As longtime readers may remember, I’m a big fan of Bike Friday, the maker of 20-inch-wheel folding bikes that fit in a Samsonite suitcase for easy, surcharge-free airline travel. When Hanz and Alan Scholz developed Bike Fridays in the early 1990s it revolutionized the way cyclists traveled with their bikes. No more unfair airline fees (as much as $150 per bike roundtrip), no bulky bike boxes to cram into tiny rental cars when you reached your destination.
But some cyclists didn’t like the Bike Friday design. Too cute by half, real riders thought. With its small wheels and lack of a top tube, a BF looked like a cross between a BMX bike and a mixte. It didn’t matter to those riders that the result rode as well as a conventional bike.
So the cycling industry kept trying to create a travel bike that fit in a suitcase but looked like a standard road bike. S&S Couplers came first. They enabled a standard frame to be separated in two. But the stainless steel couplers add a few ounces to the bike and to some eyes are visually obtrusive.
Now from the fertile mind of Tom Ritchey we have the BreakAway system that connects the two halves of the frame ingeniously. It uses two seatpost binder bolts so the seatpost serves as a coupler, and a small circular clamp on the down tube just forward of the bottom bracket. Ritchey says this system adds less than 100 grams to the frame.
I was intrigued by the design when I saw it at Interbike in 2004 and bought a BreakAway when my hometown shop, Cascade Bicycles in Montrose, Colorado, received three. Because I was driving across the state to Boulder for a race and then flying to Ohio, I needed a travel bike that was functional for competition as well as for training. Down the road, I could envision similar trips.
I’ve now ridden the BreakAway about 50 hours, raced on it in individual and team time trials, and offered it up to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers on the Denver/Cleveland flight. It performed nearly flawlessly in all situations.
The BreakAway is easy to disassemble. Remove the wheels, undo the cable splitters and loosen the two seatpost bolts. Take off the down-tube collar, remove the seatpost and the bike separates into two parts. To fit properly in the carrying case, Ritchey recommends removing the handlebar and front brake.
I packed the bike in Ritchey’s soft-sided case. It fit easily thanks to the instruction manual and illustrated guide on the website. But the pliant case didn’t inspire me with confidence even though Tom Ritchey and his son reportedly have experienced no bike damage in several years of traveling.
Another potential problem with the soft case: it’s slightly larger (9x26x29 inches) than most airlines will accept without an additional charge. Most airlines have a maximum of 62 combined inches for length, width and thickness and the Ritchey case totals 64 inches. However, the difference isn’t noticeable and it’s doubtful that even the most obsessive check-in person would measure the container.
Not wanting to risk anything, I packed the bike in a hard case made by S&S Couplers. it’s considerably sturdier than the Ritchey case but slightly smaller (10x26x26) necessitating two additional packing steps: deflating the tires and removing the rear derailleur. Neither was a problem but it did extend the time needed to rebuild the bike when I arrived in Ohio. However, the added security of the hard case more than made up for the inconvenience. After the flight the case was battered and scuffed, but the bike was unscathed.
At some point I may summon the courage to take the BreakAway in its soft case. But the currently pristine frame will have to get a few more random scratches before I take the leap of faith.
One caution: it’s easy to kink the cables when They’re disconnected, which can cause sluggish shifting. Pack them carefully so they stay straight.
On the road, the bike rides and performs just like a high-quality road bike. Performance was indistinguishable from other top-end steel frames with carbon forks. Ritchey’s standard steel frames are renowned for their lively ride and workhorse durability in all conditions. The BreakAway continues this tradition. I couldn’t detect any compromise in ride or handling due to the travel features.
A word about the Ritchey wheels: The rims have a slight aero profile and the rear wheel features a Zero System hub so it can be built without dish to maximize strength. The wheels performed flawlessly and didn’t need truing after all my riding and traveling. Ritchey’s Race Slick Pro tires (700x23C) showed no signs of wear after nearly 1,000 miles and suffered no punctures.
One nit to pick: The Ritchey PRO Road Vector Groove saddle was miserably uncomfortable, at least to this tester’s tush. I replaced it with my current favorite, a Fizik Arione.
The bike is completely raceworthy. Before the Ohio flight, I stopped in Boulder to help with a time trial promoted by my team (Boulder Masters Cycling Team). I held riders for their starts before slipping away long enough to ride the individual and team TTs.
Equipped with VisionTech mini aerobars, the Ritchey was a perfectly acceptable time trial machine although it probably cost me some seconds due to the lack of a disk wheel and extreme aero position. I believe it would perform equally well in criteriums, road races or competitive centuries.
Is the BreakAway better than a Bike Friday? Both have their advantages. The Ritchey is definitely the better choice if you want to ride a standard road bike and are willing to accept a bit more build and packing time. It requires some mechanical ability to reinstall the front brake and handlebar.
Bike Friday packs faster and easier and travels safely in a rigid Samsonite suitcase. It also comes in larger sizes than the Ritchey. But it looks unusual with its small wheels and open frame, and some riders report difficulty riding no-hands.
I foresee using both bikes on my travels, depending on the kind of riding I have planned.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.