When you think of an inner-city bicycle route or commute, what do you think of at first? You’re probably thinking of one of those roadster bikes where people zip up and down New York traffic. Is this realistic and safe? No. This is why specialized commuting and inner-city bikes called folding bikes have started making a return. They’ve been around for a little while now but not a lot of people know about their existence. They’re very handy for every day travelling needs and a lot of people live by them for doing all of their daily chores.
What exactly is a folding bike and what is its purpose? What’s so bad about standard bikes for getting about? The problem with these standard bikes is that they’re
Large – These standardized mountain and city bikes are huge. Have you ever tried to pack one into a car or find storage for it? The most common place to store a large bike is usually a shed or a garage but with non-folding handled that stick out and large wheels, it’s hard to find a perfect spot for it where it won’t cause problems.
Expensive – While you can easily pick up a bike online, if you want a quality standard non-folding bike, you can expect to spend hundreds of dollars or even more depending on the quality of the bike. The reason they cost so much is the heavy aluminum and steel components used to make the bikes. Sure, they’re extremely durable but they’re also very heavy because of these components.
Heavy – This is another problem with standardized bikes. The overall size is one thing but these bikes can weigh up to 100 pounds which might prove some difficulty when trying to tow around the bike or transport it from one place to another. These bikes when in cars add a lot of weight to the vehicles, they’re clunky, they’re awkward to place and you have to be in incredible shape to lug it around all the time. It’s definitely not idea for travelling and most non-folding bikes can’t go on a plane, they have to be specially shipped with costs a lot of money. Most shipping providers charge by the weight, not the content of the box.
Standard bikes while they’re cool looking and great for heavy off-roading are not ideal city or commuting bikes. They’re way too large and awkward to find decent storage for, they’re highly expensive and they’re way too heavy to carry around all day. Besides, even bikes that are kept outside during a visit to somewhere are still susceptible to being stolen off of the racks. Stolen bikes are among the highest number of reports that police units report getting aside from their #1 being domestic violence. This is why folding bikes have started to make a comeback and are starting to show up in large cities all across the world. They’re more prominent in New York and the United Kingdom but they’re slowly starting to make an appearance in other areas as well.
What is a Folding Bike?
These bikes have been around for a long time and were even used pre-1900 when different militaries deployed infantry soldiers with folding bikes for terrain that would prove difficult to navigate by foot and vehicle. A folding bike is essentially just a normal looking bike that can be folded up into a compact form. The way this works is by altering the hinges and the joints of the bike to be flexible and on a locking system rather than being molded into aluminum or another type of metal.
When you look at a standard bike, the frame is built not to be able to bend or move at all. When the fame on a standard bike is finished, that’s the bike. You can’t fold it or move it what so ever without completely ruining the bike. The reason folding bikes became a thing in the first place is so that they could fold up into a compact form and make it easy for transport and storage.
There are different levels of folding mechanisms and folding bikes in general have undergone a lot of advancement through the decades.
Folding Speed – The speed at which a bike folds greatly varies on a few different aspects. There’s how large the bike is, there’s the wheels of the bike, where the folding joints are, what kind of material the bike is made of and how many steps there are to folding the bike. Some folding bikes have a smooth and easy 2 steps to completely folding it up and some bikes have a lot more steps.
Ease of Folding – Some bikes, despite the number of steps it takes to fold them have a much easier time being folded than others. This is again due to the quality of the joints used on the bike and what kind of material the bike is made of, along with the size. Some bikes require a little bit of care and precision to fold them up without scratching something and some bikes can make you look like a pro with a quick flick of the wrist and you’re off with your folded bike.
Compact Size – The overall size of the bike when it’s folded is another thing that has undergone a lot of advancement since the invention of the folding bike. Manufacturers have found clever ways to be able to fold the bike into a tiny fraction of what its original size is. Some of these tricks include using higher quality wheels that are smaller in size and some of these manufacturers have started using compound joints that rotate multiple directions.
Ride – When the folding bike first came out, the ride wasn’t exactly smooth and the seats weren’t exactly safe either. You definitely weren’t going to have a good time but at least it was more convenient. Today, the seating has become far more comfortable, more adjustable and flexible in terms of the overall ride comfort level.
