Ultimate Guide To Understanding Folding Bikes

Bikes of all shapes and sizes are great for getting around, but not so great at being carried around.

For years, one of the biggest complaint about a bike was how big and awkwardly shaped they are in regards to being transported, stored, or carried around.

Folding bikes have become the obvious solution to a long problem, and have revolutionized what bikes are capable of.

The design of the best folding bikes allows it to either avoid or minimize all of the space issues that plague other kinds of bikes, which results in a newfound versatility.

Schwinn Folding Bike in Action

Naturally, the design and function of a folding bike also results in an altering of its core characteristic, leading to a slightly different riding experience than what you may be used to with other bikes.

Still, the trade-off is more than worth it for folding bike users, with many now preferring their more compact version over their other bike in most applications.

This guide will walk you through all of the vital things you need to know about a folding bike, explaining how they work, what their advantages are, who can most benefit from them, and plenty more information as well.

Let’s start by defining what a folding bike actually is.

What is a Folding Bike?

A folding bike is any bicycle that is designed to fold down into a more compact form, making it easier to carry, store away, or fit into areas that you normally can’t take a regular bike.

Folding bikes vary in their actual folding methods, and in terms of the bike’s actual components as well. The folding methods and bike design can opt for faster assembly, a more compact build, different weights, and many other variances that help to differentiate between types and brands.

In most cases, the bike is designed to compact down to where both the tires are sitting side by side, in order to share the same circular space. The handlebars and seatpost are able to be broken down in any number of ways, including telescopic tubes that collapse into each other.

One main characteristic about folding bikes is that the “folding” aspect is how they are classified, with the type of bike coming after, if applicable. This means that a folding bike can be a mountain bike, road bike, cruiser, or BMX-style, but it’s still known as a folding bike first.

Folding bikes continue to sit at the forefront of bike evolution, as an increasing number of companies are constantly striving for new ways to improve folding bikes, mainly in regards to the overall ride quality, weight, and pedal efficiency.

Although folding bikes do come in a variety of styles now, they are still not intended to act as replacements for any of those styles. For example, there are folding bikes that have the build and features of mountain bikes, but they shouldn’t be a primary choice for rugged terrain and singletrack.

We’ll touch on that more later on. Let’s now move on to the history of folding bikes.

Concept Folding Bike

History of Folding Bikes

The history of folding bikes actually dates back to the late 1890s, when European military units took an interest in creating a form of folding bikes for their bike infantry. Around 1900, a man named Mikael Pederson developed a folding version of his own “Pedersen bicycle” for the British army. It weighed 15 pounds and had a wheel size of 24 inches, along with a rifle rack, and was used during a few smaller wars at the time.

During the second World War, the British War Office commissioned the creation of a folding bike that was strong enough to take the impact on the ground when being dropped out of a parachute.

Folding Bike WWII

This bike was manufactured by Birmingham Small Arms Company, ended up weighing 32 pounds, and was able to be take on gliders and parachute jumps. The bicycle was rigged so that the handlebars and seat were the first parts to hit the ground when coming down in a parachute, sparing the wheels from bending.

During its design, the company found a way around the traditional diamond bicycle design, and instead made an elliptical frame of twin parallel tubes; one forming the top tube and seat stays, and the other the chainstay and downtube.

The hinges were placed in front of the bottom bracket, and corresponding position in front of the saddle, which were all fastened by wing nuts. The peg pedals could be pushed in to avoid snagging, while also helping to reduce the space the bike took up when compacted.

The bike ended up being used for most of the war after that, including the landings at D-Day. After the war, the folding bike was largely forgotten about for many years.

The 1970s saw a renewed interest and focus in the further development of folding bikes, with the Raleigh Twenty and Bickerton Portable two of the most popular and definitive bikes of their era. Technology remained stagnant for the next decade, until the 1980s, which was when folding bikes began to develop into their more modern forms we have today.

Folding Bike By Raleigh

Aluminum became a more widely used material to cut down on weight, and several manufacturers began to experiment with different folding methods, along with altering the setup of the bikes components as well.

New frame shapes began to surface, and eventually, more targeted folding bikes that were intended for more than just light commuting in urban areas.

Brompton and Dahon became the two main competitors during this period, with each company continually putting out smaller, more compact bikes that also weighed less, while maintaining a focus on the overall ride quality.

175 Manufacturers

Today, there are over 175 different folding bike manufacturers, with many of the pioneering brands such as Raleigh, Brompton, Dahon, and Bickerton still leading the way.

Who Can Benefit the Most From Folding Bikes?

