Triathlon on a Folding Bike: The Reach Road

After Ironman Korea last year I decided to do Ironman Switzerland in Zurich this year.  I changed my countries at the World Bank to  the South Caucasus countries at the beginning of the year and I realized that there would be no way that I could take my regular triathlon bike (a Cervelo P3 with Head H3 wheels–the sexiest bike around) since I would be moving around so much.  This proved to be prescient as my trip before the race is: Washington-Munich-Yerevan-Paris-Baku-Beijing-Wuhan-Beijing-Munich-Frankfurt-Baku-Tbilisi-Zurich. Whew. It is tiring just to write about it.  I therefore decided that I needed to get a folding bike and do something I’ve never seen before: a triathlon on a folding bike.

I did a lot of research on the Internet with regard to folding bicycles and found that there were basically two groups: (i) cheap and nasty; or, (ii) nice and expensive. The former are bikes like the Dahon which are, at their best, meant for commuters. They usually fold across the top/down tube of the bike and so have limited rigidity. Quite unsuitable to a competitive cyclist who can generate a fair amount of power. Even a duffer like me puts out over 400 watts for short intervals.

Having eliminated the Dahon type bikes I had a good look at the better equipped bikes, such as the highly rated bikes from Bike Friday.  They have a mind-numbing array of bikes with different designs and options, with very good reviews and high end equipment. When I worked out the type of bike that would suit me best the cost came to well over US$ 2,500. This was outside of my price comfort zone–especially as I was not convinced that the bike would be feasible.  I already had at home bikes for triathlon, road racing, mountain biking, fixed gear biking as well as road and mountain bikes in New Zealand, and bikes in China and Canada. No wonder people think that my basement looks like a bike shop.

The Reach Road

I then found a new bike called a ‘Reach Road’. It had the high quality shifters and other components that I  was looking for. Most importantly, the manufacturer claimed that the geometry was designed to replicate a road bike. That was key because I didn’t want to have something that was radically different to my current bikes. When I told the manufacturer that I was thinking of doing an Ironman triathlon on it they discounted it from their regular price of $1,500 to price which was within my ‘comfort zone’ for another bike. I could even brag that I was being sponsored to race on this bike 🙂

reach_racer_1

Let me go straight to the advantages of a folding bike: it fits into your suitcase. The photo below shows the Reach in a standard 31” suitcase ($50 from Maceys). The case also contains: helmet, cycling shoes, nutrition supplies for one month, tools, spare tire, two spare tubes, spare spokes, my triathlon wet suit and towel—all weighing in at 19 kg. Not only is this much more manageable to move around than a regular bike case (my triathlon case would not fit in a small taxi in China), but airlines do not charge the $70+ for each sector.

may 2008 012

The Reach comes well configured from the manufacturer with Shimano components, including STI shifters. I only made two changes: (i) the pedals were replaced with Speedplay Zero’s which I use on my road and triathlon bikes, and (ii) the tires were replaced with better ones Swalbe.  I added a Profile Design clamp on aerobar to the handlebars, as well as a seat mounted water bottle holder. That is the only place to put them. Note: Because of the diameter of the seat tube you need one which fits under the seat, as opposed to around the seat tube.

The specifications are below:

  • Frame:  Built of AL7005 T6 aluminum, rigid front triangle and rear swing arm with Rear Shock
  • Front Fork: Built of AL7005 T6 aluminum, trailing link suspension.
  • Tires/Tubes:   Primo Comet 20”x1-1/8” (26-451) skin wall 110psi. French valves
  • Rims: Alex R-390 451×13 24 holes, with machined sidewall and safety line
  • Hubs: Shimano Capreo hubs
  • Crankset:    FSA Gossamer Mega Exo, 53t/39t, AL7075 CNC rings, 170mm cranks
  • Chain: Shimano HG53 super narrow chains
  • Cassette:  Shimano Capreo 9 speed 9-26t
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra brazed on type
  • Rear Derailleur:   Shimano Tiagra SS direct attachment
  • Shifters: Shimano ST-4500 integrated
  • Saddle: Velo VL-1044
  • Pedals: VP-197 one piece alloy forged
  • Handlebars: Zoom drop racing bar, 400mm wide, 26mm dia
  • Extension stem:  Kalloy AS-004 100 extension, 7 degree raise
  • Stem:  Pacific QR
  • Brakes: Shimano A550-57 dual pivot caliper brake.

