There are a handful of shockingly common misconceptions about folding bikes. Many worry that the reduced size of their wheels will somehow translate into a slower ride, while others fret about a supposed inability to climb hills. Some think a folding bike will be less durable than a conventional full sized bike. These things are simply not the case. In this article, I would like to explore how folding bikes are designed to overcome the obstacles that might otherwise produce these issues.
Firstly: speed. This seems to be the most common stumbling point people run into when considering a folding bike. In order to talk about speed on a bike in even rough terms, it helps to understand the concept of gear inches. Don't worry, it's not terribly technical! Essentially, a bike's gear inches for a particular gear setting is the number of inches that bike will travel with one full revolution of the pedals. For example, the Dahon Mu Uno is a single-speed bike with 65 gear inches. That means if I am pedaling the Mu Uno, each time my foot returns to where it started, I will have moved another 65 inches.
Where the confusion with small-wheeled folding bikes comes in is that conventional wisdom correctly assumes that a smaller wheel will not be able to cover the same amount of ground per rotation as a full sized wheel given the same gearing. Folding bikes overcome this issue by using gears of a different size than a full sized bike would use. For example, the Tern Verge X10 ultralight racing folder uses an oversized 55 tooth chainwheel and a wide-ranging 11-36 tooth cassette in order to achieve 28 gear inches in the lowest gear and a respectable 96 in the highest, over a mere 10 speeds. In contrast, a high-performing conventional road bike will generally be outfitted with a narrower-ranging cassette and even its largest chainwheel might sport a paltry 50 or so teeth. Other folding bikes, like the Dahon X27h, utilize next-generation internal hub gearing systems that provide huge gear ranges, again producing a wide varieties of gear inches. Thus small wheeled bikes, when engineered correctly, are not particularly slower than their conventional cousins.
For example, the Dahon lists its Carbon 30 year anniversary bike as having the almost unbelievable range of 37-167 gear inches. Compare this to the top-performing Bianchi Oltre XR, which has a range of 37-112 inches. In their top gears, the Dahon smokes the Bianchi, at least pedal stroke for pedal stroke, travelling an additional 55 inches (4.5 ft) for each rotation of the cranks. Whoosh.
Finally, durability. This is a concern that is easy to understand when it comes to folding bikes. Hinges and joints are natural weak points in the tensile strength of a frame, but are of course indispensable in a folding design. Manufacturers of high quality folding bikes have realized this, and taken careful steps to compensate. For example, Tern bikes have some of the best hinges in the business, and Tern takes them very seriously. These joints are made from stainless steel and created using next-generation manufacturing processes like hydroforming and 3D forging. These techniques reinforce the durability of the already heavy-duty materials being used in these pieces. Brompton folding bicycles feature extremely reliable steel frames and hinge work, with joints that are held in place with tightly cinching, beefy clamps. In fact, despite their small size, the burly Bromptons boast an impressive 300 pound weight capacity!
In addition to extra-strong frame builds, many folding bikes feature wheels with high spoke counts, paint jobs with anti-corrosion treatment, and Kevlar-lined tires. Durability-wise, these bikes want for nothing.globe-trotting folding bike owners who routinely take their small wheels up steep mountain passes with full camping gear on their tours. And on a daily basis here at NYCeWheels we get customers bringing their well-loved Bromptons in--not for repairs, but for ever more upgrades and custom alterations. Almost invariably, a Brompton becomes a lifelong investment, due to their extremely long lifespans and great durability. In fact, NYCeWheels' manager routinely commutes to work through slush and snow in the depths of winter on his 2-speed Brompton.
Would that all conventional bikes were as well designed and carefully constructed as these Bromptons, Terns, and Dahons! Instead of asking whether a folding bike will be as good as your conventional ride, maybe it's time to head over to the folding bike section of our website and pick out your ideal compact bicycle.About the Author
Miles Schneider is a folding bike specialist and social media coordinator for NYCeWheels in New York City. He plays electric violin and loves dogs. Special thanks to Twitter followers @BromptonMafia and @guzbikes for generously allowing the use of their hill-climbing Brompton photo.