Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dudebike: The Vintage Folder Resurrected


We spotted them through the window of the Narosa surf shop in Dunfanaghy. "Oh look," said my friend AJ, "they have a couple of vintage folding bikes in there. Can you tell what make they are?" Cupping my hands and peering inside, I scrutinised the pastel-coloured frames but could not identify their make. And as the shop was closed for the winter, we could not get in to have a closer look. But through the storefront AJ took a snap with her phone, zoomed in to read the writing on the unfamiliar-looking badge, and set off to investigate - with surprising results!


They were Italian folding bikes. And they were current production, not vintage. Hand-made in Millan since 2013, by the rather unexpectedly named manufacturer Dudebike (cue "Dude, where's my bike?" jokes) and priced at €385. At current conversion rates, that is less than $450 USD, and just over £300.


Intrigued, we eagerly awaited a bout of good weather when the Narosa shop would be open. By the time such a day came, word spread, and a small crowd of bicycle-loving women descended upon the shop from the surrounding towns and counties, followed by me, with camera in tow. Amusing the Narosa staff with our frenzied enthusiasm, finally we wrangled two bicycles out the door and onto the mean streets of Dunfanaghy.


When the lovely Lisa and Clare graciously agreed to model the Dudebikes in motion, one feature that immediately became apparent is how widely adjustable they are for size.


Both the seatpost and the stem can be pulled out considerably, allowing shorter and taller riders alike to ride these bicycles after some quick tweaks. With the two bikes adjusted to close to opposite extremes, they did not even look like the same bike, someone in our group pointed out -  the vastly different amounts of seatpost and stem giving them the appearance of different "body types" despite the identical frames.


Of course the easy adjustability also accommodates riders with different handlebar heigh preferences regardless of height. So whether you want a slammed stem with lots of seatpost showing, or a sit-up-and-beg position with saddle low and bars high, the Dudebike accommodates.


It was good to see such adaptability. And fun to see the two bikes ridden side by side - a whirl of small wheels, pastel frames, and shiny chrome bits glistening in the mid-day sun. It was equally fun watching the riders discover the joys of the coaster brake ("oh my god, it brakes when I pedal backwards?"). Ah yes, that it does. It's been a while for me as well.


But getting back to the, erm... Dudebike itself. What exactly do we have here? If I had to guess (and I sort of do, as I can't reach the manufacturer for comment), I would say these aren't so much "retro" bikes - in the sense of modern bikes being made to aesthetically resemble vintage ones - as actual "vintage" bikes, whose production in whatever small factory used to make them back in the day has simply been re-started after a break of several decades.

In construction and geometry the bicycles look indistinguishable from older continental European folders. And the ride feel too, I must say (I test rode the green one on a spin around Dunfanaghy centre), is very similar to an actual vintage bike of this type. While of course the wheels, components, and frame tubing are modern, I believe the construction method and geometry are the very same as would have been used to make such folders in the 1970s.


The all-steel machine, with its hefty main tubes, curved cast-crown fork,


and integrated rear rack, makes for a 12kg (26.5lb) bicycle, according to the manufacturer's spec - which isn't exactly lightweight, but is certainly reasonable (for comparison, the Brompton is in the 20-25lb range, depending on configuration). And it is certainly lighter than the folders produced in decades past.


The single speed drivetrain with coaster brake (rear hand brake available instead on request), is of course limited, but in line with a bicycle that's designed for scooting around towns and beachfront areas without much in the way of hills or long distance involved. The 41/18t gearing is easy to push on flats and not too bad on reasonable inclines.


It is also quite nice that this bike comes fully equipped for commuting, with full, colour-matched mudguards, wide (20"x 1.75") tyres, a chain guard, rear rack,


front and rear lights (battery powered),


a sprung leather-ish saddle,


and a Dudebike-embossed bell.


The fold itself is a simple, middle-hinge kind of deal. Undo the bolt and swing it around, folding the frame in half, then collapse the handlebar stem and seatpost using similar bolts.


You would think I would have photos of the bike folded, but alas I do not. My bad, but here is a pic from the manufacturer's website to see what it looks like in its fully collapsed state.  To be sure, it's a hefty bundle compared to most modern folders. Nonetheless, it can be stuffed into a car, stored in a cramped indoor space, or taken onto public transport.


When all is said and done, the Dudebike is a traditional Euro-folder: an uncomplicated, compact, fully equipped and easy-to-ride bicycle ideal for errands, short distance commuting, and plain old cruising. It is handmade in Italy. And it costs under $500. How can I find fault?

It does concern me that the manufacturer has been quiet on social media for some time, so who knows what is in store for this brand in future. It would also have been nice to get some additional details from them about the manufacturing process and the history of the brand. Did they breathe new life into a disused factory? Hire a framebuilding outfit whose staff never thought they'd have to make another one of these things after the mid-1980s and had to dust off the crumpled, yellowed drawings retrieved from the bottom of a back drawer? If I ever find out, I will certainly post an update.


