After 8 years of riding a folding bicycle in all weather conditions. Bringing it onto public transportation. Tucking it under the desk at work, when I did work in Corporate America. Placing it in the trunk of a car. And hiding it in the closet at home. I’ve learned which folding bike, or shall I say, folding bikes are best for me.
During these 8 years I’ve tested many folding bikes. I’ve suffered pedaling up the steepest hills, just like on a regular-sized bicycle. Shifted the gears to see how smoothly they work during a normal, daily commute. Folded and unfolded them to see how quickly, and easily they would collapsed during a hectic rush hour on the train or bus.
Then of course I’ve carried these folding bikes on and off public transportation. Into restaurants and stores. And of course into my house after a tough ride through harsh weather conditions.
It’s hard to say which folding bike would be the best for every individual. That’s because, just like individuals, no folding bicycle is ideal for every single situation. Some folding bicycles are great for bringing onto public transportation but not suitable for off-road conditions. Others are great for long-distance riding, but too bulky to carry into cafes, restaurants or stores.
Instead, I’m going to tell you which manufacturers are the best to buy from.
How I learned about the best folding bike for me
When I first started learning about folding bikes, finding information about them was extremely difficult.
Reading online forums or reviews weren’t very helpful, because most of the information was not accurate or true.
Flocks of armchair gurus, who never rode a folding bicycle before, would bash them for how they ride. Or complain about how fragile they are compared to non-folding bicycles.
Or, these so-called experts would take them for a spin around a parking lot, and praise them up and down, just to direct you to a link on Amazon, so you could make a purchase.
So, instead I decided to do my own research and make my own decisions.
Getting information from folding bicycle experts
I was fortunate enough to find a bicycle shop in New York City, who happened to be experts on folding bikes. This shop was called NYCEWheels, until they unfortunately closed a while back.
I’ve also talked to a few other bicycle shops who happen to be experts on folding bikes.
I’ve consulted with:
Plus, I’ve been commuting everywhere with my two folding bikes
Just like I did with my full-sized hybrid bicycle, I’ve tested the limits of both these folding bicycles.
When I use to work for Corporate America, I had a bike commute of 2.5 miles each way, 5 days a week. I had to climb steep hills with wind gusts that felt like 200 mph.
There’s been many times when I rode in below zero weather or humid conditions that felt like the Sahara dessert.
On multiple occasions, I got caught in downpours that left me completely drenched from head to toe by time I arrived home. Even my sneakers were full of water.
Then there was the time I got caught in a snow storm on the way home. Abominable Snowman had nothing on me!
As you can see. I didn’t just ride these folding bicycles through a parking lot. Or try them out for a week or two and then write up a review.
I’ve owned these folding bikes for a long period of time. I know how they ride on rough terrain. How long it takes to fold them. The difficulty of carrying them any amount of distance. And how durable they are while putting them through abuse on daily commutes.
Who will benefit from reading this?
If you’re anything like me, you’re not interested in the sporting side of cycling. You’re a commuter that wants a reliable bicycle, that is comfortable to ride, and doesn’t require a loan to purchase it.
Just like when purchasing a non-folding bike, finding a folding bike that is truly a one-size-fits-all is nearly impossible.
People come in all shapes and sizes, and ride for a variety of reasons. Plus, most riders are interested in the commuter segment of bikes.
These riders require a bike to get to work and home during the week. They might have to bring it on the bus, subways, or in the trunk of a car. Also, they might even want to bring their bike inside during the day to avoid having it stolen. And just like me, may want to carry stuff on their bike instead of on their back.
Now, I’m not just a recreational rider, but many people are. These types of riders usually want a good-looking bicycle for riding around town, while still being able to stow it in an apartment or easily tote in a car.
What are some of the downsides of a folding bike?
Unfortunately, there are some downsides of owning a folding bike. Most folding bikes can not accommodate riders who are under 4”8’ or over 6”3’.
Also, most folding bikes can’t carry riders who weight over 220 lbs.
Another problem, depending upon which manufacturer you buy your folding bike from, might not be as reliable as a non-folding bike. Additional hinges and latches may require more maintenance, and unless you get one with larger wheels, won’t ride quite as smoothly or comfortably as a good full-sized bike.
Advantages of owning a folding bike
Folding bikes use to be heavy, crude, hard to ride, slow to fold, and once in a while they collapsed in a heap.
But in the early 90’s that all changed as rail operators and airlines began to tighten restrictions on conventional bike carriage.
Fortunately, bikes that could be treated as hand luggage continued to travel free, so the concept of super-compact folding bikes caught on.
