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 ride to a train station, and take their bike with them for the journey into the unknown on the other side.
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In many places folding bikes are also permitted on trains at rush hour, which can solve problems for commuters.
These handy commuting pals are not only popular among those negotiating the daily grind, they’re also incredibly handy for people for whom space is a limitation. The ideal bike for anyone who lives in a studio apartment, folding bikes are also popular among those who enjoy RV trips or even canal boat holidays.
Choosing to go bike 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 tires 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 practicing folding and unfolding before you buy, particularly if you expect to be unraveling 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 or haul up a few flights of stairs.
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 through 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 / £200, and you can also spend well in excess of $3500 £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 heftier 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.
>>>Read more: Best electric folding bikes
The best folding bikes
Gocycle GS folding e-bike
Read more: Gocycle GS folding e-bike review
- RRP:$2,799 / £2,499 Weight: 37.04lbs / 16.8kg Wheel size: 20″
- Pros: Packs into a compact bag, nice ride position, comfortable and quick Cons: A bit tricky to fold and unfold
Gocycle’s rethinking of the urban e-bike features a stunning swooping magnesium alloy frame and unique single sided swing arm. It doesn’t end at the frame though: the wheels are radical too being made of alloy in a motorbike inspired five-spoke design. Combine all this with a powerful motor powered at the front wheel and the Gocycle GS is the perfect urban bike. It also won a place in our Editor’s Choice awards in 2019.
- RRP: $2,196 / £1,525 Weight: 26.19lbs / 11.88kg Wheel size: 16″
- Pros: Versatile, comfortable, folding action, ride Cons: More expensive than the standard from Brompton
Designed in partnership with explorer Alistair Humphries, the Brompton Explore is a bike that can do your usual commute along with longer days in the saddle, maybe taking in a mountain or two.
The Brompton Explore is a real change from the norm with the London based brand, looking more at the comfort and endurance side, lower gear ratio and bags to go bike packing with along with a load more useful extras all for $2,196 / £1,525.
Brompton M6L folding bike
Read more: Brompton, the perfect commuter bike?
- RRP: from $1,644 / £915 Weight: from 23.54lbs / 10.68kg Wheel size: 16″
- Pros: Customisable to your needs, steel frame with quality welding is robust Cons: Expensive, Stock in the US ebbs and flows
London based brand Brompton is the market leader. It offers one frame size, with a range of customization options. Changes can be made to the handlebar shape, frame material (read:weight), number of gears, finishing kit and of course color. Brompton bikes feature a traditional 16-inch wheel size and are quick and easy to fold.
The 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 buyer’s customization. For example, a bike with ‘M’ shaped handlebars, six gears and fenders but no rack mount will be a ‘Brompton M6L’. – which weighs 25.97lbs / 11.78kg.
Tern Verge X11
- RRP: $2,499 / £2400 Weight: from 23.83lbs / 10.81kg Wheel size: 22″
- Pros: Top end spec, hydraulic disc brakes, 11 gears Cons: Carbon frame drops weight but is less robust, very expensive
If you’re after something super speedy, and willing and price is no issue, then the Verge X11 is a tantalizing option. With 22″ wheels, it’s a little closer to a standard hybrid and comes with a SRAM Force 1x drivetrain 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 tires and a uniquely designed adjustable stem – but it does come in at $2,499 / £2400.
Read more: Tern Verge X11 review
B’Twin Tilt 500 folding bike
- RRP:$350 / £299.99 Weight: from 28.43lbs / 12.9kg Wheel size: 20″
- Pros: Inexpensive Cons: Lower-end components
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 seven gears, comes with fenders pre-installed and the highly adjustable saddle height allows for sharing across riders of different sizes. The claimed weight is 12.9kg.
- RRP: $299Weight: from 30lbs / 13kg Wheel size: 16″
- Pros: Price, well equipped, sturdy Cons: Heavy
Hailing from Richmond Virginia Oragami Bicycle COmpany is by far the most aptly named folding bike brand out there. The Hawk is built tough made entirely of steel, the bike is equipped with a Shimano Tourney/Revoshift drivetrain, with seven gears. The wheels are 20in and the bike is said to fold down to just 14 x 33 x 24in.
