Saturday, December 1, 2007

*TIKIT ON TRIAL Part 1 of 3: Is it a trusty commuting companion?

Reproduced from the Bike Friday blog

'Patience', one of two lions guarding the the Beaux-arts building of the NY Public Library, says it's only a matter of time before folders may cross its threshold ...
The Green Building logo proudly etched on the doors of 7 World Trade Center where, despite assurances, my unfolded bicycle was roundly rejected - remember, if the bike folds, fold it, if it doesn't - get one that does. 
"The tikit experiment is terrific. What a fantastic baseline to judge accessibility by. I've never heard of anyone doing a survey like this - people have counted bike racks but not access to safe storage. A bit of Michael Moore to rally round. It gives me encouragement to try the same thing in Ithaca - where enlightened talk is cheap." -Andrejs O, BF Club of Ithaca.

"I just watched the office building clips. I think taken as a whole they give a nice sense that the only "issues" with riding a bike to work are mostly issues in one's own head. That BMW building bike parking ... most impressive. In NYC there'd still be a market for folding bikes because so many of us have small apartments (i.e. no bike garage at home)." - Mark P.

"I work in Midtown and the CFO threatened to fire me if I brought my covered Brompton into the office. Go figure ..." - Matt 


Around the block and past the guards with a tikit

Can the tikit really be, as Bike Friday co-founder Alan Scholz calls it, "a human amplifier" - a dependable transportation adjunct to modern urban commuting? Only if it is accepted as readily as a baby stroller or french horn in office buildings, residential apartments, shops, museums, galleries, and on public transport - in peak hour. The Galfromdownunder decided to put it to the test in the mother of all cities - New York.



PHOTO GALLERY Some highlights of the experiment

MOVIE CLIPS View complete set

Part 1: Why the tikit - David Lam, bfold.com - Bike Friday NY dealer David Lam of bfold.com gives a balanced view of when he chooses to ride a tikit. This interview was taken prior to this trial.

Part 2: Designing the trial - David Lam - David Lam discusses the design of a trial and the three levels of security guard suspicion.

Part 3: Why you need to fold that bike! My experience with attempting to take an unfolded Friday into the 7 World Trade Center shows why a folding bike is a no-brainer for commuting. We repeated the experiment with the tikitTM later (see part 6).

Part 4: Lunching with the tikit Folding, bagging and lunching with the tikit at a Brooklyn NY diner on a 5bbc.org ride. No-one bat an eyelid! Thanks to Jeff Gilbert for filming with my camera, even if he did tilt it on its side and I'm too busy right now to work out how to turn the clip 90 degrees ...)

Part 5: Shopping and schlepping with the tikit - Some friendly stores to start - purveyers of organic potions and micro-treats, Origins and 3tarts respectively. Now for Tiffany's and the Lamborghini dealership ...

Part 6 - THE RESULTS: The buildings we tried to take the tikit into - documentary clips and summary

RELATED LINKS

Run off the rails Why train commuters need a tikit to ride, 2007

NYT building forgot the bike parking the battle for bike parking in NYC, 2007




ALMOST 20 YEARS ago The Scholz Bros conceived of "a trusty traveling companion" that could take you around the block or around the world, inspired by Robinson Crusoe's legendary right hand man. In 2007, they were inspired by less romantic pragmatisms: global oil dependency, traffic congestion, environmental concerns and "the last mile problem". Enter the tikit, a companion to take you around the block and inside of it as well - without being rejected by building security, banished to a bike rack or generally treated like a second class citizen.

I decided to put the tikit to the test in NYC - office buildings, restaurants, stores (chichiand otherwise), museums, art galleries, and on public transport. I asked Bike Friday Club of NY and 5bbc members and friends living in the area to "make an appointment" with me in order to test their office buildings - the main focus of this experiment. There is no point owning a folding bike if you cannot take it all the way, from door to desk, or at least door to freight elevator and secure storage.

I wanted to see how building policy aligns with the actual action security guards take. 'No bikes allowed' might be met with no hassle, 'folding bikes allowed' might be met with an obstruction, depending on the person behind the desk.

LAST MILE PROBLEM In personal transit terms, it's the problem of getting from your house to your bus or train stop, and from there to the office and vice versa - twice a day, when it's just that little too far to walk. - Alan Scholz



DESIGNING THE tikit TRIAL

There are many variables in an experiment like this - folded size, bagged or unbagged, how you're dressed, if being a recognizable employee grants you automatic entry, and beyond that, gender, occupational and even racial profiling. I soon discovered that my physical size also might have mattered - lugging a package one-third the size of me is more susceptible to being stopped than if the package is one fifth your size.

