Folding bikes unpacked

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…

Brompton

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.

Dahon

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.

dash_d18_big_555x415px_fold_01 dash_d18_big_555x415px_unfold_01

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…

mu_ex_big_555x415px_unfold_01

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.

Tern

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.

tern-verge-p9-2014-folding-bike

Bickerton

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.

bickerton-junction-1607-country-folding-bike

 

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.

bickerton-docklands-1824-country-folding-bike

Got a folding bike we’ve not talked about? Tell us in the comments… 

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24 Responses to Folding bikes unpacked

  1. RobbieC 26/08/2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Disappointed that you left out the choice of MAMILs everywhere – the Airnimal. I have a Joey, the choice of the cash strapped MAMIL and it daily helps me travel from Romney March to work (i do around 12 miles each way from the station to home and around 3000m annually). Its large 24in wheels are close to normal performance and it comes in three colours with a number of equipment options (I have a Alfine hub rather than a derraillier and the wider 507 wheels). It folds pretty well into a bundle that can be easily stowed under one arm – little more of a pfaff than some of the others in the article but the ride quality is good. It fits in the larger luggage stands at the end of cars in trains, tho; mine often finds itseld under the handrail in the doorway – where it is a surprisingly good fit.

  2. Eoghan 26/08/2014 at 2:07 pm #

    I have a [Montague Urban](http://www.montaguefoldingbike.co.uk/uk/folding_bikes/pavement/urban). It is full size, it’s designed for the city, looks reasonable and is not too heavy. However, if I had my choice again I’d rather get a lighter weight hybrid or road bike or possibly just a single speed for the same price. It does not fold down into a small enough package to justify the compromise in component quality, weight and complexity.

    • Cullen 26/08/2014 at 3:18 pm #

      Eoghan – I have one too. I love my Boston single speed. It’s lighter than my mountain bike and loads lighter than many other folders, but full sized wheels and hardly any flex in the frame and the single-speed is nearly maintenance free. Couple of small niggles, but an awesome bike… I’ve had mine for just over 2.5 years and put quite a few KM on it – I ride most days and do a total of about 12km each day, so something like 3k miles since purchase and it’s still going strong!

      Niggles being:
      1) I’ve yet to find mud guards that actually work all that well; the own-brand ones suck, and due to the frame shape you don’t have a lot of other options. Best so far is the ass saver but even it doesn’t really do it. I’ve tried race blades and mountain-bike style ones but they don’t really save from chain spray and I get soaked anyways…
      2) Frame geometry means adjusting the chain for proper tension means doing the brakes as well. As I said minor, but slightly annoying. I do go through chains twice a year now though I chalk that up to single speed and being bigger than average :)
      3) A compromise on the full-sized frame is that it doesn’t fold down as small; I get dirty looks sometimes for taking up a lot of space on trains in the vestibules, but hey – I don’t take up any space on the underground so grumpy commuters should thank me! :)
      4) Slightly cheaper parts that have given out over time. Of course I ride nearly every day, so it could just be they are getting a load more use than normal for my bikes, but I’ve been through 2 seats, 1 seat post, 3-4 chains, rear tyre, and 4 or 5 sets of brake pads in the 2.5 years I’ve had mine…

      Otherwise it’s a true love affair with my Montague! Although the hill on the home stretch could do with gears the lack of regular maintenance of derailers makes it all worth it :)

  3. Simon 26/08/2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I have had the six speed Brompton for 3 and half years. Together we have do about 320 miles a month to a station and from a station to work! From the point of view of the fold and ease of getting parts it is fantastic! It is nippy in London! I am no speed merchant so the performance might not impress someone else. For train travel the fold and size are unbeatable. Just returned from France where it has done 20-25 miles a day along the Loire. I suspect a bit of a marmite cycle. I love it. The London Brompton club (see Facebook ) is a great group of helpful people !

    • Vincent 29/08/2014 at 1:16 am #

      I’m in Paris and will spend a week starting Tuesday touring Bordeaux and the Pays basque (Bayonne, Biarritz, etc.) on my six-speed Brompton :-)

  4. Ben Thorp 26/08/2014 at 4:53 pm #

    No mention of Strida?!?

  5. Chris 27/08/2014 at 1:09 pm #

    I spent just over a year combining a Tern Joe and trains to commute from MK to London and it was brilliant! its a full size bike with disks and folds in half to not take up too much space on the train.

