Is It Hard To Ride A Folding Bike Uphill?

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Just like a regular bicycle, folding bikes can be just as fast, durable, and fun to ride. Many people choose to commute on a folding bike because they are easy to store at work and home. And can be combined with other forms of transportation. For those very reasons, many urban dwellers, such as myself choose to ride a folding bike over a regular bike. But it wasn’t always like this. When I first started getting interested in folding bikes, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s hard to ride a folding bike uphill.

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Similar to a regular bike, a folding bikes ability to climb hills depends on many different factors. It will depend upon the number of gears and how low that they go. The position (will you be sitting upright or tucked) you sit on the bike. How much the folding bike weighs. And of course, what kind of shape you’re in.

Is it hard to ride a folding bike uphill?

A folding bicycle is no harder to ride uphill than a regular non-folding bicycle. What will determine how difficult it is to ride uphill will depend upon on how you have your bicycle set up, which we will go over.

First, what is a folding bicycle?

A folding bicycle is a bicycle that’s designed to fold into a compact form, with the use of hinge clamps. The frame usually folds in half with some folding into three parts, such as the Brompton folding bicycle. When folded, a Brompton folding bicycle measures 23 x 22.2 x 10.6 inches. This makes the Brompton the smallest folding bike in the world that also rides exceptionally well.

Other folding bikes such as Tern, only fold in half and use 20-inch wheels, instead of the 16-inch wheels used on Brompton folding bikes.

The 20-inch wheels do ride smoother on rougher surfaces than the 16-inch wheels, and do hold speed better over longer distances. But they don’t fold up as neat and small, due to their larger size.

Both these types of folding bikes are a great option for city commuters because they are allowed on public transportation.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of folding bikes?

Similar to regular bicycles, folding bicycles have their advantages and disadvantages. It depends on what type and size folding bicycle you decide to purchase.

Advantages:

  • The advantages of folding bikes is that they’re able to fold up into a small package and go anywhere with you. They can be brought into work, stores, restaurants, RV’s, trains, buses, and planes. This makes them great for those who like to travel the world.
  • Folding bikes are less likely to be stolen because you never have to leave them outside while at home, work, or places you like to visit such as coffee shops.
  • A folding bike takes up very little space at home. This means no more locking it up outside in bad weather conditions, resulting in higher costs on repairs. You can put your folding bike in a closet, under your bed, in a cabinet, or besides your couch in a corner.
  • It’s true that a folding bike costs more than a standard bicycle, but they tend to hold their value much better. What this means is that if you decide a folding bicycle isn’t for you, you can usually sell it and get most of your money back.
  • Folding bikes allow you to extend the distance you can commute or travel by being able to combine them with other forms of transportation. You can ride part way to work and then finish the rest of your journey by hopping on a bus or train. Or if you’re the type who loves to travel the world, hop on a plane, and then explore by riding your folding bike across different continents.

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Disadvantages:

  • Folding bicycles use more propriety parts than non-folding bikes. This means that they are much harder to customized and find parts if you’re traveling to different parts of the world.
  • Parts on folding bikes can be much more expensive depending on what type of folding bicycle that you buy. Smaller folding bikes usually use more proprietary parts than larger folding bikes. Larger folding bikes tend to use more standard parts that you can find in regular bike shops, making them less expensive to repair. Also, some bike mechanics might have a harder time repairing them because they aren’t familiar with the parts.
  • Folding bicycles usually cost more than standard bikes. In order to get a folding bike that has the same quality as a regular bicycle, you might have to pay twice as much.
  • The wheels on folding bicycles are usually much smaller than the ones used on standard bicycles. These smaller wheels don’t ride as smooth over rough surfaces. And while they can ride just as fast, will usually require more pedaling to maintain speed, which isn’t as efficient for longer distances.
  • If you’re the type that doesn’t like a lot of attention, then a folding bicycle may not be for you. Onlookers will constantly give you compliments on your unique looking bicycle and ask a lot of questions.

So the question remains! Is it hard to ride a folding bike uphill?

Are you able to ride up this steep hill?
Are you able to ride up this steep hill?

The answer is, no a folding bicycle is not harder to ride uphill. As I mentioned before it depends on how your bicycle is set up.

What determines how easy it is to ride your folding bike uphill?

  • The number of gears that you have, and how low that they go.
  • Tires
  • Rider position.
  • Weight of your folding bike.
  • How good of shape that you’re in.

Let’s start with gears

More gears on your folding bike means lower gear ratios for climbing hills and higher ones for going faster on the flats. It’s also easier to maintain your cadence because your gears will increase or decrease by less each time you change them. You’ll have a much better time finding the perfect gear for each situation. On hills you’ll exert less energy and on declines or flats, you’ll have an easier time maintaining your speed.

