There are plenty of reasons why a folding bike might be the best choice of two wheels for your commute. e.g.
- Limited storage space for your bike at work or at home
- You may use public transport for a portion of your commute
- You might want to store your bike in the car
- You might be forced to manoeuvre your bike through some tight spaces like an elevator.
But whatever the reason, a folding bike is quite a niche and expensive purchase, so its really important to make sure the bike fulfils your requirements.
There is a huge variety of folding bikes in terms of design and function, which can make choosing the right bike overwhelming. The aim of this guide is to help you select the right features for a folding bike and in turn make sure the bike you choose is right for you.
Step 1. Plan Your Commute
The first thing to check before you buy your folding bike is your commuting route and your riding style. There are different types of folding bike to suite different terrains with different ride characteristics. As part of planning your commute you should make a guess at how far you’ll need to transport your bike whilst its folded
Folding bikes tend to have huge ranges for saddle height. This essentially makes them one size fits all, for both men and women. One thing that is important, is making sure that the saddle and handlebars are in the correct position when your riding. Unfortunately the range of movement for the folding bikes handlebars varies from bike to bike so test riding your folding bike is a must before making a purchase.
STEP 2: Decide on the Wheel Size
Folding bikes have a range of wheel sizes: 14″, 16″, 20″, 22″, 24″, 26″, and 700c. Wheel size will affect the ride characteristics and how easy it is to carry your bike. For folding bikes, the big trade off is between folded size and the ride quality of the bike. Both of these factors are largely determined by the size of the wheels the bike has. Larger wheels tend to cope with lumps and bumps much better, give more confident steering and reduce rolling resistance over smaller wheels. Although some of these issues can be improved through tyre choice.
Step 3: Choose the Fold
How your bike folds is crucial to how satisfied you will be with your folding bike. Thats the reason you bought it! There are generally three different types of folding bike.
Mid-Fold: As the name suggests mid fold bikes collapse via a hinge in the middle of the frame. Having only a single hinge makes the bikes robust. Mid Fold Bikes are the most popular types of folding bikes on the market with plenty to choose from.
Triangle-Hinge: Like mid fold bikes, triangle-hinge bikes fold in more than one location which results in much more compact package. The second fold on triangle hinge bikes is usually located around the handlebar or steering column
Break-Away: Break-away bikes are designed to collapse and tend to have a quite unconventional appearance. Where as mid fold and triangle-hinge bikes are designed to fold to the smallest size, Break-away bikes are designed to make the collapsing process as easily possible.
There are 4 questions to ask about the fold. How fast it is to fold, how easy it is to fold, the size when the bikes folded and finally how easy the bike is to carry when folded.
A lot of folding bike manufacturers quote the folding time of their products but these can be pretty optimistic. Again how quick you need the bike to fold will be individual to you, the last thing you need want is a complex folding bike when your train is just about to leave.
You should look into what is required to fold the bike up before purchasing. The difficulty in folding a bike usually revolves around how many different parts of the bike either are adjusted as part of the fold or need to be in a specific configuration prior to the fold. As an example, the gearing for folding bikes can either be single speed, via a derailuer or via internal gear hubs. To fold derailleur geared bikes its often necessary to have the bike in a specific gear before folding, this can get a bit tedious if your a frequent folder. Also adjustment of the handlebars, seat post or wheel removal can also be part of the fold which can be risky activities if your planning on keeping your office wear clean.
The final folded size pf the bike will be down your individual needs but its an important consideration for how much room you have to store your bike at home or work. As is how easy the bike is to carry especially if you need to carry your bike a long way. If you do need to move your bike a long way whilst folded, some bikes can be wheeled along like a suitcase on little jockey wheels.
Step 4: The Weight
The weight of a folding bike is also an important factor when making a purchase. The weight of folding bikes can very quite a lot depending on the materials the bikes are made from. The weight of the bike will not only impact how the bike handles, but also how easy it will be to carry when folded. You can reduce the weight of the bike by removing some of the unnecessary components like the bike stand and mudguards during summer.
Step 5: The Ride
The more hinges you have on a folding bike will decrease the folded size of the bike, but each hinge can introduce a small amount of flex when the bikes being ridden. The balance to be struck will depend on your commute and your transport / storage priorities. Do you need a bike to cover a relatively short distances but folds up neatly into a small bag 5 days a week, or do you need a bike to cover longer distances that rides more like a conventional bike and that you’ll only fold occasionally?
Step 6: The Equipment and Components
Tyres are important components for a folding bike as they can have a huge influence on how the bike handles in different weather conditions. The difference in rolling resistance between knobbly off road tyres and slick road tyres can make a huge difference to your commuting times.
As mentioned above the gearing of a folding bike is an important choice. In general the range of the gear ratios is more important than the number of gears. Whilst more often than not however the bike is geared at the rear wheel gear ratios can often easily be adjusted by changing the front chainring to suit your individual needs.
Mounts for racks and panniers make carrying your belongings to and from work much easier. They also mean you’ll have a place for bulky items like laptops or for pumps and tools just incase.
Spare parts for a folding bike can be a niche and in some cases quite difficult to get hold of, so its a goos idea to check how easy it is to get hold of replacement parts either through your folding bike shop or direct from the manufacturer. This can be a bit subjective, but folding bike forums are a good place to get experienced views.
Step 7: Pick your Budget
The final step once you’ve weighed up your priorities for the first 6 steps is to establish your budget. Then your ready to read the Bike Your Drive folding bike reviews covering the different types and price ranges and make sure the bike you buy is perfect for your needs.