Almost since the modern bike (without the big front wheel) was invented in 1885, there have been attempts to shrink its footprint, starting with this design 24 months later by American inventor Emmit Latta.
Doesn’t that look comfortable to ride? But hey…at least it folds.
And that’s the problem we’re still struggling with today, nearly 130 years and hundreds of folding models later. There’s usually a tradeoff between folding and comfort.
Until recently, the military had heavy, full-size folding bikes for paratroopers that could be dropped from the sky and counted on in combat. Meanwhile, the public had small-folding bikes with tiny wheels, long seat posts and other long tubes, and reduced gearing–way better than walking, but not good for long rides.
Neither approach resulted in a bike that worked well as an everyday bike.
Today, there is an increasing awareness of a new category called “full size folding bikes”. These are bikes that are sporty and rugged enough to be your everyday bike for commuting, mountain biking, or family fun rides, yet convenient enough to fit in a trunk to get there and in a closet or cubbyhole when you get home.
The category is expanding, with mountain bikes, hybrids, and even a titanium bike and a folding fixie appearing recently.
What to consider.
As you decide what bike is going to be your convenient next ride, here are six questions to ask to get the quality experience you expect:
- How big are the wheels? Picture a skateboard wheel. It must go around a lot of times, noisily, for moderate speed. The same principle exists for little 20″ wheels vs. full-size wheels of 26″ or the common size typically called “700c”. And bigger wheels go over bumps better.
- How good is the gearing? Some folding bikes have up to 27 gears—enough “granny gears” to climb even the steepest hills with ease. Don’t compromise just because the bike is going to fold.
- How much does it weigh? Even if you’re not training for races, lifting a heavy bike in and out of a car trunk and propelling it up hills will eventually get old. Look for under 25 pounds.
- Are multiple frame sizes available? If not, then you’re not getting a bike that fits you; you’re adapting yourself to the bike, with stability and comfort consequences.
- Is the frame rugged? Especially if you are going to go offroad with your bike, or enjoy the occasional air time after a speed bump, certification tests matter. Look for the EN 14766 safety standard and certification that all quality mountain bikes must pass.
- Is the chain ring protected? This is an oddly specific question, but when both wheels are folded together, the bike weight tends to push the chain ring teeth into the dirt or pavement. Neither is particularly good for your bike, so some level of protection such as a guard is especially important. (The CHANGE bike has the seat tube part of the frame automatically drop down for protection when the bike folds.)
With those questions answered, you’re in a great position to find a bike that rides well, so it gets ridden a lot, yet also stores conveniently in a trunk or room.