While folding bikes may initially seem like a small niche intended for only select groups of riders, the truth is that a number of people can benefit from their use, and more than a few different ways.

This spans any from the savvy commuter, to travelers who are looking to be more efficient, and those who simply lack the space to store a full-size bike.

Folding Bike Rider Types

The following are the most common types of riders who can benefit the most from the advantages of a folding bike.

Commuters

The most common users of folding bikes these days are commuters in large cities who need multiple ways to get back and forth around large urban areas, be it for work, errands, social life, and whatever else.

Many commuters in big cities rely on buses, rail, and subways to get around town for the most part, but can still benefit from a faster, more efficient way to get to the actual bus, rail, and subway stops.

Prior to using a folding bike, these people had basically two options: walk to and from the stops, or take a bike. Walking is obviously slower, more tiring, and really just inefficient in general.

Biking is the better option, but not every bus, train, or subway will let riders bring their bikes aboard.

Folding Bike in Metro

And then there’s the whole aspect of dealing with your bike when you get to your destination. Not everyone can bring their full-size road or mountain bike into their office building’s elevator, or park it next to their cubicle.

Folding bikes solve many commuters problems by giving them a portable bike that can be broken down and compacted when not in use. This means they can easily bring it onto public transit, and into their workplace with no issues. The bike is more or less the size of a suitcase, and sometimes has its own carrying bag, making things even more nice and neat.

So, with a folding bike, a commuter can ride from their home and to a public transit location, break the bike down, board, and then reassemble it when they get off. From there, they can ride to wherever their main destination is, and then compact the bike back down once they arrive, until it’s needed again to get home, or wherever the next destination is.

Road Bikers

This wasn’t always an option, but now road bikers can actually purchase folding bikes that are designed to function similar to an actual road bike. This means they have numerous gears, drop-down handlebars, and a similar riding stance.

While it may not be the best idea to set out on a 50 mile excursion on a folding bike, the newer road models are great for road bikers who want a more convenient way to make their way across long stretches, while still retaining all the advantages that a folding bike provides.

Commuters who can go from their house and directly to their workplace without having to use public transit in between are perfect examples of those who can get the most use out of a folding road bike.

Great Looking Folding Road Bike

Mountain Bikers/Hikers

This is similar to the road bike situation. Developments in folding bike technology has led to the creation of legitimate folding mountain bikes that can take a higher amount of punishment. They aren’t intended for extremely rugged riding, but they can still handle lighter trails and off-roading when needed.

For the mountaineer and hiking types, this is a major advantage in many ways. Hikers who are on long trips can choose to bring a folding bike along as part of their gear setup, and use it whenever the terrain permits. This gives them a more efficient way to traverse across certain areas, and particularly when there are descents.

Hobbyist mountain bikers can enjoy these bikes as well. They can leave one in their trunk for whenever the urge hits, or simply keep on around the home without taking up any space.

Leisure Riders

Some folding bike riders don’t have any pressing or highly-functional needs when it comes to biking, and may simply just enjoy using the bike for fun, whether it’s a ride with the family, or a casual spin around the neighborhood.

Folding bikes are still bikes after all, and they operate just like any other bike would. Leisure use is actually most likely the most appropriate use for a folding bike, as the need for high performance is not needed when you’re just riding around for some fun or exercise.

Still, leisure riders can still benefit from the saving of space, the easier storage, and ability to transport the bikes in a much easier fashion. This gives them a way to bring the bike to a favorite park or trail in the trunk of a car, and simply assemble on site, before returning it when finished.

Many serious road and mountain bikers are now investing in folding bikes, often just because they think they are fun, and like having a different option whenever the need arises.

Electric Folding Bikes

Some folding bikes actually come with small engines that can be turned on and off whenever they are needed. Surprisingly these engines don’t add all that much more weight and size to the bike, and are often as big as the engine you’d see on a gas-powered weedeater.

Unusual Electric Folding Bike

Folding bikes for commuters are the type that’s most likely to have an engine. This gives the rider the option to save some energy, and let the bike do the work for them. These engines aren’t all that powerful, but they have enough horsepower to get the rider to and from at an adequate speed.

Some electric folding bike users will even purchase engine kits to mount to their bikes if they are able, although this is not as common.

Folding Bike Sizes

The size of different folding bikes will all vary to some degree, but they stay within the same range for the most part. These sizes can be classified into three main groups.

Compact

This is the most standard folding bike, size, and refers to anything that is smaller than the normal bike size of a road or mountain bike. Compact folding bikes almost always utilize 20-inch wheels, which is the same size that the majority of BMX bikes use.

