Sunday, April 20, 2008

Folding Bike Jedi Mind Tricks

The folks at Bike Friday say this about the stealth capabilities of their commuter-oriented folding bike the Tikit:
"The bus driver or office building manager will never know it's not a French horn."
While I don't own a Tikit, I do have a similarly compact folding bike, the Dahon D3. Like my Tikit owning friends, I've learned the value of a bit of strategic misdirection. Once the proper techniques are mastered, a folding bike does not have to be left outside, prey to the scum and villainy of the street with only a u-lock for protection. Your bike can stay with you, handy as a general purpose droid, ready for the next adventure. The folder can go with you into the cantina, cloaked to wait patiently under the table. A folding bike can speed with you in the big transport units of the city, provided of course, that you can get past the storm troopers at the door.

Folding bikes exist in two worlds. Fully deployed as a bicycle, this small machine is bright, quick and clever. It is often the object of comment and question. But in its folded state, the machine endeavors to be ignored or at least misconstrued. Some buildings and transportation systems are prejudiced against bicycles and they have rules made by bureaucrats who fear grease or tracked in dirt or maybe just machines they do not understand. The gatekeepers at the doorways did not make the rules and have no power to change them. The doorway is not the place to debate the fairness of the world. Doorways exist to be passed through quickly, with a minimum of fuss.

This is where a bit of nylon and Jedi skills come in handy. You don't have to make the gatekeeper think your bike is a French horn, you only have to make him not think about it or at least not think that your bundle is a bike.

A thin bag of nylon weighs only a few ounces and folds into a perfectly portable package. Unfurled it can cloak the entire machine in a layer of ambiguity. The bike is no longer a bike, it's a sack of something. Cloak your machine before the encounter and if you have a helmet for gosh sakes have the sense to hide it.

Step boldly through the door. Your bundle is so minor, so incidental you can't imagine why it would be questioned. You don't have to say anything about the bundle. Let the storm trooper work out his own scenario. It's often handy to ask your would-be interrogator some minor question about the bus route or the nearest coffee shop while thinking, "Move along, please. There's nothing to see here. These aren't the droids you're looking for..."

Nineteen times out of twenty you'll pass by without incident. If you get an unusually persistent inquisitor the phrase "folding exercise machine" may prove handy.


Anonymous said...


Bicycles are officially banned at the front entrance of my workplace; we're only allowed in through the back alleyway which often requires navigating through a group of unsavory porch-dwellers, then up two flights of stairs and through three security doors to the bike parking area.

Instead, I play a little game of sleight-of-hand. My Brompton, if partially folded, but with my luggage still left onboard, looks an awful lot like one of those travelers luggage carts. I hide my helmet and confidently stroll through the lobby with nary a second glance from the gatekeepers. Use the Force Luke!

The other day I wrote a little piece about my multi-modal commute if anyone's interested:

Commute Story


Jim said...

Obi-Kent: Bikers at the world's largest online retailer are not allowed to bring them in the building (getting them past the guard at the front is one of the bigger challenges). However, some people used the Jedi (Folding) Bike Trick to get their Air Glides in and stowed discreetly in their offices.

The alternative was a locked bike cage in the covered parking garage.

Marrock said...

Last time I had any trouble with my bike being inside I just told them "Ok, I'll park it outside depsite the fact you have no bike racks or any sort of protected parking arrangement, and when something happens to my bike both me and my lawyer will hold you responsible"

Never had any more trouble after that, but that's just me, YMMV.

Vik said...

I've been lucky so far in Calgary - my Tikit has come in with me every where I go without being hassled. I did cover it once to take it into a pub, but I probably didn't have to.

Frankly not having to lock my bike outside is one of the big benefits of owning a folder.

Anonymous said...

Your powers are weak, old man.

Anonymous said...

One of the few good things about transit in LA: they accept folding bikes on buses and trains any time, even rush hour!

There are also bike racks on busesas in most other places.

nollij said...

One of my favorite of your blog entries Kent.. I've used the Jedi mind trick many times, and it's particularly good with folding bicycles. I did it SANS nylon bag on my trip to Portland OR for NAHBS in February. I told them it was a folding cart and they bought it (barely). Rolled it up to the gate of the plane and gate checked it. Did that twice, brought it onto the train, the bus and in everywhere... misdirection is key, but so is the confident attitude. "You don't need to see his papers. These aren't the droids you're looking for. He can go about his business. Move along, move along." The Nylon bag is a big help though... a formless bag screams bicycle even less than a jumble of wheels, handlebars, pedals & tubing.

To Marrock, your approach will work sometimes if they're bluffing, but with obstinate guards or the strong minded (jedi mind tricks only work on the weak minded), they will turn you away none-the-less. Better the subterfuge & stealth than the frontal attack!

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John said...

I absolutely love how these folding bikes are helping to cut down on pollution!

Jason Crane | said...

But with the blast shield down I can't even see! How am I supposed to ride?

I'm about to take my Dahon all over the continent and will definitely be using its bag to evade the watchful eyes of stormtroopers.

Thanks, Kent.

Jason Crane