So you want a folding bike, huh?

Folding bikes came on in a huge way in 2013, and all signs point to this category of bicycle increasing in popularity. More people are getting bitten by the cycling bug, and many of them are looking at folding bikes as the way to go.

So, as a prospective buyer, you ask – which folding bike is for me?

Be aware that with any folding bike, you are essentially juggling two things – the “folding” bit and the “bike” bit. The frame and wheel size determines a lot of what you can and can’t do with a folding bike, so let’s start with that. This isn’t meant to be a definitive guide, but should serve as a primer for the prospective folding bike buyer.

For me, there are three general categories of folding bikes and they are classified by the diameters of the wheels they run.

CATEGORY 1: FOLDING BIKES WITH 16″ AND SMALLER WHEELS

A “Jubilee Limited Edition” Brompton M3L from 2012. This is the archetypal 16″ folding bike.

These are usually “last mile” bikes. They are perfect for bimodal commuting (bike + public transport) because they can fold into a super-compact package, so you could hop on a bus or train, get off a station, then pedal the proverbial “last mile” to your destination. Because of this heavy slant towards portability, however, they can be limited in ability. Some 16″ bikes don’t have multiple gears, and the small wheel size means they are more susceptible to road acne and potholes. Those that do have gearing, like Bromptons, usually resort to internal gear hubs (IGH) which tend to be a niche item in the Philippines, although there’s a growing number that use conventional derailleur drivetrains. Lastly, the small tires and wheels also have more rolling resistance, so don’t expect big speed out of a 16″ bike.

One huge upside for such small wheeled bikes is how maneuverable they are in tight spaces – such as filtering between stopped cars at a red light.

Some notable examples:

  • Dahon Jifo
  • Dahon Dove
  • Doppelganger 100-series
  • Bike Friday Tikit
  • Brompton (all variants)
  • MIT V8
  • Flamingo London NX7
  • Strida (16″ variants)

CATEGORY 2: FOLDING BIKES WITH 20″ WHEELS

A Dahon Mu P8. While Dahon makes other sizes, it is best known for folding bikes in the 20″ (406 mm) wheel size.

The overwhelming majority of folding bikes come with 20″ (406 mm) wheels; this size is shared with BMX bikes and children’s mountain bikes. They tend to be quite versatile, and for many people, they can easily become an “only bike.” Many of them have geared drivetrains, easy-to-find tires and inner tubes, a decent turn of speed, good acceleration and uphill climbing ability, and better protection from road bumps and ruts. They don’t fold into as small a package, but they can still be brought on the MRT/LRT as 20″ is the largest size of folding bike these trains will take.

With a 20″ folding bike, you can still cut your path through narrow gaps in stopped vehicular traffic. When the lights turn green, a fit cyclist with correct pedaling technique can power the same bike to a sprint of 35-40 km/h and maintain an average speed of 17-20 km/h on flat terrain. When the roads go uphill, the same rider on the same bike can outclimb mountain bikes – and there are even a few 20″ folding bikes that have MTB-style suspension, too. Other 20″ folding bikes even swing to the other side and are essentially portable road bikes, built for small-wheeled speed. This size is the happy median between “folding” and “bike.”

Some notable examples:

  • Rhine Birdy
  • Doppelganger 200-series
  • Bike Friday New World Tourist
  • SGM Storm series/Light Storm
  • Dahon Speed/Vitesse/Vybe/Eco + Tern Link
  • Dahon Mu/Vector + Tern Verge
  • Dahon Jetstream
  • Anemos Z20 “Zippy”
  • Peerless Firebird

CATEGORY 3: FOLDING BIKES WITH 24″ AND LARGER WHEELS

A Montague Paratrooper Pro: essentially a folding hardtail mountain bike with 26″ wheels.

At this size, you’re swinging more toward a full-sized bike, and less toward a folding one. Even folded, a 24″ or bigger folding bike is just more cumbersome to carry and stow away compared to its smaller brethren. You also lose the close-quarters maneuverability you would’ve enjoyed in a smaller-wheeled bike. The upside is that there is less unfamiliarity for those transitioning from a normal bike. There’s less of the twitchy, darty steering feel of 16″ and 20″ folding bikes, since the handlebars are no longer as far away from the front wheel. The larger wheels themselves also reduce rolling resistance and aid in momentum, so sustaining higher speeds on these machines will take less effort.

Since there is less emphasis on the folding side of the equation, many 24″ and larger folding bikes are built with toughness and stiffness in mind. The prime example of this is Montague’s Paratrooper and Paratrooper Pro, which is a full-sized 26″ hardtail mountain bike that just so happens to fold around its seat tube. Such a design eliminates potential flexing of the frame, compared to many other folding bikes which “break” the main frame tube in half.

Some notable examples:

  • Montague Paratrooper/Paratrooper Pro (26″)
  • Tern Eclipse + Dahon Ios (24″)
  • Dahon Jack/Matrix/Cadenza + Tern Joe (26″)
  • Doppelganger 806 Squalo (700C/29″)

===

“Which one is best for me?” you may ask. Only you know the answer to that question. Make a note of what your folding bike is intended to do, then shop accordingly. Good luck!

 

This article was originally published on the now-defunct United Folding Bikers blog on January 20, 2014. It has since been updated.

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