While this does make the bike appear smaller, if you were to place it side by side with a normal-sized bike, you would see that the rider’s positioning is very similar, which includes aspects like the height of the handlebars, the saddle, and the distance from the pedals to the saddle.

Still, the smaller wheels and simplified frame design makes the bike much smaller overall, helping it to be even more compact when it’s folded up.

Compact Folding Bike

Folding bike frame sizes are generally one-size-fits-all, but the seat posts and handlebar stems have a great deal of adjustment to allow the rider to fine tailor the fit for a better riding experience.

Full Size

Full size folding bikes are gaining in popularity, as riders are starting to demand full-size bike functionality in a compatible form. These bikes have virtually the same frame sizes as their non-folding counterparts, and use standard wheel sizes too.

700c wheel sizes for road bikes and 26-inch tires for mountain bikes are common for full size folding bikes. Even though these bikes use standard sizes, they can still be compacted down the same way other folding bikes are, and features the same collapsible components.

Portable Size

For those who want to save as much space as possible, and don’t mind degrading the ride quality, portable sizes are available that feature wheel sizes under 16 inches. These are mainly for commuters who need to fit their bike into a briefcase or backpack, and therefore need an extremely small size.

These bikes are much less efficient than other sizes, and usually have minimal components as well. Users don’t mind the trade-off, however.

Folding Methods

As you’ve probably guessed, there are more than a few different methods for the bikes to be folded, depending on the model and manufacturer. Here are the most common folding methods you’ll see when shopping.

Half/Mid-Folding

This is the folding method you’ll likely see the most. With this setup, the bike’s frame is made to fold in at approximately the halfway point, using a solid hinge. The hinge will have a reinforced quick-release clamps that lets the user break down or assemble in a relatively fast manner.

Folded Bike in Half

Once the clamp is released, the bike can swing into itself, lining up the tires together. The other components on the bike will often utilize quick release clamps as well, such as the handlebars and seatpost. Some models will also have a swing hinge on the steering column.

Vertical Folding

This method is similar to the mid-fold, but instead of folding horizontally, the bike will have one or two hinges on the main tube and/or chain and seat stays that lets the bike to fold up vertically. This is usually a little more compact than the mid-fold method.

Triangle Hinge

A triangle hinge in the frame can allow for the rear triangle and wheel to be folded down, and then flipped forward under the main frame tube. This can sometimes be used in conjunction with a folding front fork. Sometime both swing and flip hinges will both be on the frame. This method is intended to make the breakdown and set up a bit faster.

Magnet Folding

This method is a little more complicated. A magnet is combined with a rear shock absorber to comprise the folding mechanism. The magnet actually connects and locks the back wheel section to the frame.

Folding Bike With Magnetic Joints

The magnet then brings the rear wheel rotates forward, and the bike folds vertically. This allows the user to roll the folded up bike on its rear wheel, rather than having to carry it.

Breakaway

Some folding bikes utilize a diamond frame, which requires what’s known as a “breakaway” folding method. With these bikes, the pivot point is usually the seat post, which then hinges and allows the frame to separate, before folding the frame pieces into each other.

Other Folding Types

With folding bikes, there is no right or wrong in terms of how it’s broken down. Although the above mentioned types are the most common you’ll encounter, there are several companies that use a variety of folding methods and pivot points for their own bikes.

how much does an average folding bike weigh?

Weight plays a big role as to the folding bike’s overall quality, and definitely its price. These bikes are made from the same popular materials as other bikes, which plays a big role in determining their overall weight.

Typically, it’s ideal to keep the weight under 30 pounds, but this is not always possible with cheaper folding bikes. More expensive folding bikes that are made with better materials will weigh as low as 20 pounds, which is incredibly light considering.

up to 30 lbs

The compact nature of a folding bike means that it can sometimes feel like an exercise weight when it’s fully broken down. This is why some models have small wheels that you can pull the bike on when it’s compacted, or place the rear wheel instead.

Adjustability

If you know a little about bikes, you know that the frame size is very important. With folding bikes, you really don’t have the option for finding the optimal frame size, so you are forced to deal with a one-size-fits-all situation.

Fortunately, every other aspect about the bike is highly adjustable, so you can still attain a proper fit in most cases that allows you to pedal and steer comfortably.

The seat post on a folding bike is almost always adjustable, to a very high degree. This lets the rider give their legs the proper amount of extension when pedaling, and also makes steering easier.

The handlebar stem is also adjustable, which is something you don’t usually find on a bike.

This lets you raise the handlebars to your ideal position for your size, helping to round out the overall fit and feel of the bike.

