Folding Bikes: Everything You Need to Know [Inc. Pros + Cons]

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Over the past couple of decades, folding bikes have transformed from the pariah of the cycling world to one of the most common commuter vehicles – especially in larger cities.

Folding bicycles are designed to be folded into a compact shape so that they can be easily transported on public transport or in cars, as well as stored indoors with minimum fuss – often even under people’s desks during their work day.

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Although folded size varies from brand to brand, most folding bikes are small enough when folded to be extremely versatile in terms of storage. This is also a security advantage as you can keep them in your sights far more easily than a full-sized bicycle.

Folding bikes come in different shapes and sizes, but most have distinctive small wheels (typically 16 or 20-inch), a low crossbar and an upright riding position, which means they can be ridden comfortably in casual clothes and office-wear.

Some are single-speed and some have gears, and the once-held belief that folding bikes are ‘slow’ is an outdated misconception. Their little wheels make them nippy accelerators and they can easily cruise at 10 to 15 mph (and comfortable more if you opt for an electric folding bike).

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What Are Folding Bikes Good For?

Folding bikes are the perfect companion for multi-modal commutes (i.e. journeys which also part involve a car or train). A bike that can be folded into a compact form has obvious advantages in terms of transportation and storage, and this is why they’re popular with commuters.

In fact, the advantages of folding bikes are numerous:

  • They can be stored easily. You can pop a folding bike in a home, under your desk at work, bring it inside a friends home, pop it on a train luggage shelf, in a car boot… the options are endless. For this reason they’re far less likely to get stolen. It also makes them ideal for people with less space at home.
  • The upright riding position makes them suitable for virtually any type of clothing. You can easily wear your work clothes on a folding bike without having to change.
  • They can be taken on public transport during rush hour. Most rail companies and buses will struggle to cater to a full-time bicycles at the best of times, but definitely not during the busiest hours. Folding bikes are therefore great for multi-modal journeys.
  • They’re great for getting fit! Cycling on a folding bike doesn’t negate any of the health benefits that come with cycling.
  • They hold their value well. Folding bikes are becoming increasingly popular and as a result they retain a high resale price. And as some folding bike brands have a high price tag, this is a definite bonus if you do decide to sell.

Who Buys Folding Bikes?

Folding bikes are suitable for people who need flexibility of transportation. Buying a folding bike gives you a clear advantage in terms of portability, security and storage.

Commuters

Many folding bikes are bought for the purpose of commuting. They’re ideal for city commuters because they can be taken on public transport if the journey is too long, and they can be stored safely in the office.

The small wheels also make them agile and speedy city riding. Mounting and dismounting is easy, and casual or formal clothes can be worn without getting crumpled or torn.

People with Limited Storage Space

A folding bike is a good option for those with limited space at home. Full-sized bikes take up a lot of space in a small room, whereas a folded bike offers extensive and practical storage options.

People Who Like to Travel with Their Bike

Yes, of course people do travel with full-sized bicycles, but a folding bike makes it much easier to do so. Folded bikes take up little space on trains, buses, aeroplanes and boats. They can also be stowed easily in a car boot, which is also a security advantage if you need to leave the car for any length of time.

For those who have jobs that call for them to travel frequently and still want to be able to cycle, a folding bike is a very convenient solution.

People Concerned About Security

Not everyone is comfortable with leaving their bike outside, even if they have a dedicated space to do so. With over 77,000 bikes being stolen each year in the UK, it’s understandable that this is a concern. As folding bikes can be stored inside, they’re far less likely to be stolen.

How Popular Are Folding Bikes?

Folding bikes make up 4% of bikes sold in the UK each year. Brompton are the leading brand, selling around 70,000 bikes each year, many of which are exported.

In China, where it’s estimated that around 20% of the population commute by bicycle, over 10% of all bikes sold annually are folding bikes.

Globally, the folding bike market is now worth around a billion US dollars, and is predicted to be worth around 1.6 billion dollars by 2028.

