I have owned and ridden bikes most of my life. My current
bikes are a 1984 Trek touring bike (purchased new), with new components (now 700C tires), and a Brompton folder (16"). I rode
the Brompton a lot in the Med and loved having it aboard. I had previously been carrying the Trek but it was just too bulky for my small boat, even with the wheels popped off and the lot stowed in a carrying bag.
On smalll wheels: the Moulton take-apart had small wheels (16" IIRC) and set speed records. Smaller wheels have less mass and less drag so in some sense are "faster". The Brompton comes with 1-3/8" wide tires, which gives a good ride; of course the smaller diameter tires are affected by small potholes that a larger wheel
might roll over. The downside is that smaller wheels have shorter spokes to absorb shocks, and thus are more prone to spoke breakage, particularly when heavily loaded. In practice this has meant that it is somewhat more important to keep the spokes adjusted, and with long term heavy riding it is appropriate to replace all of the spokes when they do start to break. To be clear, this is not likely to be a problem unless you are someone riding thousands of miles and thus wearing out tires regularly (me, but not very many other cruisers). I weigh a bit north of 200# and am about 6' tall, and have been known to carry another 20% in cargo when shopping
As for rideability the wheel
size is not that big a deal. What IS a big deal is the frame design. A lot of folders seem designed for children
and are nearly impossible for an adult to pedal. The reason the Brompton looks so strange is that the small wheels' axles are as far apart as a normal street bike - which is necessary in order to get the geometry right for riding comfortably.
Personally I enjoy riding my little folder, and find it much more practical for cruising than a full size street bike. In addition to the ease of storage
, it is much easier to protect from theft: going into a store I will often just fold it up and put it in a shopping
cart, or carry it with me. It is also easy to bring aboard for overnight secure storage
. Bike thefts are common just about everywhere... My modifications include more gear
choices (added a Swiss Mountain Drive) and clipless pedals. While I do prefer the feel of the touring bike, the folder is quite comfortable and very practical for cruising.
All bikes have components that include plated screws that rust in salt
air. There are other components which are also made of steel
and can rust, particularly on cheap
and lubricating are necessary maintenance
- just do it. If you want to buy a cheap
bike, do nothing to maintain it and don't mind the rusty look, don't care if it's stolen, and are happy to replace it every few years then go right ahead. If you want a nice bike then spend the extra money
to get an appropriate one, with quality aluminum
and stainless components, and put a modest effort in maintaining it. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any easy way to get rid of the plated screws...