Funny Cartoon of Folding Bikes

Features/Anatomy of a Folding Bike

A folding bike may look and sometimes function differently than other bikes, but it’s still a bike. Here is a brief look at all of its core features and components.

Frame Material

The frame is what holds the bike together, and the foundation of which every other component is attached in some way. The frame material itself plays a key role in how the bike feels, and also its overall weight.

  • Steel - The most inexpensive of the common frame materials, steel weighs the most, but does provide some added stability, and a good measure of shock absorption as well.
  • Aluminum - This is a common frame material for mid-range and higher-end folding bikes. Aluminum has a very low weight, is relatively inexpensive, and also provides good maneuverability and control.
  • Carbon Fiber - Once reserved for top-tier road and mountain bikes, carbon fiber is now making its way into the folding bike world. This is the lightest of all the frame materials, and also offers a high level of shock absorption.
  • Titanium - Titanium is only found on the most expensive folding bikes. It’s very low weight, strong, and ensures an adequate amount of shock absorption.

Gears

The gearing system/drivetrain is often where folding bikes differ the most. For simplicity’s sake, and for weight savings, the vast majority of folding bikes only offer one gear, not unlike a BMX or fixed gear bike.

Multi-gear models have always been around however, and they are increasing in number, especially as more mountain bike and road bike folding models come out. It’s not hard to find folding gear bikes that have 18 gears now.

Folding Bike Gear

Single-gear folding bikes will determine their gearing ratio by how many teeth are on the front sprocket, and also the rear cassette hub. These bikes often have a very strategic gear setup that is more suited for fast acceleration, rather than sustained speeds.

Brakes

The brakes on a folding bike come in many different varieties. For the most part, you’ll usually see these bikes with both front and back brakes.

Cheaper folding bikes often have U-brake or linear caliper brakes that are mounted above the wheels, using pads to stop on the rims by applying pressure to both sides.

Disc brakes can be found on higher-end models. These are mounted on the hub of each wheel, where a braking device uses the disc to stop. Disc brakes do save space by keeping the brake assembly inside the wheel, but they can sometimes be heavier than caliper brakes.

Saddle

The saddle is another word for the bike’s seat. Folding bikes make comfort a little more of a priority when they can, so their saddles typically have more coverage and padding than you’ll find on a road or mountain bike, while still being relatively light weight.

Parts of Folding Bike

Wheels

As we mentioned earlier, the typical wheel size on a folding bike is 20 inches. They are often made of alloy, and have several spokes for reinforcement to help prevent bending.

Tires

The tires on folding bikes will vary some depending on the model and type, but for the most part, they are similar to the tires of non-dirt BMX bikes. They are somewhat thick, and have a smooth tread that is ideal for pavement.

Folding road bikes will have skinnier tires, while folding mountain bikes will have wider, knobbier tires.

Add-Ons

There are a few other components you can add on to increase the functionality of your folding bike. Cargo baskets, chain guards, fenders, lights, and bags are just a few of some items you can attach for more convenience, safety, and even cleanliness.

Why Opt For a Folding Bike

There are plenty of great reasons for why you may want to opt for a folding bike. Here are some of the most obvious and advantageous ones.

Portability

This is the primary reason that someone gets a folding bike. The number one issue with full size bikes is their lack of portability. Yes, you can take the front wheel off, but that doesn’t really help all that much when trying to lug it around.

Folding bikes don’t need to be affixed to a roof rack on your car, or placed in a pickup truck . They can easily fit in a trunk or car interior, and you can always simply carry them around as well. In many cases, you can carry them in a bag or briefcase, which is incredibly convenient.

Compact/Saves Space

Full size bikes are awkwardly shaped, and take up a lot of space as a result.

Whether you are trying to bring your bikes along on a trip, or just need to store them away somewhere in your home, you’re going to need a lot of room.

If you live somewhere with limited space such as an apartment, storing your bike inside can be a real pain, and use up too much of your valuable space -- which is already at a premium.

The much smaller size of a folding bike, when compacted, will barely take up any space at all, allowing you keep it secure and out of the way, while freeing up valuable space.

Girl With Folding Bike

Practical/Theft Prevention

Bike theft is a constant concern, especially when you live in a busy urban area. For those that use their bikes for commuting, or as their main transportation around town, it sometimes feels like half of your efforts are solely towards preventing the bike from being stolen.

Even if you want to to just run inside somewhere for a few minutes, you still half to lock it up. If you are leaving your bike outside for an extended period of time that day, you have to rely on expensive locks and elaborate chaining methods {link to how to chain bike article?} to do your best in protecting it.

And even then, it’s still not a guarantee.

