When I first discovered folding bikes my impression was that they had to be slower than regular bikes. After-all, they have smaller wheels on most occasions. You sit more upright, unless you get a folding bike with a rider position similar to a road bike. Are usually heavier than regular bikes. And have less gears.
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With all these less than ideal differences, you would think that folding bikes are a lot slower than regular bikes.
What makes a folding bicycle capable of going the same speed as a regular bike
Just like regular bikes, folding bikes come in different varieties to suit different types of riders needs.
A folding bicycle, just like regular bikes, can be either more upright and slow, or aerodynamic and fast.
For example, both Brompton and Tern have many different options when you purchase their bicycles.
The way a folding bicycle frame is designed, makes a huge difference in the way it rides, just like it does with a regular bike.
Some folding bikes such as Brompton use steel frames on their bikes. Steel makes a frame super strong and durable, but comes with a weight penalty, and is usually less rigid than aluminum or carbon fiber.
Manufacturers such as Tern use aluminum frames that are lighter, and way more stiffer.
Brompton offers different handlebar options. The M and H handlebars are more upright, offering more comfort, but slower speed because you are fighting more wind resistance. The S bar gives you a lower, more aerodynamic position.
Tern has adjustable handlebars that you can lower to get more into the tucked position, similar to a road bike.
Brompton also offers different gear options, ranging from 2-speed, 3-speed, to 6-speed. The 2-speed will weigh less, but offer less hill climbing ability and speed on the flats. A 3-speed will give you enough gear range for everyday commuting. But don’t expect to be winning any races against someone wearing Lycra on a road bike. If you choose the 6-speed, you will get better hill climbing ability, more speed on the flats, and the ability to haul more accessories.
Tern on the other hand offers more performance than most other folding bikes. Tern has models with lots of gear options, with some going over 18 gears. With these many gears, you can get gear inches that are very close to what road bikes offer.
When choosing a folding bike it’s important that you know what wheel size you prefer. Folding bikes with smaller wheels will feel rougher over bumpy terrain, and lose momentum much faster than a larger wheeled bike. This makes them less ideal for longer distances, because you will be required to pedal more to maintain your speed.
On the other hand, small wheeled folding bikes are no slower than regular bikes while commuting in the city because they accelerate much faster from red lights, and rolling resistance doesn’t make much of a distance at speeds under 20 mph.
If you plan on using your folding bicycle for longer distances, you can choose one with larger wheels. Tern offers folding bikes with 20-inch wheels all the way up to 26-inches.
Just remember that while larger wheels will offer a faster, smoother ride, the bike will be much larger while folded and more awkward.
Durable tires such as the Schwalbe Marathons, that offers better protection against flats, are ideal for commuting in the city where reliability matters more than speed.
If speed is what you desire you can get Schwalbe Kojak tires, that will give you more speed due to less rolling resistance, but less puncture protection.
Conclusion to are folding bikes slower than regular bikes
Just like with regular bikes, folding bikes are not any slower than regular sized bikes. What really determines how fast or slow a folding bicycle is, depends on the way that you have it set up.
It depends on how light and stiff the frame is. Hot low or high the handlebars are adjusted. The number of gears. Wheel size, and type of tires you have installed.
Instead of asking if folding bikes are as fast as regular bikes, what you should be asking instead is, “how do you intend to use your folding bike”?