"My Jamaican friend and I were treated like the homeless because we ride bikes," said a Chinese customer.

I decided to consult with the very sharp Bike Friday NY dealer David Lam of bfold.com, to help me design a simple trial. Watch the movies of David talking about the trial in the box above.

There are three levels of security, said David.

1. They ignore you - because you have it bagged and it's small enough to let pass. Bingo! Until the day a new security Nazi takes over and needs to prove a point.

2. They ask you what it is and believe you when you say "it's a French horn". Bingo! Except you're lying. "Presentation materials" is also a good one - especially if you work in the fitness industry.

3. They ask you to open it. You say, "April Fool, erm..." and pour on the charm in the same way you do when in danger of getting a speeding ticket.



OFFICE BUILDINGS WITH SECURITY: December 2007 trial
Pictured left: 7 World Trade Center. I re-tested this building in this trial with a folded, concealed tikit, and was successful, with provisios. See video on the buildings results page.

Method: For the 11 buildings tested, I dressed respectably, as if for the office, stashing my helmet out of sight some of the time, other times attaching it to my backpack. I took the bike in folded and bagged. I carried it in where the places looked tougher and stuffier, feeling that wheeling a package in was a dead giveaway ("It's my rolling French Horn/wheelchair didn't quite work"). Security guards don't appreciate being filmed, so I used discretion and hid the camera under my black fluffy Ruthy Kanagy knitted poncho ("Is that Prada?" - a bystander). I purposely didn't take a bike lock with me - if I couldn't take it inside, I was going to gather my toys and go home. So there!

Outcome and discussion: If I got to the elevator (success), I completed the trial by taking it up to the office carpeted cubicle of my insider. In some cases I then returned to the security desk and asked the guards if the bike was not bagged, would it still have been allowed in? On no occasion did they change their minds, although some shook their heads and said that MAYBE, depending on the day and the guard, I'd be directed to the pavement. Others joked, "Is that a serious weapon you have under there?', "I can see it's a bicycle, it's small, it's covered, it's no big deal." Most were unclear about whether folding bikes were officially allowed in the building, which is why they waved me through.

On the two and a half occasions when I was rejected (Beaux Arts Public Library and Price Waterhouse Cooper buildings) I asked why - if folded size is the problem, or if just being a bicycle is the problem? The answer was always "bikes aren't allowed by the building management" upon which childless yours truly launched into a friendly tirade about it being my personal baby stroller and I'm the baby ...

The guards who rejected me were of the resounding opinion that "no one steals bikes", "it's perfectly safe locked up out the front", "a bike belongs outside", "no one rides a bike to an office" and "a baby doesn't ride a bicycle and an adult doesn't ride in a stroller." (I can't quite figure that last one out).

One variable we didn't think about was physical size - of me, not the bicycle - in relationship to the bicycle. In the Price Waterhouse Cooper rejection, my 6 feet tall insider felt that he could easily sling the bag over his shoulder and not raise any concerns.

This makes me wonder what the function of security is anyway - to red alert when someone's wearing a turban or to methodically check what's going past the turnstiles? If you were that serious about security you'd be checking every package that came past the turnstiles, not matter how familiar that employee is. I'm still amazed at how my bicycle pump never raises hackles - but I'm glad.



STORES AND RESTAURANTS
Small stores proved fairly easy, as you can see from the Part 5 Shopping 'n' Schlepping clip. I did not make an effort to cover the bike with the showercap. All allowed the bike in folded, marveling at the ingenuity of it. I was even allowed in the swank, very white and pristine Conran shop amonth earlier with my bigger, hot rod pink Pro Petite folded and unbagged, as well as a busy Gold Street Diner in the Financial District, and a Chinatown hole in the wall. In these establishments, proprietors seem content if you simply made the bike smaller. In some cool gadgetry stores like Muji, the tikit blended nicely with the other hi-tech merchandise on offer. Gigino's, an upscale Italian restaurant in the Financial District, stashed it in their cloak closet without batting an eyelid.

Bigger stores like MACY's and BLOOMINGDALES and the permanently jammed Century 21 clothing closeout emporium meant having to tote it with you and compete with shoppers for aisle rights, but no more than someone with a baby stroller. Circuit City told me "people bring all kinds of things in here, like dogs ...". They welcome you because you're a paying customer - unlike in office buildings. In truth, toting a folding bike is a hassle when you have shopping to do, the ability to cloak it would be nicer.

Now to brace myself for Tiffany's ...

GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS

You spend a lot of time in these places - no place for a bicycle left outside on its own at the mercy of thieve. Will they let me hand it over to be cloaked?

To target: MOMA, The Met, Cooper Hewitt, Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim, The Whitney ...

