NORMAN — 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.
Customers have traveled to the Norman bike shop from Arkansas, Kansas, Texas and across Oklahoma specifically to test drive the folders.
“Other bike stores have other specialties; we want this to be ours,” said Ann Ryan.
“We offer a full line of standard bikes and accessories and full repair service, but we want to focus on folders. With the ever-increasing interest on greener living, bicycles are becoming more central to not just exercise and recreation but transportation. Folders are good for all three.”
In his search to replace a stolen bicycle, Dr. David Myers, a pediatric nephrologist (kidney disease specialist) at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, bought a Brompton folder from Al's Bicycles. Though it hasn't arrived yet, he believes owning a folder will alleviate the risk of theft and still allow him to commute from his home in downtown Oklahoma City to his office.
“It didn't matter how pretty the bike was or how little you invested in it, someone always wanted it,” he said of the eight or so bicycles he's lost to theft over the past 20 years.
Myers also plans to pack his new bicycle when he travels to Estes Park, Colo., to visit family each year. And, like Butler, who has carried his bicycle into the bank and the dentist's office, expects to take it into restaurants or wherever else he needs to go.
“I'm curious whether a coat check will take it,” he said.