When it comes to the world of the folding bike, there’s aficionados and then there’s the people going ‘What on earth is a fold up bicycle?’ In the world of push bikes, these are specialist tools- but they really shouldn’t be, particularly if you’re biking in an urban environment. Although not as well-known as their classic cousins, these useful tools can be just the thing to get you from A to B on a hectic commute without the usual worries of safely parking your bike when you get there. Keep reading for the low down on these space and time savers.
What on earth is a fold up bicycle anyway?
A collapsible bike combines portability, easy storage and convenience with all the features of a classic bike. While there are several different fold designs, most come down in the end to the size of a single wheel, and not much greater thickness. The ease with which this can be brought into buildings or carried on public transportation is pretty obvious. They’ll even fit in a car or boat for instant land transport when you need it.
Why would I need a folding bicycle?
The most common use of the fold up bike is, of course, public transportation. I you have a route incompletely covered by available transportation, the slog in-between can be a tiresome, difficult and impractical one. Very often, being able to bike between public transportation points would make life a whole lot easier- but most transit systems ban unfolded bikes completely. Many of these same, however, allow the folding bicycle. They may also be accepted for carriage by airlines as standard baggage without incurring the costs of a normal bike. Both London and Singapore now actively encourage their use.
This is, of course, far from the only reason you may need a quick and compact set of wheels. From having them as part of your essential in-home or car-boot emergency bag, to carrying them on board your boat as a nifty and convenient way to re-acquire your land mobility, the possibilities are endless. They also appeal strongly to commuters who would prefer to get to work on bike but can’t risk theft at their destination- simply pack it up and take it into the office with you.
How does a collapsible bike work?
As we mentioned above, fold up bicycles work on a couple of different folding patterns, although they all achieve the same result in the end of course. In fact, the combination of folding speed [and ease], final compactness, durability and weight will play a huge factor in which folding bikes are successes and which aren’t worth the cash. They are, of course, far more complicated creatures to design and manufacture then the basic bike, and this combined with a more limited market generally means they’re more expensive than a normal push bike.
However, a good brand well cared for over time will be an excellent investment, and the manifold advantages to this compact and space saving alternative transport are obvious. When considering the different fold types for your perfect folding bike purchase, you need to weigh up what matters most to you- a quick fold time, a compact fold size or a simple fold. Once you know which of these you need to prioritise, navigating your way through the world of collapsible bike styles will be considerably easier.
The fold up bicycle generally offers a far more customisable frame then a conventional bike, the result of the need to accommodate riders of all shapes and size on what is really only one basic frame. Aftermarket posts, stems and seats can be purchased, and at the minimum extensive seat and handlebar adjustment come standard on every collapsible bike.
Most folding bikes opt for 26: wheel systems to allow for greater speed and mobility. There are models that go as low as 16” wheels, but these sacrifice both performance and ease of ride. Remember that no fold up bike will ride quite the same way as a standard bicycle, and will need considerable getting used to.
So what fold types are there?
The range of different folds available on collapsible bikes is actually huge. There a few often used fold types, however, with the ‘classic’ half [mid] fold dominating most typical fold up bikes. The bike effectively folds in half through the middle, with quick release clamps on the steering and seat columns. Dahon and Tern alongside Montague are well known for this fold.
Vertical fold bikes, by contrast, allows the bike to fold top down, leaving the two wheels side by side but often resulting in a surprisingly compact designer. Look to Brompton as well as less classic Dahon design if this sounds like the bike for you.
A triangle hinge makes your fold up bike something more like a Transformer, with the rear wheel flipping down and forward. The front fork may hinge too. While this is not a quick-fold design, it can result in your most compact of collapsible bikes, and Birdy and Swift both offer great options on this design.
Other, more complex options exist too. Magnet and suspension systems, partial break aways and more are all available, with the break up design favoured by those travelling via air with their fold up bikes. While these intricate ease-of-use systems generally attract higher prices, they can be worth it depending on the circumstances of using the bike. In the world of the fold up bike, however, do remember that smaller isn’t always lighter.
Who first thought of the folding bike?
It’s probably not going to be much of a surprise to learn that the fold up bicycle has military origins, and the folding bike was originally the prevue of bicycle infantry soldiers. In fact, the collapsible bike played its own role in the second Boer war. Later, as World War 2 unfolded, so did the folding bike as a tool of airborne troops as well as the infantry and commandos. Their unique design meant they could be taken on parachute jumps or on gliders.
As a tool for the general public, however, it wasn’t until the 1970s that an upswing in the popularity of the folding bike can be seen, and the 1980s before the first modern bikes can truly be said to have been born.. The Raleigh Twenty and Bickerton Portable, two classic collapsible bike names, have their origin in this decade and the weight of history to back them as tried and trusted brand favourites.
Who’s who in the folding bike market?
Birdy, Brompton, Giant, Dahon, Strida, Tern…everywhere you turn [no jokes] there seems to be a different folding bike brand. If you’re looking for the industry leader, however, you should probably look no further than Dahon. Established by two brothers in 1982, this classic brand is the industry leader, selling two thirds of all the bikes sold globally. That said, most of the ‘big name’ bike brands are worthwhile, sturdy purchases.
What about the electric folding bike?
The electric folding bike, in particular, is aimed at the frustrated urban commuter. In many big cities it has become impossible to commute by regular vehicle, and the mere act of getting to work daily can be a traumatic experience. Folding electric bikes share all the features of their none-electric cousins, allowing quick folds, ease of use, and carriage on public transportation as well as improved theft deterrence. The electric folding bike just takes away the work of peddling- making it a great and easy choice for the tired urban commuter if not exactly the healthies choice for commuters looking to get in their daily exercise as well as simply get to work.
How do I pick my fold up bicycle?
Remember, you need to determine whether ease of fold, speed of fold or comfort of ride rank highest in your priorities before you tackle the world of folding bicycles. This well help you narrow down brands and fold types. There are, however, some things to look for in every bike. You obviously want the most comfortable ride you can get in your own category, and we strongly advise trying out a few bikes in person before buying, even if you opt to purchase online for cheaper deals.
Quality finishes generally dictate a high end product that will last you well, as does the quality of the locking mechanism. The frame when latched should have no wobble and not appear fragile. You have to balance weight for portability with weight for stability of ride, so it can be a tough choice. DO remember that any quality brand will offer a good warranty to guard against the niggly little problems that may arise. Remember that the frame and wheel height are not as variable as in classic bicycles, and look for seat and handlebar customisability to suit your unique body shape comfortably.
Quality folding bicycles can be a pricey purchase, but they open up a world of options denied to the standard bicycle whilst combining convenience and comfort for the user. With the electric bicycle, you even can take most of the work of peddling out of your day! For urban commuters and frequent travellers, the collapsible bike makes up a convenient, quick and easy way to get about the business of living your life.