And as cycling infrastructure continues to be developed in Europe and the U.S., it’s highly likely that the demand for folding bikes will continue to grow.

Folding Bikes [PROS + CONS]

PROSCONS
Practical and easy to store in their folded formThe price can often be high
Being stored inside offers better securitySmall wheels are not suitable for rough roads and potholes
They can be used for multi-modal commutingLimited gear range means that hills can be challenging
They’re easy to mount and dismountLess suspension than many full-sized bicycles
You can ride comfortably in your office-wearMany are heavier than full-sized bicycles

Folding Bikes History

It’s widely accepted that the first folding bike was invented by the American, Emitt G. Latta, in 1887. Folding bikes were then manufactured and used by the French military from 1895, and the first notable modern folding bike was the Raleigh Stowaway, introduced in 1971.

In February 1888, Emitt G. Latta sold his patent to the Pope Manufacturing Company, but the bike was never actually manufactured commercially.

In 1894, French army lieutenant Captain Henry Gérard joined forces with a wealthy French industrialist named Charles Morel, to manufacture a folding bike. The bike was produced a year later and was immediately successful with the public. Following this, the bike was used by the French military, and also the Russian and Romanian armies.

From the 1890s, many other countries began using folding bikes in the military. During World War I and World War II, the Birmingham Small Arms Company was the most well-known manufacturer of folding bikes.

During the 1960s and 1970s, with interest in folding bikes growing again, they were manufactured in numerous countries. But the first modern folding bike to make an impact was the Raleigh Stowaway, introduced in 1971. This bike, later known as the Raleigh Twenty, was produced until 1984.

Original Raleigh Stowaway from 1971

At the same time, the Bickerton Portable was introduced in England by inventor Harry Bickerton. This was a ground-breaking, lightweight bike with a compact fold. In the 20 years after its release in 1971, around 600,000 bikes were sold, and it was also one of the inspirations for Andrew Ritchie in the creation of the Brompton bicycle.

In 1981, Andrew Ritchie launched the first Brompton bicycle, which was closely followed by Dr. David Hon’s production of the Dahon folding bike in 1982. These were both milestone moments in folding bike history. Brompton and Dahon remain two of the most popular brands of folding bikes to this day.

Types of Folding Bikes

As the folding bike market has boomed in recent decades, there is now a huge choice in terms of style, size and weight. Folding mechanisms also differ from brand to brand, with some folds being significantly more compact than others.

Types of Fold

Mid-horizontal fold: Used by brands such as Dahon and Tern, this is where the bike folds in half horizontally at a hinge point, usually with a quick release clamp.

Triangle / Vertical fold: This style, as used by brands such as Tyrrell, Bike Friday and Brompton, is where the bike folds vertically using one or two hinges on the main frame. This is often a more compact fold than the horizontal style.

Swivel fold: This is a less common style and works by the bike swivelling around the seat tube without any breaks in the frame. Montague is a well-known brand to use this design.

Gears

How many speeds a folding bike has does between brand and model. They range from single-speed up to around nine, but some full-sized folding bikes can have up to 27 gears.

Most Popular Folding Bike Brands

With so many different folding bikes to choose from, it can be a bit of a minefield knowing where to start. But some brands do stand out from the crowd. The best folding bike brands, including Brompton, Dahon and Tern, offer a range of popular folding bikes with styles and prices to suit everybody.

  • Brompton: Boasting an iconic and unique style, Brompton sells around 70,000 bikes per year, and also offer a Brompton Subscription service where subscribers can hire a Brompton at a daily, monthly or annual rate.
  • Tern Bicycles: Tern offers a wide range of lightweight, non-electric and electric folding bikes that are manufactured with sustainability in mind.
  • Hummingbird: Hummingbird is known for producing the world’s lightest folding bicycle, with a carbon fibre frame and unique, minimalist design.
  • Bickerton Portables: A family-run business formed in 1971, Bickerton Portables now produces five models of folding bikes with an impressive range to suit all kinds of riders.
  • Raleigh: Retaining its folding bike popularity for the past five decades, Raleigh still produce the affordable and attractive Stowaway.
  • Dahon: Dahon is the largest folding bike manufacturer in the world, with the Dahon Boardwalk being one of the best-selling of all time.
  • B’TWIN: B’TWIN is the Decathlon bike brand, and their extremely popular B’TWIN Tilt 500 is a folding bike that combines quality with a budget price tag.

