A folding bike could be the ideal solution if you want to combine a cycle trip with a train journey.
What is a folding bike?
The characteristic that sets a folding bike apart from a standard model is probably quite apparent from the name: folding bikes fold. This means that they’re ideal for anyone who wants to cycle to a train station, and take their bike with them for the journey into the unknown on the other side (or the standard 2 mile radius from London Bridge). Folding bikes are also allowed on peak time trains, which can solve problems for commuters.
Folding bikes are not only popular among cycling train users. They’re also incredibly handy for people for whom space is a limitation. The ideal bike for anyone who lives in a small flat, folding bikes are also popular among those who enjoy caravan or even canal boat holidays.
Choosing to go cycle touring on a folding bike also gives you the opportunity to mix your modes of transport easily – and there are versions with plenty of luggage provision and wide tyres designed with this purpose in mind.
The folding mechanism varies significantly per brand, as does the wheel size. Traditionally, folders are small bicycles – but there are versions designed around full sized rims that will be ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy the ride quality and speed of a standard wheel size.
In the past few years, electric folding bikes have become a genre of their own. The addition of a motor usually makes for a greater overall mass, but weights are ever decreasing and the additional power will make ascents significantly easier.
What are the benefits of using a folding bike?
The benefits of opting for a folding bike are numerous – and include:
- Ease of switching between cycling and public transport
- Ease of storage in your home
- Security of not having to lock the bike outside (it can sit under your desk at work!)
- Ability to take the bike on holiday – popular with caravan users and canal boat holidayers, some can be packed into airline luggage
- Ideal for those who enjoy touring but want to jump on a train, boat or car without too much hassle
- Most are built with resilience and simple maintenance at front of mind
If you plan to use your new folding bike for commuting to work, but have yet to get started on the daily ride – here are a few tips…
Six best folding bikes
Brompton Folding Bikes
Read more: Brompton, the perfect commuter bike?
London based brand Brompton is the market leader. They offer one frame size, with a range of customisation options. Changes can be made to the handlebar shape, frame weight, number of gears, finishing kit and of course colour. Brompton bikes feature a traditional 16 inch wheel size, and take minutes to fold.
Handlebar shape greatly influences the geometry of the bike. Available options are:
- Brompton M handlebar style: classic Brompton style
- Brompton H handlebar style: offers a more upright position
- Brompton S handlebar style: the more sporty option that offers quick handling
- Brompton P handlebar style: provides multiple hand positions, ideal for touring or longer rides
The bikes take their names from the buyers customisation. For example, a bike with ‘M’ shaped handlebars, six gears and mudguards but no rack mount will be a ‘Brompton M6L’.
Montague Boston Folding bike
Read more: Montague Boston folding bike review
If you want a bike that folds, but still rolls on 700c wheels (the same size as a standard road or hybrid bike) – then this could be an option to suit you. The Montague Boston was designed by a 6 ft 2 US architect, who simply didn’t want to make do with small wheels.
The folding mechanism here is controlled by a quick release, and our test bike had an aluminium frame and steel fork. We had a single speed version, but Montague does offer versions with up to eight hub gears.
B’Twin Hoptown 320 Folding Bike
Folding in half and at the stem, this B’Twin is an inexpensive option that comes from the in-house brand at sports retail giants Decathlon.
This model features six hub gears, comes fitted with mudguards and the highly adjustable saddle height allows for sharing across the household.
Tern Link N8 folding bike
Tern is a folding bike brand founded by Joshua Hon, son of Dahon folding bike creator David Hon, and the Link is a popular model. Perfect for city slickers, its major selling point is the narrow handlebars that make for quick and aggressive handling.
An aluminium frame sports a bombproof steel fork and eight Shimano Claris gears offer plenty of lift up the hills. Schwalbe Kojak tyres are designed to keep you inflated against all odds (unless you really go for it and roll right over broken glass).
Airnimal Joey Commute folding bike
Read more: Airimal Joey Commute folding bike review
Another larger wheel option, the Joey is fitted with 24″ wheels, giving it a road-like ride quality. Tyres are available in sizes up to 2″, to allow for light off-road use, or you can stick to skinny 1″ rubber for quicker rolling on the road. This model uses a 9 speed Shimano derailleur system and disc brakes.
The large wheel size means that when folded, the bike is more cumbersome to transport than a traditional 16″ version – but it’ll suit someone who wants a bike that’s blast to ride, but still takes up minimal space at home.
Hummingbird folding bike
Launched via Kickstarter, the Hummingbird folding bike will be available to buy in May 2017. The brand claim it’s the lightest folding bike in the world, at 6.5kg.
This is a single speed affair with a folding rear triangle, that was developed via 3D printed prototypes. The retail price? £3,495.
Folding electric bikes: a growing trend
Folding bikes have not been neglected from the e-power working its way through the cycling industry, and folding electric bikes have become a fast growing family.
Having a battery pack fitted to your folding bike means you can commute via bike and train, without having to worry about running out of gas on a climb or getting hot and sweaty in your work clothes.
Opting for a folding electric bike is also a way of overcoming one of the oft-quoted drawbacks of e-bikes: their size and weight. Though a folding electric bike will weigh more than a standard folding bike, it’ll be lighter than a full sized e-bike.
