In The (Green) Zone: Trying Out A Local Company's Fun Little Folding Bike

Who says Houston is a completely car-dominated city?

Scratch that. If anyone tells you it isn't, they're a liar.

And yet Houston is home to companies like Green Zone Bikes, manufacturers and purveyors of nifty little folding bikes like the one they recently loaned us for a trial.

Made of steel alloy and rolling on 20" wheels, their single-seat seven-speed is very lightweight and zippy when tooling around downtown. (We rode it from our office to the Preston Street county admin building, where we cast our feeble, futile early vote a couple of weeks ago.) Compared to Sweet Jones, the hulking Panzer of a one-speed cruiser I usually ride, the Green Zone bike felt like pedaling air, or riding a unicycle.

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Even for a mechanical moron like myself, folding it up is fairly intuitive and easily accomplished. It's a great bike for people who are going to ride on smooth surfaces and in increments of two miles or less. If you are a dorm resident with limited space, or if you ride the bus or train, and office fairly nearby, it's a great ride, and since you can carry it inside, you don't have to worry about theft. Likewise if you're one of the RV tribe - you and your whole family can stow a whole squadron of these away aboard your Winnebago pretty easily. After stowing them in their custom-built bag, you could also check them on your flight or take them on a cruise.

And they seem ideal for pub crawl rides. If you get a little too overserved to pedal, you could arrange for a ride, fold up your bike and throw it in the trunk. Or in the slightly less likely event that you score with a member of the opposite sex, you don't have to leave your bike locked up at the ice house, even if your new friend drives a Smart Car!

On the down side, these bikes don't do so well for guys like me - intermediate distance commuters who favor off-road ninja routes.

On Sweet Jones, I ride a combination of dirt trails, bike trails, bike lanes, sidewalks, and rutted "roads" like Center Street off Washington, a disgrace of a thoroughfare that would shame the Public Works Department of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I preemptively excised the more rugged stretches of that journey after glancing at this relatively frail bike. What's more, I was still kind of uncomfortable after about three miles - the saddle could use a little more padding.

That said, my style of riding is not what these bikes are designed for, and the price is really, really nice: $249 for the steel alloy model and a mere $159 for the steel-frame model. Each comes with a free carrying case, while the shipping cost of $39 can be shaved down to $15 if you are willing to drive out to the West Belt and pick them up.

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