Read our full guide on the Best Folding Bike Brands here.

Folding Bike Prices

Folding bike prices range from around £300 for budget options to as much as £4,000 for premium models. On average, a folding bike will cost between £800 and £1,300. Electric models can cost around £700 at entry level, up to as much as £9,000 at the top end of the market.

Tern and Dahon offer entry-level folding bikes priced at £400 – £450, with premium models costing around £2,000.

Bickerton Portables and Raleigh also offer folding bikes for around £400 – £500, although Bickerton’s high-end models cost around £1,000, with an average price being £700.

Brompton and Hummingbird produce premium folding bikes that can cost close to £4,000. Brompton has the greater range of prices, with their entry-level bike costing £850, and the average price being around £1,300.

The B’TWIN 500, priced around £300, is one of the most affordable quality folding bikes on the market.

Recommended Folding Bikes by Budget

UNDER £/$500

B’Twin Tilt 500

UNDER £/$1000

Brompton A-Line

TOP PICK

Brompton C-Line

How Much Are Folding Bikes?

How much you pay for a folding bike will depend not only on your budget, but your needs. It’s possible to get a good quality folding bike for around £800. If budget is no option you could easily spend £3,000 or more. For those starting out, entry-level bikes can cost as little as £300 – £400.

Folding Bike: Price-to-Weight Distribution

Folding Bike Weight

The weight of folding bikes can range from under 7 kg at the lightest end, to over 14 kg at the heaviest. The typical weight of a mid-range folding bike is around 12 kg.

Hummingbird offers the lightest folding bike in the world, weighing only 6.9 kg, and Brompton recently released the T-Line with a weight of 7.45 kg. For exceptionally lightweight bikes such as these, however, you will pay a premium.

Cheaper folding bikes tend to be on the heavier side, such as the Raleigh Stowaway which weighs 14.5 kg. But on average, most folding bikes weigh between 11.5 kg and 12.5 kg.

One of the key factors that impacts the weight of a folding bike is the folding mechanism itself. These need to be strong to withstand not only repeated folding and unfolding, but also the impact and pressure of riding.

Tyre size can also make a difference, with larger 20” tyres weighing more than their 14” counterparts.

And of course, the material of the frame itself will affect the weight of a folding bike. Steel and aluminium frames are heavier than carbon fibre or titanium frames.

Folding Bike Wheel Sizes

Typically, the wheel sizes of folding bikes are 14”, 16” or 20”. Some brands offer different wheel sizes within their range, whereas others, such as Brompton, produce all of their bikes with the same sized wheels. The most common wheel size for a folding bike is 16”.

The wheel size on a folding bike will make a difference to how the bike handles. Smaller wheels allow for fast acceleration and agile manoeuvring, but 20” wheels offer a smoother ride.

The size of the fold is also affected by the wheel size, with 14” or 16” wheels allowing for a more compact fold than 20” wheels.

Generally, on a full-size bike it’s easier to cycle farther and longer as the larger wheels require less effort to maintain a consistent speed.

The advantage of small folding bike wheels is that they are often stronger than larger wheels on full-sized bikes because of their short spokes. But they are certainly less comfortable on bumpy terrain than normal-size bike wheels (between 26” and 29”).

Do Any Folding Bikes Have “Normal” Size Wheels?

Although most folding bikes have small wheels of 16” or 20”, some brands do produce full-size folding bikes with normal-size wheels. The notable examples of these are Montague and Change Bikes.

