Folding bikes uphill just doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Whether it’s a fear of them unfolding somehow and sending you careering back down the hill, or whether it’s knowing they aren’t as well suited to hill climbs as some road and hybrid bikes, it doesn’t really matter.
If you’re new to the folding bike community and you’ve been left scratching your head because of differing opinions, don’t worry. Today we’ll answer once and for all: can folding bikes go uphill?
Can folding bikes go uphill? Most 16 and 20-inch folding bikes can go uphill on slightly steep slopes. However due to the low gear range and relatively high gear inches most folding bikes are not apt to climb up to steep slopes or ride them on hilly terrain. To make a folding bike better suited for climbing, you can change its chainring to a smaller size one.
If all that sounds confusing don’t get scared. Stick around because we’ll cover all that in much more detail so you know how to get folding bikes uphill easily. Ready to find out more? Then strap yourselves in for an uphill learning curve!
Gear Inches Explained
To help clear up the brief explanation above here is a very basic overview of gear inches to help explain why folding bikes are naturally a little less well suited to going uphill than other bikes.
You see, gear inches refers to how far a bicycle will go with one full turn of the pedals. They range from very low gearing (around 20 gear inches) to medium (70 or so) to very high gearing (125 gear inches).
Bicycles aren’t too dissimilar to cars in terms of what the different gears mean. If you are going uphill, you need lower gears because it makes the car (and in this case, the bike) more powerful, but slower.
If you want to go very fast, then you need higher gears, which aren’t as powerful but make the pedals more difficult to move, to increase the speed of your bike with each turn of the pedals.
If that’s too complicated an explanation, then just remember that the lower the gear inches on the bike, the easier it is to move the pedals and the easier it is to go uphill, but the harder it is to go fast.
The higher the gear inches, the harder it is to move the pedals and the harder it is to go uphill, but the easier it is to go fast.
Got that? Good! Then let’s move on to folding bikes vs hybrid and road bikes.
Gearing: Folding VS Hybrid VS Road Bikes
To give you an example of why folding bikes are notoriously more difficult to get uphill than other bikes, we’ll compare the gear inches of folding bikes with hybrid and road bikes.
Remember, there are ways to make folding bikes uphill journeys easier, but we’ll cover that later. For now, here’s an example of why folding bikes aren’t as good uphill as hybrid and road bikes. All the info below is for either a standard single-speed bike or the lowest gear setting on multi-speed bikes:
- Folding bike average lowest gear inches: 60 gear inches generally (when single speed), as low as 35 for a 6 speed model
- Hybrid bike average lowest gear inches: 22 gear inches approximately
- Road bikes average lowest gear inches: 26 gear inches approximately
Of course, you can see that all the values and info above are approximate based on the current market today, but there will be different bike types with lower and higher gear inches than what’s listed here.
The point is, hybrid bikes are clearly better at uphill climbs than the other two. Even road bikes, that are designed for high speed, have lower gear inches and consequently are better suited for climbing up hills than folding bikes. Remember for reaching higher speeds you need higher gear inches.
6-speed folding bikes aren’t exactly well-suited to uphill climbs, but they’re much better than their single-speed counterparts.
But what if you need a folding bike for your commute? Is there anything you can do to make your folding bikes’ uphill performance better? Thankfully, yes there is!
Changing The Chainring
Before we get started, this isn’t a guide on how to change the chainring on your folding bike.
There are plenty of guides out there for that and it’s a really simple job you can easily do at home, but what many of those videos and articles don’t do is explain the effect of changing to a smaller chainring, which is why we’re bringing it to your attention today.
By changing your chainring to a smaller size (for example, switching from a 58T chainring to a 45T chainring), your bike will perform better at lower gears. That means it can climb hills far easier.
Yes, you’ll sacrifice top speed in your higher gears by making the change, but it’ll improve your gear inches in the lower gears, so climbing uphill is more achievable for you and your bike.
Obviously, if you rarely climb hills on your folding bike, then this isn’t an issue. But if you have a large uphill climb on your route to work every day, then sacrificing the top speed in favor of better uphill performance makes sense.
Your first port of call, then, is always to change your chainring to a smaller one on your folding bike to improve your uphill climbs.
Overall, folding bikes’ uphill performances can always be improved with a smaller chainring. You’ll never get as good an uphill performance as you will from a road or hybrid bike, even with these changes, but that’s sometimes the price you’ve got to pay for the convenience of a folding bike for the average commuter.
Still, changing the chainring will make your folding bike much better at uphill climbs, so it’s certainly worth doing to leave those uphill struggles behind you!