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Folding bikes offer many of the same advantages as regular bicycles, with the added benefit of quickly folding away to a compact size, making them ideal for travel, touring, commuting, and more.
With such a vast range of folding bike brands, types, and budgets available today, choosing a folding bike can be confusing.
We have created this essential Folding Bike Buyer’s Guide to help educate you on choosing a folding bike best suited to your needs, budget, and riding preferences.
This in-depth foldable bicycle guide will walk you through everything from what type of folding bike you should purchase to what accessories you need for your first ride.
You can skip to the relevant sections using the table of contents below or keep reading to discover everything you need about the best folding bikes.
How To Choose The Best Folding Bikes in 2023
The most effective way to choose a folding bike is to work through the following questions and guides to help narrow your search to a few models you can then read reviews of and ideally take for a test ride.
Here are eight critical things you should consider when buying a folding bike:
- Which type of folding bike should I buy?
- How many gears will I need?
- What folding bike wheel size is best?
- Which folding bike brand should I choose?
- What is my budget?
- Which bike frame material is best?
- What size of folding bike do I need?
- What do I need for my first folding bike ride?
Which type of folding bike should I buy?
Folding bicycles fall into four categories; commuting, off-road, touring, and electric folding bikes.
- Commuting: Many commuters enjoy the health benefits of folding bikes for their daily commute. If you intend to ride to work or in urban environments, choosing a folding bicycle designed for commuting would be ideal. Key design considerations include being able to fold away in under 10 seconds and higher top speeds to allow you to travel quickly around the city.
- Folding mountain bikes: In recent years, the quality of folding bikes has improved significantly, and today there are many incredible folding mountain bikes available. This category is perfect for you if you intend to ride off-road or on many gravel tracks. Look out for larger wheel sizes and robust frames as essential considerations.
- Touring folding bikes: If you are an adventurous traveler who enjoys the benefits of taking a folding bike with you on your journeys, then a touring folding bike makes sense. Key considerations are finding a folding bicycle small enough to fit in a suitcase and sticking with more robust frame materials (e.g., steel) to allow you to get your bike repaired when traveling overseas.
- Electric folding bikes: unless you’ve been hibernating under a rock, you would be well aware of the broader electrification of bicycles, scooters, and more. Electric folding bikes offer the benefits of not relying solely on pedal power and are available as built-in or add-on components. For example, Brompton has developed an electric-assist option where the battery can be stored in your backpack.
This free cheat sheet will help you choose a trike by providing quick information on the 7 key considerations for buying an adult tricycle!
How many gears will I need?
Folding bikes are available from single-speed right through to 27 gears, although the majority will have 9 speeds or less.
The number of gears and the gear-inches range depends on the riding you plan to do.
As a benchmarking guide, here are typical gear inches for folding bikes:
- Commuting folding bikes: 25 to 70 gear inches (or up to 100″ if you are a high-performance rider)
- Folding mountain bikes: 19 to 100 gear inches
- Touring foldable bicycles: 20 to 70 gear inches
So, how many gears do you need?
Most people should choose a folding bike with 3 to 8 gears, with at least a 25 to 70 gear-inch range to comfortably tackle most terrains. Off-road riders should select a folding bicycle with 11 to 27 gears, and those who ride only on flat terrain or prefer simplicity should consider a single-speed bike.
What folding bike wheel size is best?
When buying a folding bike, wheel size is an important, sometimes challenging, consideration.
Why is it challenging to select the optimum wheel size?
A larger wheel size offers higher top speeds, absorbs bumps better, and can roll over obstacles more easily. On the other hand, a smaller wheel size sacrifices these benefits but offers a more compact folded size, improved acceleration, and lighter weight.
What wheel size should you choose?
A wheel size between 16 and 20 inches is perfect for most folding bike riders who ride in urban environments, mostly on roads and occasionally on gravel tracks. For off-road riding, a wheel size of at least 24 inches is recommended because it provides improved rolling capabilities on rough terrain.
For those who require a very compact folded size, a wheel size less than 16 inches in diameter should be selected; however, it is worth noting that a 12″ or 14″ wheel size may compromise ride quality and experience.
Which folding bike brand should I choose?
The best folding bike brand depends on your budget, what you use your bicycle for, and personal preference. Here are my favorite brands for 2023:
As I discussed in detail in my best folding bike guide, I have seen a notable shift in market trends where some lesser-known folding bike brands produce high-quality bicycles at a significantly lower price than leading brands.
Let me give you an example.
If you require a folding bike for commuting, you could choose a Brompton C Line Urban. This is a fantastic model from a highly reputable brand that will last for years.
