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If you ever think about buying a folding bike, one thing you’re likely to ponder is the safety aspect.
It’s easy to picture a rickety machine that’s hard to control.
In short: Are folding bikes safe?
Yes, but there are caveats, like weight load, protection and the bike brand.
However, read on as we’ll go in a lot deeper
We’ll also look at the ways you can improve safety while riding a folding bike.
Reasons Why Folding Bikes Are Safe (Or Not!)
No bike is 100% guaranteed to never fail, and folding bikes definitely aren’t.
The obvious weak points are joints, which might be on the frame or handlebar posts.
Why should you trust a folding bike?
Big Brand Reputation
A factor that should give you peace of mind is that big folding-bike brands sell thousands of bikes.
They cannot afford for a significant proportion of them to fail.
And they don’t fail, for the most part, so the manufacturers retain their reputation.
If you buy a cheap folding bike from a no-name brand, that brand has no reputation to uphold and is less likely to have poured a load of R&D into its product.
It might be a cheap knock-off bike using low-quality parts.
In that case, you’re more at risk.
The most vulnerable areas of folding bikes are joints and hinges.
They’re obvious weak points.
Companies like Dahon put a lot of effort into this area with various patented technologies.
Loose and wobbly handlebar posts are always possible on folding bikes.
Cheap ones from little-known brands pose the greatest risk.
This is dangerous and requires constant surveillance.
You can buy after-market posts to remedy this in some cases.
Video: Folding Handlebar Posts To Avoid
Folding bikes are strong.
They use the same materials as other bikes, though maybe with a greater incidence of steel bikes.
Nearly all Bromptons are steel.
Steel is stronger than aluminum.
Folding bikes made of aluminum tend to have a thick crossbar.
Ample use of material provides strength.
Failure in an aluminum frame is likely to be more spectacular owing to the brittleness of the material.
So, it’s wise to study the frame often for cracks.
Steel tends to bend rather than crack, but you should still watch out for flaws.
The small wheels used on folding bikes are also strong.
A smaller diameter and shorter spokes are the reasons why.
They’re made to the same standards as bigger wheels but are less likely to buckle under normal use.
In terms of frame strength, the triangular “diamond” frame is hard to beat, but you’ll only find that in its purest form on full-sized folding bikes.
You’ll see triangular sections of frame on many folding bikes, which helps make them safe.
A bike with a swooping step-through frame or single crossbar does little to dissipate downward force.
In these cases, the frame is beefed up to support the rider’s weight and the joint must be ultra-robust.
Some folding bikes are heavy because of the above, even when they’re made of aluminum.
And if they’re not heavy, you’d have to wonder at their strength.
Folding Geared folding bikes often have a rear derailleur that’s close to the ground.
This is vulnerable to being struck.
And hitting the rear derailleur can create havoc either immediately or up the road.
Luckily, a great many folding bikes shield the rear derailleur with a metal cage.
This is a safety feature as well as helping to reduce maintenance.
Folding bikes tend to have a lower load capacity than regular bikes.
Many folding bikes have a 220-250 lbs weight limit.
For full-sized bikes, 275-300 lbs is more the norm.
There are exceptions, like the folding 20” Zizzo Forte with its 300 lbs capacity.
The difference in load capacity isn’t huge between folding and regular bikes.
However, you need to remember it’s more hazardous to push this on a folding bike.
It’s unwise to put a folding frame hinge under more stress than it was designed for.
Will A Folding Bike Collapse When Riding It?
The answer to this question is almost always no, but it’s not impossible.
They can shear at the joint in extreme cases.
You’ll note that both examples of defective bikes above are several years old.
In the case of the Dahon bike, the defect didn’t apply to the “Radius” handlebar post that is still used today.
Fusion technology is also used on Dahon bikes to keep the front end solid.
If you’re a heavy rider concerned about the strength of the bike and its hinge, you still needn’t worry most of the time.