Montague Bikes

Montague, founded in 1987 and based in Massachusetts, specialises in full-size folding bikes and have an impressive range, including multi-use ‘pavement’ bikes, mountain bikes and electric bikes. The wheel sizes range from 26” to 700c.

The bikes may be normal sized, but with a swivel mechanism they fold to the surprisingly small dimensions of 91.5 x 71 x 30.5 cm.

Change

Founded in Change Bike specialise in full-size folding hybrid, road and mountain bikes, while maintaining a hardtail frame design. They are also the only folding frames to attain ISO4210 safety certification. The wheel sizes range from 27.5” to 700c.

Bickerton Portables

Bickerton manufactures a folding bike with 26” wheels. The Docklands 1824 Country is a 24-speed bike that offers the folded convenience of storage and transportation along with the benefits of riding on larger wheels.

Folding the Docklands 1824 takes around 30 seconds and the folded dimensions are 44.5 x 93 x 82 cm.

Tern Eclipse

The Tern Eclipse range consists of three full-size road bikes with 26” wheels. Boasting a folding time of 10 seconds, these bikes have between 16 and 22 speeds, with the smallest folded dimensions being 38 x 90 x 81 cm.

Folding Bike Weight Limits for Riders

Most full-size bicycles have weight limits of between 125 kg and 136 kg. The average weight limit for a folding bike is less, usually being between 100 kg and 110 kg.

Many folding bikes have a generally lower rider weight limit than normal bikes because the folding mechanisms contain hinges. This means they’re often weaker than full-size bikes with no breaks in the frame.

Steel frame bikes, such as Brompton, can comfortably carry weights of up to 110 kg. Although it is advisable to respect the weight limit issued by the manufacturer, it’s worth noting that there are numerous accounts of riders who claim that they are heavier than the given weight limit, but have no issues.

And generally, lighter folding bikes will have a lower weight limits for the rider. Though the remarkable Hummingbird brand is the exception here. Not only do they produce the most lightweight folding bikes available, but they also have a weight limit of 110 kg.

Folding Bikes for Heavy Riders

Although most folding bikes are designed to carry weights between 100 and 110 kg, there are exceptions. Some folding bikes have considerably higher weight limits, with capacities of up to 135+ kg.

Among the brands that can accommodate heavier riders, Tern and Dahon stand out as clear winners. The Dahon HIT with 20” wheels, has an impressive weight limit of 137 kg. Tern’s Short Haul D8 has a weight limit of 120 kg, and their cargo bikes can carry up to a whopping 200 kg.

Folding Bike FAQs

Are Folding Bikes Slower than Normal Size bikes?

Some people believe that folding bikes are slower and more difficult to ride than ordinary bikes, but on smooth ground, folding bikes are not always significantly slower. Many have proportionately higher gearing to accommodate the smaller wheel size. Smaller wheels also enable fast acceleration.

Are Folding Bikes Safe?

Folding bikes are manufactured to rigorous safety standards and are as safe to ride as any other type of bike. The smaller wheel size may take a little getting used to as the riding position is less aerodynamic, but this upright positioning ensures that riders are clearly visible as they cycle.

Do Folding Bikes Come in Different Sizes?

Most folding bikes come in one size, but with adjustable seatposts and handlebars so that they can be adapted to the rider’s height. Some brands, such as Montague, Change and Tern, offer full-size folding bikes.

Is It Easy to Sell a Folding Bike?

Many leading folding bike brands do retain a high resale value. Brompton bikes, for example, can often sell for almost as much as they were bought new.

Can I Tour on a Folding Bike?

Why not? Admittedly, you may not want to ride as far on a folding bike, but you don’t have to. The beauty of using a folding bike for touring is the variety of transportation options on offer. It’s easy to incorporate bus or train travel into your journey.

But if you want to cycle the extra mile, you can choose a folding bike with full-size wheels or opt for a 20” wheel bike with a higher gear range.

Read More:

Carol Vine


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IMPORTANT NOTE: Coffee funds may be converted into beers funds on Fridays.