Recommendations – Best 9 Folding Bikes
#1 - Schwinn 20-Inch Loop Folding Bike
The first thing you’ll notice about this bike is the unique curve of the framework. Schwinn is known for doing unique things with their frameworks as they don’t like to look like every other brand out there. This is a 20 inch folding bike that comes with a relatively modest price tag and has different speed settings available for the novice and hardcore users. It’s more of a cross hybrid between a commuting bike and a travelling bike.
One of the main things that makes this bike favorable is how built it was for inner-city travel. It’s important to be able to stop on a dime when you’re battling with inner-city traffic, which is why we were impressed by the alloy linear style brakes. If you’re worried about lugging around too much or how you’re going to carry things back and forth, then you can rest assured knowing there’s a nylon bag included in the packaging.
We’re not relatively picky when it comes to the design but we appreciate the architecture of the Schwinn 20 inch loop design. It sits very low to the ground which is a nice plus for travelling.
This sleek and rugged looking bike is from the GTM lineup. This is an impressively fast bike that surely won’t disappoint you on the roadways. It’s a 20 inch foldable frame and comes equipped with a steel solid framework. From the looks of the bike, it doesn’t look like it’d be able to fold up into such a condensed space, but it manages to do the trick. It gives off the sleek metallic design and looks like it[s been chromatically painted but that’s just the design. One of the main concerns we have when reviewing these bikes is the pricing structure and if they’re budget friendly to most consumers.
While this bike has the capability to go fast when you need it to, the problem with a lot of Shimano Hybrid bikes is they come with a high pricing point. The GMT 20 inch 6 speed however is great for the money and is fairly cheap. It also doesn’t come built cheap which is a huge plus. It comes with a very responsible pull braking system for comfort of use and safety. This bike is fairly easy to carry around as it only weighs 34 pounds. The folding mechanism is done in a couple of steps.
One thing we like about this Zeny bike is that it’s adjustable, so that people of various heights can use it with comfort in mind. This is another 20 inch folding bike and it’s pretty lightweight. It’s not as heavily reliant on steel as some of the other bikes on this list and it has a list of other neat functions as well. First, there’s the hand brakes that come equipped both in the front and the rear and there’s also the different speed settings as well.
The most impressive thing we really liked about this particular Zeny is that it folds up to a small fraction of the size when it’s completely compact. This made storage relatively easy and it made travelling convenient as well. There’s no place this bike doesn’t fit. If you need to stop in a hurry to avoid collision, this bike features two brakes, one on the rear and one on the front of the bike. There’s a little assembly required but it’s easy and only takes a few minutes.
This bike doesn’t look like much from the outside and somehow manages to combine an older vintage handlebar look with the new sleek and modern framework design. It’s not heavy, it’s actually quite light as it makes use of an aluminum frame, which makes it weigh only slightly over 21 pounds. The size of the foldable frame is also nice and highly convenient for people who like to conserve as much space as possible.
The only thing we really didn’t like about the bike is the handlebars. The handlebars could be constructed with a little bit better quality and care but the rest of the bike makes up for it. If you’re into customization, you can completely replace those as well. This is also one of the lightest folding bikes we’ve found, weighing in at only 21 pounds. Being really lightweight is partly in thanks to the aluminum framework.
#5 - GTM 26" Folding Mountain Bike 7 Speed Bicycle Shimano Hybrid Suspension MTB
This angry looking design is another great sleek product from the GTM lineup. This however doesn’t fold as nicely as some of the others and comes in at 26 inches rather than the usual 20 inches. However, this bike can go fast and it’s very rugged as well. This is a bike that can withstand a lot of pressure and can go on a lot of different surfaces without the usual wear and tear that some folding bikes are accustomed to.
The bikes folding mechanism is relatively smooth and is done in just a few seconds. One of the things we’ve noticed that’s different than other folding bikes is that it features a tensile like framework which makes the bike very lightweight. While the wheels come in at 26 inches, we never had trouble finding a place for it to fit comfortable for convenient storage. The overall assessment of this bike is that it’s purely a budget bike for blazing through that annoying inner-city traffic and getting to where you want to go.
The seating position was a little awkward upon arrival but thankfully it’s easily adjustable and can be molded to however you feel most comfortable. The suspension system on the bike is par none in the industry and you can feel the incredible amount of power when you change the speed settings.
