I recently came across a colleague on the way to work, who usually rides a pretty nice BMC road bike. However, the road bike had been replaced with a green and yellow Brompton. Lycra was swapped for jeans and the handle-bar chewing replaced with a relaxed lean-back style of riding that was entirely out of character.
A folding bike, for the majority of people, is about convenience – getting where you want to go on time, with the least hassle possible. Unless you’re entering an event such as the London Nocturne Folding Bike Race, or Bromption World Championship, you”ll generally be leaving the sporting aspect of cycling behind when you swing your leg over one of these.
The benefits are that you can take the bike on the majority of trains – though do check your rail providers website, as some have some bizarre rules about bagging the bike so that it becomes ‘hand luggage’ and the like.
The foldable bike is also a great option if you want to guarantee the safety of your bike – you can pop it under your desk, in a large locker or somewhere else much safer than leaving it sitting (albeit locked) on the street.
Another benefit is that multi-modal transport offered by a folding bike makes it a handy companion for touring, caravaning, camping or even canal boat holidays. Folders are incredibly common among people who want to explore the world – you can go as far as you like with the bike alongside you in the car/train, and then whip it out when you want to slow down and see more in depth.
The drawbacks are present – of course. Smaller wheels mean that bumps in the road are significantly more apparent, and they also reduce the turning circle, making steering movements quick and jerky until you’re used to them. Frame designs have to deviate from those used by road and MTB manufacturers to allow for the mechanism, too – so if you’re looking for a stiff frame that will absorb vibrations, you probably don’t want it to fold, too.
Here’s a look at some of the big players. We’ve not talked much about the folding mechanism – trust us – they all fold and are all pretty quick once you’re accustomed. However, Brompton are known to be the fastest fold/unfolders, if that helps your decision…
You’ll pay a premium for a Brompton, but in return you get a quality build, a multitude of spare parts, accessories and colour options, and the knowledge that you’ve bought from a brand still manufacturing in West London, where they’ve been since 1988.
The bikes start around £700, and go well in excess of £1000. The vast majority use the ‘M’ style handlebar, which makes for a relaxed riding position that is upright and ideal for city riding. Some more expensive options use the padded ‘P’ type which provides even more control and allows for more hand movement.
You can choose to create your own ‘perfect Brompton’ with the Brompton Builder and you really can go wild here, so even if you’e all in black and carrying a briefcase you’ll still be able to display your own style with a very personalised bike.
If you’re looking for something a little less ordinary, Dahon might have you covered. Folding bikes made by Dahon don’t all have small wheels – they have 16″ and 20″ options to get you rolling faster, and even some designed specifically for leisure riding, out of town and even on light toe paths.
The 20″ Dash P18 is one such a bike, and it comes with adjustable handlebars so you can choose your position based upon terrain and mood. Bear in mind these bikes won’t fit into train luggage racks and will be harder transport, the Dash P18 weighing in at quite a podgy 12kg.
Of course, Dahon do create commuter style folding bikes made for train journeys and cities, as well as ‘performance’ bikes for those with a need for speed and training.
The Mu EX weighs just 9.6kg, and comes with 20″ aero rims to boost your pace – as well as a carbon fiber fork and adjustable handlebars if you want to get your head down and be super speedy on tiny wheels…
The different styles are highlighted on the Dahon website with 4 distinct sections, making browsing easy provided you know if you’re after convenience, adventure, or speed.
A fantastic value option, Tern bikes start at £375 (with a couple on sale for £300 if you’re quick!) and they’ve got some bright, funky looking colour schemes to make sure your ride matches your personality.
Like Dahon, there are a range of sizes and options available, from city inspired tiny folders like the Link models, to the Tern Joe, which has almost fill sized wheels.
If ‘fast’ is on your agenda, you’ll be looking for a Tern Verge – the performance style bike with lightweight wheels, tyres designed to stand higher pressures, and a stiffer frame than the entry level options.
Bikerton?! I hear you ask with a bemused smile – unless you’re one of the folding bike fanatics I met at the London Nocturne a few years back.. in which case you know everything already.
Bickerton Portables are sort of ‘new’ and ‘old’. A 1971 company begun by Harry Bickerton, the company was out of production for a number of years. However, recently son Mark Bickerton (once a part of Dahon, then Tern…) picked the brand back up to launch a new, modern range of Bickerton Portables, starting with the Bickerton Junction.
Bickerton Junction’s start at £399, and go up to £899. The Junction Country Folding bikes come with mudguards and racks supplied as standard. The City versions have a Shimano Nexus system to keep trousers and other flappables away from the chain and gearing, as well as coming with a rear rack, mudguard, prop stand and transit bag to keep you clean whilst travelling.
Finally, the Bickerton Docklands is not far off a full sized bike, with SRAM 24 speed drivetrain, puncture resistant Schwalbe Big Apple tyres, and a handy tool integrated in the handlebar grips (neat, eh?) At 14kg, you won’t be racing up any hills on it, but it would be a fun companion for a caravan or boating holiday.
Got a folding bike we’ve not talked about? Tell us in the comments…
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.