With a folding bike, you can bring it in with you at work, or inside an establishment. No chains, no locks, just you and your bike within reach at all times, nice and secure. In the event that you do have to lock it up outside, you can do so while it’s compacted, confusing thieves, while also making it nearly impossible to steal any components off of it.

Durability

Folding bikes are just as durable as other bikes. They are made from the same common frame materials, and use components from the same brands that makes drivetrains, braking systems, wheelsets, and more for standard bikes.

Low Maintenance

The maintenance level on a folding bike is very low. Your only priorities consist of keeping the chain lubed, tires inflated, and and lights charged up.

Folding Bike Perfect Commuting Solution

If you are considering a folding bike as part of your commute instead of a car, think of all thing things you won’t have to pay for on a consistent basis. Gas, parking spots, insurance, and maintenance costs on a car can be their entirely avoided, or sig inficincaly reduced. Over time, your bike is going to end up paying for itself.

Easy to Use

Folding bikes are just as easy to use as other bikes. Yes, they have a different stature, but they ride just like any other bike -- don’t be fooled by first glances.

As for the whole folding part of things, you will pick up on it in no time. Just give yourself some time to practice at home beforehand, and within 20-30 minutes, you’ll be good to go.

Low Depreciation

Quote About Buying a Bike

Folding bikes have a peculiar ability to retain most of their value.

Add to the fact that they are easy to take care of, and generally aren’t put through an adverse conditions, and you have yourself a bike that will still be worth much of its original value when the time comes to sale -- if it comes.

Efficient Performance

These bikes are made for riding fast from a stop.

The gears are configured in a way where it’s easy to accelerate quickly, which certainly comes in handy in urban settings when you are making your way across streets and sidewalks, and need to stop and go repeatedly.

Plus, the efficiency of the bike’s performance means you aren’t going to drain all of your energy on your ride, which is definitely a good thing if you are commuting to or from work.

Folding Bike Accessories

Despite their appearance and build, folding bikes are actually pretty easy to accessorize. If you desire to add accessories to your bike, the best place to start is with the manufacturer first, who likely has a whole line of products made just for your bike.

These accessories can include a saddle or front back that doubles as a carrying case for the bike, handlebar grips, Bluetooth speakers, phone holders, computers, air pumps, and lots of other items.

Notable Folding Bike Manufacturers

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous companies that now manufacture folding bikes all around the world. While the field is definitely a bit crowded, these four companies stand out for the level of their products.

Montague

Originally established in 1987 in Cambridge, MA, Montague was formed by David Montague and his father Harry while the former was still in graduate school at MIT. The original idea was to create a folding bike that would cater to David’s 6’2” height, so he actually decided to go with a full size bike instead of the usual 20-inch wheel size.

The company’s work later caught the attention of the U.S. Marines, who commissioned them to build folding bikes that could be used by paratroopers, not unlike the original intent of the first known folding bikes. Montague eventually released a civilian version of that bike, and still sells it today.

Currently, Montague continues to manufacture full size folding bikes, and now also offer frames on their own, so riders can fully customize them.

Dahon

Dahon is the world's largest folding bikes manufacturer, and received their start in 1982 when owner David Hon began building folding bikes in his garage. Two years later, he and his brother established a headquarters in California, and then he left for Taiwan to build the company’s first factory.

Two year later, they were putting out numerous models. Since that time, Dahon has gone on to be an industry leader in folding bike innovation, and hold hundreds of patents in regards to folding bikes. They have become the face of the modern folding bike, and continue to push the limits each year.

Schwinn

Schwinn has a long and storied history in the bike industry, and is widely considered to be the unofficial bike manufacture of the United States in several ways. They were later to the folding bike game than some other companies, but they quickly began developing models of their own once they did join, and have even collaborated with other companies such as Montague.

Today, Schwinn makes highly affordable folding bikes of all types. They aim to keep the costs as low as possible in order to reach budget-minded riders who may otherwise not be able to afford one.

Cyrusher

Cyrusher is a China-based bike manufacturer that does things a little differently. The company focuses on folding and electric bikes, with an emphasis on full size folding bikes. They have a large line of folding mountain bikes that include everything from hardtails, to full suspension, and plenty of electric folding mountain bikes as well.

Electric Folding Bike

Conclusion

We hope you now have a better understanding of the fascinating world of folding bikes. They make take a little getting used to at first, but once you’re acclimated, you’ll see why these bikes are continuing to surge in popularity among riders of different levels and styles.

If you’re in the market for a new folding bike, be sure to check out our buying guide, where we’ve included several of our favorite picks in various categories.

This post was last updated on December 15th, 2017 at 01:44 pm

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start BikesReviewed.com. In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

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