#6 - Columba 26" Folding Bike w. Shimano 18 Speed Black(SP26S_BLK)
Columba has established themselves as a pretty popular manufacturer in the folding bike business. From their low sitting folding bikes to this moderately sized folding bike, comes a 26 inch Shimano with 18 different speeds. This bike may not be the best for the novice users but it’s a great bike for various purposes such as commuting, travelling, exercise and other cycling purposes. The framework isn’t heavy and the kick stand is made of steel.
A lot of bikes with various speed settings, especially one with 18 different speed settings can be a little intimidating at first. Is it too fast, am I capable of riding something like this or should I go with something a little simpler? The good news is, starting off at 1 to 3, you’ll find that it’s a nice brisk pace for even a beginner. As you start to go up in the speed, you’ll need to be a bit more experienced and have more stamina but this bike by no means is difficult to maneuver. The wheels also come in at 26 inches with a lot of durable tread on them for rugged roads.
Dahon is a company that needs no introduction. They’re one of the top manufacturers in the world of folding bikes and insanely popular in the UK. If you’re not a fan of Ford, then you might want to shy away from this bike because this is themed after the large vehicle manufacturer. The Ford logo and the thin style framework pay honor to the company. A lot of the things on this bike are highly adjustable and versatile for personal preferences.
The warranty is really great and Dahon always lives by its own words when it includes a warranty. Most people never need to use a warranty included with one of their products. This is a unique one of a kind Ford modeled bike and it packs a lot of power with the 7 different speed settings. Seeing as it’s a Ford model, they wanted to also make sure you had a lot of stopping power, so they included heavy duty Alloy V breaks. The folding mechanism was the only short downfall and it’s not a big one, it just takes a few tries to loosen it up at first.
#8 - 20" Lightweight Aluminum Folding Bike Foldable Bicycle, Rack and Fenders
From a bit of a newcomer in the folding bike business, Vilano has introduced a lightweight 20 inch solution for people who need a bike for commuting to work. It’s also great for making grocery stops as well with the nice rack and fenders attached to the bike. It’s a multi-purpose and very lightweight bike that’s easy to carry around everywhere you go. Attaching a basket for things you purchase on your way home is also relatively easy.
We love lightweight aluminum bikes for travelling. This allows for a bike to be carried around easy for convenience and some of these lightweight bikes pack a lot of speed in the framework, so you can fly down the roads. We don’t recommend this bike for racing competitions any time soon but the fenders and carry basket capable attachments are great for people going to the grocery store or picking some things up. This bike wasn’t particularly built to go fast but there are 6 different speed settings that will let you choose your cruising speed.
#9 - American Phoenix 20" Folding Bike 6 Speed Fold Storage Bicycle
This 20 inch folding bike from American Phoenix combines the modern look of a traditional bike but comes with a lot of adjustable features such as the comfortable seat cushion. A lot of people prefer to leave it where it is but for taller or shorter people, you may want to adjust accordingly. It has a unique steel framework design that makes it highly durable and built to last. Also, it can be used for storage and shopping runs with the attached rear fender.
When you look at the price of the bike, you might be thinking “oh great, this is probably a knock off or a cheaply made product.” You couldn’t be more wrong with that assessment. The materials used are actually pretty grade a high quality and the bike’s durability should last you at least a decade. The seats are easily adjustable as well seeing as the seating position doesn’t exactly look like it’d be comfortable for short or tall people from the display picture.
The bike also only comes in two different parts, so it literally takes a couple of minutes to set the bike up and get going. If that’s not enough, the bike is highly shock resistant, for people that are prone to taking tumbles or riding over a lot of bumps, so you won’t have to worry about bending your wheels.
What’s the Purpose of a Folding Bike?
If standardized bikes had more practical use for inner-cities and travelling, the folding bike wouldn’t have ever needed to become a thing. During WWII, if standard bikes could sustain the shock of being parachuted into the battlegrounds and if they were portable, folding bikes would’ve never been invented. Sure, the folding bike started out as an infantryman’s weapon of war but today, they have a lot of different uses and benefits to us.
There’s the most important benefit and that’s easy storage. No one likes to store their bike outside on a bike rack. Anyone with a pair of pliers you can pick up from your local hardware store for $5 can easily steal a $300 bike. With a folding bike, you can easily fold it up into the size of a bike tire, which can be anywhere from 12 to 20 inches or more depending on the model.