    As I had fairly dodgy cycle paths to ride to the station in MK it made both sides of my much quicker and comfier! and it only cost £500 so had paid for itself in a few months thanks to not paying for a tube pass!

  6. AJ 28/08/2014 at 8:57 am #

    You’ve not mentioned the Dynamic chainless folding bike

    http://www.dynamicbicyclesuk.co.uk/shop/index.aspx?categoryId=29

    awesome bike without the hassle of a chain – without a doubt one of the best purchases I’ve made.

  7. Vincent 29/08/2014 at 1:17 am #

    > 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.

    If you want a stiffer folding bike, consider Riese und Müller’s Birdy: As the wheels fold while the frame itself doesn’t, it makes for a pretty good ride.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birdy_(bicycle)

  8. Richard Fairhurst 29/08/2014 at 10:16 am #

    +1 for the Airnimal. Mrs F has a Chameleon and it’s her favourite bike – fast and fun to ride, but it’ll go into a suitcase for air transport. (We did a week on the Rhine Cycleway this summer.) Only downside is that there’s a very, very limited selection of tyres available for it.

    I like to go off-road a bit more, so I ride a Bike Friday New World Tourist with 20in wheels. It’s fine on UK trains, and will go on the Eurostar or ICE bagged up in quick-fold mode. It’s a fair bit slower than the Airnimal but more versatile. People have gone to pretty much every corner of the world on Bike Fridays – check out the travelogues on crazyguyonabike.

    But for commuting you still can’t beat a Brompton!

  9. David 29/08/2014 at 10:21 am #

    I have had a Dahon Matrix for the last few years, effectively a full size mountain bike with 26″ wheels that folds in half. Its legal on my train services at all times, and although quite heavy and a faff to fold (You need an Allen key) Once assemebled it is a great ride with 24 gears, front suspension etc. dahon have dropped it from their range in the last couple of years, but it served me well, until I dispenced with the train altogether and now ride all the way in to London from St Albans during the summer. It will be back on the road as the days shorten.

  10. Hugh 29/08/2014 at 10:40 am #

    I have had a Dahon Mu Uno singlespeed for four years now, and do about 1200 miles a year on it. I disagree with Michelle on the speed of folding/unfolding – the frame locking levers on the Dahon/Terns are way quicker than the threaded bolts on the Brompton.

    Although the Dahon was significantly cheaper than the Brompton, the component quality was, frankly, crap and I ended up spending so much on replacing broken bits in the first year that I may as well have got the Brompton. I had to upgrade the front wheel (bearing failure) and tyres (too many punctures with the standard Schwalbe Marathons so I went for the indestructible Marathon Plus), replace the handlepost (locking lugs sheared off) and put a smaller cog on the coaster hub (from 20T down to 15T to get any kind of speed out of it).

    I understand that the Terns, although very similar in design to the Dahons (search Google if you want the amusing story of the father-son falling out that led to the creation of Tern) have much better quality components and are therefore much more reliable.

    That said, I now have a bike that is well specced and adjusted to my needs: I added a stem to the handlepost in order to get my positioning pretty similar to that on my road bike. Being a single-speed it is also pretty low maintenance, although I have stripped down and regreased the coaster hub once (probably a job for your local IBD unless you are very competent mechanically).

    It has paid for itself three times over (saving £4.40 per day on the underground) and more importantly my 10 mile a day round trip has helped keep me healthy and happy. No more noses in stinky armpits or sweltering in tunnels for me, thanks.

    • Vincent 29/08/2014 at 2:22 pm #

      Hugh > I understand that the Terns, although very similar in design to the Dahons (search Google if you want the amusing story of the father-son falling out that led to the creation of Tern) have much better quality components and are therefore much more reliable.

      +1. Tern currently offers better bikes, and they fold even faster.

      They fold pretty quick too:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNYHyMb69uA#t=4m9s

  11. Dave 29/08/2014 at 10:43 am #

    My eight year old Brompton is my primary bike for my daily commute (12 mile each way). It carried me to Brighton on a charity ride, I flew it to New Zealand for a 6 week camper van holiday. I have used it for a lot of canal boat trips, it is unbelievably versatile.