The lightest folding e-bike we’ve seen actually available to buy is the A-bike at 12kg, but most models are over 15kg and over 20kg isn’t an unreasonable mass.
As per any e-bike, a sensible factor to consider is the battery run time – most folding electric bikes can power you for about 50 miles. Check out the power of the battery too, and the charging mechanism.
Three best folding electric bikes
Tern Vektron Accelerator electric folding bike
Tern launched the Vektron Accelerator electric folding bike via Kickstarter. It’s based around 20 inch wheels, features a high quality Bosch battery and can power a rider up to 20mph. A full charge can last for between 40 and 80 miles – depending upon usage.
This bike comes with an adjustable stem, dynamo powered lights and hydraulic disc brakes. The rear integrates with a childseat and the frame will suit riders from 4 foot 10 to 6 foot 5. This bike does come in at 21.8kg, and retail prices are in excess of £2,500.
Coyote Connect Folding Electric Bike
If you’re looking for an inexpensive electric folding bike that will help power you over the hills but is still convenient when travelling, then this could be one for you.
The Coyote Connect can power you up to 15mph and has foldable handlebars and a split-frame design. The frame is made from aluminium, whilst the fork is a durable steel. Six gears are operated by a derailleur and the 20 inch wheels are shod with Kenda tyres.
A-bike electric folding bike
Another Kickstarter creation, the A-bike features an innovative design that sees it sporting quite possibly the smallest wheels you’ve ever seen on a bike. The makers claim that normal efficiency is maintained thanks to a dual chain drive and brushless motor that’s been optimised so that rate of pedalling matches the speed at which the wheels turn.
The battery can power a rider for around 15 miles, and takes around 2.5 hours to reach full juice. The entire unit comes in at 12kg.
Are there different types of folding bike?
As per all bike genres, styles do vary – and the best folding bike for you will depend upon your needs.
The greatest variations can be seen in the folding mechanism – though there are similarities, every brand has its own method. The way the bike folds will affect its shape and size in miniature state, its overall weight and carrying and/or rolling method.
Some styles are more user friendly than others, so it’s worth seeing a bike in the flesh and practising folding and un-folding before you buy, particularly if you expect to be unravelling the bike in a hurry on a train platform.
Wheel size is another major consideration – models with smaller wheels will be lighter and more compact when folded, but won’t gather as much momentum on the road.
Most folding bikes will be ‘one size fits all’, with a great deal of adjustability – meaning that it’s easy to share the bike across members of your household. However, if you know this is an important consideration, it’s worth ensuring that the model you buy offers a wide range of adjustment that’s easy to use. Brompton bikes, for example, have a long seatpost that is adjusted via a simple quick release lever, making it easy to swap between riders.
What’s the best material for a folding bike?
Like any other style of bike, there are multiple options when it comes to frame material.
Market leaders Brompton specialise in steel – using their renowned high quality brazing techniques to ensure that the frame welding provides the lightest yet strongest bond possible. Steel is resilient and comfortable – but it’s not light and they’ve moved into titanium for higher end offerings to offer a more featherweight alternative.
A high number of brands opt for aluminium, selecting the popular frame material for its balance between weight and resilience.
For those who really want to splash out, there are carbon framed versions available – such as the LIOS Nano, which comes in at just over 8kg. Though using carbon will make for a super light folding bike, it is easier to damage than aluminium, which is worth bearing in mind as many folders live a hard life being lugged on and off train platforms.
What components should I look for on a folding bike?
The nature of a folding bike means that they’re popular among commuters who will favour components that promote ease of maintenance and day-to-day convenience.
Tough tyres with a good level of puncture protection are often high on the agenda for commuters who want to limit the time they spend fixing flats. Check what rubber is fitted to the rims of your would-be bike if that’s you. Schwalbe and Kenda are popular manufacturers of small diameter tyres for folding bikes, and most will be 1.75-2 inches wide – offering plenty of grip thanks to a wide volume and thus increased contact patch with the tarmac when compared to traditional road tyres.
The number of gears specced on your new machine will be important too. If you expect to keep your journeys to flat city streets, a singlespeed (just one gear) will cut down on maintenance and overall weight. However, those who expect to ride hilly terrain will be pleased to hear that there are plenty of folding bikes that come supplied with triple chainsets and 11-32 wide ratio cassettes. This will offer an easier ride on the inclines, but will add to the weight.
Many folding bikes feature internal hub gears – this means that the shifting system is entirely sealed, cutting down on maintenance dramatically. Shifting on hub gears is often easier for beginners, as there is no chain tension to worry about. In addition, there’s no chance of the system being bent or damaged – a risk when left unattended on a busy train. If you want multiple chainrings and a wide spread of gears, you will need to opt for a derailleur system.
Disc brakes are also beginning to appear on folding bikes, and though usually heavier and more expensive, these will offer greater stopping power – especially in wet weather.
If you expect to be cycling in your office clothes, and want to ensure that you don’t bear a maker of your mode of transport on your attire, then chainguards and mudguards would be a useful addition. Provision for luggage, a frame mounted pump and integrated lights are all ‘nice to have’ accessories which you can feel justified in expecting on higher end models.