Origami City

Urban design and commuter cyclist Kirsten explores the potential of folding bikes to transform commuting in the city – bringing ease and flexibility, erasing last mile challenges and enticing vehicle users out of their aluminium cages!

Sprocket has changed me.

I set out with the desire to gather the empirical, and instead I grew empirically in my desire to ride the city. Sprocket is the Dahon folding bike that I have had the pleasure of utilizing while her owners were abroad. 20 inch wheels, 9 speed, city style handle bars and a 12 second fold and pack into the boot of my hatchback. It has been nothing short of a delight.

My initial intentions were to further understand the barriers to entry for commuters wishing to leave their aluminum cages and transition to non motorized transport. The term ‘last mile’ is often used to describe the greatest of these hindrances. This is the transition between the endpoints and the predominant form of transport utilized in a journey. Thus, the walk from home to the station, or the necessary taxi trip from station to office. Multiple leg journeys are tiresome and expensive, playing to the seduction of the motor vehicle. How can bicycle commuting address these ‘last mile challenges’?

Sprocket is only the second bike I have ever ridden. The first was a grand dame; a 30 year old fixed gear vintage bicycle. The Mars Rover. The first vehicle to take me outside of my universe of vehicle dependency. She weighs in at a hefty 18kg and sings a delightful whirring squeak song when we travel in sync. I was unsure how I would adapt to the Dahon, whose caffeine-overloaded composure was beckoning me to weave in-between the traffic of Adderley Street.

What was an experiment in the ‘last mile’ became the conduit to experience every mile. How simple it was to put Sprocket in the car and quickly take a spin around the promenade or zip through Company Gardens for a lunch break. I explored Woodstock, Rondebosch and Diepriver in a single morning. The same way a weathered Capetonian keeps a beach towel in the car, just in case the opportunity to make memories present themselves, I had Sprocket. Just in case.

Lest the riders of other magnificent machines turn there nose up at the BMX proportions and compact components, let me emphasize that a folding bike can be workhorse when required. The difference is that this rider hydrates with cappuccinos! Two memorable trips of 20km+ took Sprocket and I to the edges of the city. My first long commute unfolded (!) up the west coast as I explored that most odd occurrence in our city: the heroic MyCiti bus network and its side kick cycle route winding up to the urban edge at Eden on the Bay. It was leisurely, exquisite and suited me perfectly to pop my bike in the back of a friend’s car after a surf.

The second long commute was a joyous exploration of the cities lesser know cycle paths. I’m still looking for adjectives that can describe a trip where the destination is not fixed. Quite the antithesis of the last mile, for which this agile wanderer was well suited.

The question is not what can a folding bike do. Rather, what will I do without one when I return Sprocket to her owner?


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