On the train, bus or tube, in the boot of a car, up (or down) in a lift, under the desk… the benefits of a folding bike for commuting are many.
Folders deliver the maximum versatility for your commute. Try to take a standard bike on a busy morning rail service and see how far you get. With a good folding bike, you’re carrying nothing but a piece of hand luggage. You may have limited storage space at home or at work. Once at the office, the folding bike can nestle safely at your feet and there’s no risk of leaving work to find that the bike rack has had “visitors” and there’s nothing but an empty space and a chopped-through cable lock to remind you of what you once had.
National Rail sets out some conditions on carrying folders on trains. They must be “compact, fully-folding with wheels up to 20in in diameter”. In some cases you may be asked to put a cover on your bike and store it in the luggage racks. Speaking of luggage, your own folder might need to carry your briefcase, handbag, manbag or laptop and this consideration is often a bit of an afterthought. Think carefully about your requirements and look for a bike that will carry what you want without you having to resort to cumbersome clip-on racks and carriers.
A good folder needs to be practical without spoiling the riding experience. That means combining light weight with a design that is quick and easy to assemble and fold. Once folded, the bike needs to be a compact size and shape that is easy to carry. Achieving all this is neither easy nor cheap, but a bike that fails to meet these requirements will soon become an annoyance. You will also want wheels of a diameter that won’t be overwhelmed by the bumps and potholes. Some manufacturers build in suspension systems to take out some of the sting, but these inevitably add some weight. How small is too small? Really, anything less than 16in is likely to be pretty trying. Think about how difficult it is to push a shopping trolley up a kerb.
Moulton fans will scoff at the suggestion, by the way, that a small-wheeled cycle can’t be fast – particularly when paired with high-pressure tyres. But for most commuters attracted to the practicality of folders, speed is not the first consideration. What is important is getting to work without oil and mud all over your clothes, so a chainguard and mudguards are pretty much essential. Those low-slung, compact frames all allow riding in normal clothes – a particular advantage for skirt-wearers. Beware being too casual in your riding style, though: some of those small wheels and long stems lead to some pretty twitchy handling.
Once the bike is folded, delicate gear derailleurs can be vulnerable so hub gears are a worthwhile consideration. A single sprocket might also be a practical path to reduced weight and ultimate reliability, if your commute is not too hilly. You could even consider a belt drive: clean and efficient and requires next to no maintenance.
Brompton is probably the first name that springs to mind in connection to folders. The 2-speed S2L provides simple gearing, and there are lower gear ratio options if your commute includes bigger hills. The folding system takes a little more time than some to master, but the double-pivot design allows the bike to pack down really tidily, all securely held together by the seatpost. The 16in wheels add to the light, compact nature of the bike without detracting too much from the ride quality. There are all sorts of bespoke options, but usually a waiting list for these bikes.
Brompton S2L RRP: £945 | Cyclescheme Price: £708.75
This aluminium 20in wheeler is a versatile bike for the money. It folds quickly and easily into a compact package, with a simple magnetic catch to hold the two halves together. Once folded, the derailleur transmission sits outside the bike, so you will need to be careful to avoid getting oil on your clothes. The 8-speed, 12-32 transmission offers a wide range of gears if your commute is hilly. The frame is suitable for riders from 4ft 9in to 6ft 2in. Early frame quality control issues seem to have been resolved with the latest model and the price is very competitive.
Tern Link D8 £500 | Cyclescheme Price £375
Dahon claims it takes five seconds to unfold this bike, and its clever vertical hinge certainly is nifty. Once folded, the bike rolls on a guide wheel built into the rear rack. You get an aluminium frame and fork, 20in wheels, V-brakes and an 8-speed derailleur transmission in a package weighing under 12kg, including the built-in load carrier. The frame is designed to fit riders with an inside leg measurement between 32 and 37in, and Dahon’s “flex adjust” system allows you to drop the handlebar for a more aggressive riding position.
Dahon Qix £700 | Cyclescheme Price £525
Wheel sizes Wheel sizes are quoted in inches, but when you need a new tyre or inner tube it’s better to use the ISO number – the diameter in millimetres at the rim. For while 20-inch wheels are generally all equal at 406, there are two incompatible 16-inch sizes – 305 and 349 – and ‘18-inch’ is only 6mm bigger than 16-inch at 355!
Do you need to revolutionise your commute?