The setup of the bike was straight forward and not too complicated if you have worked on bikes before. I was very pleased to see that I was able to replicate my Trek 5200 road racing bike setup (seat height, front-back offset, etc.) with no difficulty at all. The manufacturer had been right when he said this was one of the Reach Road’s strengths.  The bike came with a full set of documentation–all the original Shimano component sheets. It even included some nice extras like small vials of red and white paint for touching up the chips. A nice touch.

may 2008 013

As I mentioned earlier, one of my big concerns about a folding bike was the fact that they tend to be less stable than regular bikes. Not the Reach. The design is very ingenious.  There is a rigid triangle frame and the bike folds via a pivot point just above the bottom bracket.  A quick release skewer attached to the shock releases the entire rear wheel and frame which swings forward.  With the front wheel removed, it is quite compact. Even more if you remove the handlebars and seat using the quick release bolts.

Riding the Reach Road

The key question is how does it ride: surprisingly well. It is a little bit more ‘skittish’ than a regular bike, due I suspect to the 20″ wheels, and this is amplified when you are down in the aero position. However, most people would not notice it. The biggest thing you notice is that it is such a head turner: it elicits comments wherever you go.

As a triathlete I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the seat. Even when using the aerobars it is comfortable to ride on: usually these are among the first things I replace when I get a new bike due to the impact on certain key parts of the male anatomy.

The only gripe that I have is with the gearing, but that is an artifact of having 20” wheels. The cluster goes from 9-26 which is a huge range. This leads to a discontinuity in the middle gears where it is difficult to find the ‘comfortable’ gear to be in under some conditions, however, I don’t know how to get around it since the 9 is required when going downhill and the 26 when going up. It’s something which you somewhat get used to, and compared to the advantages a minor bother.

In summary, if you close your eyes you wouldn’t know that you are on a folding bike.

Racing

My first triathlon with the Reach Road was the 2008 Columbia triathlon in Columbia Maryland which I’ve written about elsewhere. This was to be my first test of the bike ‘in anger’.  A hilly course, as shown by the elevation profile below, I had raced the same course a few years earlier so it would give me a comparison with the same course on my road bike.

columbia_elevation_bike

The photo below was taken by my wife Lis and shows the bike kitted out for triathlon with the aero bars, etc. To the right you can see a regular sized wheel which shows just how tiny the 20″ wheels are in comparison.

Columbia tri May 2008 011

As would be expected, the bike turned quite a few heads. Joseph from my running club complained afterwards that it was embarrassing to him when I passed on my funny looking bike. Several people asked during the ride what it was.

Although the bike is a few kg heavier than my Trek, I did not find it noticeably unresponsive on the hills, as evidenced by my passing more people there than passed me. I finished the race with an average speed of 19.2 mph, compared to 19.6 mph the last time. Given that I have been battling injuries all year and was more fit before, the race showed that one is not materially worse off with the Reach Road than a ‘real’ triathlon bike. Of course if I was in competition to win that would  be another story.

Columbia tri May 2008 022

Travelling

A week after Columbia I found myself with a 15 hour layover in Munich before my flight to Armenia. So out came the bike and within one hour of checking into the hotel I was out for a ride on the Istar River Trail. This is about 12 km from the airport and took me into Munich. What DSC00004a great way to spend a few hours. The trail was thought forest with the river on my left and very tranquil.

This is the beauty of a folding bike: it opens up new opportunities for exploring and meeting people. For example, I met up with a fellow cyclist who had taught at Georgetown university in Washington for time. It was great to have some company and he told me about the local area and things to see. He led me through the ‘English Gardens’ into Munich proper.

