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Folding bikes are differentiated from other bicycles on the market by one defining characteristic: they fold.
The collapsible nature of these bikes means they’re ideal for anyone who wants to ride to a train station and take their bicycle with them for the journey on the other side.
I put together this list of cons and pros to help you decide whether or not folding bike touring is for you.
Pros of folding bike touring
Folding bikes are cheap to fly with – The biggest benefit I have found to folding bike touring is that they are cheap to take on a plane. The bike will fly as a regular checked bag with most airlines as long as you can pack the bike down into a package weighing less than 50 lbs (23 kilos) and with dimensions totaling less than 62 linear inches (158 cm). On international flights where one checked bag is included in the fare, checking a folding bike is usually free.
You can take them on trains, buses, and in taxis – Even if bicycles are disallowed, you can simply fold up the bike, slip it into a bag, and nobody will know what it is. This gives you the freedom to skip dangerous or boring sections while touring.
You can explore more easily with a folding bike – Maybe while you are touring you decide you want to take a budget flight to another country or a nearby island. With a folding bicycle, you can pack it up and fly hassle-free. If you tour on a full-size bike, these side trips will be cost-prohibitive.
Folding bikes are allowed in hostel and hotel rooms – Many hotel managers disallow taking bikes into the rooms. Bikes are dirty and take mud and oil into the room. While understandable, most bicycle tourists hate this policy. But because folding bikes can be stored away in a large bag and are much smaller, it is generally less of a problem to bring bicycles into the room.
Folding bikes are easier to pack up for travel – You don’t need to go through the pain of finding a full sized bike box, if you’re flying. You can make an appropriately sized box by taping and cutting smaller boxes to size. As for traveling by bus or train, you can just carry a folding bike bag and store the bike inside it.
You don’t have to worry as much about getting stranded – You can haul your folding bike in even the smallest of cars, if there’s a catastrophic failure and you can’t ride it. This is impossible with a full-size bike.
You can bring your folding bike into your tent – You can fit the folding bike inside your tent, if you travel with a two-person tent, to protect it from harsh weather or theft. You can store your bike inside while you’re away, if you’re staying at a campground.
Folding bikes are a conversation starter – Everyone wants to see how the bike works and learn about it. Meeting people and making friends is easy with a folding bike.
Cons of folding bike touring
Some components wear out more quickly – In particular, rims, hubs, and tires. These parts won’t last long on a folding bike. Because they need to make more revolutions to transport you the same distance as a full-sized bike.
Folding bikes have proprietary parts – All folding bikes have at least a few non-standard parts that are brand-specific, although some brands are better about this than others. You’ll have to buy a replacement from the manufacturer if one of the parts wears or breaks out. Third-party options are usually unavailable. You may have trouble finding some parts if your brand goes out of business.
Folding bikes are fragile – They just can’t take the beating that a full-sized bike can. The hinges make for a weak spot in the frame, so they’re not as strong as regular touring bikes.
Folding bikes are more expensive – The full-sized bike will have much better components, if you compare a folding bike with a full-sized bike of the same price. A similarly specced folding bike will be far more expensive. This is due to the cost of making the bike more portable.
Folding bikes carry far much less weight – Folding bikes have a lower carrying capacity because of the hinge and long seat tube and stem. Most folding bikes can haul about 110 kilos or around 240 pounds. A decent full size touring bike can easily carry 300 pounds, for comparison. Some carry much more.
Folding bikes ride rougher than full sized bikes – Folding bikes don’t roll over potholes and bumps as easily, because of the smaller wheels. This means that folding bikes are less serviceable for gravel and off-road riding.
Folding bikes look kind of funny – Riding a tiny bike, you’ll look like a clown to passersby. Some people don’t care one way or the other, but others seem bothered.
Because it is so easy to throw the folding bike on a train or bus, you’ll most likely ride less than if you were traveling with a full sized bike. For bicycle touring purists, this is unacceptable.
Because of the smaller wheels, folding bikes are less efficient. You will expend more energy to keep the bike rolling.
The 6 Best Folding Bikes For Touring
Having listed the pros and cons of folding bikes, if you decide it’s for you, then here’s our recommendation on the best folding bikes for touring.
Few companies make folding bikes that are suitable for touring. They each have weaknesses and strengths.
Dahon Mariner D8
Dahon is a budget folding bike. The Mariner D8, one of the most popular models from US outfit Dahon, sees a Lattice forged hinge with Vicegrip technology and is made from the brand’s Dalloy Sonus Tubeset.
The bike, rolling on 20 inches wheels, comes with full-coverage fenders, a rear rack, V-Brakes, and sees an 8-speed Shimano Altus drivetrain.
The Brompton is arguably the most popular folding bike for touring. The reason they’re so popular is that, at just 585 mm X 565mm X 270mm, they have the most compact fold of any folding bike.
Because of the use of small 16-inch wheels as well as the iconic Brompton design, they’re able to achieve an incredibly small fold.
You can slide the Brompton into a bag when folded. And it becomes a standard piece of luggage. You can take it with you on pretty much any plane, bus, train, and busy public transportation. Nobody will know that you have a bike with you.
Brompton bikes are high quality. They are handmade London from durable parts. People generally get many years of good use out of their bikes.
Airnimal Joey is the go-to bike if you’re someone who wants a bike that’s a blast to ride but still takes up little space.
This is a larger wheel folding bike for touring: the Joey sees 24 inches wheels, giving it a road-like ride quality.
To allow for off-road use, tires are available in sizes up to 2 inches. If you prefer, you can stick to skinny 1 inch rubber for quicker rolling on the road. This model uses disc brakes and an 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub gear system.
The large wheel size means that the bike is more cumbersome to transport, when folded, than a 16 inches foldable bike.
The Verge X11 is a tantalizing option if you’re after something super speedy, and price is no issue. With 22″ wheels, it comes between small-wheeled Bromtpon M6L and large-wheeled Airnimal Joey. It comes with a large ratio cassette and SRAM Force 1x drivetrain. That means easy maintenance and gearing that will feel similar to a road bike.
Bike Friday is the company you should be looking at if you’re particularly tall (or heavy). They’re one of few manufacturers that offer different frame sizes. The frames are durable and made of steel. They are able to pack down to fit into a carry-on size suitcase and use 20-inch wheels.
Bike Friday use all of the shelf parts except for folding mechanism and the frame. This is their biggest benefit. There are no other proprietary parts. You will find replacement parts wherever you tour.
These bikes are of very high build quality and offer full suspension. The frame, lacking a hinge, adds durability and strength. A wide range of gearing options is available with both internal gear hubs and derailleurs. Birdy bikes are a go-to foldable bike for touring.
Birdy bikes are about the same as a Dahon and larger than a Brompton, fold wise. When folded, they measure about 80 cm x 62 cm x 34 cm. They fit into a standard airline acceptable case.
Their tire, Schwalbe Black Jack, has the dimension 18×1.9″.
Folding bicycles are all about compromise. The main trade-off is between foldability and cycling performance. Generally, the smaller or more compact the bike, the less suitable it is for long-distance cycling. 16″ folding bikes have a small fold, but tend to feel tedious on rides over one hour compared to bikes with larger wheels.
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