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I'm thinking of giving up my heavy Trek mountain bike for a folding bike. Anyone made the move to folding bike regretted it? Why?

I'll be using it around town, shopping, etc. We have a small apartment without storage.

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Welcome to Bicycles.SE! It would be helpful to add a bit more detail to this question about what kind of riding you do or intend to do with the folding bike. –  JamesBradbury Mar 7 '13 at 9:48
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3 Answers

My stable contains two folding bikes, and I love them both. I use them for different purposes. If this is going to be your only bike and you want to use that bike for cargo (with racks, etc), I recommend against using a folding bike unless it's one with larger wheels.

Disadvantages of folders:

  • For offroad riding, nothing beats a standard rigid-frame mountain bike. If you forsee a decent amount of offroad riding, I strongly recommend against getting any folding bike.
  • Coasting on a folding bike isn't quite as easy, due to the diminished momentum of the smaller wheels. This is a very minor point, though.
  • Getting parts for a folding bike can sometimes be a little more difficult. A little planning can alleviate this, as can keeping spare tubes, spokes, etc around the house.
  • Mounting panniers on a folder's rear rack tends to result in heelstrike, unless you have a folder with a very long wheelbase that's meant for touring. If you want to use this bike for shopping, that's a point against folders.
  • Folding bikes are more expensive, and can be heavier, then their non-folding counterparts.
  • Folders usually have a weight limit. The wheels are usually smaller and therefore sturdier than larger wheels, but the frame is a limiting factor. For example, the Dahon Curve has a rider limit of 100kg/220lbs. (When I bought mine, that was an across-the-board limitation, but they may have improved that.) So if you're a big guy, look into this.

Advantages of folders:

  • Storage is easier, obviously. A plus in small apartments. It's also simpler to put the bike in a car trunk or back seat, or take it on public transportation.
  • You can accelerate crazy fast on a folding bike, for the same reason you have to put a little more effort into coasting - the wheels are smaller and therefore lighter.
  • Small wheels are fun! Folding bikes can be more nimble than bikes with full-sized wheels.

I love folding bikes, but unless you have no other options, a small-wheeled folding bike wouldn't be a good fit for your purposes. A folding bike with 26" or even 20" wheels, however, might work very well if you can fit it with a rear rack. Try one out in a store and see how it feels and if you can carry cargo easily.

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You may also find this link to folding cargo bikes of interest. Not sure which of these is commercially available yet, if any, but some of these bikes look pretty cool. –  Neil Fein Mar 7 '13 at 12:36
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One additional disadvantage of folders - many folders are only made with a single frame size. While they usually allow a lot of seatpost adjustment, and sometimes quite a lot of stem adjustment, that still isn't ideal if you aren't an average sized person. –  armb Mar 7 '13 at 13:28
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Heelstrike - I'm fairly large, and by putting a full size rack on my Dahon folder and mounting panniers towards the rear, it wasn't a problem. It compromised the folded size a bit, but was worthwhile. (It wouldn't work on a Brompton though, or the Birdy I now have, because the rear wheel folds underneath.) –  armb Mar 7 '13 at 13:33
    
@armb - I assume by large you mean "tall", but that brings up another point: Folders usually have a lower weight limit than non-folding bikes. Editing my answer. –  Neil Fein Mar 7 '13 at 14:18
    
+1, great answer. One possible thing to add as an advantage is that the low frame and wheels tend to make falling off a non-issue: you can safely slide yourself off the seat and not worry about hitting delicate bits on a top tube or wheel during an emergency stop. Came in handy a couple of times on icy roads! –  John Doucette Mar 7 '13 at 16:34
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If you're only using it for riding a bit around town, possibly using multi-modal train or bus connections (they are popular with London tube riders), small shopping trips, or commuting to work and you are not concerned about doing fast road rides, off road riding, or super long rides then a folding bike could be a good fit.

I borrowed a folding bike and found that I could fold it up in about 30 seconds and put it in a carrying bag rather easily after I did it about 5-10 times. At first it will take a minute or two while you are learning the proper order to fold and unfold (single speed and internally geared hub models are less complicated to fold).

They store very small and you can toss them in a closet when not in use. They are a bit heavy to carry around for long distances, but a lot of them can be pulled around by their seat while coasting on one wheel or a caster installed below the bottom bracket.

Hell, some people even tour on their bromptons: http://pathlesspedaled.com/2012/08/the-brompton-touring-book-is-here/

If you're going to go this way, I'd stick with the small 20in or smaller wheeled models from Dahon or Brompton. Larger wheels mean more weight and larger folded size, which negates a lot of the benefits of having a folder.

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Brompton loaded for touring (not mine): flickr.com/photos/armb/2871832149 –  armb Mar 7 '13 at 13:24
    
@armb - Oh, neat! If we're sharing folding tourer pics, here's mine on a short tour: secure.flickr.com/photos/neilfein/4446499840 –  Neil Fein Mar 7 '13 at 14:25
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Whether a folding bike is worthwhile for you would depend entirely on how you intend to use it.

There's an argument for saying that the average rail commuter would be better served by two cheap/secondhand hybrid/mountain bikes locked at the start/end train stations, because:

  • With larger wheels and a more conventional geometry, a mountain bike would probably give a better, faster ride than even the best folding bikes.
  • They'd cost less than a good quality folding bike. Maybe half as much.

On the other hand, if you absolutely must be able to store the bike in a very small location such as under your desk or in the boot of your car, then it has to be a folding bike, or possibly something with S+S couplings that can be taken apart and packed away (although that's more expensive).

S+S coupling bike packed for travel

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S&S coupler bikes, while they store small for travel, are not ideal for breaking down and putting back together quickly. It takes more than a few minutes to put a coupled bike back together, while a folding bike can be folded or unfolded in about 30 seconds. –  Benzo Mar 7 '13 at 13:02
    
I am not sure how train stations apply to this question. Further, I disagree that a cheap mountain bike that was stored outside would ride better than a good folding bike that was properly taken care of - at least not for long. –  KennyPeanuts Mar 7 '13 at 14:57
    
At least where I live, taking a folding bike on the train is a typical use-case. Now that the question has been clarified with intended use, you're correct, the train station is not relevant and it sounds like the OP may appreciate a folder. –  JamesBradbury Mar 7 '13 at 15:18
    
I commuted this way for several months. After the first couple of weeks, I could reliably get the bike unfolded and going in less time than it would've taken to reach the station's bike racks - let alone unlock the bike and check that it's no worse for having been left outside. In city riding conditions, I was rarely doing more than 20 or 25km/h anyway, so I'm sceptical that a full size bike would have offered much. –  John Doucette Mar 7 '13 at 16:37
    
Some stations have relatively secure bike storage under cover and close to the platforms. A friend uses one, cycling to the station partly along a rough track where full-size wheels help a lot (I have tried it on a small-wheeled folder). And at the other end, in town, he works on Station Road, so doesn't need to keep a second bike at the other station. Other stations have no facilities at all, and at some a bike would likely be stolen if left overnight long before being left out the whole time affected its condition, and in that case taking a folder on the train definitely works better. –  armb Mar 11 '13 at 9:58
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