DSC00006 Germany is such a civilized place with cycling facilities everywhere. Being a Sunday lots of people were out, particularly families cycling together. I got lost quite a few times in Munich, but managed to find the river again and continue heading south. I decided to turn around after about 35 miles since I didn’t want to run the risk of ‘bonking’ due to jet lag and struggling to make it back to my hotel!

I rode home along the other bank of the river and by now it was early afternoon so was quite busy. It is great to see hDSC00005ow such a resource is used by so many people. I managed to make the hotel without any difficulties and within 30 minutes my bike was stripped down and packed back  into its case. I could get used to this. A week later I was cycling in Armenia – but that is another story.

Conclusions

So now that I’ve been riding the Reach Road for some six weeks, have one race and some travels with it, what are my overall observations? In summary, the advantages of the bike far outweigh its disadvantages.

The bike has excellent components and is very well engineered. Except for the gearing issue I mentioned earlier, and the fact it is a bit heavier than my regular road bike, I do not notice any substantial difference in performance. My 19.2 mph in the Columbia triathlon was very close to my previous time. The bike fits into a suitcase and can be assembled/disassembled in about 30 minutes. Having it with you opens many opportunities.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart at the end of the film ‘Casablanca’, I can see that this is the start of a very special fiendship.

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30 responses to “Triathlon on a Folding Bike: The Reach Road

  1. Nice write up. This Reach looks like it has full suspension, what is your take on that? Keep up the good work.

  2. It doesn’t have full suspension. The front mechanism is not a shock but a kind of trailing arm. I don’t see it absorbing the shocks. In fact, I don’t know what it does. The rear has a shock, but it is not adjustable. So let’s call it an enigmatic partial suspension 🙂 Chris.

  3. Excellent review Chris. I have the Pacific Reach Trekking bike and love it!

  4. serrotta makes a bike with 2 lugs that can fit in a suitcase.. when the lugs are removed

  5. Great review, I have had my Pacific Reach City since March ’08, with several additions to spec, such as lightweight ATB bars & brake levers and new stem and i am loving it.
    I wasn’t a fan of the Primo Comets that came with it, which had 3 punctures in the first week and have since swapped them for Kenda John Tomac Small Block Eights, which I believe are used on the Reach Trekking version.
    I got an annoying squeak on the suspension unit which I took apart and discovered there is a certain amount of adjustment possible using polyurethane suspension grommets which should be fairly easy to source and modify.
    I was looking for a suitcase to fit it in when I found your site, so I guess the easiest way would be to disassemble the bike and lay it on the ground and see what the required size would be?
    Thanks for your informative review.

    • They really are a nice bike to ride aren’t they?

      I’ve had several questions about the suitcase. It is a standard 31″ soft suitcase. Basically, it is the largest soft case you can get. What you do is remove the handlebars, front forks, the wheels and the seat. You then swing the rear suspension around and fit everything back in again. Be sure to wrap EVERYTHING in foam as they get bashed around a bit. I paid $50 for the case on sale.

  6. Great story and review on your triathlon experience with this bike. I looking forward to my first overseas race and wanted to get a foldie as my racer. Looks like I found a candidate. I am living in Singapore. If you have any idea how I can get contact of the distributor?

    Cheers
    Rufus

    • The other option you have is to get a road bike and have it fitted with S&S couplings. I’ve done that and it works great. The whole bike with 700c wheels fits into a standard sized suit case. I’m going to use that for my future travels. I’ll do a posting on it soon.

      The Reach is made by Pacific Cycles in Taiwan. There is a Singapore distributor who dropped me a note via Skype so unfortunately don’t have their address.

      Happy cycling!

  7. Hi,
    Fabulous information!!! I am going to ride around Spain and have been investigating folding bikes. This one sounds like the best!!Where can I buy one?
    Thanks,
    Cherry

  8. Triduffer… I take it there is some drawbacks in using this bike? Otherwis why go to the trouble of cutting up one of your bikes to put in S/S couplers?

