How to choose a folding bike?

efore choosing a folding bike, ask yourself the following 5 questions:

How to choose a folding bike

How to choose a folding bike

What is my weight?
What is my height?
What is my budget?
What kind of riding experience am I looking for (regular or folding)?
In general, what will I be using the bike for (touring, commuting, casual riding, shopping, MTB-ing etc)?

Many first time buyers assume that since folding bikes are not used by everyone, there are only a few options to choose from and narrowing down to a particular make and model won’t be much of a hassle. This notion is, however, quite fallacious as the market for folding bikes is pretty huge and growing, with a variety of designs and specifications to suit anyone’s needs. Having a clear idea about your riding preferences and usage will go a long way in finding the ideal folding bike. So do your homework beforehand, and happy biking!

One of the first points to note about folding bikes is that they are generally well-suited for small to medium built people. If you are quite tall (6 ft 5 inches or more) and heavy (300 pounds or more), there’s a slim chance you’ll find a bike that can support you. However, some companies like Bike Friday do build extra strong, customized frames on request. Some of the older bikes from the seventies had strong frames, but since they’re out of production, finding one may entail a bit of hard work on your part. Folding bikes generally have a higher range for seat-post and handlebar adjustment than ordinary bikes. Make sure that the seat height can be adjusted so that your leg is almost straight when the pedal is at the bottom position. Once you are comfortable with the bike’s size and the seating posture, half of your narrowing down is done.

Depending on your budget, you can opt for features like multi-speed gears, suspension, a latching system (for folded bikes) and a carrying bag. Folding bikes, apart from doing everything non-folders do, give the owner the added benefit of compactness. For this reason, they are generally more expensive than regular bikes. However, you don’t always have to shell out a lot of money for one. Some of the inexpensive bikes you can look at are the low-end Dahon range, the Downtube and the Citizen folding bikes. If you feel that they have too few features, a good option would be to try the second-hand market for higher-end used bikes.

The common wheel size in folding bikes is 16” to 20”. These may appear small at first, but are rarely a disadvantage, except for serious off-road biking. Small wheels are compensated by higher gearing in folding bikes, so that pedaling is normalized and does not feel tedious. If you still want a regular wheel size, some good 26” options by Dahon and Montague are available. However, if portability is your priority, go in for the smaller wheeled bikes which will give you a riding experience similar to ordinary bikes and also feature compact folding. Brompton has some of the most compact folders in the market. Another great portable brand is Bike Friday. Some Dahon bikes come with suitcases to carry the folded bikes in.

Draw a mental picture of your commuting terrain. If your town is more-or-less flat, you don’t really need a geared bike. If the neighboring terrain is hilly, you probably do. More hilliness translates to more number of gears. Some of the experienced riders can probably do with lesser gears, but if you’re a beginner or casual rider, make sure that the bike you choose has enough ratio to ensure riding comfort.

Suspension is an important aspect when choosing a folding bike. Generally, if you plan on riding mainly on a road or gravel path, don’t opt for any suspension at all. Good, effective suspension is an expensive option and having no suspension is better than having cheap bits which don’t really make a difference. There are, however, certain things you can do to get a smoother ride. Make sure that the tire pressure falls in the recommended range. Over-inflating will result in a harsher ride. Generally the fatter the tire, the lower the recommended pressure.

How to choose a folding bike

How to choose a folding bike

Finally, a few routine checks that you should carry out before making a purchase:

  • Check the quality of the folding hinges. Cheap hinges will cause the bike to flex and eventually break after folding a few times.
  • Check the quality of the wheels and brakes. These are high-stress parts that should preferably be of a well-known make.
  • The steering post should be well-built and rigid.
  • The frame should be rigid. The bike should feel stable under your weight.
  • Inexpensive bikes often have steel frames instead of alloy ones. These make the bikes heavy. To compensate for this, some bike makers may add inferior components (pedals, etc) to reduce the overall weight. Make sure that the overall quality of the components is not compromised.
  • When it comes down to actually riding the bike, every ounce of weight matters. Check for optional features like a rear-carrier or a side-stand. If you genuinely need them, go for them. Otherwise they will only add unnecessary weight to the bike.
  • If you plan on riding long-distance, make sure that the saddle is comfortable, the posture is not cramped, the grips are comfortable and there are multiple hand positions on the bars. Once these four criteria are met, long-distance riding will be a breeze, regardless of the choice of folding bike.
  • Most bikes only have adjustable seat height. Check to see if the handlebars are adjustable as well. A comfortable hand placement is crucial for relaxed riding.

In case you plan on having the folding-bike shipped to your home, here are a few things to check as well:

  • See if the bike comes with a comprehensive instruction manual. Many of the minor nags are fixable at home and don’t always warrant a trip to the mechanic.
  • Find out what parts are replaceable and which ones are not. Parts that are liable to get damaged, should be easily replaceable.
  • There should be a company helpline number to call in case of any problem or query.

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