For combining riding with public transport, if you have limited storage at home or at work or simply for a compact bike that is easy to step over, a folder could be what you need. Simon Vincett tested five models.
Keep in mind
- Folders are more expensive than standard bikes of the same quality.
- The handling is a little more twitchy than most standard-sized bikes.
- Models with adjustable handlebar height are more able to provide you a comfortable position
- Look at the bike when folded. Some folding mechanisms (often on cheaper models) leave the chainring and rear derailleur exposed, leading to damage and greasy marks. A hub gear is much more damage resistant option for folding bikes.
- Test carry before you buy – ease of carrying is more important than the weight.
- You might need new lights because the fatter tubes of folders won’t take some light brackets.
- Beware that included accessories don’t add value if they are poor quality, such as the flimsy Giant Expressway carry bag.
- Though many models can take a luggage rack, you generally can’t carry as much as on a standard-sized bike.
What are small wheels like?
Small wheels are strong and, with high-pressure tyres and good quality hubs, can be fast as well, though they are thought to have higher rolling resistance.
Higher gearing enables equivalent pedalling speed as you would use on a large-wheeled bike.
Small wheels transfer more vibration from rough surfaces. However, with or without suspension, all bikes in this test have adequate bounce in them due to the long seat posts and handlebar masts. This is ample comfort for riding on sealed roads.
Folders on public transport
Most bus and tram operators require folders to be in a bag to travel but it travels as luggage.
Once bagged a folding bike just looks like luggage and no one takes any notice.
Some folders have less sharp edges and are less bulky than others. These are better to carry in a bag.
- Unbeatably compact fold with cleverly simple mechanism.
- Very upright position with no handlebar height adjustability and limited seat height.
- Fast, high-pressure tyres and rear suspension give excellent ride quality.
- Three-speeds appropriate for around town but not high enough for longer trips.
- High-quality components though proprietary gear shifter is challenging.
- Low-maintenance Sturmey Archer hub gear.
Most compact but not enough gears and too upright for longer rides
- Excellent gear range for both heavy traffic and a fast ride home.
- Position adjustable from upright to more aero.
- Folds without breaking the frame (and creating weak point).
- Bulky when folded and parts stick out.
- Suspension front and back (elastomers) is unnecessary and robs pedalling power.
- Excellent rack (best in existence for folders) available separately.
Best for panniers and a great performer but too bulky when folded
- Best in test for a 10km commute due to leaning forward position, high-quality components and high-gears in the 8-speed range.
- Due to position, not so comfortable for riding in a suit coat or in stop-start traffic.
- Most straightforward and fastest fold, though not especially compact.
- Many proprietary bags and cases for any type of travel available separately.
Best in test for long rides and travel
Test bike provided by Peter Holloway of Cycle Science
- Low-maintenance 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear with twistshift
- Clever chain cover prevents mess.
- Excellent double-leg kickstand keeps bike steady when folded and unfolded.
- Neat finished fold is held together by magnets.
- Tyre pump ingeniously stowed inside seat tube.
- Excellent carry bag that stows under the saddle is available separately.
- Also available is a good rack with bungee cord.
Rich in clever accessories, average in quality and performance
- Shimano Altus rear 8-speed derailleur and easy-to-use rapidfire shifter.
- Adjustable handlebar height.
- Mudguards front and back.
- Kickstand that works when the bike is unfolded and folded.
- Basic fold that leaves bike unstable and liable to fall over.
- Option for a rack and bottle cages.