    Would you please elaborate on the reasons?

    • Good question! The bike worked OK for an Olympic distance race (25 mile/40 km) but when I did Ironman Switzerland it took too much effort. You can read about it in my blog. The long distance race (112 miles/180 km), and hills, took a lot more out of me than it did on the shorter race. There is also the weight issue. There is a clear reason why nobody does Ironman on a folding bike 🙂 The S&S coupled bike is great, and I’ve even found a factory in China who will supply me with a titanium frame with S&S coupling for under $600. Going to try on of their tri bikes with it (I have a very long suffering wife who indulges my collection of bikes). So to summarize, for short races or touring the Reach is great. Not so great for long ones.

      • Hi triduffer, could you beam me the info on the factory in China you reference? I’m studying in China and may decide to bring a bicycle home:-)

  9. Thanks for your reply… a small correction… The fork is a suspended fork. It’s probably not plush, but it should be reducing the harshness of small high pressure tires by quite a bit.

  10. I have a question about body size and using the Reach. I am 6″2″. with a 34.5″ inseam. Will the seat height allow me to get the proper pedaling efficiency. I am thinking of buying one without getting a chance to ride it. I am concerned about body size.

    • That might be a challenge. I’m 5’7″ and it fits OK. If you are over 6′ you may need to get an extension for the seat tube and adjust the handlebar extension. I would suggest that you get the bike with a return policy just in case … Unfortunately my bike is packed to ship to New Zealand or else I would go an measure it for you. I’ll have it in late November if you can wait!

  11. Hi there!

    I’m inspired by your recommendation! Now considering: http://www.diginexx.com/index/Reach/Entries/2009/8/6_Reach_Trail__S%242%2C100.html

    I like long distance cycling. Need a bike that will be compact (so it fits in my office cabin and my room at home). A foldable bike is likely to do the trick here in Singapore. I’d like something I can use when overseas as well.

  12. Not sure if the previous comment went through…

    I’m inspired by your recommendation! Now considering: http://www.diginexx.com/index/Reach/Entries/2009/8/6_Reach_Trail__S%242%2C100.html

    I like long distance cycling. Need a bike that will be compact (so it fits in my office cabin and my room at home). A foldable bike is likely to do the trick here in Singapore. I’d like something I can use when overseas as well.

  13. Robert Whitbeck

    Triduffer:

    Hope you are enjoying Australia!

    I am having a great time with my Reach Trek!

    I read in your review of the Reach that packing is possible in a 31 inch suitcase. However this seems to require the additional step of removing the front fork. Do you have any instructions I should follow when doing this?

    Last time I did something laike that was over 20 years ago and I used a 2×4 and hammer, I assume the design has improved?

    Thanks

    Bob Whitbeck

    • Hi Robert. It does require you to remove the front fork. It is not difficult. You first remove the stem which means loosening the Allen nut and pulling it out. I put it in a plastic bag to prevent the grease getting everywhere. You then unscrew the large nut and pull out the fork. To stop the bearings falling out I usually wrap tape around the headset. There are lots of sites online to tell you how to do it – but it really is easy.

  14. robert whitbeck

    Should have replyed a long time ago, thanks for the info on removing to fork, it has led to happy trips with the bike, thanks much.

    Bob Whitbeck

  15. Nice article!! I’m venturing into my first triathlon, and well, call me crazy but I’m joining it and riding my folding bike as well! ;D My folder is my first “serious” bike, using it on a daily basis to bike-commute to and from work for the past six months. And that’s the reason I got to see your blog, to see if anybody had joined a triathlon on a folder (because so far, people think I’m crazy to use it in a triathlon, haha!)

    I’m using a Dahon Vitesse D7 (7-speed btw). Your Reach can reach what speed, if I may ask? I’m quite excited on my first triathlon, more so that I’m going in it with a folder haha! Any tips? 😀

    • The best tip I can give is be prepared for people to chuckle at you :-). And don’t use it for an Ironman.

