What is a folding bike?
Folding bikes are set apart from other machines on the market by one defining characteristic: they fold. The collapsable nature of these bikes 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 permitted on peak time trains, which can solve problems for commuters.
These handy commuting pals are not only popular among those negotiating the daily grind, however. 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.
Lightweight, cheap or electric folding bike?
There are many different brands offering folding bikes – and what might be the perfect option for one person may be the worst for another. Key variations can be found in the wheel size, folding mechanism, weight and price.
Folding mechanism: 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.
Folding bike wheel size: Traditionally, folders are small bicycles – but there are versions designed around full sized rims. Models with smaller wheels will be lighter and more compact when folded, but won’t gather as much momentum on the road. A folding bike with larger wheels will be much faster rolling once the wheels are up to speed – but will likely weigh more and will be little more cumbersome to load onto public transport.
Lightweight folding bikes: Of course, if you intend to be hoisting the bike on and off trains, then it’s understandable that you want it to be light. This can be achieved though using a lighter frame material. Brompton have recently introduced titanium to their range and there are brands making carbon folders. Higher quality components will also reduce the weight, as will opting for fewer gears – such as a singlespeed version – but this will only really suit someone who doesn’t intend to come across many hills in their use of the bike.
Cheap folding bikes: The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ mostly rings true here. You can pick up a folding bike for under £200, and you can also spend well in excess of £2000. A cheap folding bike will do the job for you – but you can expect it to be heavier than more premium offerings thanks to lower end components and a more hefty frame. Finding the right option for you comes down to choosing which side of compromise to sit on.
Folding bike adjustability: 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.
Electric folding bikes: 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.
The best folding bikes for 2019
Brompton M6L folding bike
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 are quick and easy 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’. – which weighs 11.78kg.
Tern Verge X11
If you’re after something super speedy, and willing to pay over the average threshold for it, then the Verge X11 is an inviting option. With 22″ wheels, it’s a little closer to a standard hybrid and comes with a SRAM Force 1x chainring and large ratio cassette. That means easy maintenance and gearing that won’t feel dissimilar to a road bike.
You also get Kinetix Pro X wheels, with Schwalbe Durano tyres and a uniquely designed adjustable stem – but it does come in at £2400.
Read more: Tern Verge X11 review
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 seven hub gears. The bike has a claimed weight of 12.7kg.
B’Twin Hoptown 120 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. The claimed weight is 14.5kg.
The B’twin Hoptown has since become the B’twin tilt, you can see the product at Decathlon here.
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 became available to buy in May 2017 and continues to sell into 2018. 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.
Raleigh Stowaway 7 2018 Folding Bike
An aluminum frame with a 7 speed Shimano Tourney gear system and v-brakes. This bike comes fitted with metal mudguards and a rear pannier rack already installed: it’s a commuter from the get-go, but could also make a solid touring option.
The tyres, crankset, stem and other finishing kit components are all Raleigh made. The fork is steel and the overall weight is 13kg.
Tern Vektron electric folding bike
Tern launched the Vektron 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.
See more: Tern Vektron S10 at Tredz for £2699
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.
Folding bikes: what are the benefits of using one?
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…
Folding bike frame materials
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.
Folding bike component choices
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.
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.