Today there are hundreds of different types of folding bikes. And thanks to developments in small tire technology and frame materials, the weight, ride quality and performance of the best folding bikes is similar to that of non-folding bikes.
Folding bikes offer five primary advantages over conventional bicycles:
- Free and unrestricted carriage on public transportation
- Relatively thief proof
- Space-saving at home and elsewhere
- Urban multi-modal travel (such as rail/folding bike) is usually cheaper than using a car
- High resale value
Here’s how I picked a folding bike
After much discussion with many experts, and looking over tons of reviews I settled for test riding bikes with:
- Wheels 16 to 20 inches in diameter. I test rode a folding bicycle with wheels as small as 8-inches, and one with wheels as large as a full-sized bike. The problem is that the 8 inch wheels were too small to be practical in terms of speed and handling over the distance of a typical commute. And the full-sized wheels were too awkward to get on a train or fit under a desk.
- Between six and eight gears anything under 6 might not be enough options when you’re tackling hills and bridges. Over 8 might require too much maintenance and be overkill for daily commuting.
- Traditional derailleurs. Internal gearing can be handy—you can shift when stopped at a traffic light or when starting out on a hill—but it’s pricier and not widely available.
- Drivetrains that use a chain. Belt drives have their advantages—they don’t need regular lubrication, they’re clean and virtually maintenance-free—but they’re costly, and again, not as common.
- Fenders, either standard or as an add-on you can order with your bike to protect your work clothing from wet streets.
- Racks or other luggage systems as options to hold cargo such as a laptop, a change of shoes, or groceries for dinner.
Will you be riding on the road or the trail?
It’s important to consider wheel size when finding your ideal folding bike, because it makes a difference in the folded size as well as the kind of terrain you’ll be able to ride on.
Just like my Tern Link D8, most folding bikes use 20-inch wheels. This ensures they fold down to a manageable size and stay relatively light when commuting or traveling on public transportation.
Unfortunately, 20-inch wheels aren’t as efficient as 700c wheels, which will offer a smoother ride and maximize your peddling input.
But, these larger wheels will result in a larger size when folded down, and higher weight.
Size, weight, and folding mechanism matters
It’s important to remember that as folding bikes get more expensive, their overall weight typically comes down. This is due to higher-quality parts and lighter frame materials. Such as carbon fiber and titanium.
NOTE: If you need to climb stairs more often than you climb hills, opt for a single speed or a model with fewer gears, which can shave even more weight.
Another factor to consider is how quickly and easily the bike folds down. This is especially important if you’re the type who waits until the last minute to get to the train.
Even though most of these bikes come as “one size fits all”, they still have a lot of adjustability as you unfold them.
Make sure they have quick-release levers or simple adjustments so that the bike fits and rides well.
NOTE: A model with a lot of versatility may even be suitable for more than one member of the family.
There’s also electric options available
I didn’t consider an electric bicycle because of price and weight.
But if you do, most electric folding-bike options come with a 250-watt motor and enough torque for safe but fast acceleration.
The higher the torque, the faster the acceleration and the more powerful the bike will feel.
Most folding e-bikes are Class 1, meaning they top out at 20 mph and are acceptable on bike paths.
NOTE: If you encounter several flights of steps during the course of an average day, keep in mind that a battery and motor add to the bike’s overall weight.
Some other issues I had to consider
While researching and test riding many folding bicycles I realized that a number of companies are selling very inexpensive folding bikes.
These folding bikes can be found at places such as Amazon and big-box stores such as Target and Amazon.
The problem with these bikes is that they don’t meet the strict safety standards that manufacturers such as Dahon, Tern, Brompton and Montague do.
At any moment, these cheaply made bicycles could snap underneath you, putting your life in danger. Instead, I’d recommend you spend a little more for a model made by a brand with a reputation of having higher quality.
Here’s the brands of folding bikes that I’d highly recommend:
These brands will offer the following benefits:
- A great quality ride (pedaling, steering, shifting, braking, and overall ride experience)
- Comfort (adjustability for various body sizes, plus, to a lesser extent, touch points such as the pedals, handlebar grips, and saddle)
- Ease of folding and unfolding
- Compactness and stability when folded for storing, stashing, and maneuvering
- Weight and the distribution of weight for ease of carrying when folded or unfolded
- Inclusion of fenders (and assessment of quality)
- Availability and usefulness of cargo options (e.g., rack, bags)
As you can see there’s no such thing as best folding bike for everyone. Choosing a folding bicycle depends upon what type of terrain you’ll be riding. How far you’ll be commuting. What price you’re willing to pay. And whether you’ll be combining it with public transportation or just exploring.