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comment Need advice on choosing the right folding bike
The Dahon Speed is more expensive than the Eco which I recommended based on the OPs budget. But I agree that if given the opportunity, it is best to test ride any bike before buying it. Also note that in general the smaller the wheel size, the more "lively" it will feel. The Brompton which has 16" wheels takes getting used to especially if you don't carry luggage in the front... it is "livelier" than bigger wheeled folders.
comment How do I maximize my upper body workout from riding?
Climb hills, mountains out of the saddle.
comment Should I get a reflective jacket/coat, or more lighting and reflective strips for the bike?
Good point. I would even recommend using lights in flashing mode during the day so long as these are bright enough. Examples are a Planet Bike Blaze 2W for the front and a Planet Bike Superflash for the rear. Since I started running lights during the day I noticed motorists noticing me and pausing by to let me cross intersections more often.
comment For a long (25mile each way) commute, what kind of bike should I look at?
Forgot about the brakes. Indeed if there was a weakness with my xc commuter it would be the cantilever brakes. They are not as strong as those in my road bike and are hard/finicky to adjust. However, I was able to mitigate this weakness somewhat by using a longish brake "shoe/pad" assembly. With the "shoe/pad" assembly you just need to replace the pad the next time these wear out, the shoe stays so no need for re-adjusting. Fortunately, the pads also appear to provide better friction than the stock Tektro I had before so the brakes now have better stopping power too.