Inner-city commuting is another huge added benefit. You can easily adjust your route and possibly eliminate the need for taxi services altogether. Trying to flag down a taxi sucks, it costs a lot of money in the long run and even then, there’s no guarantee you won’t be late due to bustling inner-city traffic in the morning. With a folding bike, you can adjust your route as necessary and get to the bus stop faster or do your entire trip from home to work on the bike entirely.
They’re economic as well. They’re budget friendly and won’t leave a nasty hole in your wallet. What happens to a standard bike when your chain breaks while you’re riding it? You’re lucky if you don’t take a nasty tumble because traditional bikes aren’t known to handle chain breaks or defections well. Not only that, but they cost a lot of money to repair. On minimal folding bikes, there are specialty shops to help repair and replace broken parts for a fraction of the cost that you’d pay for any other type of bike. The parts are easier to maintain and nowhere near as expensive.
The overall size of the bikes are usually 16 inches or less when you’re measuring the wheels. This is what’s required to be classified as a portable bicycle but there are quite a few foldable bikes out there with larger wheels and a larger fold. There are various advantages and disadvantages to using smaller wheels such as momentum, speed, acceleration, folding time and the overall folding size. Most folding bikes though can be stored anywhere as long as you allow for 2 feet of storage, including the wheels and handlebars.
The overall purpose and benefit of owning a folding bike can be summarized by convenience and usability along with being cheap. They’re far cheaper than the average standard bike is and they have far more use. Some cities don’t even allow standard bikes to be out on sidewalks or on the side of the road. This varies city by city and you’ll have to check with your local laws to find out where you can and can’t bike. Some cities even have side areas setup for people that bike back and forth to work or for leisure.
What’s the History behind Folding Bikes?
While you haven’t heard of folding bikes being relatively old as their popularity only started to come about in the last couple of decades, it was actually in the 1890s that interest started appearing for the folding bike. The French Army needed a tool for soldiers to use over rugged terrain that would prove difficult when travelling on by foot. Infantrymen in particular were using these bikes and they weren’t too fond of them due to their poor quality and proper lack of planning.
It was in 1900 that the British Army developed their own version of the folding bike called the Pedersen Bike. This bike weighed in at 15 pounds and only had 24 inch wheels. This bike had its first glimpse of war in the Second Boer War and was developed by a man named Mikael Pedersen.
During the Second World War when everyone was in a giant rush to create advanced weaponry and machinery, the British Army was calling on engineers to produce a bike that weighed less than 23 pounds. Unfortunately, this wasn’t achieved because the solution ended up weighing 32 pounds. The reason for the weight was because such materials were needed to ensure that these bikes could withstand the impact of falling to the ground via parachute. Materials that weighed less were tested with far less distance and failed to stay functional after the drop.
This was supposed to be one of the most revolutionary moments of the war and these bikes were specifically rigged so that certain parts hit the ground first. The handlebars and the seat even via parachute were supposed to be the first parts to hit the ground but as you can imagine, it didn’t always work out like this. The first design of these functionality was abandoned after they found out a lot of bikes would become damaged due to the shock and fall. They tried to use slower parachutes and brainstorm other kind of solutions but eventually ended up scrapping their first design and coming up with a design that used twin parallel tubes.
The bike got its most famous use on D-Day landings on the Battle of Arnhem. Commandos and paratroopers were among the majority of the people who used these bikes. After that, it was mostly military interest that kept the bikes alive and no one had really put any thought or interest into them for public consumer use. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the public for some reason started building interest into the bike.
Back in the 70s, it was the Raleigh Twenty and the Bickerton Portable that became the most popular folding bikes and are still iconic today because of their history. A decade later in the 80s, this is when public consumer interest started to rise and a new era was taking place. This is when companies like Brompton and Dahon were founded and started competing against each other in a race to see who could make the smallest and most functional folding bikes. It was the cold war of commuting as both companies were allegedly spying on each other and trying to take notes in an all-out bicycle war to create the best folding bike.
Today, Brompton produces high quality bikes but lost in the popular war versus Dahon because Dahon today takes up two thirds of the market in 2006 for folding bikes.
What are the Health Benefits of a Folding Bike?
