If you don’t have a garage or space to store a full-size bike, then a folding version could be the way to go.
There are some great designs around right now, with innovations such as carbon fibre frames, disc brakes and electric assistance appearing on more expensive models.
As well as being easier to store at home or work, folding bikes are also really practical if your travels involve other forms of transport such as trains. And they are ideal if you want a bike you can shove in the back of a car to take on trips, to use on holiday, or for that last few miles of your commute.
That extra practicality often comes with added weight, however, as 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 ideal folder, consider what’s most important to you – are you looking for a light bike you’ll be able to carry at either end of your journey, or will you be happy with a heavier, cheaper model you’ll only need to lift from time to time?
Whatever you choose, stick to a brand you can trust. There are some potentially dangerous bikes lurking on the internet, so make sure you buy from a trusted trader and don’t get caught out.
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.
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Brompton black edition S2L
Chat to any cyclist about folding bikes and the name Brompton will soon come up. They have been built in London since 1975 to a design that has hardly changed. If you need a bike you can slot into the luggage space on a bus, tram or train, this is the one for you. The long seat post and a rubber suspension block in the rear assembly make for a comfy ride, while the 16in wheels allow for speedy acceleration. The smaller wheel size also means they are strong – important on potholed roads.
Brompton offers an almost limitless range of options, including gearing and handlebar shape, so you can tailor your perfect machine. They start at around the 11.7kg mark, depending on your chosen specification. This smart black version has straight S-type handlebars, two-speed gearing, mudguards and rechargeable Cateye lights – making it perfect for commuting. With practice, you should soon be able to fold one in about 20 seconds.
If you’re desperate to join the Brompton gang but the thought of pedalling up hills has you worried, consider their electric version. It’s got a 250W motor built into the front wheel, which Brompton claims will help whisk you along for up to 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 charge up. This six-speed version has got mudguards and built-in lights too, but the downside of all that extra kit is the weight – 16.8kg – meaning it’s probably a bit heavy for hauling far. It is great fun to ride though.
At 16kg, this bike is a little weighty to be regularly lugged up stairs or onto trains and buses. But it’s a bargain if you are looking for a budget machine that you can sling into a car boot to use on days out every now and again.
It folds around a simple hinge in the middle of the alloy frame. You get a seven-speed gear system and there’s a handy rear rack, plus a folding pedal to make it easier to stow away. The 20in wheels make the handling more predictable than smaller-wheeled rivals, although they do take a bit more effort to get up to speed. Fitted mudguards make it good for use in all weathers too.
Tern cargo node
If you want to replace your car with a cargo bike but haven’t got much space to store it, take a look at this multi-use moving machine. In its basic set-up it’s a load carrier – perfect for doing the weekly shop – but you can also buy and fit up to two child seats at the back and use it on the school run.
There’s a folding and locking mechanism in the middle of the alloy frame, eight-speed gearing and disc brakes to cope with the extra weight. A clever handlebar design makes it easy to find your perfect riding position and there’s a dynamo hub to power the built-in lighting system. You can fit the whole thing in the back of a large car when folded, and to stop it toppling over when parked there’s a twin-leg kickstand.
Carrera crosscity electric
At 18kg, the crosscity is not the lightest folding bike on the market, but it’s sturdily built and well equipped, with features including a rear luggage rack, mudguards, a kickstand and eight-speed Shimano gears. That mid-frame hinge-and-lock system means you can stow it in a hallway or in the car boot for days out, but its weight means you won’t want to carry it too far.
There’s a 250W motor built into the rear wheel and the battery – with a claimed 30-mile range – which is hidden in the frame, so it’s not immediately obvious that it’s an e-bike. But do keep in mind that stopping is via V-brakes rather than the more robust discs on other models here, and there’s quite a lot of weight to bring to a halt.
Hummingbird single speed
We loved zipping around on this minimalist British-built bike – the lightest folding model in the world. At just under 7kg, it’s as light as a top-end racing bike and a real blast to ride. The single-speed drivetrain means it’s very quiet too, but if you live somewhere with a lot of hills you might want to spend a bit extra on the more practical multi-speed 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.
Austin Cycles atto
This the bike Team GB members used during downtime at the Rio Olympics in 2016, what seems like a lifetime ago. It’s got hydraulic disc brakes yet tips the scales at just 8.2kg thanks to its carbon fibre frame. It also includes 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 a Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub if you live in a hillier area, but this comes with an extra £495 cost. To keep the weight down there is a carbon fibre seatpost and handlebars.
This futuristic folding e-bike was designed from scratch, which means it’s got some amazing features rarely seen on other bikes. The patented Pitstopwheels are bolted to the magnesium alloy frame on a single side, so you can fix punctures without having to take them off. The drivetrain is also completely covered, meaning there’s no dirty chain to muck up your clothes.
Its step-through frame design makes it really easy for riders to get on and off, and you can fold it down in just 10 seconds – so you can store it by your desk rather than leaving such a valuable machine in the office bike rack. The 500W motor is located in the front hub and uses traction control for extra safety, while the battery is said to be good for up to 40 miles per charge. It’s a fun machine that you’ll love zipping about on.
The verdict: Folding bikes
Our best buy from Brompton will give you years of sterling service and if you look after it, it will hold its value too.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, take a look at the amazing Hummingbird with its carbon fibre frame built in a racing car factory. Need something more practical if you’re planning to give up the car? Check out the Tern Node – it’s a fantastic load mover.
To stay visible on the road, read our review of the best bike lights
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