A Racer’s Perspective

Rob English and the 14-pound road prototype.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently a customer asked for a racer’s point of view on Bike Fridays, so we looked no farther than our head designer, Rob English. He put Bike Friday into perspective.]

By Rob English

I am a Cat. 1 road racer, current Oregon Time Trial champion and long time bike geek….

I’ve also been a Bike Friday owner for 11 years — I bought a Pocket Rocket several years before I came to work here.

I have used my Bike Fridays for touring and riding all over the world, including hitting the local hammerfest rides in various countries. And I have done a few races on them, too.

First, the USAC rules question of whether or not Bike Fridays are legal — it is going to depend on the level of the race and how strictly the rules are applied.

Generally USAC follows UCI rules and a Bike Friday is not UCI legal as the wheels are too small (too much of an advantage?!!?), and it doesn’t have a double diamond frame. In most of our customers’ experience, for local races, organizers don’t have a problem with Bike Fridays racing. But at National level they will!

I have always greatly enjoyed showing up at the local fast rides wherever I might be, getting the usual derision of the bike as not being a ‘proper’ bike, then making people change their minds after I drop them on the hills! Very entertaining to educate people about performance small wheeled bikes! I have never felt at a disadvantage in being on the BF on any group ride.

When racing the Bike Friday, I have found that it is very competitive on hillclimbs (I won an open hillclimb in Japan on my Pocket Rocket), and does well in road races, except at the very highest level — doing Elite races in New Zealand I found I had to work a little harder at the very high speeds (32 mph+). To be fair this was on my Pocket Rocket mainly set up for touring — with the Rolf wheels and faster tires on the Super Pro this small difference may be mitigated.

I have traveled with full size bikes in soft and hard cases, a full size folding bike in a hard case, and the Bike Friday in the suitcase. For ease of use the Bike Friday system is unbeatable. I can pack and unpack the bike in under 5 minutes, compared to a minimum of 30 minutes for any other system. And the packed bike is so secure that I never have to worry about the bike getting damaged in transit. Add in the ability to ride to the airport towing the suitcase/trailer and there is no question of the best travel bike in my mind.

Gearing: 53x9x20″ is 118″, 53x12x27″ is 119″ and 53x11x27″ is 130″.  So the Capreo gearing gives you the equivalent of a 12T; if you think you will need bigger then going up to a 55 or 56T big ring will take care of it. I have generally run non Capreo, using either 58x11x20″ = 105″ or 62x11x20 = 113″ and have never had a problem with running out of gears. The Capreo option does avoid the dinner plate size rings though! The Capreo cassette is available from other places, but most bike shops haven’t heard of it, so it can often be easiest to get spares from us. Everything else on the bike is standard though.

A couple of other points: The Pocket Rocket Pro has an incredibly stiff drivetrain — the very small rear triangle in steel gives very direct power transfer. But with the long titanium seatmast, there is a nice amount of passive suspension built in so that it is very comfortable too — that much quoted combination of laterally stiff and vertically compliant…..

In a paceline situation the small wheels enable you to get a little closer to the rider in front, and thus get more draft and less effort. This is great when in a paceline of several Bike Fridays (i.e., our lunchtime ride), as everyone is much closer!

I hope this helps give you some information. I don’t know if you have heard the story of how the Super Pro came to be — we have a customer who had a Pocket Rocket Pro and loved the ride, but wanted something lighter to compare to his custom Seven. He inspired us to create the Super Pro and got the first one, which he then took on the PacTour TransAm — 3000 miles in (I think) two weeks! Bob is in his 60s and takes great pleasure in crushing younger riders — doing it on small wheels adds to the satisfaction!

