Both of these bicycles are mid-sized folders. They fold small enough to go into a suitcase (with some work) or into the trunk of a car or a large duffle bag (with little work). Neither will fold to fit under your desk at work -- for something that small you really need a Brompton or other very small folder. They ride great though and can perform as well as most full sized bicycles, something that most folding bikes can't say.
The New World Tourist was designed to fit into a Sampsonite 29" suitcase. It has a main frame tube which is sloping. The rear triangle is hinged behid the bottom bracket. The hinge is angled so that the rear wheel comes up alongside the primary tube when folded instead of under it. When unfolded the rear triangle is held in place by a quick release behind the seat mast. The same quick release holds the seat mast in place. By turning the fork sideways and folding the rear triangle and seat mast down the frame fits perfectly into a 29" suitcase with the rear wheel inserted.
Cable routing is secondary to the folded size, so the cable routing on Bike Fridays is pretty bad. The cables run along the bottom of the main tube and then make a right angle turn to go down along the seat tube. Under the bottom bracket they make another right angle turn to head to the derailleurs and rear brake. These turns add a lot of cable friction. On my own Bike Friday I used Travel Agents (the pulleys in the picture to the left) to reduce this friction. Some members of the Bike Friday yak list have had problems with water getting into the cable housing loops that go under the bottom bracket. This increases friction and can result in the cable housing rusting.
The bottom bracket to rear dropout distance changes on the Bike Friday as you fold the bike. This makes it impossible to use for a fixed gear and less than ideal to use for a single speed or hub gear bike.
The Bike Friday is typically sold with a rear derailleur and SRAM DualDrive or 3x7 hub. This allows for 21-27 gears and wide range gearing.
The Bike Friday has brazeons for 3 water bottles (top and bottom of the main tube and behind the seat tube) and front and rear racks.
The Bike Friday uses standard components except for the headset (a rare 1 1/4" threaded headset) and stem. The rear hub spacing is 135mm. The seatpost on my Bike Friday is 28.6mm and standard MTB length.
The Swift Folder was designed to be simple, inexpensive, and to fold quickly. The frame consists of a level main tube that is located about 22" above the ground. Folding consists of removing the seatpost and swinging the rear triangle under the main frame. You insert the seatpost again to lock the wheel in place.
The Swift Folder routes the cables along the main tube and then down the rear triangle to the hub. The cable routing is very similar to a top tube routed mountain bike and has no severe bends to introduce friction. Cables are held in place with zip ties so they can freely move during the folding process. Even when the bike is folded the cables keep pretty gentle curves.
The bottom bracket is part of the folding rear triangle and so the bottom bracket to dropout distance never changes. The frame uses track/BMX dropouts and works great with fixed gear, single speed, or hub gear applications.
Swift Folders only come in flat black. I think that this is great for urban and folding applications...they don't look flashy and you don't have to worry about the paint when packing the bike.
The Swift Folder is typically sold as a hub gear or single speed bicycle, although rear derailleurs are an option.
The Swift folder fork has brazeons for fenders. There are no other brazeons on the bike. The rear dropouts have plenty of extra metal to drill out and tap for a rear rack or rear fenders. Peter at Swift Folder will do this for you if you don't want to do it yourself. I always wear a Camelbak on long rides with my Swift Folder.
The Swift Folder uses standard bicycle components except for the seatpost and stem riser (but both are included with the frame and easy to manufacture). The headset is a standard 1" threadless headset and the rear hub spacing is 130mm. The seatpost is 28.6mm but much much longer than a normal seatpost. The seatpost that came with my bike was made by sticking a normal 25.4mm seatpost into a long piece of 1" ID, 1 1/8" OD nickel plated steel. The inner seatpost is held in position with a pin. The stem riser is simply 1" ID, 1 1/8" OD nickel plated steel tubing with a slot and seatpost clamp on the bottom make it clamp over the steerer tube. A 1 1/8" threadless stem is clamped onto this tube. Swift Folder offers titanium seatposts and stem risers to trim some weight from the bicycle.
Riding and Sizing
I find that both bikes ride very well. I ride a wide variety of bikes though and don't consider myself to be very picky about handling. I've done long rides on both bicycles with no fit issues.
I believe that Swift Folders only come in one size. The stem and seatpost heights are very adjustable though, so that one size can fit most people. The Bike Friday NWT comes in more sizes and is custom fit.
My Swift Folder and Bike Friday weigh to within a pound of each other when setup with fenders and no racks. The Swift Folder has a Sachs Super 7 hub and the Bike Friday has front and rear derailleurs. The Bike Friday has the added weight of a generator hub. I expect that the Swift Folder frame weighs about a pound more than my Bike Friday frame. Both bikes are about 3-4lbs heavier than my old Trek lugged road bike which is equipped with similar components to the Bike Friday. Bike Friday makes lighter models than the NWT for people who don't plan to do fully loaded touring with it.
