There’s a tendency to hear the words folding bike and automatically think ‘Brompton’ and for good reason, mind you, they are classics. But the cycling world offers other alternatives now, and there is no one model of a folding bike that is the ‘perfect’ example of them all. So, if you really want to know if a folding bike is slow, you need to scratch beneath the surface. Are folding bikes slow?
16-inch and 20-inch folding bikes are usually 10-20% slower than regular bicycles due to the lack of high gear ratios, as well as to the higher rolling resistance of small-diameter tires. 24-inch, 26- inch, and full-size folding bikes are comparable in speed to regular bikes.
Does it all sound a little jumbled up right now? Don’t worry, because today’s post is going to clear it all up and answer once and for all: is a folding bike slow?
16-inch and 20-inch ‘Classics’
OK, so earlier we said that the 16″ and 20″ models were generally quite slow. If you ask ‘is a folding bike slow?’ and then only look at these smaller classics, then the answer is always going to be yes. And it’s easy to see why.
These classic bikes are, usually, single-speed bikes or ones that have a pretty narrow gear range. They either don’t have high gears (and low-gears) at all or just a few. That makes them both OK at climbing hills and OK at picking up speed, but not especially great at either.
Obviously, these ‘classics’ are there to serve the average commuter. When you take a folding bike to work, you probably aren’t too concerned about hills (unless you have a very unfortunate route) and you probably aren’t too bothered about getting there quickly.
Fast enough is usually fine for these situations, so these smaller classic folding bikes didn’t need to be fast. By today’s standards, though, they are quite slow…
Smaller wheels have greater rolling resistance than bigger ones. A 16-inch wheel is approximately 40% less efficient than a normal 28-inch wheel, which results from the percentage of its surface in contact with the road.
This may sound alarming at first, but it doesn’t mean that you will be 40% slower. On average, 16-inch wheels result in 10% less speed because of the difference in rolling resistance.
24-inch, 26-inch and Full-Size ‘New Kids’
Enter the larger, 24, 26-inch, and full-size folding bikes – the ‘New Kids on the Block’ if you will. These bikes are designed for the modern commuter, and perhaps, even designed more for people who want to leisure cycle more on the weekend than commute in the working week
The full-size model wouldn’t be especially useful on long, busy city commutes. The point is, these bikes can handle it all. They have lower gears for climbing hills, medium gears for getting you from A to B, and high gears for racing home on a Friday!
This wider gear range gives them flexibility, and it makes them far more appealing to the modern cyclist – unless, of course, you’re a fan of the classics and want a traditional folding bike to help you complete your busy work commute in the week, and don’t need it for anything else.
Still, being able to ride faster is a definite benefit, and there’s no way you could ever call one of these multi-speed, varied-geared folding bikes slow. A break from tradition? Sure. But slow? Never.
Shining Examples Of Both
That, however, still doesn’t paint the full picture, and there’s a way to scratch even deeper beneath the surface. Why? Because although the points we’ve made so far are definitely true on the whole, they don’t apply to every situation.
That means you need to keep an eye on the market and look out for multi-speed classics with a wide variety of gears.
You’re less likely to see things going the other way (the larger models abandoning gears for a slower commute because then those bikes really offer you nothing), but it’s still worth looking at.
To give you some examples, we’ve found 4 folding bikes across a range of sizes that ALL have multiple gears and can easily achieve high speeds.
Brompton C Line Explore 16″
Think Bromptons are just for your average commute? Do you think they only offer single-speed bikes with none of the ‘oomph’ you need to get places fast? Well, this 6-geared Brompton C Line Explore doesn’t have ‘explore’ in the name for no reason.
It’s quick, it can handle lots of terrains and it’s the perfect example of a ‘classic’ bike that’s dragged itself into the 21st century and is ready to play ball with those ‘new kids’ from earlier.
And with 16-inch tires, it’s still a compact folding bike that can handle weekday commutes and weekend speed tests!
B’Twin TILT 500 20″
The B’Twin TILT 500 is another great example of a smaller bike that’s delivering big punches when going up against competitors.
With 7 gears, this bike even takes it a step further than the Brompton C Line and you can notice the little bit of extra top speed that the additional gear brings.
It’s quick, it can handle hills, and at 20″ it’s still foldable into a neat little package.
TERN VERGE X11 22″
We know we haven’t mentioned 22″ folding bikes so far, but that’s only because they’re a bit of an ‘in-between’ – neither big nor small. And when you’re working in a space outside the box, out-of-the-box thinking is only natural.
This TERN VERGE X11 22″ folding bike has 11 speeds and is possibly one of the most impressive folding bikes out there in terms of performance, so you can definitely see that out-of-the-box thinking.
The speed of this thing is insane, so no, looking at this model, folding bikes are not slow!
And finally, the Columba 26″ 18-speed folding bike really shows off what a folding bike can do when you’re looking for something to reach the very highest of speeds.
Does it suffer from being heavier and larger when folded? Of course, it does, but with top speeds that are almost unbeatable, we’re fairly certain you won’t mind.
Today’s article is a bit of a lesson of two halves, really. First, smaller, ‘classic’ folding bikes are slow compared to the larger, ‘new kids’ and it’s all because of the gearing.
But the second half teaches us something else. With bikes, you should never tar them all with the same brush, and the two ‘classic’, smaller models mentioned above really show that smaller folding bikes know how to do speed.
Really, when looking for any folding bike you have to make compromises all over the show, but do your research, focus on what’s important to you, and you’ll find the perfect one for your commute soon enough. Big or small, they can reach the speeds you need.