My first 2-wheel bike was a folding bike, because it was immensely popular when I was a child, and there was no proper child bikes in my country. I can now understand why they were so popular: it’s hugely adjustable to any size, and very easy to manufacture unless it’s Brompton, the gold standard of folding bikes.
I have a thing for folding bikes as it was my first proper bike, but in reality, folding bikes are not proper bikes. They seemingly have lots of advantages, but that’s not right. It’s like running a bike repair business with a multitool: a multitool seemingly solves all problems no more than a pocket knife, it’s cheap and you don’t need to switch tools. Well, try fixing your bike with one, then we can talk about it! They can serve well as a second bike, but I prefer them to be my 3rd, at least.
Seemingly, at least here, folding bikes outsells any bike in big cities. Buyer profile is middle-class to upper middle-class man, well educated, late 30’s or early 40’s. Why? Like me, their first bike was a folding bike!
I haven’t been seeing folding bikes for too long, except the marinas – for me, this is where folding bikes belong. In fact, if you have a boat in marina, folding bike is a must have: you have to walk quite a lot for shopping, or even to access your car in many marinas, so folding bikes are great for marinas. Also, it has the advantage of being …foldable, so in your cramped boat – if you’ re not a big mogul created by government – it does not take up much space.
So, let’s dive in, why folding bike is not a good idea as you may think:
It’s versatile, because it’s foldable
I don’t know any folding bike that fits in a really small place, while being not quirky to move along, except Brompton.
Brompton is a very nice designed thing, though it’s not a bike. 16 inch wheels and quirky handling makes it an oversized scooter with pedals. It’s super expensive to buy and maintain, with almost no compatibility with any other bike. It’s the Macbook of bicycles.
You wouldn’t want and can’t probably fit a folding bike in your sedan or hatchback, that is already half full. It’s troublesome to get it in or out, as they’re well over 12kg’s (high-ish end ones). They will scratch the paint or bumper, can scratch boot trim. Public transport ? Well, I wouldn’t get into a crowded vehicle, carrying an item with few sharp ends,and protruding metal: you’ll either hurt yourself or someone else, and probably will damage your bike.
Brompton has suitcases to carry the bikes in a plane. Hmm. You are very limited by airline rules when it comes to weight and size. I’d probably get a few shirts, clean underwear, toothbrush and sneakers instead. Instead of paying crazy amount of extra luggage fees, I’d rent a bike instead.
If you’ re after carrying bikes with a car, there are various racks to accept more than one, and even the biggest ones. And they will fit to even smallest hatchbacks, taking up no cargo space. That is convenient. Putting a metal pile in your trunk is probably not.
Riding a folding bike is soo fun!
Define fun: it’s fun to watch a good boxing match, because you’re not the one taking the punches.
With small wheels and awkward riding position, folding bikes are least comfortable bike. Yes; road bikes included. And they are the least comfortable ones. On a proper bike, wheels absorb shocks, that’s why city bikes have huge rims. They also have pathetic gearing; fast or slow, it tires you more than any bike. 7 or 8 speed is the most common number of gears, some Bromptons have weird drivetrain, a gear hub and a small deraillueur combined, which offers 10 speed combined.
Since they’re dynamically terrible, they don’t feel you comfortable if you ride other proper bikes, because they don’t inspire confidence. You don’t trust it.
Folding bikes are cheap
There are cheap, dinky little folding bikes, and there are Brompton’s and Dahon’s. For the price of a Brompton, you get a quite nice road bike or a kick-ass mountain bike.
They’ re even more expensive to run: for example, tires and rims: since they have tiny tires, they have to roll many times than a proper tire, like 26, 27.5, or 29. Considering even the 26-inch Schwalbe Marathon Classics, which are basically indestructible, makes 10.000 km max. A normal tire would last 3.000 km tops. a 20″ tire? The most common 20-inch tire for foldable bikes is 20×1.75, which has 1515 cm of circumference. A common tire for city bikes, a 26×1.50 for example, has 2010 cm. So, a 26 tire that would last 3.000 kms will last about 2200 km on a folding bike; but don’t worry – you won’t ride that long!
If you have rims brakes, you’ll be surprised how short they last. They won’t last more than 5.000 km’s for a decent set. Also, wheels will need to be trued more often, as manufacturers tend to use 20 spokes at a very loose setting: 20 spokes are not very bad for a 20″ rim; but when they’re tight enough: if you properly tighten the spokes though, ride will be very harsh.
Especially, vintage folding bikes looks very robust to me
Thicker tubes make them look chunky and robust, but they are thicker for a reason: a single tube supporting a lot of weight will bend easily; that’s why they have weirdly large tubes. A proper bike frame, especially old road or city bikes, has a truss form. This is the best form for supporting weight and forces from every direction. So effective that, almost all steel bridges, especially heavy-duty ones like railroad bridges are made up of combined trusses.
Most aluminium frames are rated for 120 kg, while the most robust folding bikes are rated less.
My childhood bike was made from very thick steel; both in wall thickness and radius. It was cracked near the hinge area, then at the rear triangle. This was very common. Even with modern bikes and relatively skinny riders, I came across these issues.
Trying to make them lighter than they should be, or trying to oversimplify production makes them even more vulnerable: one big false economy is using less spokes. 20 spokes is very common, which barely supports the rider’s weight.
