Folding bikes are an essential bicycle for anyone with limited space, a multi-mode commute, or the desire to travel with a bike. Many companies make great folders that are easy to transport, featherweight and easy to use. Read ahead for tips on how to choose the right one and for information on all the benefits of a folder.
Types of folding bikes
Wheel size is the major differentiation between folding bikes. They range from 12” wheels, like the wheels you find on a kid’s bike, up to 700c full size adult wheels. Most folding bike frames are sized as one size fits all. The Seat and handlebars can usually be raised and lowered almost infinitely to fit any rider. The most noticeable part of different wheel sizes is comfort and stability.
There are many different brands out there. The major players are Dahon, Tern, and Bike Friday. Each have models that are oriented toward road riding, off-road, or touring. Tern and Dahon make their bicycles in Asia out of aluminum or steel. Bike Friday on the other hand, produces all their bicycles in Eugene Oregon out of steel. There are many other brands that make folding bikes as well, but these are the three most readily available in bike shops.
Folding bikes are great because of their size. For storage, having the ability to fold a bike up into a suitcase sized package offers a lot of options. These bikes can fit under a bed, into a closet, or the trunk of your car.
A barrier for many people to enter into bicycle commuting is distance. For some, it is just not possible to ride 25 miles to work. A folding bike can help split up a bicycle commute. By being folding, you can ride the bike from your home to the bus or train, ride public transportation and then finish the trip to work on your bike again.
Most folding bikes use smaller wheels than their non-folding counterparts. Those small wheels are great when it’s time to fold the bike up, but while riding, they can be a bit harsher than a full size wheel.
Folding bikes use proprietary parts in order to fold as small as possible. Most of these parts are specific to each folding bike brand and are designed to make the bike as fold-able as possible while also being very light. The downside to unique parts is getting replacements can be an issue. Overall, these parts aren’t usually wear items, so the instance of replacement is low.
Folding bikes use smaller frames in the pursuit of getting as small and light as possible once folded. The side effect of a small frame is low stiffness. This flex would be appreciated if it were in a vertical plane, as it would absorb road vibration, but sadly the lateral flex of a folding bike only robs the rider of efficiency.
Tips to buying
Trying before you buy can be difficult because most shops don’t stock a large selection of folding bikes. Start by making a few calls to local shops to see what’s available to ride. Because of that scarcity, focus on testing two things – Wheel size and frame material. The wheel size and frame material have the largest effect on the ride quality of the bicycle. If you can solidify the wheel size and frame material you prefer, you can then determine the other features without riding them.
Travel bikes are full sized bicycles that can be deconstructed to fit into a suitcase. While they offer the same ride quality as a standard bicycle, they do not disassemble quickly. I would recommend a folding bike over a travel bike if you plan to make frequent short trips with the bike. If you plan to travel longer distances, and ride more miles, a travel bike is great.