. The only thing I have to compare it to is my Norco Storm, and it’s head and shoulders above that – more agile, quicker, nicely balanced, begs to be ridden hands-free.
The Paratrooper is assembled at a factory in Vietnam and that’s the norm these days. That part of the world has been making our high-performance bikes for some time now and there’s no stigma there. I have heard that close to 90% of the bicycles sold these days are manufactured in the Far East. A friend of mine was trying to buy a bike that wasn’t made in Asia and discovered he would have to pay $4,000 for an Italian-made frame alone.
So which bike is better for the average trucker? It really depends on the application.
The Strida is more of a shorter distance, urban/commuter bike. If I was travelling from the suburbs to downtown Montreal I might prefer the Strida because it gives me the option of riding on the sidewalk and folds up into a rolling walking stick when taking the metro or bus. As well, Porter Airlines and Air Canada allow passengers to bring along fold-up bikes on their flights at no charge if they meet certain spec’s and the Strida is compliant in this regard.
But fitness enthusiasts would no doubt prefer the Paratrooper for long-distance or off-road riding.
The bike comes with a set of knobby tires that I would probably trade for something a little less aggressive since most of my riding is done on pavement, while still allowing for off-road riding. I would also consider installing a carrying rack that bolts directly onto the rear of the seat post.
It’s interesting to note that a major US carrier, Prime Inc., of Springfield, Mo., offers Paratroopers for sale at its company store and includes bike riding as part of its annual fitness challenge. Evidently, they have achieved terrific results with their driver fitness and weight-loss programs.
Indeed, it would be great to see more carriers offering fold-up bikes to their drivers as part of a sign-on bonus. It’s a win-win for everyone. Happy trails!