But for now, all I can tell say is that it does appear that you can purchase these bicycles direct from the manufacturer and get them shipped all over the world at reasonable prices. And, of course, if in doubt, you can always come to Donegal and buy a Dudebike from Narosa. I believe they have 4 in stock at the moment: in sage green, cream, periwinkle and gray.

My thanks to Jude, Oscar and Lee for the opportunity to test ride these bicycles! And should you ever find yourself longing to surf in Ireland, Narosa in Dunfanaghy is certainly worth a visit.

37 comments:

  1. I am far from a connoisseur of these things, but to my eye those welds look really bad. Isn't there a visible flaw in the weld where the top tube meets the head tube? I seem to see it in two different photos.

    That said, nothing wrong with a cheap, simple foldie. The difference between having a bike with you (which is often made possible or practical by a folding bike) vs. not having one is far more significant than the difference between riding a competent bike vs. an idealized one. My sub-$500 foldie (brand unimportant) has made possible some really great trips, even multi-night tours with light camping gear, that would have otherwise have been done by car or not at all.

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    1. Really? I thought the joints actually looked pretty good, considering.

      You should see the joints on some of the old Raleigh Sports: gaps in the brazing at the bottom bracket, etc., and they were durable as heck.

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    2. Yes Raleigh was notoriously sloppy at lugwork. The frames functioned in spite of the poor execution because the basic design was and is very sound. Most Sports that are still around have passed the test. Frame failure was very common.

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    3. Did you mean to write "uncommon" ?

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    4. Anon 1:36

      Common. Most common were seat stays that detached at the seatlug. Followed closely by joints that had no brass in them at all. Because the lugs were so long and strong Sports were ridden considerable periods when there was simply no brass in a joint. No brass joints were common in all models of Raleigh, right up to the Pro.

      Bicycles work when they are not perfect. Lugged brazed steel frames are very good at functioning when not perfect. Nottingham Raleighs were wonderful bikes. Good enough they can be enjoyed even knowing how shoddy they were.

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    5. > Bicycles work when they are not perfect.
      > Lugged brazed steel frames are very good at functioning when not perfect.

      Indeed I hope so. {looks at DIY bicycle's fork crown with apprehension}

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  2. These remind me so very much of the 1950s Bianchi folders in my friend's old bike shop, and of course the ROG Pony 3-speed I resurrected from a shed where it had leaned for 35 years. (A fun bike- it now belongs to a much-loved former neighbor as his everyday ride.) Those bikes all had steel cottered cranksets and rims, though.

    The DudeBikes look more carefully constructed and the colors are much nicer.
    Some people take their love of these things to an extreme. Franco Cacciatori climbs the Gavia pass on a one-speed Graziella is a good example.

    V, did you get to ride one of these at all?

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    1. Oh yes, I test rode them as well; sorry if I did not make that more clear.

      Someone needs to make a "Dudebike rides the Muckish Gap" video... (not me, mind you)

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  3. Why are the handlebars on the "shorter" configuration set at such an odd angle? That would hurt your wrists after a while.

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    1. I guess because the rider wanted it that way.

      One thing I will add is that as the bikes had been sitting in the shop for months over the winter untouched, the bolts had stiffened making the adjustments/fold more difficult than it would normally be. They do require some maintenance.

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    2. I routinely adjust bolts that have been sitting thirty to seventy years. Of course some of these adjustments take time and effort. The large majority do just what they were built to do.

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  4. I miss my German folder which I gave to my housemate when I left university. These bikes look very much like it and I want one! Thanks for the review, I was unaware of the brand.

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  5. I too was certain these were vintage folding bikes when I first saw them on your instagram. The saddle I think especially looks convincing. Any idea what it is? And is it comfortable?

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    1. The saddles are unmarked, though there may have been some identifying stamp on the underside that I did not see. It is a very wide saddle, and a bit too sprung for my liking, but otherwise nice.

      Funny enough, most of the vintage folding bikes I come across are equipped with mattress saddles and not ones like these.

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  6. Fun bikes, but I don't know if I could get past the name!

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  7. This is not a criticism of Dudebike specifically but something I have been wondering about small wheel bikes in general: How are you supposed to carry anything on that rack? It looks too low for panniers, and attaching a crate would surely affect the fold? Just seems like it's not a very useful accessory that only adds weight when built into the bike itself and not removable.

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    1. This is a good point, and probably why Brompton developed the quick release "front block" system and optimised their geometry for front carry.

      That said, my feeling is that most people who own these types of bikes do not fold them on a regular basis, so affixing a crate or basket on the rear rack does not present a problem.

      Also, I think they actually do make panniers for small wheeled bikes. At least I've seen some, which I'm pretty sure were stock models from not-too-obscure brands. A quick search yields some interesting results, so google it and have a look.

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  8. Did any one of the small crowd of excited women decide to purchase one of these? The bikes look rather simple and cheaply made, fine for parking lot rides or vacation activity where being that cramped on a bike doesn't much matter. The rear drop outs look dicey and I've never been a fan of bikes where the front fender stays go over the front axle. But then again I guess the point of these is that they fold.

