Riding Folding Bikes on Long Distances: Myth Vs Reality

Due to their collapsible nature and unique construction, folding bikes can feel quite different to ride than regular bikes. They’re designed for slower rides on city streets, with narrow tires and small wheels. While these attributes can make them unsuitable for certain types of riding, they don’t affect your ability to ride long distances at all.

Are Folding bikes good for long distances? Folding bikes are good for long distances if the roads are properly paved and efficiency and speed are not essential. They can be especially useful if multimodal transportation or storing the bike securely is a priority. They are not good for fast rides and on very technical off-road tracks.

Here’s a breakdown of what types of riding you can do on a folding bike, when you should consider a full-sized bicycle, and whether or not folding bikes are good for long-distance.

Folding Bikes For Long Distance

Today’s folding bikes are great for city rides. While folding bikes don’t do very well off-roading and they tend to get a bit wobbly at higher speeds, they’re perfectly well suited for long rides on paved surfaces. 

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In fact, folding bikes can be better than some road bikes for long-distance riding. Most folding bikes have tall handlebars, keeping the rider in an upright position while they ride. This position is less aerodynamic.  

You’ll go slower than if you bent down low over your bike, but it’s a lot more comfortable for riding long distances. Many touring cyclists and bikepackers deliberately set up their bicycles so that they can stay as upright as possible while they ride.

Folding Bikes For Long Distance Journeys

Many folding bike owners go on very long rides with their folding bikes, but there are definitely some pros and cons to this decision. 

Not only do folding bikes keep the rider upright and improve comfort over long rides, they also fold. This means that you can hop on a bus or store your bike in a bag with ease, giving you a lot more flexibility with your non-biking activities during your journey.

As far as downsides go, folding bikes are definitely limited in their ability to tackle anything other than smooth pavement. Bumps in the road can be unpleasant due to the small wheels and narrow tires. 

Some folding bikes can handle uneven surfaces better than others, but you’ll still feel a lot more bumps than you would on a bike with big wheels and suspension.

Additionally, folding bikes tend to feel very unstable at higher speeds. They’re quite nimble and controllable, but you’ll probably find yourself using the brakes to keep yourself at a stable speed on long downhill sections. 

If your ride is mostly downhill or you like to go fast, you’ll probably want to use a full-sized bicycle.

Finally, folding bikes are heavier than you might expect. The extra equipment needed for the bike to collapse down to a small size adds weight to the bike, and the frame needs to be sturdier in certain places to compensate for the folding mechanism. 

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This means that folding bikes can actually be heavier than some road bikes, depending on how you’ve got both bikes kitted out.

When SHOULDN’T You Use A Folding Bike?

Typical folding bikes have small wheels, narrow tires, and no suspension. On poorly paved roads, this can be a bit of a problem. On dirt trails, this can be disastrous. The small wheels transmit the force from every bump and rock to the rider, while the lack of ground clearance means that you can damage your bike on an uneven surface. 

Folding bikes are often more comfortable than dedicated road bikes, especially over long rides. This is because road bikes are designed with speed and sport performance in mind, not the comfort of the rider. If those are your goals, you’ll probably be dissatisfied with a folding bike.

You technically can set speed records and challenge your athleticism on a folding bike (and it can even be fun to do so), but you’ll struggle to maintain an aerodynamic riding position, get an optimal range of motion out of your pedals, or, in some cases, reach gear ratios high enough to give you a leg workout. 

Folding bikes tend to have very limited gearing and it’s usually concentrated around the easy-to-pedal-while-climbing-hills side of the spectrum, preventing you from blasting downhills at full power

Modern mountain bikes have been pushing bigger and bigger wheels so that riders feel stable at high speed. Folding bikes are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Not only do you feel less stable balancing the bike, you’ll also find that the bike responds differently to handlebar inputs, especially at higher speeds. 

Mixed Transportation Makes Folding Bikes Amazing

The biggest advantage of folding bikes is how easily they can be transported or stored. This attribute allows you to take a bus, train, boat, plane, or Uber for a leg of your journey. 

In other words, the distance you can go with your folding bike is nearly limitless. Unlike a traditional full-sized bike, where you’re very limited without a bike rack on your car or a big trunk, you can effortlessly take advantage of public transportation and for-hire vehicles with your folding bike. 

Bikers will put their bikes into airplane carryons, stow them next to their train seat, carry them on buses and ferries, and more. If your long-distance city ride has an opportunity to leverage public transportation, you’ll really appreciate the ability to choose a folding bike to give you more options and simplify your journey.

Final Thoughts

The comfortable, upright position of a folding bike makes long rides very relaxing, and while you won’t want to go super fast, the fact that you’re not compelled to pedal all-out all day can save you stamina and make your journey easier. 

Most importantly, however, your folding bike can easily be taken on all sorts of public transportation, keeping your options open during your entire journey. 

If you do a lot of riding in a city, you shouldn’t rule out a folding bicycle, even if you do long-distance rides. These innovative machines can really change how you commute by giving you a source of reliable human-powered transportable transportation.

Sam Benkoczy

Hi, I'm Sam. I own and maintain 6 e-bikes, 15 regular bikes (road bikes, folding bikes, hybrid bikes, city bikes among others). I learned about bikes from my local bike mechanic as well as from bike maintenance courses. I love being out there in the saddle, and using my bike as a practical means of transportation. You can also find me on my YouTube channel at youtube.com/bikecommuterhero Say hi to me at sam@bikecommuterhero.com.

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