Norman bicycle shop fills a niche market for 'folders'

Al's Bicycles has expanded its selection to three brands of folding bicycles and riders seeking the convenience and portability of the bikes seek them out.
BY JENNIFER PALMER jpalmer@opubco.com Published: January 10, 2013
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When Ian Butler's co-workers no longer welcomed his bicycle into the building, he looked for an alternative. What he found was a folding bicycle.

The “folder” compacts into a neat 2-foot-by-2-foot bundle, which he carries into his office on the University of Oklahoma campus and tucks under his desk. Traveling to work on a bicycle means he doesn't have to purchase a parking permit and search for a space, and commuting on a folding bicycle also means he can skip the bike racks and leave the heavy bike lock at home.

“Bike parking is a problem,” Butler said. “With the fold up, I just take it in.”

Folders have other benefits, such as the ability to be carried onto a bus, placed in the trunk of a car or inside a suitcase for air travel, says Hank Ryan, who owns Al's Bicycles in Norman with his wife, Ann. The store, at 526 W Main, carries three brands of folding bicycles and considers folders its specialty.

Hank Ryan purchased his first folder because he wanted a small-wheel bike that was easy to get on and off — unlike traditional bicycles, the folding bicycles are unisex and are easier to mount. He drove all the way to Dallas for an opportunity to try one before buying because no local bike shop carried them.

When the Ryans purchased Al's Bicycles in 2010, they started adding folders to the shop's inventory and are now sought out because of it.

“A lot of bike shops aren't interested in them. They don't understand them,” Hank Ryan said.

Al's Bicycles carries folding bicycles by Brompton, Dahon and Tern, which cost from around $1,500 to $3,300. Customers can buy one off the showroom floor or order a custom model. They fold easily, accommodate tall riders and weigh 20 to 30 pounds.