Folding bikes are valuable bicycles. They are small, seem lighter and there’s something cool about their awkward appearance. At first, they seem too small for a fun ride. Aren’t they sluggish, aren’t they impractical? Are they really that cool?
Are folding bikes good? Folding bikes are good for urban commuting, for multimodal commutes, and when you are tight on storage space or if you have security concerns and you don’t leave your bike unattended.
But what does that mean in practice and what are their pros and cons. Let’s find out together!
The bicycle comes with a small size frame and wheels (usually 16” and 20”), a longer seat post, and a handlebar stem.
The process of folding the bike will vary by model. Folding mechanisms align the front wheel with the rear one and there are two types of mechanisms to achieve that.
A popular folding mechanism is where the main tube has two hinges at the front and at the end. The front hinge folds sideways and moves the front wheel to the center of the frame, and the rear hinge will allow the rear triangle of the bike to flip forward and under the frame.
Brompton, the gold standard of folding bikes, uses this mechanism.
The second type of folding mechanism is a mid-folding design where the frame folds in half at the midway point. One wheel will move to the side to align itself with the other one. This design usually allows for a less compact fold than the previous one; nonetheless, you can store the bicycle in small spaces.
Both folding mechanisms allow you to fold the saddle and the handlebars so they won’t stick out awkwardly when folded.
Smarter designs will allow the rider to roll the folded bike in front of you by grabbing the handlebar. This feature is particularly handy when you don’t want to ride the bike but you don’t want to carry either. You can just push it around with one hand while for instance, you’re sipping a coffee with the other.
Best use of folding bikes
Folding bikes can be used for multiple purposes:
- You can use a folding bike if you’re an urban rider or commuter. You can keep your bike in the office under your desk without it taking up too much space.
- They are especially perfect for multimodal commuters who need to take buses and trains to the workplace.
- Bikepackers use it for long distance tours. Under certain circumstances the advantages of being able to fold the bike, to store it indoors make it a perfect choice for a long tour. If you would like to read more in depth about this read this article I wrote about the topic.
The Pros and Cons of Folding Bikes
They Fold Small. A 20-inch bike can fold up to about 33″(L) x 13″(W) x 24″(H) when folded and a more compact 16-inch bike can even fold smaller to 29″(L) x 13″(W) x 20″(H) size.
Easy to hold and roll. It is easy to carry them with you and some folding bikes can even roll on the wheels when folded.
They weigh less. Generally speaking, folding bikes weigh less than full-size bikes made of the same material.
You can store it indoors. There’s no need to keep your bicycle at outdoor places where someone could steal it. You also protect the bike from the effects of inclement weather.
They are sturdy. Most folding bikes have very sturdy frames and folding mechanisms.
Easy to maneuver. Because of the small wheels folding bikes maneuver perfectly on busy city streets.
Less smooth and stable. Folding bikes with 16 or 20-inch wheels transmit more of the vibration of a bumpy road and are less stable.
More expensive. Folding bikes are pricier because of all the extra that goes into the folding mechanism and smaller size.
They are slower. The design of folding bikes is all about making things tinier and lighter if possible. Thus there is a limited range of gears. So, if you want to reach and maintain really high speeds there is a good chance you will run out of gears.
Less versatile. When riding you have a smaller gear range at your disposal, meaning that there are fewer low gears to climb up hills. Because the frame is smaller and closer to the ground it is easy to damage the bike on off-road terrains.
Folding Bikes vs. Full-size Bikes
Folding bikes are easier to store in any environment really. They fit under a desk or even a chair in some cases. A full-size bike will always occupy a much larger space in your garage or apartment.
Folding bikes are easy to take on public transportation. A regular bike many times won’t fit or even if they do, won’t be allowed on public transport or if they are you need to pay an extra fee.
Folding bike design also varies, but traditional folding bikes like Brompton, have a slightly more comfortable seat and the rider sits in a comfortable upright position. On full-size bikes, the sitting position depends a great deal on the type of bike and handlebars.
It doesn’t require extra preparation or tools to tote your folding bike around in your car or really any means of transportation. A full-size bike often requires you to have a bike rack or remove the wheels to carry it. Folding bikes let you store the bike even in your trunk.
Full-size bikes usually have a wider gear range so it is probably easier to climb up hills with a full-size 18 or 21 speeders. It also depends on the gear ratio of the bike, but in general, that’s true… So if you are looking for a bike for your rides on hilly terrain a folding bike is not your best bet.
It is easier to go fast on a full-size bike as you can place your weight forward to be in a more aerodynamic position without losing stability and control. On a folding bike if you place your body weight to the front you will lose some control and stability.
A folding bike at high speeds will always feel wobbly due to the small wheels.
Both, entry-level and high-quality full-size bikes from a reputable brand are usually cheaper than folding bikes of the same quality. Folding bikes are pricier because of all the knowledge and material that is required to fold the bike and make its components more compact. There is no such cost for full-size bikes.
Are folding bikes durable?
Folding bikes feature sturdy frames and hinges made of durable materials such as aluminum, steel, or titanium.
The same as always, you get what you pay for: more reputable brands produce better quality and more durable bikes. However, it is untrue that folding bikes are less durable just because they are foldable.
Are folding bikes safe?
Folding bikes are safe if used on city streets or paved roads that they were designed for, but they are not safe to ride off-road or on technical terrain
Folding bikes are slower and easier to maneuver with. The locking folding mechanisms are also sturdy and will not come loose when handled right.
The small wheels handle paved roads perfectly. So on the busy city streets where you need the most folding bikes will perform just fine.
Are they good for exercise?
While the folding bikes are not designed for exercise they are good for exercise. Folding bikes can give you great exercise.
In fact in some cases e.g. riding up hills, maintaining high speeds, it is a more intense exercise to ride a folding bike than a full-size bike.
A folding bike is definitely not for everyone, but if you do multimodal commuting or you like to keep your bike indoors then a folding bike might be the right fit for. If that is the case on this link you find an article that helps to decide What size of folding bike should you get?