Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: Little wheels even make it easier to open doors.
The Long Version: Two years ago I wrote about the Xootr Swift folding bike, and it remains one of the most popular reviews on this website. Now it's time for a follow-up.
First, a quick recap for those who arrived here directly, and don't want to wade through the original report: the Swift is an apartment-friendly design from New York City that has a simple and strong fold, but at the expense of being larger than just about any folding bike when it's compacted down. Rather than following the British model of a bike that will fit under a seat on the tube, this is a quintessentially American bike that will fit in the boot – trunk – of a mid-sized car.
The Swift folds vertically, being split on the seat tube and locked in place by two quick-releases that clamp the seat post in place. It's an exceptional use of the inherent strength of these components, and is both visually and mechanically elegant. The bike comfortably fits sideways in a storage room that's barely wider than its own doorway.
Normally the seat post will lock the bike tightly into its folded position, but my Crossrack stops it from dropping far enough down. Instead I just secure the seat tube to the top tube with a reflective ankle strap, which is actually the only time that I need one of those ultra-fashionable accessories. Small wheels mean that the Swift has an unusually large front chain ring, putting the chain too high to snag the cuff of my jeans or my shoelaces, and it even has a built-in guard for good measure. That's a huge win for the Swift.
A few things have changed compared to when the bike was new. While the stock brakes on the Swift are decent, I've upgraded to Shimano Deore levers and V-brakes for a significant improvement in stopping power. There's less flex in the system now, making the whole thing crisper and giving me more confidence on the road. Changing the brakes over was easy, and the standard-length cables that the kit came with were ample.
I've also swapped out the stock pedals for bigger platforms. I bike wearing soft shoes – inefficient but practical – and these BMX-style pedals are more comfortable and, to my eye, look better. They're nothing fancy, being about the cheapest ones that MEC sells, but if I was looking for ways to drop weight and improve performance my bike wouldn't be the one with the most work to do.
Other minor positioning and accessory refinements mean that the bike suits me even better now than it did when it was brand new. But the biggest change is that I've replaced the stock Kenda Swift tires with Schwalbe Big Apples. These tires are relatively famous, and really change the personality of the bike. I've split off my experience with them into a separate review here.
During the riding season my Swift stays out on the balcony, and I have to admit that I don't pamper it. Two years have left rust on the bolt of the quick release that holds the handlebar riser in place, as well as faint hints of rust on the riser itself. The chain shows some rust, as chains will do, but the other quick releases are clean. There was also some rust on the curved brake cable guides, the part right above the brakes themselves, but those are gone now.
Aside from that there are a few more nicks and scratches on the frame, and the half-grip on the right side of the handlebar needs to be snugged back into place occasionally. I could just fix that with some cheap hairspray, but now I keep it in place with a bar-end bell instead. And that's it – aside from those very minor instances of wear-and-tear, the bike is just as solid as it was when it was brand new. There's no new wiggle, no extra flex, no movement in the frame pivot and no creaks or rattles.
I fell in love with the Swift as soon as I took it out on the streets, and I'm still just as happy with it after these two years. Last summer I had a delusional episode and considered switching to skinny tires and clip-on bars, because I have no doubt that some lighter components could make the Swift into a respectable racer. I'm nowhere near fit or dedicated enough to pull that off, but it's nice to know that it's possible. For the bike, at least. As for me, I'm perfectly happy with having a tough and versatile commuter bike that I can have some fun with on the weekends.
After two years I still have to give the Swift a perfect score, which is something I almost never do. In a world of compromises and design decisions, I really can't see how Xootr could have made a better bike for less money. The usual caveat of making sure that it's the right choice for the purpose remains: it's a small-wheeled bike that folds down a little, instead of being a cubic foot of components that latch together into something ridable. But aside from that, I'd recommend the Swift for anyone who's looking for a folder, or even for anyone who just wants a great all-purpose urban bike. I'm looking forward to many more happy years with mine.
last updated 27 july 2011