Swobo Folsom Bike: Interview with Founder TIm Parr


After living in NYC for over ten years I finally started riding around the city on a bike this past spring. Of course, as these things go, I now have all sorts of opinions on the urban bike experience. While I'm now surveying all different bikes, the Folsom from Swobo is my new favorite. (Click image for detail.)

The Folsom is like a featherweight tank. An aluminum frame and lack of external brakes, gears and other attachments makes for a lightweight bike. But unlike other pared-down models, the frame tubes are fatter like a mountain bike and the tires are also a slightly oversized—almost like a hybrid road bike/BMX.

The coaster brakes—like the ones from when we were kids—require some adjustment. Learning to pedal backwards to stop took a few minutes and a couple minor crashes, but now that I've got the hang of it, it's very simple. Being in NYC, which is mostly flat-land, no gears are needed. Nothing on the Folsom has a quick-release so all the parts are relatively secure from theft.

Minimal details and a lack of giant flashy logos also deflect the attention of would-be thieves. Coupled with its matte gray color, the Folsom is understated, stealthy and chic. My only gripe is that wide handlebars, though custom-designed for a range of riding styles, makes riding between cars in NYC streets tricky.

Available in two frame sizes (medium and large), the Folsom is a reasonable $500 from Swobo.

We threw a few questions at Swobo founder Tim Parr who responded with some insights about their mission to get people on bikes, their history and the thinking behind the design of their three models.

When and why did you start making bikes? Where are they made? Who is the Swobo team?
We've been around for 16 years, but we started making bikes about a year ago, because we knew the world is ready for a Swobo complete point of view. They're made in Taiwan, which is a good thing.

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They really know how to build bikes over there, and we can bring them in at a price that gets people buying bikes that are well designed…and affordable.

Who are we? Sky Yaeger designs all of our bikes, and has close to 20 years experience designing bicycles. Erin with an E is our voice on the other end of the phone, Stevil Kinevil hosts our blog How to Avoid the Bummer Life and makes sure things go out the door on time, Collin is the master of our warehouse universe and then there’s an army of individuals out there in the world who really keep this whole idea going every day. They count.

What is the philosophy of Swobo? How does that play out in your bike designs?
The philosophy is that the bicycle is an idea that needs a new soapbox that goes beyond road bikes and mountain bikes. In our humble opinion….the bicycle, and its culture, has been unfortunately hijacked since the late ’70s by athletics. The invention (and lifestyle) has become too sports centric over the last 30 years. Our philosophy is to make bikes and clothing that represent a lifestyle around how cool a bicycle (and bike culture) can be in relation to what’s going on in modern culture, not sports industries.

You can see our philosophy in our bike designs all over the place. Simple, utilitarian drivetrains that deliver what people want and need. We like track bikes, single speeds, internal 3-speeds, internal 9-speeds, etc. Stuff that is fun to ride, and is accessible. We’re going to inspire people who don’t buy bikes to buy a bike through informed design and purpose. No need for tight Lycra shorts here, just throw a leg over the seat and you’re rolling. Hell, you don’t even need to go into a bike shop to get one.

Was the Folsom your first bike? What have you learned with each new bike design?
When we launched our bike program, we started with three models. The Folsom, the Sanchez, which is our track bike, and the Otis, which is an internal geared 3-speed bike. What are we learning? We’re learning that we can’t be confined to the traditional bicycle industry. There’s a whole world out there that wants a bike, but the industry has done a lot to turn a lot of people away. It’s become overly complicated and a difficult consumer experience for a lot of people. That’s a long story…

What are your plans for the future? New bikes? More apparel? Other stuff all together?
People on bikes does a lot of good for everyone. You don’t even need to be the person riding. So our plans are to leave this place better than the way we found it. Our apparel line tows the company vision as well, it uses 100% USDA organic cotton, recycled polyester, water based inks, Merino wool, etc. because it’s just the way it should be done. We also donate 1% of gross revenue (the big number, the not so easy to hide behind number) to environmental groups. Business has the ability to change a lot of this environmental mess (because business started most of these enviro problems), and people have the ability to change business.

So yes, new bikes, yes new clothes, yes new perceptions of what it means to roll down the street on a bike in this country. We want to break some stuff, re-write some ideas and—as the saying goes—lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.