Folding bikes that fold into small portable bundles might seem like novelty bikes. So, they should be cheap, right?
In truth, folding bikes can cost a lot of money at the top end of the market and are not usually super-cheap at the budget end.
This article asks: why are folding bikes so expensive?
Naturally, they’re not all the same price, so we’ll look at the differences between pricier folding bikes and cheaper ones.
Reasons Why Some Foldable Bikes Are So Expensive
Yes, some foldable bikes are expensive. But why should any folding bike cost you serious money? If you think about the design of a folding bike for a second, you’ll start to realize why they aren’t dirt cheap.
For a start, it takes clever engineering to allow a bike to be broken in two and ridden again in an instant. The design that allows this is a critical part of the bicycle’s worth.
A folding bike has to fold into as small a bundle as the wheels allow. Then, at a moment’s notice, the frame must be sturdy and rigid enough to handle your weight and transfer power. It must also be safe and secure ….
Weight vs. Cost
Folding bikes are not usually as lightweight as the average speedy road bike, despite their diminutive nature. Various elements add to their weight.
Factors related to a folding bike’s weight include the folding mechanism on the frame, wide wheels, thick tires, stout crossbar, tall handlebar post, and tall seat post. Accessories like a rack, fenders and a kickstand also add weight.
Despite all the above, some folding bikes are much more lightweight than others. This is likely to involve some minimalism in their design, but it’s more involved than just taking stuff away.
The materials used in making a folding bike are a primary factor in deciding its weight and cost.
Folding Bike Materials
The same materials used in conventional bikes are also used in folding bikes. So, let’s see their significance in this type of product:
- Carbon – folding carbon bikes do exist, but they’re less common than you might think. Why? Despite being very strong and rigid, carbon isn’t the ideal material for a bike that may take some daily abuse. It’s prone to damage by impact or compression. Of course, carbon is tremendously lightweight.
- Titanium – a titanium frame is often lighter than a steel one (37% lighter in the case of Brompton frames), hence costs more money. Titanium frames are more compliant than many steel frames, too, so they’re comfortable.
- Steel – bike frames are usually made from hi-tensile steel or chromoly steel. The latter is stronger, and because it’s stronger it can be made with thinner, lighter walls. Chromoly steel in particular normally offers a plush ride quality.
- Aluminum – many folding bikes are made of aluminum for lightness. This is a material that perpetually wears down and has a definite lifespan, but you can still make a high-quality bicycle frame with it.
Unlike expensive road bikes, high-end folding bikes are seldom made entirely of carbon. They’re more likely to be made from titanium or chromoly steel for lightness, comfort and durability. Steel is a particularly easy material to repair.
As with other types of bikes, you may find folding bikes that are made with mixed materials. Certain parts of a bike (fork, handlebar, seat post) might be made with lighter or more compliant materials like carbon or steel.
Most of the cheaper folding bikes have 6 or 7 gears. These are almost always low-tier but reliable Shimano derailleur gears (e.g., Tourney). Bikes with 8 derailleur gears or more tend to be more expensive.
A single-speed bike is one way of achieving a fairly lightweight folding bike at low to medium prices. It’s a good option for buyers on a budget who don’t envisage climbing any hills.
You can also buy expensive one-speed bikes if lightness is the main objective. But the most expensive folding bikes don’t tend to skimp on gears. They’ll achieve their low weight and comfort through ingenuity and uncompromising materials.
Some Brompton bikes have distinct 6-speed gears that include a combination of 2 derailleur gears and 3 internal-hub gears. These gear types work together to provide 6 gears with a wider range than would normally be possible.
Video: Brompton 6-Speed Derailleur & Hub Gears
Expensive Folding Bicycle Brands
One thing to note about the most expensive folding-bike brands is you’re unlikely to have heard of them anywhere else. They make good folding bikes, period. Some examples follow.
The famous British folding-bike brand, Brompton, has a cult following. It even stages the Brompton World Championship race. The bike frames are chromoly steel or titanium. Prices start at around $1000 and end much higher.
Dahon is a US brand that doesn’t deal solely in expensive bikes. However, their top-of-the-range folders will set you back a four-figure sum. The bikes have well-designed aluminum frames and parts, and you get up to 11 gears.
If you’re looking for an expensive US folding-bike brand, Helix is it. You can spend several thousand dollars on the “Ultralight” titanium folding bike with 11 gears. These admirable machines are up there with the best Bromptons.
Hummingbird makes “the world’s lightest folding bicycles”. You can be sure they don’t come cheap. The single-speed carbon model weighs just over 15 lbs. and will set you back more than $3000. This is another UK brand.
Tern has a range of mid-priced to expensive bikes, including some top folding e-bikes. You can spend (at the time of writing) up to $2500 on a regular folding bike with a high-quality aluminum frame and Shimano 11-speed Ultegra gears.
Read more: Top folding e-bikes under $1000
Other Valuable Folding Bike Features
Other features may make one folding bike more expensive than another. These include:
- Magnetic closure to hold wheels together
- Carbon fork or wheels
- Low-profile derailleurs
- Refined hinge designs
- Dynamo hubs