Folding bikes are not bikes that most cyclists give much thought to. Even when traveling, many riders squeeze their “full-sized” bike into a car or pay extra to take it on a plane or train.
But what is the cycling community at large missing out on? Are folding bikes good?
This article explores the folding bike—its benefits and its drawbacks. In principle, a bike you can easily carry around with you seems a great idea, doesn’t it? It could make the difference between riding and not riding in many instances.
Advantages Of Folding Bikes
Folding bikes have several advantages, some more obvious than others. Detailed below are the main reasons you might consider buying one.
Easy To Carry
Of course, portability is a chief benefit of a folding bike. You can carry one onto trains without having to look for special bike carriages.
Folding bikes tend to be heavier than some other bikes (e.g., modern road bikes). That being said, they can weigh as little as 6.9 kg in the case of the carbon fiber Hummingbird bike.
Although folding bikes tend to be heavier than lightweight road bikes, in most cases you can wheel them along. You only need lift them up if boarding a bus or train.
Cheap To Carry
As well as being easy to carry, folding bikes are cheap to transport since they’re usually accepted as hand luggage.
Even on intercity or international trains, where full-sized bikes attract an extra charge, you will not typically have to pay extra to bring a foldable bike with you.
Easy To Store
Road bikes, hybrid bikes and MTBs all pose storage challenges to cyclists, who don’t always have the space or desire to keep them indoors.
No such problems exist with a foldable bike, which takes up minimal space in a cupboard, under your bed, under a desk or under the stairs.
There’s no fretting over where to safely leave a folding bike in many cases. You can take it with you to your destination, whether it is work, café stops, or a friend’s house.
If you’re visiting somewhere where it isn’t possible to keep an eye on your bike, a lock such as the Kryptonite Kryptolok is ideal.
This type of long-shackle U-lock is resistant to bolt cutters and often goes through both wheels, the frame and around an immovable object in one go.
Another benefit of a folding bike is its ability to become compact and lockable without having to detach wheels or other components.
A bike you can carry to more places with less expense can only be environmentally friendly. It’ll save you from taking the car, in many instances, providing you have the inclination to cycle.
As the world becomes more eco-conscious, the foldable bike has a greater role to play than ever before.
Good For Your Health
A bike that encourages you to ride more can only be good for your health, even if it’s not designed for epic adventures. A small amount of exercise every day still has a cumulative effect, even if you do nothing heroic on the bike.
Quirky and Cool
Okay, so you’ll never be mistaken for Julian Alaphilippe or Marianne Vos on a foldable bike, but some foldable bikes are quirky and cool. There are even fun (yet competitive) bike races held for Brompton bikes.
Disadvantages Of Folding Bikes
Most types of bikes have their downsides, and foldable bikes aren’t any different. So let’s look at some of them.
Poor For Long-Distance Rides
Foldable bikes are not generally intended for traveling long distances. Doing so would be a feat of endurance. The small wheels mean you’ll be slower on average, even though you can pick up fair speed in bursts.
Bumps, debris, and potholes have a pronounced effect on smaller wheels.
Wheels on bigger road bikes or hybrids traverse these hazards more efficiently, but on a foldable bike they hit a bigger part of the wheel’s circumference.
Lack Of Stability?
Foldable bikes are not innately unstable, but they can be a little overresponsive in their handling and twitchy to ride with their sharp turning radius. This is something you’ll get used to up to a point.
A sporty ride is a euphemistic term for a ride that transmits bumps and lumps in the road. This is interrelated with other downsides like road hazards and lack of long-distance compatibility. It’s down to the small wheels.
Many of the problems linked to small wheels are secondary considering the bike’s main remit. A foldable bike is an urban get-about bike, above all. Not many people contemplate riding for two or three hours at a time on them.
Anyone that assumes a foldable bike is light is assuming incorrectly. There are super-light models with carbon frames, but you’ll pay a premium price for those.
Many foldable bikes weigh more than full-sized bikes, with some crossover. They might weigh up to 35 lb. (more in the ballpark of an old steel touring bike.)
It’s for this reason that foldables are often wheeled along between steps. They’re medium suitcase weight.
Another notion about folding bikes might be that they’re cheap.
Small bike, small price, right? Wrong.
They’re in the same price range as budget to mid-range road bikes. Foldables from top brands can set you back over $1000.
Video: Folding Bike – The Good And The Bad
Are Collapsible Bicycles Good For Commuting To Work?
One of the great things about a folding bike versus a full-sized one is the versatility. With a folding bike, you can hop on a bus or train without a second thought and fill in the gaps of a journey with a few miles of cycling.
Millions of people worldwide live in suburbs or commuter towns and catch a train into a big city for their work. Very often, they’ll have to catch another train or a bus before reaching their workplace. A folding bike is perfect for intermodular travel.
