Convenient, collapsible and increasingly classy, folders are well-suited to most commuters – here’s why and which brands to look out for…
While the basic concept and a number of simple designs have been around for a long time (just think of the Raleigh shopper from the 1960s), it wasn’t until around the mid-90s – and the advent of stricter bike carriage rules on public transport – that necessity drove improvement and the folding bike evolved to how we know it today. And more innovative designs are emerging every year as the market continues to grow.
Today folders are no longer clunky and cumbersome, heavy to carry and difficult to ride. Instead, the market is positively awash with quality folding bikes from a raft of leading brands, demonstrating similar performance ability as full-sized versions.
Traditionally suited for the commuter lifestyle, there’s a number of reasons you’re likely to see more and more folding bikes on the streets.
Why a folding bike?
• During rush hour, fold up bikes are the only type of bicycle allowed on most public transport – absolutely invaluable if you’re one of the thousands of UK commuters who perform a bike/train/bike-style journey to and from work each day. So on the London Underground for example, between 07:30 and 09:30, and 16:00 and 19:00, the only bike you’re allowed on is your folder and the same goes for many train routes.
• The space-saving benefits go without saying. Most folders fit into the car boot, storage in the home, neatly beside the luggage racks of a train and underneath your desk at work. The ease of the folding mechanics in today’s bikes also means the job’s done in seconds.
• Folding bikes are relatively thief-proof, in that there’s naturally no need to keep them chained outside. Your pride and joy will likely be with you throughout the working day, and even at home will probably be kept inside the house rather than the garage.
• One of our favourite benefits is the convenience of which a range of many folding bike models can be shared. Friends, family, colleagues needn’t worry too much about size as with regular bikes, as it’s largely just a case of adjusting saddle height – in most cases the frames are fairly uniform.
Brands you can’t go wrong with…
Unsurprisingly for such an established, top-of-the-range manufacturer, these don’t tend to come cheap. Having said that, you get what you pay for – Brompton folding bikes are hand built in London and have received Queen’s Award recognition. Hugely iconic and quintessentially British, commuters can have theirs made-to-order using tailored colour schemes and with specific gearing and accessories.
All available models are based on the same hinged frame, with 16 inch wheels and internal hub gears, although if you’re pushing the boat out, special editions include titanium frames, a coveted Black Edition, and the premium finish Raw Lacquer. The first letter in the model names stands for the handlebar type, the number for the number of gears, and the 2nd letter for whether they come with rack and/or mudguards or without. So for example the Brompton M6L uses the M-type handlebars, features 6 gears and comes with mudguards. The Brompton is a design classic, and you won’t go far wrong if you can afford it.
Esteemed in its own right, but seen by many as the more affordable alternative to Brompton and the choice of many commuters who don’t find the need to splash out in the name of prestige. They retail from sub £500, like this Tern Link A7 2018, up into the £2,000 range.
With varying wheel sizes (most are 20 inch, but there are also 24” and even 26” models), you tend to find Tern caters for a wider audience than commuters alone, with those opting for the larger versions – typically taking theirs off for weekend and leisure pursuits. Yes they fold less compactly, but they look and ride more like a traditional hybrid.
Unique and distinctive, these are folding bikes but not as we know them, featuring full-size frames with bars and 700C wheels – there’s even a mountain bike version too, which may favour the more rugged commuter.
Starting at a decent price point for the quality you’re getting, these big boys may sound a little clumsy, but they offer serious durability, particularly for those whose journeys start out in perhaps less-than-urban surroundings. Having a single front chain ring reduces weight and complexity, while the bike still has a broad range of gears suitable for most situations thanks to the extra wide rear ratios.