Playing devil’s advocate, you could also purchase something like a Zizzo Urbano for a fraction of the cost.
The Zizzo is lighter and performs equally well.
The choice of a brand may also have to do with personal preference much as it is when we select a car or clothing for example.
Choosing a renowned folding bike brand is crucial if you intend to tour on your bike (and therefore need a quality worldwide brand such as Brompton for reliability and ease of maintenance in other countries).
Also, if you are buying a folding bike for off-road use, I recommend choosing a reputable brand because of the higher loads and impacts the bicycle will be exposed to in mountainous terrain.
For example, Montague bikes have built up a stellar reputation for quality folding mountain bikes, which are even used by the US military!
What is my folding bike budget?
The million (or hundred) dollar question! When choosing a folding bicycle, it’s critical that you know what your budget is upfront and you stay within your budget.
Fortunately, some incredible folding bikes are available today at relatively low prices. Even a budget of $500 will be enough to purchase a decent brand-new folding bike.
Our complete buying guide to the best folding bikes under $500 is a great place to start, and we’ve got tips for vintage folding bike buyers too.
Most mid-tier folding bikes will cost between $800 and $1,200. You can expect higher quality components from well-known brands such as Shimano, lighter frames, and more reputable brands in this price range.
A premium folding bike can cost as much as $9,000.
At the higher end, you should expect the best frame materials, bespoke designs, electric motors, and batteries, or the lightest folding bikes, such as the Hummingbird, which is handmade in the UK from carbon fiber.
Here’s our detailed guide about how much folding bikes cost.
Which bike frame material is best?
I recently published my guide to bike frame materials, including the available materials and their advantages and drawbacks.
In summary, most foldable bicycles are made from aluminum or steel. Aluminum typically, although not always, offers a strong frame with a lighter weight than steel.
Titanium and carbon fiber are more exotic frame materials, which offer improved strength-to-weight ratios but come with a higher price tag.
One final comment on folding bike frame material choice is that I recommend choosing a steel frame for touring and travel because steel is a strong material that can be easily repaired with a simple welding device anywhere in the world.
What size of folding bike do I need?
While wheel size selection can be difficult with folding bikes, the good news is that frame size selection is comparatively more straightforward than with road bikes or mountain bikes.
Most folding bike manufacturers offer only one frame size, which is suitable for most riders. Brands like Brompton and Montague provide a range of sizes depending on your height and inside leg lengths.
Here is a breakdown of folding bike sizes:
|Brand||4’3″ – 4’7″|
|4’8″ – 5’2″|
|5’3″ – 5’10”|
|5’11” – 6’4″|
|Dahon||One Size||One Size||One Size||One Size|
|Schwinn||N/A||One Size||One Size||One Size|
|Tern||N/A||One Size||One Size||One Size|
|Zizzo||N/A||One Size||One Size||One Size|
What else do I need for my first folding bike ride?
Once you’ve narrowed down your folding bike options, conducted further research, performed test rides (if applicable), and finally bought the ideal foldable bicycle, you will need to consider a few other details before you are ready for your first folding bike ride.
- Personal safety gear – your safety is of utmost importance when riding, and at the very least, you should purchase a suitable helmet and pair of cycling gloves. You may also need some lights and a reflective vest for urban riding.
- Pedals – most folding bikes have included pedals; however, if this is not the case or you have a specific type of clipless shoes, you may need to purchase new pedals.
- Accessories – consider purchasing a water bottle or hydration system such as Camelbak, padded cycling shorts for extra protection and comfort, winter riding gear, and perhaps a saddle bag for carrying keys, spare tubes, etc.
- Folding Bike Maintenance – you will want to maintain your folding bike to ensure it lasts for years, is comfortable and safe to ride, and avoids encountering issues while riding. You will need a few things (some of which can stay at home), such as a pump, chain lubricant, Allen keys, spanners, and something to clean your bike with.
- Folding bike suitcase – if you intend to travel with your bike, it’s worth considering purchasing a folding bike suitcase to protect it and make traveling with your bicycle easier.
Mark PlummerMark Plummer is an experienced bike mechanic who has built, repaired, and customized thousands of bikes over the years. A former mountain biking athlete, his cycling adventures have taken him all over the globe from the mountains of Scotland to the South Island of New Zealand. These days he enjoys the benefits of commuting to work and touring on his Dahon and Brompton folding bikes.
This free cheat sheet will help you choose a folding bike by providing quick information on the 7 key considerations when buying a foldable bicycle!
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