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Does size matter? Folding bikes vs. bikes that fold

What comes to mind when someone says, “Folding bike”?

Over the years, this category of bicycle has gotten a well-deserved reputation of being heavy, awkward to ride, perhaps even complicated in the focused pursuit of the mission to fit in the smallest possible spaces.

Today, some of the top folding bikes have chipped away at this reputation. Others, in pursuit of a lowest-cost solution, have reinforced it.

And then there’s CHANGE bike, which optimizes for riding, then folds for convenience–a bike that folds vs. a folding bike. It’s a subtle, but important distinction.

First, the facts about some representative bikes.

Model Dahon mu d10
Price $850
Weight 27 lbs
Number of gears 10-speed
Folded size 32.3″ x 26″ x 12.6″
Max rider weight 230 lbs
Wheels 20″
Ruggedness certified? No

The mu d10 is not Dahon’s lowest-cost option. That honor belongs to a $500, 30 lb steel one-speed.

But it does have enough gears to place it under consideration for riding in places that might have hills.


Model Bike Friday New World Tourist
Price $1,300
Weight 25 lbs
Number of gears 24-speed
Folded size 32″x 24″ x 12″
Max rider weight 220 lbs
Wheels 20″
Ruggedness certified? No

Bike Friday custom-builds a range of folding bikes, from the entry level above to $3,400 at the high end.

Model CHANGE bike 702
Price $1180
Weight 23 lbs
Number of gears 24-speed
Folded size 35″x 30″ x 14″
Max rider weight 300 lbs (350+ on MTN bike)
Wheels Industry standard 700c
Ruggedness certified? Yes (EN 14781)

CHANGE bikes available from Flatbike.com range from the 702 model above to a 30-speed, $1,580 mountain bike at the high end.

Three critical comparisons

A 700c wheel goes nearly 1/3 further than a 20″ wheel on every revolution.

1. Wheels. 20″ vs. 700c (26.5″). Does it matter?

Thanks to the miracle of mechanical advantage, you don’t have to pedal really fast to go at a normal speed. One pedal revolution on a 20″ well-geared wheel goes the same distance as on a “normal” bike; You just need to use more of your higher gears.

Of course, bikes with larger wheels will go faster in the same gear. And with those little wheels spinning, it may seem like you’re going faster than you really are!

More importantly, smaller wheels fit into things or get stuck behind things that larger wheels roll over. Beware of potholes and root bumps.

This is designed for stability. Spindlier stuff? Not.

2. Stems. Long vs. short.

When you’re a tall (or medium-sized) person on a short bike, you’ll need to make up the difference in the seat post and stem.

A long seat post makes surprisingly little difference, because it’s just about sitting, with little twisting or variable force. But the stem is different…

When you climb a steep hill, you pull back strongly on the handlebars with both hands; a wobbly stem can cut your momentum to zero in a jiffy. During a descent, your body weight pushes the stem in the other direction, and a descent with turns can add all sorts of twisting forces to your stem–hopefully one that isn’t designed to break in half at the hinge!

Small enough for your SmartCar, boat, private plane, apartment, cubicle, etc.   Not small enough for your suitcase.

3. Folded size. How small is optimal?

Optimizing for any one thing means less than optimal for everything else. The key is to find the “sweet spot” among competing needs.

Folding bikes optimize for storage. Bike Friday is the winner here, not only with the smallest size, but with a good range of gearing and medium weight among the three models.

Bikes that fold optimize for the riding experience. A CHANGE bike feels and rides like a “normal bike” because it is one, with a standard triangle frame and standard wheels. This makes it the lightest and strongest bike of the bunch, higher geared, and better able to go on long rides. And then you fold it in half and stick it in your trunk.

If height + width + depth are more than 62″, it’s oversized baggage.

And finally…what about airlines?

Invariably this comes up as a question. Will it fit in a suitcase? Bike Friday even includes a suitcase/trailer combo as an option…

Here’s what a reviewer said on the BicycleTouringPro website:

“It’s a great idea and works wonderfully for short trips
on bike paths or roads with wide shoulders. But if you are
considering the use of the suitcase/trailer as the ultimate
round-the-world luggage transport system, I’d
encourage you to think again.”

Even with just the suitcase, you must disassemble the entire bike to fit it in there!

Rather than lugging a Big Checked Bag O’Parts onto a plane with you, there’s a simpler option…

Ship it on Bikeflights.com directly to your hotel. It costs less than FedEx or UPS, can be scheduled for a specific delivery day, and avoids that whole checked bags/airport cart/taxi fitting routine.

Bikeflights.com. Definitely a convenient way to get your bike to a distant hotel.

CHANGE bikes don’t fit into a suitcase like a folding bike does. But for riding, adventures, and your daily life wherever you go, a bike that folds may be the perfect fit.


Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.


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