The strength of folding bikes is bolstered either by thick tubing or the shape of the frame (e.g., triangular).
A lot of work goes into hinges.
Look at the frame’s construction if you want to guess its strength.
A thin and unsupported horizontal crossbar indicates a potentially low load capacity.
Triangles and struts disperse downward stress.
It might be wise to be skeptical about the load capacities claimed by unknown brands and faraway bike makers.
Accountability is a big plus point.
The lack of it is a red flag.
Full-sized folding bikes notably have the joint oriented vertically, so there is less sideways stress.
Intuitively, the joint should be rock solid in that case as long as it’s well-designed.
Video: Full-Sized Montague Folding Bike Demo
How To Stay Safe When Riding A Folding Bicycle
There are numerous safety issues to bear in mind as a folding bike owner and rider.
The list below will help you stay safe on a folding bike.
It also serves as a heads-up for anyone thinking of buying one.
- Check the parts of a new bike – a folding bike often comes fully assembled for obvious reasons,but you’d still be wise to check everything is in working order. You’ll look at the hinges when you unfold it. Other parts to check include wheels, brakes, pedals, cranks, gear shifters and gears, suspension pivots, and all bolts. Derailleur gears may need indexing on a new bike if they don’t shift smoothly.
- Check the frame regularly – you can reduce the chances of the bike collapsing beneath you by regularly checking the state of the frame. Pay particular attention to the area around the frame hinge if there is one (some bikes only fold at the wheels). Other critical checkpoints include areas around welding and handlebar hinges.
- Avoid rust – many folding bikes are made of steel, and steel rusts if you scratch the paintwork. It takes a lot of rust before a bike frame is made unsafe, but a rusty chain is prone to breaking. A rusty hinge may make the bike unfoldable. Avoid storing a folding bike in an exposed or damp space, which accelerates rusting.
- Check brakes – many folding bikes have regular rim brakes because they’re lighter and require less space. These are easy to maintain, but you still need to check them regularly for wear. Brake shoes or pads often have notches or channels that act as wear indicators.
- Pump up tires – make sure your foldable bike tires are adequately inflated before embarking on rides. If they have butyl tubes in them, you’ll only need to do this once every few days. Soft tires increase the likelihood of punctures, especially on small wheels that don’t roll over obstacles as easily as large ones. Optimum tire pressure usually takes on board the rider’s weight.
- Weigh yourself – it’s important not to exceed the maximum load when riding a folding bike. That’s true with any bike, except in this case you may be placing extra lateral strain on a vulnerable hinge. Be sure of your current weight before buying a folding bike and stick to the recommended load.
- Luggage – a folding bike cannot carry the same size of panniers as a regular bike because the wheels are shorter. Be sure you don’t overload a folding bike or make it unsafe with unsuitable luggage. Remember the maximum load includes the weight of any bags you carry as well as your weight.
- Get used to small wheels – if you’ve just bought a folding bike with small wheels, practice riding on them in quiet streets before mixing with heavy traffic. Small wheels deliver very responsive steering, which can feel too twitchy. This is something you’re likely to get used to, but it can be hazardous at first.
- Visibility – just like with any bike, you need front and rear lights if you’re planning on riding in low light or darkness. A flashing rear light is also a good idea to increase daytime visibility. High-viz bike clothes help attract motorists’ attention during the daytime. Reflective clothing will get you seen in the dark.
- Buying & riding secondhand bikes – a secondhand folding bike may well be in pristine condition, as these bikes are often not ridden far. Be aware though that a steel bike is a safer bet than aluminum on a bike whose history is unknown. As long as a steel bike is not subjected to weight or abuse beyond its fatigue limit, it has an infinite lifespan. Aluminum bikes constantly degrade, in contrast.
Many safety measures when riding a folding bike also apply to full-sized bikes.
In summary, most folding bikes are safe to ride.
You just need to take care of the bike and keep a visual check on the state of the frame and hinges.
Read more: Are folding bikes good?