Nanoo Folding Bikes
Nanoo Folding Bikes
By Ed Owen
Nanoo Folding Bikes: Putting the cute into commute
The first thing I notice while riding the Nanoo is how friendly people are today. Smiles from almost everyone around, and it takes a while to realise that it’s not me they are smiling at, rather the odd little bike I’m riding.
Probably the last time I heard the word ‘Nanoo’ was at the end of episodes of comedy Mork and Mindy that ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mork was an alien, played by Robin Williams and catapulted into superstardom as a result, with a naive take on human life. He reported back to his alien superior, Orson, every episode ending with the goodbye: ‘Nanoo nanoo’.
Part of me thinks that the cutsey naivety and enthusiasm that came from that ancient show has somehow fed into the development of the Nanoo, which has character and cute in buckets – what the Japanese refer to as Kawaii.
An Italian venture and developed jointly in Taiwan and Italy, the Nanoo is a folding bicycle with a rather different take on folding. The aluminium frame is 12kg, equivalent to a Brompton, and the model I’m trying has 14” wheels and disc brakes, but there is also a 12” version without disc brakes, and an electric version that adds another 4kg. The frame is essentially a large triangle with a wheel at each corner closest to the floor, and the seat poking up from the crossbar.
The folding mechanism is unique, breaking the frame almost in half, bringing the wheels together. Rather than transforming into something that can be carried, the fold produces something that is of the same height as the unfolded bike, but much skinnier. The idea is that, rather than carrying it, you can wheel it about easily.
Actually, this is a great idea. While traditional folders like the Brompton do fold small, they are still quite heavy to lug about. The Nanoo allows the rider to squash the frame, and wheel it about with little effort and no bending over. It’s small enough to be unobtrusive in an office, but I’m not sure whether cloakrooms would accept it, as they tend to with a Brompton.
Riding the Nanoo certainly gets you noticed – the bike could be described as a novelty, but the manufacturers have made a brave attempted to marry design and function into something new. I have to say they are only partially successful, at least for now.
The design certainly has promise, and with some considered refinement could be a significant new entrant to the growing commuter market, but the current iteration seems to be something of a work in progress so far. While the bike certainly stands out, riding the thing is another matter.
On the road, the Nanoo has a very different personality, and is much less cute. Bikes have their own style and finish. Some bikes zip past. Some bikes lurch. If you spot a BMX it’s fair to say it bounces past. The Nanoo trundles. While riding the Nanoo around, it’s clearly fine for short distances about town, but as the distances increase, the bike’s limitations really start to stand out.
Chief among these limitations is the gearing, which ranges in seven speeds from low to tremendously low. This is partly down to the design. To get such a small wheel turning quickly enough, the front chainring is oversized, but could perhaps be even larger still just to get some more zing to the ride.
My commute is around 8 miles each way, and at one point there is a device designed to slow cars and vans by displaying their speed. Approaching this absolutely flat-out on the Nanoo, the display reads 16 mph, a speed that can be reached comfortably on my usual ride (a Brompton), and without even trying on a full-size model. Pedalling at that rate is not sustainable, so 16 mph is a notional top speed you could not maintain at all easily.
The build quality is very good indeed. It’s tough and the paint job is rich and shiny. Almost everything on the Nanoo is adjustable, but the fasteners are of a noticeably lower quality and have a fiddliness to them that seems unnecessary. Again, as the models develop, such quirks should be ironed out.
One thing I would suggest to the manufacturers is to improve the saddle, which I found excruciatingly painful on riding more than just a short distance.
In summary, the Nanoo is a great looking thing, but the ride doesn’t quite live up to the appearance. As newer models come along, some of these odd quirks will be ironed-out and improved, much in the same way the Brompton has been slowly but surely improved over the years. Until then, the Nanoo is ideal for short, sharp journeys, but it’s difficult to imagine using it for a longer commute. But it does look great.