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    1. I think only one was actually interested in potentially buying, the rest just curious to see. Alas the coaster brake was a dealbraker (a recurring theme that I think manufacturers should keep in mind if targeting the UK, IRL and US markets).

      These folders are indeed very simple, but in my opinion, decently-made. I have seen bikes that cost double and triple this pricetag with shoddier craftsmanship and assembly. If I needed a bike for the city, I'd buy one of these myself.

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    2. Which bikes are you referring to which cost double or triple and have worse craftsmanship and assembly? Were they bikes you reviewed? Were they folding? I'm surprised (and a bit skeptical) you'd buy this, as is, for your city bike.

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    3. I didn't mean folding bikes specifically. As far as bikes I've reviewed here, let's see... The Mozie comes to mind. Similar quality of build and assembly (in my opinion), but with a $1,300 pricetag.

      Can't really argue with skeptism, but yes I'd totally buy a Dudebike as a city bike. I like it.

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  9. The bikes are obviously fun, attractive and ridable, plus the added versatility of the fold. I have seen low end vintage folders, heavy as sin, sell for more than what this bike costs new. I hope Dudebike stays in business and promotes their brand better; I know lots of folks who would love these as an alternative to what is available at the LBS.

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  10. Adorable little bikes. I had something like this some time ago and still miss it!
    http://bootiebike.com/bridgestone/other_images/puch_pic_nic_bootiebike.jpg

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    1. So many lovely Puch folders roamed the streets when I lived in Vienna. Nothing special, but easy, practical, cute, compact and most had functional dynamo lighting despite being a good 30-40 years old.

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    2. Yep. The most functional thing on that rusty 35-years-leaned-against-a-tree Yugo folder I rescued was the Soubitez dynamo light system. Never had to do a thing to it.

      Dang, now I want another one. (grumble)

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    3. Makes me think the lights on these must not have been used very often.

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  11. Indeed these look very "familiar" I seem to recall somebody I knew having one that looked like these in the 70's, the rear rack may have been a little different but everything else is spot on. Trying to remember the brand . . . . AMF? Voit? Road Master? Oh heck! I don't recall, but one of those brands that's closer to a Huffy than a Schwinn. And yes, Heavy! Don't think I'd give ya more than a couple hundred bucks for one, But I am glad you had fun with it! ;-) Mas

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  12. I really like these cheerful, unpretentious little bikes! They remind me very much of the Finnish Jopo bikes. As a town or village runabout with the folding option if you want to bung it in the car to take somewhere else, a little bike like that will do the job and won't need a lot of maintenance. I like that it will fit anyone from child to pensioner. Put a back box on the carrier or a basket on the front and you've a perfectly nice little bike for nipping down the shops or taking a packed lunch to the beach. If our Governments would issue one of these to every household in the country, who knows, they may end up with a healthier population and save a few pennies in the long run. Thanks so much for finding and sharing these colourful little gems with us! :)

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    1. I agree, well stated. A bike for the masses, perhaps?

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  13. If one had the space it would be nice to have a pair just because they are so cute - also someone willing to take them out for a run every now and then :)

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    1. "They are not pets, you know!"

      -something that's been said to me about bikes on more than one occasion.

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    2. Well how callous - of course they are pets - and dear little pets at that - they look so playful and such fun.

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  14. I wonder if the Dudebikes (sheesh!) are better designed and better made than the older ones, which appeared (in both senses) under so many names. I owned one, made in Italy IIRC, and it was an awkward b... -- heavy, and sized so that, when the saddle was high enough for my moderate 5'10" height, so much weight was over the back wheel that it was hard to keep the front end down. "Hand made in Italy" would seem to indicate a better product.

    That said, my Dude ancestor was at least sturdy, if very heavy and awkward.

    My used, and modestly priced Dahon Hon Solo, with all its defects, is a far, far *far* better bicycle.

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  15. Interesting read! And I'm surprised to find there's actually a distributor for Dudebike in Singapore!

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  16. It's a kind of bike I could buy: reasonable price, simple and probably not apt to be stolen.

    L.

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  17. To cure myself of Brompton envy, (I couldn't justify the spend), I built the "Anti-Brompton" Based on a £10 Dawes Kingpin from Gumtree only the frame SA 3 speed, spokes rack sidestand and brake callipers remain, the rest now Alloyised from trawling EBay. Total spend about £160 as I had some bits like chainset and pedals left over from past projects

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjnxjryseLo

    Apologies for the deafening birdsong.

    Just about to fit mudguards to complete it. Weight is 23.5 lb and riding position is not compromised like on some folders, (I'm 5ft 10). I wanted narrow tyres and rims, which took a bit of tracking down but the ride is a bit harsh so may try some wider rubber. I'm still playing with gearing and may go for twin sprockets and supplementary derailleur, possibly a granny ring to change manually in "emergency hill situations" I live in Devon.

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