Folding bikes, a part of the jigsaw in integrating public transit to increase the range and efficacy of a daily commute.

Mixing and matching the modes of transport will extend the range of your wheels.

There are often times when distances are just too great for a reliable, daily bicycle commute. Mix and matching modes of transport by hopping on a bus, train or even a ferry can make more sense, particularly if there’s a need to bypass the suburban sprawl.

According to Bikes Belong, the average American commute is fifteen miles each way, with less than a third being up to 5 miles. While a 30 mile round trip isn’t always practical for even a fit cyclist, combining another mode of transport makes it much more feasible.

Secure bicycle parking outside a train station.

“The future of transport is multi-modal, with people using a combination of rail, bus, bike, foot — and car – to get around,” stated Joshua Hon, Tern vice-president, one of the more significant manufacturers of folding bicycles. “And bikes that are portable, that link the different modes together, will be an integral part of that future.”

City planners are increasingly working the transport of bicycles into the mass transit equation; including more stowage space within trains and the likes of pull-down bike racks on urban buses. The latter has proved particularly popular in Northern America, where the urban sprawl tends to span a longer distance and the roads themselves are wider. In Los Angeles, for instance, a metropolis hardly known for its bike friendliness, the Big Blue Bus will shuttle you and your bicycle from the downtown railway station to the mellow coast-side cycle paths of Santa Monica for just a couple of dollars.  The city of Chicago  has similar bike-friendly provisions.

Additionally, transporting your bicycle on public transport isn’t always as straightforward as it might be. Regulations vary from country to country – considerations include how much a bike might cost, how many bicycles can be accommodated on the bus or train, and whether they’re allowed on board during rush hour. Subways and commuter rail networks can have their restrictions too.

Space will always be a conundrum, so improved parking at bus and railway stations, as seen in the Netherlands, is key to effective multi-modal transportation too. With 40% of train travellers arriving with bicycles, Amsterdam Central station even as a four story bicycle parking facility. Utrecht, with the largest train station in the country, will soon have provision for 23,000 bicycle parking spots. Similarly, bike sharing schemes, as are popular in London , where 17 million journeys have been made since the scheme’s introduction in 2010, also play an important role in popularising multi-modal transport.

In the meantime, commuting on a folding bike will circumvent these urban, space-driven issues, avoiding the need to decipher sometimes complicated restrictions. Although this kind of bicycle isn’t a necessity, its very nature lends it well to multi-modal transport, providing a valuable piece in the transport jigsaw. The smallest can be tucked surreptitiously under an office desk; a few nifty Rubik Cube moves later and it’s ready to weave you nimbly around the city. For urban dwellers with limited living space, a folding bike’s diminutive size can be more practical.

Smaller folding bikes are particularly well suited to urban dwelling.

There are a range of folding and separable bicycles on the market to suit your needs – from those that focus on an ultra compact stature, to others that are more performance-minded for longer commutes. Wheels sizes can vary, from 16in to 26in or 700c, with nifty designs like folding pedals, collapsable handlebars and carry cases. Weight plays a part too, with lighter models being easier to carry up a flight of stairs to your apartment or to a train station platform.

Most folding bicycles make catching the train with your bicycle a breeze. Most of the large bicycle brands have at least a model to choose from; the more established specialist manufacturers include Brompton, Birdy, Bike Friday, Dahon and Tern.

The website A to B  offers a handy resource for multi-modal transport in Europe, outlining the rules and regulations for many countries. Similarly, for combining rail travel with a bicycle tour to create a low impact holiday, Seat 61  offers an overview of railways around the world, with notes on bicycle policies.

Ferries can add a useful, invigorating link to both the daily work commute and a holiday bike tour.

Photos courtesy of Brompton, Bike Friday and Tern.