Stuck for bike storage space in your apartment or city home? Want to cycle to work but need to take a bus or train some of the way? Want to take your bike with you in the car or on the plane, but don’t have the time or space to deal with complicated bike racks or oversized bike bags, and the security and expense that comes with them?
Then a folding bike may just be for you…
No longer are folding bikes heavy to lift, ponderous to pedal and impossible to fold without a masters’ degree in engineering. The latest models offer performance and comfort to give their non-folding cousins a run for their money and fold into a compact, light and easily transportable package with just the flick of a lever or a few turns of an Allen key.
Read on to find out more about the different types of folding bikes that are available and what to look for when buying one.
There are two main categories of folding bike – small-wheeled (dedicated folders with 16” or 20” wheels to minimise size when folded) and normal-wheeled (with 26” or 700c wheels – these are more akin to ‘normal’ bikes, that just happen to fold in order to make transport easier).
Primarily aimed at commuters and city-dwellers pressed for storage space, small-wheeled folders are the ‘classics’ of the folding bike world. These bikes generally come in 16”- or 20”-wheeled flavours and are kitted out with the usual accessories that characterize city bikes, including bells, mudguards, chainguards, racks for luggage and so on.
Smaller-wheeled bikes such as this are primarily designed to be ultra-compact when folded, with the trade-off being that they are not as suitable over long distances than their big-wheeled relations. However if you would appreciate a bike for short hops around the town or city, need to use public transport that prohibits carriage of normal non-folding cycles, or do not have secure bike storage at your workplace, a bike that can be easily and discreetly stored under a sofa, under your train seat or under your desk is certain to be appealing.
While the term folding bike or ‘folder’ usually brings to mind an image of a small-wheeled urban cycle, many manufacturer have embraced the concept to cover all kinds of bikes, and offer high-performance folding mountain bikes and road bikes that enable cycle addicts get their fix while far away from home.
Such bikes can be easily stowed in the boot of a car or motorhome when an exterior bike rack is either not suitable – perhaps for security reasons – or just not preferred.
They have the additional advantage of being compact enough for air transport without the need for oversized bike bags and the extra charges they incur, so if you are frequent flyer put off by the complications of transporting a ‘normal’ bike then a folder might be what you are looking for.
Most folders will feature a central hinge on the frame, the most convenient of which do not need tools to release or lock. A secure locking mechanism while the bike is in use is essential, as the last thing you want is for the two halves of the bike to be heading in different directions as you are negotiating city traffic.
Ride position is generally upright – perfect for short-distance urban cycling – with plenty of stem and seat adjustability to ensure a comfortable fit. Frame materials are typically lightweight aluminium or aluminium alloy, although some steel models are available for that extra dimension of comfort and vibration absorption, albeit with a small weight penalty.
Braking is generally provided by either road bike-style caliper brakes or MTB-style v-brakes, while gearing can be by means of derailleurs or internal hub gears, with some models foregoing gears altogether in favour of the low-maintenance singlespeed option.
NOTE: Remember that the number of gears is less important than the range – while singlespeeds may be fine for riding on the flat, you will need a decent range of high and low gears if you intend to cycle up or down hills.
Before you buy:
– Look up the folded dimensions of your bike to make sure it will fit where intended;
– Find out how easy and quick it is to fold, and whether or not tools are needed;
– Check if the bike when folded will stay together by means of a clamp or tying mechanism, or if an extra bike bag is needed;
– Make sure that the bike when folded is light enough for you to carry comfortably;
– Ensure that the bike when unfolded is secure and a comfortable fit for the type of cycling you intend to do.