    It is now fully equipped with Shimano 8 speed hub gears, ergonomic bar grips, Spd pedals, C bag and pannier fitted with in line roller bearing skate wheels (bigger and harder wearing than standard )

    I had a fold in half folding bike before, but when it was stolen I bought my Brompton and although I have two other bikes, a beautiful recumbent and a good quality hybrid, it remains my favourite ride

    • Vincent 29/08/2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Dave > It is now fully equipped with Shimano 8 speed hub gears

      I have the standard 6 speed (3 in the IGH, 2 in the derailleur): Does the Shimano just fit without rework, and how does it run compared to the standard gearing?

      • Dave 29/08/2014 at 5:16 pm #

        Hi Vincent

        I had a standard Brompton 3 speed hub which I changed for the 8 speed Shimano hub. I had to change my handlebars to S type straight ones in order to fit the 8 speed rotary shifter and fit an extension to the chain tensioner.

        It all came in a kit, I had it fitted at my lbs for £40. Well worth the money and a better range of gears one very low and one very high with 6 nicely spaced gears in between.

        It is a very quick machine now and I have been up Shooters Hill, Box Hill and Devils Dike with no problems

        Hope this helps you

  12. Tony 29/08/2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Decathlon B’Fold 5 6spd 20″ wheels. It’s no Brompton, but I can’t justify £800 when the B’fold 5 is £175. I use it for shopping and visiting and even cycled the Flitch Way on it.

  13. rod 29/08/2014 at 2:56 pm #

    i have a Di blasi three wheeler its really fun,i go along the tow path of the thames at kew bridge.great,folds incredably small and in 3 seconds once you get into it.a head turner.

  14. Dave 29/08/2014 at 3:00 pm #

    Tony, my first folding bike was a £100 Ammaco and it worked perfectly. I had used it for 2 years before it was stolen. In that time I had a good look at what other people were using and by then my situation had changed and I wanted and could afford an entry level Brompton. In the past 8 years it has grown into what it now is.

    My point is buy what you can afford, and will do what you want. As your needs change you can improve your bike with better kit and accessories

    The Bfold is a good bike and should do everything you need well.

  15. John H 29/08/2014 at 4:25 pm #

    Recently invested in a Giant Halfway.
    Lovely build quality and very nice design with uni fork fore and aft.
    Light weight with good component quality, fold is not as neat as it could be given the design, and the prop stand has an annoying habit of snagging the spokes when folded.
    Not inexpensive to buy and it is a quality looking folder.

  16. IanB 29/08/2014 at 4:39 pm #

    I have a jango flik which is very well engineered, the one exception the wheels could be a little larger as the tyres wear out!!
    I use it most days for Bikeability training so ideal for keep loading in the car.
    The children always think I have the coolest bike!!
    The gearing is great, SRAM 6 speed, nice low gears, vee brakes stop on a six penny piece.
    Great little folder I don’t think they make import them now.
    IanB

  17. SteveP 29/08/2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Another Airnimal vote. I bought one used and upgraded most of the shifting mechs. It has the wider wheels (which accept decent-wearing Shwalbe tyres) and rides very well – almost a proper bike so quite suitable for light touring even. It’s not a quick fold so not ideal for train commuters, and its folded size is on the large side. I bought a Duff bag to carry it in (weirdest company to deal with – zero communication) and I throw it in the car boot so it’s always on hand. It’s fine on trains folded, although FGW’s HSTs don’t offer much space. Can I appeal for a national rail directive mandating how bikes have to be transported? There should be some minimum level of service, not this patchwork of contradictory rules

  18. Ali Asghar Khoyee 29/08/2014 at 6:07 pm #

    Tern Verge Duo is great for London – extremely low-maintenance due to lack of external wires or chains – two internal automatic shifting gears, covered chain, pedal backwards for break, fold/unfold in 5-10 seconds, light-weight.

  19. SimonC 26/09/2014 at 8:39 pm #

    I’d recommend the Airnimals too – I have the Joey sport and she’s a beauty to ride. I do about 8 miles each way into central London and the almost full size wheels mean it feels much like a non-folder. The 9-speed gears are well spaced although I don’t see many proper hills on my routes.
    I bought it from On Your Bike in London Bridge who were very helpful in getting the right mudguards and rack. I often get surprised looks from fellow commuters that a folder with panniers can do the decent speed I normally do – unless there’s a head wind of course ;)

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