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Best folding bikes that are lightweight and practical

Our experts put these top-rated folding bikes to the test for commutes

Aaron Roe
Tuesday 06 June 2023 09:55 BST
From electric to budget cycles, we’ve been zipping around to find the best folders out there
From electric to budget cycles, we’ve been zipping around to find the best folders out there (The Independent)
Our Top Picks

Folding bikes are one of the most convenient ways of getting around, particularly if part of your commute involves taking a bus or a train.

They’re compact enough to throw in the boot of your car to take on a day trip, and because they don’t take up much space, folding bikes are ideal for anyone living in a small flat or apartment – especially if you’re not on the ground floor.

But that extra practicality often comes with a weight penalty – clever folding systems tend to add bulk, while frames are often beefed up to cope with the extra stresses and strains placed on them.

When choosing your folder, consider what’s most important to you – are you looking for a bike you’ll need to lug around at either end of your journey, or would you be happier with a cheaper, heavier model you’ll only need to lift from time to time?

Whatever you choose, stick to models you can trust – there are some appalling, and sometimes dangerous bikes lurking on the internet awaiting unsuspecting buyers, so don’t get caught out.

How we tested

We have been zipping around on a range of the best models on the market – putting them through their paces on the roads, folding and unfolding them, and lugging them up and down stairs to find out which are best suited to a variety of situations.

The best folding bikes for 2023 are:

  • Best folding bike overall – Raleigh stowaway: £339,
  • Best electric folding bike – Gocycle G4: £3,399,
  • Best budget option – Carrera intercity disc: £385,
  • Best for commuters – Brompton electric C line explore: £2,995,

Raleigh stowaway

Raleigh stowaway  indybest.jpg
  • Best: Folding bike overall
  • Weight: 14.5kg
  • Size when folded: 850mm x 630mm x 420mm
  • Colours: Blue
  • Frame material: Aluminium

For less than £500, this folder from Raleigh is a great choice for city dwellers and commuters alike. At 14.5kg, it’s nippy around town thanks to those small 20in wheels which are quick to get up to speed. The seven-speed gears, operated by a grip shifter, will see you up all but the steepest hills.

Commuters will be pleased to see it folds down small enough to bring on the train and comes with a pannier rack and mudguards. It’s small enough to leave in your car for weekend adventures, and the dark blue paint job looks really smart. Once the brown tyres and handlebar grips wear out, maybe swap them for black ones and you’ll have a bike that looks a lot more expensive than the price tag suggests.

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Gocycle G4

Gocycle G4 indybest.jpg
  • Best: Electric folding bike
  • Weight: 17.6kg
  • Size when folded: 830mm x 390mm x 750mm
  • Colours: Blue, matte black, white
  • Frame material: Hydro-formed alloy/magnesium

There’s some serious tech in this folding e-bike from Gocycle. With a 250W front wheel-drive motor with traction control and three-speed gears, you can ride to work without breaking a sweat. The traction control is a great feature – we often felt it kicking in to keep us safe when pushing the bike hard on slippery autumn roads – and we were impressed by the power of the hydraulic disc brakes, too.

A mobile app lets you tweak the amount of assistance you get from the motor and check your battery level while you ride. We preferred to use “on-demand” mode, where the battery assistance is controlled by a boost button on the bars , and used it for a little extra help away from traffic lights and on hills. Gocycle says you’ll get about 40 miles per charge, which only takes about 3.5 hours.

It’s a great choice for urban commuters as the drivetrain is covered to stop you getting oil on your clothes, and the wheels are mounted on one side only so you don’t need to take them off to repair punctures. You can get it kitted out with lights and mudguards so you can use it all year round, and in about 10 seconds it can be folded down small enough to keep by your desk.

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Carrera intercity disc

Carrera intercity disc indybest.jpg
  • Best: Cheap folding bike
  • Weight: 13kg
  • Size when folded: 750mm x 350mm x 650mm
  • Colours: Red
  • Frame material: Lightweight aluminum

If you’re after extra braking power to keep you safe, this bike is fitted with mechanical disk brakes alongside its eight-speed gears and lightweight aluminium frame. Weighing in at 13kg, the bike is pretty easy to carry and it folds down small enough to keep next to your desk. At under £400, we think it’s a real bargain.

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Brompton C line urban

Brompton C line urban  indybest.jpg
  • Best: For flat cities
  • Weight: 11.2kg
  • Size when folded: 645mm x 656mm x 270mm
  • Colours: Black, blue, green
  • Frame material: Steel

Here’s a more minimalist alternative to the electric C line (£2,995, If you prefer to travel light and don’t want the added weight that comes with battery power, that’s where the C line urban comes in. The two gears are plenty for riding in a flat city, and the fitted mudguards and lights on this bike mean it’s a great choice for commuters. It’s a great buy for anyone who likes to split their journeys between riding and public transport. It only weighs 11kg so it’s not a problem to carry, and as you’d expect with a Brompton, it’s a breeze to fold down.