What you really feel about your folding bike later
They are like smart trainers or running mills. Feels like a great idea at first, until disappointment kicks in.
If you haven’t ever ridden a normal bike, and you never will, you can like it.
Otherwise, you’ll probably feel like:
- They are uncomfortable. The seating and handlebars don’t feel that ergonomic compared to any bike.
- They are bumpy. Small wheels do no justice on potholes, worse, on any surface less ideal than tarmac. Any form of suspension on such bikes, which is desperately needed, is rare as Scandium.
- Forget about speed and acceleration. Though they are small, folding bike rims, hubs, and tires are surprisingly heavy for their size. It’s common to come across tires that are well over 500g. You can have proper size, wide, 26″ knobby tires at almost half that weight.
- They need more maintenance and you’ll hate it. Especially wheels: they wear very fast, for rim brake models. Funnily, dreaded disc brakes are a natural fit for folding bikes. Tires won’t last long. You may get occasional flats if you ride downhill, as they do not have enough surface area to dissipate heat, again, for rim brakes. So they build up heat quickly, which is not good for inner tubes.
- Lots of proprietary parts. Some road bikers are still furious about custom seat posts on some road bikes, which really make bikes more aerodynamic. They’re right: however, there is almost nothing standard on a Brompton bike. Even the crappiest folding bikes have lots of non-standard, proprietary, and dubious quality parts, quite a lot.
- They’re much noisier, especially the ones that are cheaper than your car: inefficient frame geometry, hinges, and weird parts make them deform more.
- Twitchy handling due to smaller wheels, and less than ideal handlebar design. You won’t feel the bike is under your control if you’re coming from MTB or road bike culture.
- It can fold, but do you want to fold it? It’s a tedious task. Most folding bikes don’t get it right. I’ve seen people fall down because they folded back during a ride, due to sloppy hinge designs. I had the same problem when I was a child. One thing it taught me is, how to fall down, which is the best skill I have regarding bikes! Falling down effectively is an art to master: you’ll eventually fall. Sometimes many times. So it is crucial to know how to fall, protecting yourself, others, and probably your bicycle, too.
- You won’t have proper gearing. Either you can’t go fast enough on flat or downhill, or you’ll be grinding on a few degrees of slope. Most have 7 or 8 gears. No front derailleurs on folding bikes.
Why I still love folding bikes, especially vintage ones ?
They look gorgeous to me, unless someone riding it. An amazing piece of metallic art, be it a Brompton, or a vintage (or modern) Graziella.
Graziella is sold under Bottechia name and one of the cultural icons: Bridgette Bardot and Salvador Dali was Graziella riders. Both have eye for beauty, right? I think no one beats Italians when it comes to design, and it was designed by Rinaldo Donzelli in 1964. An Italian, obviously!
And then, Brompton: frankly, I’d never buy one; it’s against all my beliefs: proprietary design, too expensive for what it provides, even smaller wheels (they have 16 inch wheels, while almost all folding bikes have 20 inch wheels). Their frames are handmade in London, with really good quality steel. Although I don’t admire their design overall, there are lots of ingenious design elements scattered all over. And it doesn’t cry out to be contemporary; it’s a classic design: that’s why they have great resale value. I’d definitely put Rolls Royce to another category, but if I need a luxury sedan, which I don’t know why I’ll need it, I’ll go for 90’s S class, Mercedes: much more reliable and easier to fix, providing near the same comfort with being lot, lot cheaper. Gloomy interior? Yes. Dull looks? Yes. Ugly, synthetic materials inside? Yes. But its a workhorse compared to Rolls Royce, which is a masterpiece of craftsmanship where everything can go wrong, with huge bills to fix.
And then there is nostalgia. I grew up with folding bikes. Bikes of my childhood, frankly which are crap in many ways, sold for new Dahon prices. People were paying money to someone who would carry them to garbage containers 1-2 decades ago.
These are luxury items now, not they are expensive: you can find cheap but wrecked frames and restore it. But not much people have time, room and will to keep them. Most people buy good bikes and don’t ride them. I’d probably buy a plenty of them, try out my crazy ideas on some, and watch them for fun. Would I ride them? For very short distances maybe.
What about electric folding bikes ?
I LOVE THEM!
Look how cool it is, Hygge Vester: Decathlon is selling them, for 1900£. I don’t know if its’ a good value for electric folding bike. I’m not too keen to
dive into electric bikes as I have other projects to do: shopping for something is really a huge task for me. I’m not rich, and I’m too obsessive with details.
Why I like electric folding bikes? This thing has a 60 to 80 km range, and top speed is 25 km/h. 7 speed, 27 kg. Luckily, it has some fat tires and a front suspension: these specs combined, this is barely a bike, it’s rather a tiny, electric motorbike. Seen people hanging around these things a lot this year, and it looks very practical. Place where I live can be considered as a hilly place, and some roads are pretty crowded in summer. Such means of transport is what locals prefer here, for a good reason: parking a car is problematic, gas is expensive and why bother with cars in such weather and amazing scenery!
I’d probably be more skeptical if I was living in the city where I was born: it can be dangerous on crowded city roads, especially when speed is limited to 25 km/h, and acceleration is not blazing fast. In fact, as motorists know, in order to be safe in traffic, you have to move faster than cars. This is not possible with such electric folding bikes.