So you want to go touring, and you’ve picked a folding bike. Good choice! Let us run through why this choice may (or may not) be suited to you. Lets start with the good stuff –
- Easy to use on Public Transport
Folding bikes are versatile. You fold them up to a dimension smaller than a folded up pram/stroller, and then carry (or roll) them with a somewhat degree of ease. Most countries and places allow these onto buses, taxi’s, coaches, trains and planes. In most countries in Europe, you pay extra for bringing a bike onto a train – unless it can fold and sit in carriage with you. Winner!
You’ll also find that you can fold a bike up and slip it into a suitcase with a bit of bubble wrap around it. Would you look at that – international bike travel for the price of a 20-odd kilo suitcase boarding. To be honest, sometimes you don’t even need a specially made suitcase, or even an actual suitcase. I’ve seen people use cardboard boxes to wrap their bikes up.
As mentioned, you can take these on buses, coaches, back of taxi’s and onto trains. You never know when you might come across a dangerous road, an injury, a bicycle breakdown that can’t be fixed at the side of the road etc. Being able to jump into a vehicle and get to another destination is seriously underrated in these situations. This also rolls into a similar point though. If you’re in a big city touring, you can jump parts of your ride to get to your next destination with speed and ease. Hop on the subways or buses and avoid the city traffic.
- Ability to move off and on the bike
So one thing that always annoyed me about riding big bikes in busy areas is when you have to stop/start, get on and off the bike. With a foldie, the crossbar is set low so you can swing your leg over with ease, the smaller wheels aid acceleration meaning setting off from traffic lights is easier. You don’t feel as restricted on a folding bike.
- “You’re not bringing that in here!”
Ever tried bringing a full sized bike into a hotel or even some cafes? Big old NOPE. Folding bikes always get away with it though… Hotels don’t want you rolling your muddy bike up their corridors. But carrying it there? No problem! Cafes don’t want your dirty bike on display and in the way of their floorspace. But folded up and tucked under the table? No problem!
This kind of ties in with the point above. You can bring your bike pretty much anywhere you go. You ever left a bike that’s your only transport in a place you don’t know? Yeah, you don’t want to. Folding bikes can also be locked up by threading the lock through the bike when its folded up, extra security if you have to leave it somewhere!
I once had someone try to tell me that folding bikes are of poor quality, regardless of the price. Absolute rubbish. Folding bikes, even at the budget end of things are built to last. They’re full of unique parts and hinges, so need to be safe and stable to last. Brands are always careful with these delicate parts and as a result they tend to be fairly solid. When you look at brands like Brompton, its very clear that the company is set out to build the best quality bike possible.
- Sturdy wheels
Having a smaller wheel isn’t a disadvantage, as most people tend to think. They’re stronger! The smaller the wheel, the less flex in the rim and spokes. You’re less likely to bust a spoke on a smaller wheel than you would with a MTB or road bike. in 8 years of working in a bike shop, they only time I had to fix spokes on anything 20″ or smaller was the BMX lads who’d absolutely trashed their bikes. That was it. The other advantage of strong wheels is more weight can be applied to the bike without fear of sending the wheels out of line.
OK, so you’ve read the good stuff. Unfortunately I’ve got to point some bad points out in the interest of fairness, as my biased opinion of folding bikes pretty much ends with the above points…
They’re more expensive than a MTB/Road equivalent spec’d bike. Reason for this is the frames are fairly complex and only work for that bike. There’s more unique parts on a folding bike (Handlebar stem, seatpost, frame, hinges and clamps etc) so you do end up paying for this. However, a quality “entry level” folding bike can be picked up for around £350/$480.
You sacrifice some comfort with a folding bike. Small wheels aren’t forgiving on the cheeks unfortunately. This can be counteracted with higher walled tyres to give some suspension through the wheels. However, a sprung saddle can sometimes be your best investment to start with.
If you’re expecting to do 100+ miles a day, you’ve bought the wrong bike. (Or you’re actually going to do it and you’re criminally insane) These bikes aren’t built for speed or distance, so expect to take plenty of breaks and not get as far as you’d expect to. Smaller wheels means more pedal strokes I’m afraid.
If you’ve got this far, I hope I haven’t put you off! Personally for me, the Pro’s massively outweigh the Con’s. My foldie (pictured above) has budget gearing, front and rear racks, and it just cruises where ever I need it to. I love it.