      With my Reach on the downhill sections hitting 50 km/h is not difficult. I averaged 30 km/h for an Olympic race which was hilly.

      Anyway, welcome to the dark side: you’ll find triathlons very addictive!

  16. I enjoyed reading this blog post the first time I read it. I’m not sure I agree with the thoughts that Dahon cannot make a quality “road” bike. I have upgraded a few Dahon Speed P8s so they function very well along side 700c road bikes. See http://jlippinbike.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/group-b-rides-on-a-folding-bike-customized-dahon-speed-p8/ for one of them. If I wanted to use it in a triathlon I would put drop handlebars on it. I am just under 5’5″ and thus the bike fits me very well. I suspect if I got much taller the bike might not fit as well. I would certainly need a much longer stem if i got much taller.

    I think the bike can certainly make a difference in how fast it can be made to go. However, it’s really the rider that makes the real difference. I am a former USCF national champion so I know a few things about competitive cycling and how to make a bike go fast. Racing a bike in a triathlon should not require much torque on the bike per se – just on the pedals. And that should have no impact on the hinges in a folding bike. One might argue this is not the case when hills are involved. But a smart triathlete will stay in the saddle and spin up a hill instead of getting out of the saddle and torquing the heck out of the bike.

    All in all, this was a very informative blog post. Thanks. -Jeff

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for this. You are completely right – I didn’t mean to imply that Dahon couldn’t make a quality bike. Rather, what I was trying to say was that you want a bike with a configuration very close to a road bike if you are trying to mirror that efficiency. That was my attraction to the Reach: I could configure it almost exactly the same geometry wise to my Trek road bike, which my body was dialed in for. The key is to have an efficient ride. You are also correct about the standing vs sitting. For me what was interesting was that when I used it for the Ironman I just could not find a comfortable gear when on the mountains. I think it was due to the combination of the wheel size and gearing. The fact I had hardly ridden in the previous 7 weeks also didn’t help …

  17. Bikes are interchangeable for a cyclist/rider if the saddle is above and behind the bike’s bottom bracket in the exact same way AND the handlebars are in front and below the saddle in the exact same way. The geometry of the frame really is irrelevant, especially if the rider is only going to be doing simple timetrialing (as in a training ride or triathlon). While your REACH 20incher looks like a conventional road bike in many ways, I don’t think the appearance of a traditional road bike is what made you like your ride. I think the geometry of the frame simply made it easier for YOU to properly position the bike’s saddle and handlebars to fit you like your Trek bicycle fits you.

    When setting up a new bike so it fits you like your old bike it is advisable to establish a theoretical line on your old bike that is perpendicular to the ground and passes through the middle of the axle stationed in your bike’s bottom bracket. Then establish a line that is parallel to the ground that rests on the top of your old bike’s saddle. Where these two lines intersect is important. The distance from the saddle forward to the point of intersection is a key measurement. And the distance from the middle of the BB axle to the point of intersection is another key measurement. The third key measurement is the distance from the saddle forward to the drop handlebars. You should take note how far below the saddle the handlebars are positioned, too. Then do what you have to do with your new bike to get the saddle and handlebars correctly situated. You’ll have to create the two lines and come up with the intersection point.

    And getting the gearing is pretty important, too. But that is as easy as getting a gear chart and purchasing the correct cassette for the rear wheel. With the saddle, handlebars, and gearing consistent from bike to bike (regardless of frame geometry) you will have an efficient ride. Of course, if you haven’t ridden in 7 weeks I don’t care how well the bike is set up, it will be hard to have a very efficient ride. 🙂

  18. Alberto Jerónimo

    Hello
    By the way, how about fitting? Was it a big problem?
    Thanks

  19. I own a Dahon Jetstream that I have taken to unthinkable places (Porcupine trail in Moab, for example) and want to race XTerra Tris with it. My question for you is: Is a 20″ wheel legal for racing a Tri???

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