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Products reviewed in brief:
How to choose a folding bicycle
Unlike standard bicycles that come in different frame sizes, the majority of folding bikes are ‘one size fits all’. Nevertheless, all models allow for seat post height adjustment and saddle reach while some also provide adjustable handlebar stems.
When choosing a folding bike, first consider the size of its wheels as this generally determines its comfortable cruising speed and hence the time it takes to get from A to B. In a nutshell, the bigger the wheels, the faster you’ll go.
Folding bikes: wheel size matters
By their nature, folding bikes have smaller wheels than full-sized bicycles so they’re better suited to riding shorter distances of between three and five miles.
A bike with 16-inch wheels (as fitted to all Brompton bikes) will fold into the smallest of packages but you will likely be overtaken but every other cyclist. In that respect, most other manufacturers have opted for 20-inch wheels which allow the rider to travel a little bit faster without too much extra effort.
Another important consideration is price. As with most products, the ‘you get what you pay for’ maxim holds true. If you can stretch your budget to around £350, then go for a decent folder like the Carrera (reviewed below). But if you want a bike that will provide better reliability in the long term, consider spending upwards of £600.
What are the benefits of a folding bike?
There’s very little chance of a folding bike ever being stolen because you can simply store the bike inside your house, or office (one day). Most shops and other public places will also allow you to take a folded bike inside with you, and they are easy to take on and off public transport.
Electric folding bikes
If you live in a hilly area consider a folding electric bicycle. Electrically assisted bikes have revolutionised the bicycle industry and we can’t stress enough how effortless they make the act of cycling, especially up hills. E-bikes don’t require a license but their motor’s, by law, are only allowed to provide assistance when the pedals are in motion. Hence, you can’t simply hold a button in and expect to be propelled along on battery power alone.
The only major caveat with electric folding bikes is the weight – they are usually several kilograms heavier than standard folders. This is something you will most definitely notice when carrying the bike up stairs or when the battery runs out of juice and you’re left to rely on muscle power alone.
Best for: short range commuting and storage
Key specs – Wheel size: 16 inches; Weight: 11.17kgs; Gears: 3; Brakes: Caliper; Electric assist: Optional
Almost certainly the most popular folding bike in the world, the steel-framed Brompton is a reliable and rugged workhorse that quickly concertinas into the tidiest of packages, making it ideal for railway commuting and storage. You can even wheel it along in folded mode which is very handy for traversing railway platforms.
The Brompton may run on small 16-inch wheels, but its long wheelbase keeps it very stable at speed. This particular model comes with only three gears but there are several other variations available (even an electric model) with different gear ratios to suit your local terrain.
Although this bike collapses into the tidiest package of any folding bike on the market, it does take a while to get to grips with the folding technique. Once mastered, you’ll be folding and unfolding this little two-wheeled marvel in under 15 seconds.
If your commute is under four miles in length, this is your model. It’s light enough to carry, practical for getting from A to B, and it’s probably the easiest of all bikes to store away.
In short, it is unequivocally the finest folding bike ever invented.
Best for: value
Key specs – Wheel size: 20 inches; Weight: 13.6kgs; Gears: 8; Brakes: Caliper; Electric assist: No
The Intercity isn’t the lightest model in the bike shed but it’s easy enough to carry up a short flight of stairs and it can be wheeled along when folded, albeit a little awkwardly.
As to be expected at this price level, some of the components are on the cheap side, most notably the 20-inch wheels which can go out of true and rub against the brake pads – a common anomaly with inexpensive bicycles.
But on the plus side, it’s easily adjusted to suit a wide range of rider heights (simply raise or lower the seat post and handlebar stem and you’re good to go).
The Intercity handles surprisingly well, too, and comes equipped with an 8-speed derailleur, a luggage rack, a side stand and mudguards as standard. If the thought of splashing out over £800 on a folding bike makes you flinch, consider adding this commendable budget-priced offering to the shopping list.
Bickerton Argent 1909 Country
Best for: comfort and style
Key specs – Wheel size: 20 inches; Weight: 12.96kgs; Gears: 9; Brakes: Caliper; Electric assist: No
Kent-based Bickerton has been at the vanguard of folding bike manufacture for over 30 years. The company’s classically styled Argent 1909 Country is a brilliant all-rounder and arguably the most comfortable bike in this guide.
Top design details are evident everywhere, from the beautiful polished rectangular aluminium frame to the adjustable and supremely comfortable cruiser-style handlebar. The top-notch leather Brooks saddle tops off a high quality package.
The Argent is easy to fold – it utilises the split top tube method where the front wheel folds round to attach to the rear wheel via a magnetic holder. A thick rubber strap holds the collapsed handle bar in place when carrying but you can also wheel it around, albeit a little cumbersomely.
Granted, the Argent 1909 Country doesn’t fold into as compact a package as the Brompton but its larger 20-inch wheels and 9-speed gearing make it easier to ride up hills and at higher speeds for longer distances. It’s also about £160 cheaper than the Brompton while being insanely comfortable and a stylish looker to boot.
Tern BYB S11
Best for: taller riders
Key specs – Wheel size: 20 inches; Weight: 12.7kgs; Gears: 11; Brakes: Caliper; Electric assist: No
This model has one of the most ingenious folding mechanisms on the market though. Once folded, the bike can be stored upright (there are thankfully no protruding bits to snag on other people’s clothing) and pushed along using the handlebars and a combination of its main wheels and two tiny swivelling castor wheels.
For a 20-inch wheel folding bike, it’s certainly one of the smallest and neatest packages this rider’s ever encountered.
Other top design flourishes include a really low-slung double-split top tube for easy mounting and dismounting, an excellent telescopic seat post with a height range wide enough to accommodate any size of rider (from 4’10” to 6’5”) and a fantastically slick gear shift lever that flicks through its eleven gears with smooth precision. It comes with the sweetest sounding bell in the business.
True, the BYB is very pricy for a standard folding bike and its otherwise excellent folding mechanism is a bit convoluted, but it’s exceedingly well built and relatively light, too. The 20-inch wheels, meanwhile, make it an effortlessly speedy entry into the commuter market.
Best for: design and power-assisted speed
Key specs – Wheel size: 20 inches; Weight: 18kgs; Gears: 3; Brakes: Disc; Electric assist: Yes
Created by former Formula One McLaren car designer Richard Thorpe, the GoCycle GX is probably the most advanced folding electric bike on the market and the best designed. With the included stand in situ, this is one of the easiest bikes of any to fold.
Simply put it on its stand, unhinge the frame and fold the front wheel round to meet the rear one. Then fold down the handle bar and attach it to the main frame using the supplied rubber strap. The GX can now be wheeled about holding the saddle or stored steadily on its stand while in transit. It’s also light and practical enough when folded to carry up a flight of stairs.
Unlike the majority of folding e-bikes, the GX works in conjunction with GoCycle’s free app (Android and iOS); simply strap your phone to the handlebar and select your favourite power band. As soon as you start pedalling, the motor cuts in to propel you up to the prerequisite 15.5mph (25kph). Depending on how much effort you put in, a full charge will take you about 40 miles.
Constructed out of ‘hydroformed’ 6061 T6 alloy and fitted with chunky 20-inch wheels, the GX is a bastion of bicycle design. There isn’t a cable to be seen anywhere and even the internally mounted (and removable) Lithium Ion battery is tucked away out of sight.
If you can afford the high outlay and hanker after a top-flight electric folding bicycle that really turns heads and is a joy to ride, then step right this way.