Let me know if you have other questions I can help with,
best regards,

6 Responses

  1. Thank you Rob; I have now a little more feel for what is behind my Pocket Rocket Pro Custom. Having in my teens seriously competed in Southern California and made it to the nationals, it seems that acquired riding refinement and love of attention of details in equipment never leaves one, and therefore, that need is satisfied in my Bike Friday while also opening many new opportunities for extended use. I must confess that when out riding it, I start testing my snap, and find it to be there, and it feels right to kick out of the saddle (racing lingo) – I was not expecting that. When assessing stiffness (in riding position putting force on pedals with wheels locked and observing amount of pedal travel) there appears a fair amount of flex, but, what with the very long stem in the power line, I accepted that as a compromise. If you have been that successful in completive in hill climbing, obviously however, the bike does not compromise power transfer. Although I possess a good level of technical riding development, in use of my PRP I wish to suggest to others considering the compact chain ring set 50/34 with the Capero 26-9 to be right on target for gearing for sport riding. I tend to ride a high cadence with 170mm cranks. Is nice to have those two lowest gears from the 34 chainring when the hills get extreme, or when pulling a loaded trailer; and spinning in the 50/9 is actually very well as fast as I ever want to go on this bike. Riding just the big chainring and skipping along through the 10 Capreo cassette cogs works very well.

    In cooler weather, I like to kind of tweed up on my PRP, but not slow down. Waving to passing riders in the other direction, I chuckle at the sense I get that they seem to not know just how to respond: where does this rider, dressed in knickers on that shinny small wheel bike with drop bars, fit in the scheme of things? I think I want to go out and ride now.

  2. WOW!!! I am so inspired!! Thanks for the great write-up Rob! I have never owned a BF and have only been riding regularly in Feb this year. I wanna get a BF soon so I can maybe do a little touring with it. But I am still not sure which BF model I should be getting. Any advise?

  3. Thanks Steven,

    The choice of bike for touring depends on your destination, load and type of roads expected. Personally, I travel light (about 25lbs of gear with camping stuff), and relatively fast, and have done all my touring (Europe, US, NZ and Australia) on my Pocket Rocket. I have found the 1-1/8″ tires suitable for gravel and dirt roads as well as paved surfaces. If you are carrying more weight (which I would question; so many people carry far too much stuff!), then the wider tire options of the 406 wheelsize on the NWT and Llama would be a better choice. And if you will be in more remote locations, this tire size is commonly available, whereas the 451 size from the PR is harder to find.

    I have toured on several different bicycles, and have found the PR to be by far the best. The small, stiff rear triangle gives little or no pannier ‘wag’ to the back of the bike, whilst the long cantilevered seatmast provides a degree of passive suspension for comfort in the saddle. Likewise the curved stem will take the edge off road vibrations being transmitted to the handlebar. The small wheels are inherently stronger than larger ones, so with a sturdy set there is no worry about broken spokes. The only downside could be tire wear, but it is easy to carry a spare (when I rode cross country I chose to use fast tires (Schwalbe Stelvios), and wore out the rear tire in 1600 miles. I carried a spare and had BF ship me additional tires part way).

    Generally on point to point tours I fly in with the bike in the travelcase, then mail the case to my destination, then it is ready for the trip home when I get there. If you tour on a BF, just be prepared to answer the small wheel questions everytime you stop to refuel!

    There are details of my various trips, and a kit list of everything I carry on my website at: http://rob.bikerevuk.com

  4. Great telling Rob. You make some great points such as the wheel size which encourages me. I own a Dahon P8 which I use for commute and. Specialized Roubaix which is my road distance bike. I have grown to love my Dahon so much, happened on to Bike Friday at last years El Tour deTucson. I love design and theory of it and am seriously thinking selling my Roubaix to get Bike Friday road bike.

  5. I have a Bike Friday Air Friday. I just got it, and I took it out to a club ride to see what impression I would have of it’s speed. My impression was that the bike was distinctly slower than my racing bike. The ride quality is tremendous, and I am not disappointed in the bike. However, it is more difficult to do fast club rides with this bike. I imagine that the tires or the small wheels are causing the loss of performance relative to what I’m used to. The wheel size is what it is, but the tires are easy to change. Can you suggest an optimal tire for performance riding on a variety of paved surfaces, including rough chip seal as well as smooth surfaces? I’m considering getting the 406 x 1.35 Schwalbe Kojak foldable tires. I’m looking for something foldable, preferably around 35 mm, and VERY supple. Is the Kojak the best, or is there something better?

    1. Ken, Kojaks should do the trick if you’re looking for supple and fast. You also might consider some other Schwalbe options (which may or may not be available anymore): G-One Speed, Durano, One. The latter two are more traditional road tires (read: higher pressure, a little less supple), with the Durano being more of a trainer and the One being more of a race tire.

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