Several Chelsea galleries didn't bat an eyelid, where the bike looked as bizarre as some of their exhibits ...

PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Trains (including the subway) and Ferries are not an issue if the bike is folded and bagged during peak hour, although you may get dirty looks/get sued by some someone objecting to your pedal laddering their pantyhose. Mind your handlebars! Off-peak, most bikes can be taken onboard unfolded. Again, you're not taking up valuable seat or aisle space when you ride a folding bike. AMTRAK allows folding bikes at all times.

Buses are a good test - I will attempt to take it on board rather than on the bus's front rack.

Airplanes - a tikit packs even faster into a suitcase just like a Bike Friday should. No worries there!



SUPERMARKETS AND GROCERY STORES
I've already duplicated Hanna Scholz's original dance with a shopping cart when thetikit was first launched. As you can see in this Chelsea grocery store, the only problem is finding a space for the groceries. As in Department stores, you don't want to leave it at the door as someone could wheel it away. Then they'd wonder what on earth to do with it ...

CINEMAS, CONCERTS, NIGHTCLUBS
These are of particular interest to me, as you cannot see the bike if locked up outside, and, like a large museum or gallery, you are away from it for a long time. A cinema could well prove to be a problem for folding bikes - where to stow it?

Nightclubs? I'd expect some very strange looks by the velvet rope nazis ...




... AND BEYOND

Why a tikit as opposed to any other folding bike? As NY tikit agent David Lam says, if you only have room for one bike, and commuting is its main function, a tikit will take you farther and faster on weekends. It's the second part of "the 5-second fold with the famous Friday ride". My 45-mile ride with the 5bbc proves the point, as does Alan Scholz riding it on Desert Camp '07 and thatnutty customer off-roading in Cambodia ... and especially now you can get more gears.




LAB REGIONAL DIRECTOR JOHN S ALLEN says ...

This experiment is a really cool idea. Bike theft is a major concern in cities, and there is no good answer except to be able to take the bike into a secured area. Theft is one of the main reasons the Dutch ride crappy bikes and carry around huge chains to lock them.

You might also include the issue of taking bicycles on public transportation - same video or a different one. I note that folding bikes are permitted at all hours on all commuter rail lines in the Boston area, if folded and even if not bagged. Other bikes are allowed except for peak-hour peak-direction travel. I don't know what the rules are on NYC transit systems, though I have taken my Raleigh Twenty on the NYC subway. (I did on one occasion almost get permanently jammed into a turnstile along with it -- now, that would make entertaining video - but such problems occur only with older stations. The Americans with Disabilities Act, with wider gates and elevators in stations, has probably helped more people with bicycles, baby strollers etc. than people in wheelchairs.) A bagged folding bike can of course go anywhere anytime as a common piece of luggage.

AT THE END OF THE WORKING DAY ...
Why would you bother schlepping a folding bike to an office, nightclub, museum or the Macy's 3-day sale when you can take the train, bus or cab? NYC is fortunate to be on a small, compact island with an integrated mass transit system. You can get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time. However, not all cities and towns are as advantaged. A piece of personal transportation is still of benefit to people who live in the outer boroughs, for whom there is 'the last mile problem.'

And anyone who has experienced the thrill of worming your way through traffic when everything is at a standstill, of saving $2.00 in metro fees or $10 in a cab every time you want to go more than a few blocks (it adds up), of spending less time in the gym and crowded subways and more time outside, of keeping your wits sharp and your carbon footprint smaller, of instantly morphing into a pedestrian with a rolling package when things get tricky - will understand why the tikit, "a human amplifer", was invented - to be your trusty commuting companion.

PUT YOUR BUILDING ON TRIAL!
If you work in a secure building that would be ideal for my trial, and would like to help, it should only take 5 minutes of your time.

I would simply make an "appointment" to see you at your convenience, and arrive at the door with the bike folded. Security would buzz you to let me in, and if I make it to the elevator, the experiment is complete. Alternatively you can meet me at the bottom and take it up yourself, however if the building staff know you, it is not as good a trial.


Contact me lynettec@bikefriday.com, 541-513-7711, until December 18. I may return in 2008 to do more testing. Thanking you in advance - Lynette Chiang

Pictured: The JP Morgan Chase building in NY's Financial District: No problem, especially if you make like a hedge fund manageress ...

THIS ARTICLE WILL BE UPDATED AS THE TRIAL PROGRESSES.

RELATED LINKS

The tikit World's Fast Folder with the famous Friday Ride

Bike Friday in NY Little wheels in the Big Apple

Bike Friday Expanded Mission Why the tikit, why now

Monday to Friday on a Friday Commuting made easy

Car-free and carefree on a Friday Kicking it up a notch!

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