When commuting into a big city, the final leg of a journey is often just far enough away to make it impractical on foot. On those types of commutes, doing the last leg by bike is a great way of injecting a little exercise into each day.
Video: Commuting To Work On My Brompton Folding Bike
Choice Of Folding Bike For Commutes
Nowadays, e-scooters are a common way to perform these connecting journeys in some cities, but they don’t give you the same level of exercise as either a foldable bike or an e-bike.
You can buy folding e-bikes for commutes, too, though they are heavier unless they have a carbon frame. You might feel you can tackle a longer commute or hillier terrain with a motor to give you a gentle push here and there.
If the main purpose of a folding bike is for commutes, your best choice is going to be one with small 16” to 20” wheels, which are allowable as hand luggage on different modes of transport.
Can You Use A Folding Bike For Long Rides?
The suitability of a folding bike for cycling long distances or long durations hinges on ride quality. And ride quality centers largely on the size of wheels.
Bigger wheels iron out some of the road’s imperfections and help you to cover longer distances in less time. You’ll go faster.
What wheel choices are there in folding bikes?
Folding Bike Wheel Sizes
Folding bike wheels can be as small as 10”, though 16” are more advisable for stability and standard in classic foldables like Bromptons. However, you wouldn’t choose a Brompton for long-distance rides except as a challenge.
When covering longer distances, foldables with 20” and 24” wheels are more suitable. The former is considered the best compromise—an all-rounder that you might still get onto a train for free.
A folding bike with 24” wheels may not be foldable enough to take onto a train as hand luggage, but it’s still a bike that fits easily into your car trunk without disassembly. This is the folding bike that will give you most comfort over a long ride.
Folding bikes are mostly made from aluminum, carbon or titanium. Fewer are made from steel because of its inherent weight. Does the frame material make a difference to comfort?
It’s commonly asserted that carbon bikes are more comfortable to ride than aluminum, but this varies from bike to bike. In a folding bike, remember the frame is more likely to be knocked about, and carbon doesn’t like impacts.
Theoretically, titanium is a good material for folding bike frames given that it’s lightweight, durable, robust and often said to provide a smooth ride quality. It also looks cool. But it’s not cheap.
If you intend riding long distances with a folding bike, however, a lighter frame will be less laborious uphill. A pound here and there isn’t worth worrying about, but the weight difference between the lightest and heaviest folding bikes is significant.
Then again, if you stick mainly to flat routes, differences in bike weight have a trivial effect on speed and the progress you make over distance.
Folding bikes tend to have a more limited range of gears, so you may find them tiring over any long and hilly route.
Should I Get A Folding Bike Or A Normal Bike?
Whether you should buy a folding bike or a normal bike depends a little on your level of experience. Folding bikes may look a bit like novelty bikes, but they take some skill to ride in an urban environment.
As A First Bike?
If you’re just getting into cycling, it’s probably a good idea to buy a full-sized bike that’s easy to ride.
A hybrid bike is ideal as a first buy, being comfortable over moderate distances and extremely stable with its wide tires, longer wheelbase and wide handlebars for slower handling and easy steering.
As A Commuter Bike?
Unless you’re planning on riding long distances to and from work each day, a folding bike is great as a commuter bike. It’s just more versatile and less hassle than a normal bike.
Even on local trains, where you might be able to transport a full-sized bike many miles for free, you still have the hassle of finding the bike carriage before being able to board the train. There’s none of that with a small foldable bike.
Read more: Is it ok to use road bikes as commuters?
As A Vacation Bike?
Many keen cyclists when they go on vacation with their family don’t have space to take their bikes with them. All that changes with a foldable bike, which can help you get a cycling fix and explore your destination.
Read more: Best folding touring bikes
If you want to go on long rides from where you live, you’ll struggle to beat a normal bike. You’ll just go farther, easier and faster. But don’t forget you can buy folding bikes with bigger wheels if you want a bit of both worlds.
Video: Why Tour On A Folding Bike?
Folding Bike FAQs
Is A Folding Bike Good For Beginners?
Folding bikes with smaller wheels (10” to 20”) can be a little twitchy in their handling, so in that respect they’re not ideal for beginners who lack confidence.
Are Folding Bikes Good For Exercise?
Folding bikes are great for exercise. Their foldability and size have no effect on their ability to give you a workout.
Are Folding Bikes Durable?
Folding bikes are made to be durable, and they are durable provided the weight restrictions are observed.
Are Foldable Bikes Comfortable?
Foldable bikes are acceptably comfortable for the job that they do. They are likely to jar more when you hit bumps in the road because of their smaller wheels.
Can Folding Bikes Go Up Steep Hills?