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Hummingbird single speed

Hummingbird single speed indybest.jpg
  • Best: Lightweight folding bike
  • Weight: 7kg
  • Size when folded: 1170mm x 600mm x 200mm
  • Colours: Yellow, black, carbon, green
  • Frame material: Carbon fibre

We loved zipping around on this minimalist British-built machine – the lightest folding model in the world. At just under 7kg, it’s the weight of a top-end racing bike and a real blast to ride. The single-speed drivetrain means it’s very quiet and super simple to maintain. If you live somewhere with a lot of hills you might want to spend a bit extra on the more practical multi-speed or electric versions.

The carbon fibre frame and aluminium swingarm have a simple elegance, while the folding mechanism has been really well thought out. With practice, you can have it stowed in seconds. If you have deep pockets you can get it sprayed in just about any colour you want.

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Brompton electric C line explore

Brompton electric C line explore indybest.jpg
  • Best: For commuters
  • Weight: 17.4kg
  • Size when folded: 645mm x 565mm x 270mm
  • Colours: Black, red, blue, brown
  • Frame material: Steel

If you’re desperate to join the Brompton gang but don’t like the thought of turning up at work all sweaty, consider this electric option. It’s got a 250W motor built into the front wheel, which Brompton claims will help whisk you along for between 25-50 miles. The motor kicks in as you pedal, although under UK law the assistance has to cut out at 15.5mph. With a motor at the front and the pedals turning the rear wheel, you’ve effectively got an all-wheel-drive bike.

The battery slots in and out of a carrier at the front so you can easily take it into the house to top up, and it takes about four hours for a full charge. This six-speed version has mudguards and built-in lights too. The downside of all that extra kit is the weight – 17.4kg – meaning it’s probably a bit heavy for hauling far. It is great fun to ride though. There’s also a two-speed option if you’re after a lighter ride with less maintenance.

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Tern link B7

Tern link B7  indybest.jpg
  • Best: For taller riders
  • Weight: 12.1kg
  • Size when folded: 395mm × 800mm × 730 mm
  • Colours: Navy, black
  • Frame material: Aluminium

This smart-looking option can cope with riders from just 4ft 8in tall through to 6ft 3in “giants” thanks to that telescoping steering tube. There’s a good spread of gears from the seven-speed transmission too, allowing you to tackle everything from flat city streets to fairly steep climbs. At just over 12kg it’s light enough to lift on and off trains, and it will take mudguards to keep the grime at bay on damp days. There’s also a 10-year warranty on the frame.

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Austin Cycles atto

Austin Cycles atto indybest.jpg
  • Best: For looks
  • Weight: 8.2kg
  • Size when folded: Not measured
  • Colours: Black, white, red, blue
  • Frame material: Carbon monocoque

This bike came to prominence back in 2016 when it was used by Team GB members used during downtime at the Rio Olympics. It’s got hydraulic disc brakes yet tips the scales at just 8.2kg thanks to its carbon fibre frame. It also boasts a Gates belt drive rather than a chain, so no more oily marks on your trousers when you arrive at your destination. You can buy it in a single-speed version or with Shimano alfine 11-speed hub gears if you live in a hillier area, but this comes with an extra cost. To keep the weight down there is a carbon fibre seatpost and handlebars.

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Folding bike FAQs

Can you take a folding bike on Tube lines?

Yes. Electric and non-electric folding bikes are allowed everywhere on TfL transport services, including on London Underground trains and Elizabeth line trains. Bus drivers may refuse to let you board with your folding bike if it’s too busy. And non-folding bikes are only allowed on some sections of the Elizabeth line, and only at certain times.

Generally speaking, non-folding bikes can be taken on the above-ground sections of the TfL network outside of peak hours, but aren’t allowed in deeper tunnel sections as non-folding bikes can block access in emergencies. Check out TfL’s cycle map to see when and where you can take a bike.

Electric scooters of any kind are banned across the entire TfL network. This ban doesn’t extend to e-bikes.

The verdict: Folding bikes

For its excellent build quality and frankly amazing price, we’re giving the best buy to the Raleigh stowaway. The seven-speed gears will see you up all but the steepest hills and it easily folds down small enough to bring on the train or leave in your car. If you’ve got a bigger budget and want some electric assistance, you can’t go wrong with the Gocycle G4. We loved it’s futuristic design and, thanks to it’s powerful motor it’s the most fun bike we tested.

If you’d rather go for a big name, we’d recommend any of Brompton’s C line range, both the C line urban and the electric C line explore. Brompton are the market leaders for a reason, folding them is a breeze, they look the business and you can go for a battery powered model if you like for extra convenience.

To stay visible on the road, read our review of the best bike lights

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