Buy now: Oragami Hawk from Walmart for $299
Airnimal Joey Commute folding bike
Read more: Airnimal Joey Commute folding bike review
- RRP: $NA / £1599 Weight: from 29.7 lbs / 13.5kg Wheel size: 24″
- Pros: Larger wheels make for good ride quality Cons: Cumbersome to carry around
Another larger wheel option, the Joey sees 24″ wheels, giving it a road-like ride quality. Tires 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 an 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub gear 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 a blast to ride, but still takes up minimal space at home.
Hummingbird folding bike
- RRP: $4,500 / £3495 Weight: from 14.33lbs / 6.5kg Wheel size: 16″
- Pros: Exceptionally light, singlespeed is simple for flat locations (geared options available for hillier terrain) Cons: Very expensive, carbon frame, seatpost and handlebars less robust than alloy or steel
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 14.33lbs / 6.5kg.
This is a singlespeed affair with a folding rear triangle, that was developed via 3D printed prototypes.
Giant Expressway 1 Folding Bike
- RRP: $660 Weight: from 26.45lbs / 12kg Wheel size: 16″
- Pros: Price, well equipped, sturdy Cons: Heavy
We don’t typically think of Giant as a folding bike brand, but given they are the biggest bike manufacturer in the work, it really should come as no surprise. From the brands best in Class ALUXX aluminum the frame follows a fairly traditional design with a hinge in the middle and under the handlebars. Rolling on 20in wheels it folds down compact and sees a sturdy rear rack and fenders and Shimano 8-speed Altus drivetrain will help get you up and over those nasty hills right before the train station.
Raleigh Evo Electric Folding Bike
- RRP: $NA. /£1,350 Weight: from 44.09lbs / 20kg Wheel size: 20″
- Pros: Relatively inexpensive, fitted with rack and mudguards Cons: Heavy
The Raleigh Evo Electric bike has an aluminum frame with an 8 speed Shimano Altus gear system and v-brakes. This bike comes with metal fenders and a rear pannier rack already installed: it’s a commuter from the get-go, but could also make a solid touring option.
The tires, crankset, stem and other finishing kit components are all Raleigh made. The fork is steel and the overall weight is 44.09lbs / 20kg.
Tern Vektron S10 electric folding bike
- RRP: £3,600 Weight: from 22.1kg Wheel size: 20″
- Pros: Reliable Bosch power system has long-range and cuts effort of commute Cons: Power makes riding easier, but has implications on weight which make carrying harder
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 30 and 60 miles – depending upon usage.
This bike comes with an adjustable stem, integrated lights, and hydraulic disc brakes. The Atlas Rack has a maximum load capacity of 27 kg and the frame will suit riders from 4 foot 10 to 6 foot 5. This bike does come in at 22.1kg.
Dahon Mariner D8
- RRP: $749 Weight: from 27.69lbs / 12.56kg Wheel size: 20″
- Pros: Brushed alloy finish, ride quality, rack and bungie, Price Cons: Some assembly required
One of the most popular models from us outfit Dahon, the Mariner D8 is made from the brand’s Dalloy Sonus Tubeset and sees a Lattice forged hinge with what it calls Vicegrip technology. Rolling on 20in wheels, the bike sees V-Brakes, an 8-speed Shimano Altus drivetrain and comes with a rear rack and full-coverage fenders.
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 transportation
- 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 vacation – popular with RV road trippers 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 durability and simple maintenance as the top proirity
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 specializes 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 aluminum, 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 aluminum, 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 favor components that promote ease of maintenance and day-to-day convenience.
Tough tires 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 tires for folding bikes, and most will be 1.75-2 inches wide – offering plenty of grips thanks to a wide volume and thus increased contact patch with the tarmac when compared to traditional road tires.
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 cranksets and 11-32 wide-ratio cassettes. This will allow you spin up steep streets with ease, 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 constant risk when utilizing on trains and busses. 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 and control – especially in wet weather.
If you expect to be cycling in your office clothes, and want to ensure that you aren’t splattered with road spray and chain grease, then chainguards and fenders 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.