Folding bikes can go up steep hills if they’re sufficiently light and offer a decent choice in gears. Some Bromptons have 6 gears, for instance, and can be further modified for hills with a smaller front chainring.
Are Folding Bikes Slow Compared To Regular Bikes?
Folding bikes are appreciably slower than regular bikes and especially road bikes. You’re likely to average about 10-15 mph on flat roads, depending partly on your own fitness level and how much stopping is necessary.
Read more: Why cycling is good for you
3 Top Folding Bicycles That We Like
Picking the right folding bike for you may depend on many things: where you ride, how far you intend riding and whether you need to carry the bike on public transport or on flights (something that can be done for free if the bike folds up small.)
In this section, you’ll find three top folding bikes that suit a variety of purposes and budgets.
1. Dahon Mariner 20″ Folding Bicycle (Best Folding Commuter Bike)
- Frame material: aluminum
- Groupset: Shimano Altus rear derailleur with 8 speed drivetrain & SL-M315 trigger shifter
- Weight: 27.69 lb. (12.56 kg)
The Dahon Mariner 20″ Folding Bicycle is so-named because it was designed for boat owners who wanted an easily stowable bike they could ride around ports on. It comes from a top U.S. brand in folding bikes.
Ideal for commuters, the Mariner has larger wheels than its Brompton counterpart from across the pond. It rides well, has plenty of gears, folds in 15 seconds and is a great travel bike.
Thanks to its use of patented ViseGrip folding technology, the Dahon Mariner has an exceptionally strong, yet easy-to-use, latching mechanism.
Dahon’s Fusion technology (also patented) fuses the frame, fork, and handlebar post into a single robust structure to improve stability, strength and rigidity. The net result is an unyielding front end of the bike that you can rely on.
Owing to its adjustable seat post and handlebar post, this bike can be ridden by people of all heights, ranging from 4’8″ to 6’4″ (142 – 193 cm.) Maximum load of rider and luggage combined is 230 lb. or 105 kg.
- Reassuring – high-quality manufacturing and components
- Versatile – good selection of gears for varied terrains
- Accessories – includes SKS fenders and a rack
- Commuting – easy to transport on buses and trains
- Low gear – you may want for an easier gear on hills
2. Schwinn Loop Adult Folding Bike (Best Value Folding Bike)
Schwinn provides great value and a load of useful features with the Loop Adult Folding Bike. Among them are a choice of 7 gears, smoothly selected via Revoshift twisting shifters; an integral rear cargo rack; fenders; and a nylon storage bag.
This bike is ideal for running errands or even as a cheap commuter bike. At the price, it’s hard to find fault. It’s an easy bike to mount with its low step-through frame, so you won’t catch your clothes on it or hurt your joints as you climb on.
For confident stopping power, the bike includes linear-pull front and rear brakes.
The manufacturer recommends this bike for anyone between 4’6” and 6’1” in height (122 – 183 cm) and up to 230 lb. or 105 kg in weight (including any luggage.) This makes the bike very versatile, albeit less suitable than the Dahon for taller riders.
- Economy – you’ll struggle to find better at this price point
- Hills – despite the appealing price, a range of 7 gears helps with rolling terrain
- Storage – comes complete with a sturdy nylon bag for storage
- Weight – on the heavy side at 34 lb.
- Seat – not the most comfortable saddle over any distance
3. Vilano Urbana Single Speed Folding Bike (Best Budget Folding Bike)
- Frame material: aluminum
- Weight: 21.5 lb. (9.75 kg)
A choice of gears is great on a bike, but it adds to the weight and expense. With the Vilano Urbana Single Speed Folding Bike, you get only one gear, but that means the bike is more portable and perfectly adequate for trundling around a flat town.
You could even use this as a commuter bike if you work in a reasonably level town or city. The Vilano Urbana folds quickly and easily to a width of only 12” and comes equipped with eyelets so you can fit a rear rack.
Threaded eyelets on the frame of this bike also allow for a bottle holder so you can easily stay hydrated.
The coaster brake on this bike works by back pedaling. While somewhat hazardous for children most adults don’t have a problem with them. They’re not recommended for technical riding or steep hill descents, however.
- Minimalistic – single gear and coaster brakes keep weight and expense down
- Lightweight – by far the lightest of our three bike options at under 10 kg
- Upgradeable – scope for fitting a rear rack and a water bottle cage
- Foldability – easy to fold and unfold
- Stay flat – steep gradients are not recommended for this bike and its coaster brake system
Ok, So To Wrap Up…
Folding bikes aren’t designed to cover long distances, but they’re a great way to accumulate fitness on your commute. They’re also ideal for vacations if you don’t have room to carry a regular bike.
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If you love cycling, a folding bike lets you ride at times when you’d otherwise miss out. These bikes will help build your fitness just like a full-sized bike does.