I've been on the hunt for an affordable folding bike that can substitute for a decent road bike to take with me on my travels to get training rides in. This year I have a lot of international travel for work, up to a week or two at a time, and wanted a bike that would pack into the suitcase but still have many of the features and capabilities of my road bikes.
I bought a Liberte and then proceeded to customize for weight savings, gearing, ergonomics, and speed.The Liberte out-of-the-box weighed in a 10.88kg (23.98lbs). My goal was to get it sub 20lbs and spend less than $1,000 when all was said and done. I have a lot of old parts, so I had some money savings there. With the various upgrades, buying used or non-name brand where relevant, I've spend around $250 on top of the $400 for the original bike.
See the photos for my new setup. Big changes were swapping out swapping the flat handlebar for 400mm bullhorn handlebars (25.4mm diameter) to get low and aero and extend the reach. 8 speed drivetrain was swapped for 11 speed using an old 5800 105 rear derailleur, 11 speed Microshift bar end shifter, new 52t chainring on a 104bcd Shimano-style Hollowtech II crank (175mm), an 11 speed SRAM chain, and most important of all, an 11 speed cassette (11-34 Shimano 105, which fits 8,9,10 speed freehubs like this with no modification needed). I already had everything but the driveside crank and chainring.I also swapped the rear v brake for a Tektro caliper brake mounted using an adapter that fits on the kickstand mount on the frame. Brake levers are cheap no-name road levers mounted on the bullhorn. I am looking into either getting a new fork with a caliper brake hold or using an adapter that mounts inside the steer tube to hold a caliper front brake to increase brake performance and so that the pull of the front brake lever matches the type of brake (v brakes are meant for MTB brake levers, not road).Some of the biggest weight savings and performance increase has come in swapping the 1.5" tires for 1.1" Schwalbe Stelvio (28-406) and 1.1" Continental slim tubes (Schwalbe makes lighter tubes at 70g, but these at 90g each were fine and about half the price).
I have a 33.9x600mm seatpost on order, Litepro brand, that should be here soon and save around 200g and give me some extra height and stability. Could have gone with carbon fiber for around the same price, but negligible weight savings (diff. of only 30g) and I figured the carbon fiber is more likely to be damaged in a suitcase.
I also have a short 29cm non-height adjustable folding stem coming, which will let me get in a lower riding position than this one at 34cm. This will cut the weight of the stem in half.
Finally, the saddle is a cheap extra I had. Lightweight carbon saddle on order to arrive soon, weighing 100g compared to the original of 328g.
Current weight with all these modifications is 9860g (21.65lbs). Anticipated weight once all the various parts I've ordered come in, it should weigh in around 9156g (20.19lbs), so very close to my sub-20lbs goal.
A further around 500g weight savings could be found by going with a carbon fiber fork (74mm wide) and a lighter 406 or 451 wheelset.
As for performance, on a short 20 mile course with rolling hills I've found that when holding 200w I am about 1mph slower than on my usual bike, a 2013 Cervelo S3 with 50mm Dura-Ace wheelset. I clocked the Liberte today at 18.1mph, and I usually ride that course at 19.5mph on the Cervelo.
The Liberte can probably go faster with a larger chainring. I found myself often spinning out with the 52-11 combination, so I will probably swap it for a 54t chainring. I think a different cassette would increase speed, as the jumps between the gears for the 11-34 are too big (I usually ride an 11-28 with a 52/36 crankset, 175mm cranks).The 28-406 Schwalbe tires (at 100psi) seem light and nimble, spinning up to speed easily with very little rolling resistance. I usually ride 25mm tubulars or 28mmx700c tubeless.Overall, I'm really pleased with the base price of the Liberte for what you get, the relatively low cost and ease of modifying it for weight and performance, and the ability to now take a decent road bike with me wherever I travel!