Folding bicycles can feature a large range of gears just like standard bicycles. You can get single speed, 2-speed, 3-speed, 10-speed, or more.

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Types of tires

Tire selection, even though can be more limited than with standard bicycles, can effect how fast and smooth your folding bicycle rides dramatically.

Wider, thicker, heavier tires with less air pressure can offer a smoother ride with better puncture protection. But overall speed and hill climbing ability can suffer. These types of tires are usually better for commuters and bicycle tourers.

Smoother, thinner, lighter tires with higher air pressure provide more speed but at a cost of less puncture protection. If you don’t mind the possibility of getting more flats, than these types of tires are what you want for more speed and hill climbing ability.

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Rider position

There’s just as many types of folding bikes as there’s standard bikes. Some folding bikes are meant for cruising at lower speeds. While others are meant for covering longer distances at a frightening pace.

Wind resistance and leverage has a huge effect on a bicycles top speed and hill climbing ability. A more upright position will not only offer a slower top speed, but also be tougher for climbing hills.

You’ll not only have to deal with more wind resistance but also exert more energy uphill. When you lean forward more and get into a tucked position, you become more aerodynamic. You also use more of your legs stronger muscles, (Gluteus Maximus) making pedaling much easier.

Folding bike weight

A lighter bicycle will be much easier to pedal uphill, and this same rule applies to folding bicycles. While being more durable, a steel folding bicycle will usually weigh more. Also, steel tends to provide a comfortable ride by flexing, but takes away from pedaling efficiency as a result.

Aluminum tends to weigh less and provides a stiffer ride. What you end up with is more power transfer to the pedals. Just remember that the ride will most likely be harsher.

Are you in good shape?

You don’t have to be in Tour De France shape in order to ride a folding bike uphill, but it does help if you’re in reasonably good shape.

In order to get in better shape to go uphill, it requires practice and patience. Every day, practice going uphill at a pace that you’re able to maintain, and try to beat the time you get up the hill each week.

Also, if possible, start with smaller hills, and tackle steeper ones as your fitness level improves. All it takes is patience in order to build up the leg strength a cardiovascular conditioning that will eventually allow you to climb any hill, no matter how steep it is.

Tips on how to ride a folding bicycle uphill

Regardless if you’re riding a folding bike or a standard bicycle,  the way you have your bicycle set up it what really matters. Here’s a few tips on how you can tackle hills on your folding bicycle, instead of walking it.

Use the proper gears

Using the proper gear for the gradient of hill that you’re about to climb is very important. Use too low of a gear and you’ll be spinning all the way up. Select a gear that’s too high, and you’ll be struggling all the way up the hill.

Before you start your climb on the hill, select the proper gear and stay in that gear until you reach the top. Don’t change gears while climbing the hill because this can put unnecessary stress on your derailleur.

NOTE: The lowest gear on your bicycle is the smallest chainring on the front of your bike (unless you only have one) combined with the largest cog on the back gears of your bike.

Stay motivated

When you first start riding uphill on any bicycle, it’s going to be hard work. There’s going to be days when you feel tired, and lack the motivation to even try.

This will be mentally challenging at first, but just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will get at it. Just stick with it and over time you’ll get stronger and faster, and be glad that you never gave up.

Take a deep breath

At first you’re going to get out of breathe, until you build up the cardiovascular conditioning required to tackle hills without huffing and puffing.

Try to breath deeply in order to slow your heart rate down, and keep your leg muscles from cramping up too much. It’s also helpful if you lean forward slightly, as that will give you leverage to climb the hill. If you sit up too straight, all you will be using is your leg muscles, instead of the largest ones (Gluteus Maximus).

Take the outer side when you turn

When turning, try to take the outer side. This helps you maintain momentum and makes you more visible to motorists.

You’ll also have better control while steering and able to maintain a much smoother pace.

Don’t stand up while riding your folding bike uphill

Regular cyclists stand up all the time while riding uphill. This increases leverage and helps them climb hills better. On a folding bike, this isn’t the same because the steering usually is more twitchy, and can cause you to lose control. Instead, it’s highly recommended that you stay seated, and pedal at a reasonable pace, using the right gear.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. The only way you can get better at climbing hills, is to climb more hills. I know your legs will burn, and your lungs will feel like all the air is being sucked out of them.

This is all natural at first. But as time goes on, it will take a lot more to get you tired and out of breathe. And if you need to stop and walk the rest of the way up the hill, that’s okay. Over time you will get much better and eventually be able to go for miles without needing to stop hardly at all.

Conclusion

As you can see, riding a folding bike uphill is not harder than riding a standard bicycle.

What really matters is the amount and ratio of gears. Body positioning. Skill and physical conditioning of the rider. And of course, how much you enjoy riding.

Thank you for joining us, and don’t forget to leave your comments and suggestions below.

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