The Allen Sports Ultra X looks like a bike paradox: carbon fiber speed with folding-bike utility. On one hand, it’s a zippy carbon roadster made out of the same low-weight, high-performance material that wins pro races. On the other, you can open the clamps for a take-it-with-you commuter that collapses down to a fraction of its riding size. This makes it a figurative sports car with a hybrid engine, but the takeaway is clear: Allen wants its bike to be a standout for performance and practicality.
Our test rides carried us on commutes between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and on a longer tour down Virginia’s W&OD bike trail outside Washington, D.C. The bike’s smaller 20-inch wheels respond rapidly to a rider’s acceleration and swerves around potholes. Though it thrives in an urban environment, the Ultra X has a mountain bike drivetrain. But the SRAM X9 rear derailler and trigger shifters made short work of the Manhattan Bridge, changing gears to climb and descend with ease. Once at our office, it folded up neatly to hide under a desk. However, the folding design isn’t the most compact we’ve tested (hat tip to Brompton), and it was still awkward to carry. Allen’s carbon fiber creation is not so much a folding bike that’s also fast, but as a fast bike that also happens to fold.
We also took issue with the Ultra X’s comfort on longer rides beyond our city streets. The carbon fiber forks, frame, handlebars, and seatpost drop the Ultra X’s weight to an awesomely appealing 18.75 pounds, but the unpadded carbon fiber saddle is nothing less than cruel for casual cycling. We suggest taking the weight penalty of a more comfortable saddle — the lightweight Selle Italia SLR is a common choice for pro riders who spend all day pedaling.
In our testing, the bike drew curious looks and blunt questions from onlookers. Does it ride like a regular bike? How much does it cost? While recuperating our carbon-chafed buttocks at a rest stop along the W&OD, some Lycra-clad roadies unclipped to ask all these questions and more. We were happy to tell them that despite having a literal hinge that enables it to fold entirely in half, the bike feels like a solid, cohesive ride. If you didn’t look down, you wouldn’t know you weren’t on a regular flat-bar road bike. When we mentioned the $5,000 suggested retail price, they scoffed.
This bike is a one-size-fits-all build: The handlebars and seatpost are highly adjustable to fit a variety of differently sized riders. This is a bike for someone who wants to go fast on a carbon-fiber machine, but also check that machine as luggage, load it in a car trunk, or simply carry it aboard a train or bus. It’s expensive for a folding bike, but for a step down in price, Allen Sports has the Ultra 1 ($2,700), which also offers a carbon fiber frame and weighs about 23 pounds. [$5,000; allensportsusa.com]