When you get to work, what are you going to be doing? For a lot of people who live in the city, most jobs are usually office work and sedentary. This means, you’ll be sitting at a desk for 8 hours answering phone calls, working on the computer or doing something else. We know not every job is sedentary and 8 hours of sitting in an uncomfortable computer chair but a lot of inner city jobs are like this. When you commute to work without a bike, you’re either driving through traffic or you’re sitting on a bus waiting to go to the next stop.
The problem with this is, you’re not getting any exercise or improving your own health. It’s not healthy to live a sedentary lifestyle and this is where a folding bike or bike in general can greatly improve that.
Lung Capacity – If you find yourself short-winded or out of breath when doing things like going up the stairs or walking long distances, you need to increase your stamina and lung capacity. The use of a folding bike will greatly increase this for you.
Heart Health – This isn’t something that a lot of people take serious until they’re in their 60s but this is something you should be taking seriously all the time. Your heart becomes too relaxed and weak when you live a laid back sedentary lifestyle. You’re more susceptible to heart disease or other ailments if you don’t constantly work your heart out. Biking gives your heart a bit of a work out and increases blood flow to all the muscles in your body, helping your muscles grow as well.
Mental Health – When you bike around town, you get a new feeling of accomplishment and adrenaline rush. Exercising in general releases chemicals to your brain and gives you a little high feeling like you’ve done a lot of work. Biking is great for your overall mental well-being and a lot of people find biking to be a relaxing process. You should try it out sometime or rent someone’s bike for a day to see if your overall mental health has improved after a lengthy bike ride.
Overall, your heart health, lung capacity and mental well-being are the three most common areas where you’ll see improvement when you take up a folding bike to ride around with. If you’ve ever met bikers, you’ll find that they’re some of the most energetic people in the world and this is because their stamina is off the charts. Biking is not only good for you physically but mentally as well.
How Much Do Folding Bikes Cost Usually?
This is tricky because like everything else, some things cost more than others due to the overall nature of how the bike was designed, the brand of the bike, the materials used and other things. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars depending on what kind of bike you’re looking for and what you’re looking to get out of a folding bike.
Speed – The various speed settings will play a role into determining how much a folding bike will cost. What kind of speed setting do you want? The faster the bike will go and the more speed settings it has, it’s going to cost more money in the long run. Different parts are needed to set apart slow moving bikes and fast moving bikes. Also, the wheels play a pretty intricate part in determining how fast a bike will go along with how fast one will accelerate.
Your Own Budget – It goes without saying but you should set aside a budget for the bike beforehand. You need to set up a budget of how much you’re willing to spend or can afford to on a bike. Is this bike for work? Is this bike for your own leisure? Are you going mountain riding with this bike or hiking? The overall use and purpose of the bike can play a pretty big role in determining how much you should spend as well. You don’t want to be cheap with a bike that will get you to and from work every day.
Brand/Parts – Sometimes, companies charge more money because their brand name is on it and that can be said true for folding bikes but the parts used are another important factor. For example, companies that use cheap aluminum for the frame will probably charge far less than companies that use rugged steel frames that aren’t meant to be broken easily. Some bikes are more fragile than others but those bikes with cheap aluminum also play their own part as quicker inner-city bikes that are meant for fast travel. Again, this comes down to what you’re looking to do and how much you can afford.
Budgeting out your folding bike and what you can expect to spend comes down to your own self-interest and what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a cheap bike to commute back and forth to work, you’ll probably end up spending $100 to $150 for a decent quality bike. There are however bikes out there that can cost up to $1,000 or even more. The majority of bikes we see on the market today are under $200 and are of excellent quality. They’re well worth it in the long run as they save you a lot of time, they save money on things like taxis/Ubers and they’re great for your health.
Choosing a folding bike that best suits your needs is kind of like picking an automobile in some ways. Obviously, a folding bike is far less expensive but at the same time, you’re essentially picking something that caters to your needs. Folding bikes were made for different purposes and none of them are alike. Some folding bikes do well on the streets and some of them do well on bike paths, more so than others.
There are some folding bikes out there that can even be taken off-roading while some will break down and crumble if you try to take them off-roading. It’s always recommended that you read up on the intended use of the bike and figure out what you need a folding bike for. Do you need something lightweight that’s quick that can you to and from work? Do you want something for the bike paths and hiking trails?
Make sure that you fit your needs in accordance to your budget before making a purchasing decision as well.
Image source - Amazon.com
last updated on 23rd April 2017