Swift Folder Swift Folder cables Bike Friday Bike Friday cables The Swift Folder is easier and faster to quick fold than the Bike Friday. On the Bike Friday I often need to check to make sure that the cables routed under the bottom bracket don't snag on anything and stay routed properly. On the Swift Folder I never have cable problems when folding or unfolding. The Swift Folder keeps it's folded position better. The Bike Friday does quick fold a little bit smaller, but both will easily fit into a car trunk when quick folded. Racks increase the quick folded size on both bicycles so I recommend using a large seatpost bag such as a Carradice Camper.
I use a Dahon DoublePlay duffle bag with both of these bikes. It is handy for putting the bike onto a train or bus for travel.
Packing the Swift Folder
The Bike Friday is easier and faster to pack for suitcase travel. To fit the Swift Folder into a 29" Sampsonite suitcase (my preference for airplane travel because they are inexpensive and widely available) you need to disassemble the frame at the hinge and remove the fork. I use a cartridge bearing threadless headset to make fork removal easier and no-mess. The longest parts of packing either frame for me are juggling with accessories (fenders and racks) and getting everything to fit properly into the suitcase.
It takes me about 30 minutes to pack the Bike Friday and 45 to pack the Swift Folder. I have only packed each one a handful of times so both times would probably increase with practice.
The Swift Folder can be a very inexpensive bicycle. The frame is sold as a frameset and there are dealers which sell it with used components. Either method will allow you to get a bike for not much more than $500. I believe that completely new bicycles with new components and a hub gear run about $700. There is no stock configuration, so you can spec everything.
The Bike Friday New World Tourist is only sold as a complete bicycle. You can custom order parts or go with one of their stock configurations. Prices start at about $1000 for a complete bicycle. There have been many more Bike Fridays sold than Swift Folders so it isn't too hard to find a Bike Friday for sale used. The used prices are pretty high too though.
Here is the hard part -- which would I buy? I've bought both and can think of different applications where I would choose each one.
Here are applications where I would pick the Swift Folder:
Urban Riding - Internal gear hubs are great for urban riding because of their simplicity and reliability. The Swift Folder draws little attention and can be folded quickly to fit into the corner or a resturant or your living room. Fixed Gear/Single Speed use - The integrated rear triangle works great for these applications. Fixed gear bikes are nice for travel... only one cable to worry about and simplified packing. Tinkerers - The Swift Folder is a great deal as a frameset and can easily be built to meet your needs.
Here are applications where I would pick the Bike Friday:
Loaded Touring - The Bike Friday works better with derailleur setups and packs more easily for airplane travel. Bike Friday makes a variety of racks, trailers, and accessories to make the Bike Friday a great loaded touring bike. Airline Travel - It is quicker to pack the Bike Friday. Fast Club Rides - The Bike Friday works better with derailleurs and is a little bit lighter. I mostly use a folding bike for airline travel so the Bike Friday gets more use from me.
PBW Bicycles makes very nice looking folding bikes that have many of the best aspects of both Bike Fridays and Swift Folders. They have a unified rear triangle which makes them work with a wider variety of drivetrains than the Bike Friday. They are custom built for the rider and appear to quickfold well too. If I were buying a high end folding bicycle new I'd start by looking at PBW.
S&S Machine makes couplers that can be built into most steel or Ti frame designs and retrofit into many of them. Retrofit costs start at about $400 and the suitcases cost about $200-$300. S&S bikes ride exactly like a bike without the couplers except that the couplers add about 8oz of weight. They take longer to pack than a Bike Friday and don't quickfold at all. The packed bicycle is almost always small enough to fly without any oversize charges though.
I have a S&S Coupled Bridgestone XO-1 and have flown with it a few times. It is a great bike and I love the couplers. I don't often travel with it though. The bike has a fancy paint job and I worry about chipping it. It takes me longer to pack. The XO-1 cost much more than either of my folding bikes and that makes me nervous when flying.
The Airnimal is a go-fast folding bicycle. It uses 520mm (24") wheels which ride more like the larger wheels that cyclists are used to but don't have the tire selection of the 406mm wheels used by the Bike Friday, Swift Folder, or PBW bikes. The bike has rear suspension and is designed to be packable more than foldable. It looks like interested competition for S&S couplers.
Reaction: 1. Well-written review with balance of pros and cons for each of the folders. 2. Confirms the bike friday advantage of the best travel bike. 3. Did not include the Tikit. 4. I am glad to be the Malaysian Bike Friday dealer.