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I got a folding bike from Citizen (like the Miami) with dreams that I could take it on the road with me when I go to conferences but it's REALLY hard to ride very far with it. Is it because of the little 20 inch wheels? Are the more expensive folding bikes easier to ride?

By, "hard to ride" I mean that after a few miles on relatively level ground I get tired of riding whereas on a regular bike I could ride those same miles and I'm hardly affected. Kids had trouble too... they noticed it took way more effort to ride the small bike.

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We have no idea what kind of folding bike you have. Pictures? –  Mike Baranczak Dec 2 '11 at 17:20
    
We really need more information to give you a good answer. What make/model of bike do you have? Include a picture? Especially include pictures of the wheels and the folding points. Give us more information about what you mean by "hard". –  freiheit Dec 2 '11 at 18:09
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I suspect that the geometries of the pictured Citizen bikes are not very good. The wheelbase seems too short, among other things. In addition, the handlebars do not appear to be designed for good comfort. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 3 '11 at 5:51
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every day coming back from work, there's one guy (or kid, can't tell, he's 6") on a foldable bike that just goes flying past me. every damn time. and it's one of those extremely small wheels... feels bad man. –  gcb Dec 11 '11 at 7:51
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"Forgetting to unfold it before riding" should probably be in the top ten... –  AndreyT Dec 29 '11 at 9:19
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9 Answers 9

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Some folding bikes are quite good for long distances. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be optimized for short hops, by design (or by the fact of their design limitations). You're correct in thinking that more expensive folding bikes can be much easier to ride, where the money is going for stuff like custom configuration or (even a custom-built frame). Folding bikes aren't unique in this regard, but economies of scale place additional limitations on them.

Fit Limitations

How to properly fit a bike has been covered in detail elsewhere, so I won't get into issues of seatpost height, reach, bar height, bar width, and so on. But most mass-market folding bikes seem to be built in a one-size-fits-none design.

It is quite possible to get a folding bike that's sized properly. However, since folding bikes are a small slice of the bicycle market, they're somewhat pricier. And keeping several frame sizes in circulation is even more expensive. Until more people buy folders, I think we're gonna keep having this problem. And very tall or very short people (or very heavy people--most folders have a weight limit of 200-225 pounds) have a lot of trouble finding folding bikes that will fit.

Frame Flex

Bikes that have frame hinges--like Citizens, and Dahons (and their clones) and the Raleigh 20's--are subject to frame flex. This can be combated by keeping the hinge joint tight, but many of these bikes will never be as stiff as a bike without a frame hinge.

Essentially, when sitting in the saddle, if you can move the handlebar forward and back, you've got frame flex. Some bikes can also have a flexy stem post, creating similar problems.)

(The Raleigh 20 has an angled hinge joint that, I'm told, mitigates the problem. From test-riding one, I'm inclined to agree with that; the bike didn't feel flexy at all.)

Smaller Wheels

Also, smaller wheels do tend to be a little "squirrely", in that they're harder to control. This does tend to be more if an issue with 16" wheels than 20" wheels, however.

This is fairly self-correcting, though, and it's something that the rider learns to compensate for fairly quickly. Until that point, though, it can impact the rider's ability to use the bike for longer rides.

Handlebars

Most folding bikes come with flat bars. As with all bikes, the more potential hand positions you have, the happier you'll be on longer rides. Bar ends will do this, and you may be able to fit them on the bike without compromising its ability to fold.

Gearing

"Do you have to pedal faster with those small wheels?" It's a common misconception that small wheels make the cyclist work harder. When properly geared, small wheels can perform well.

However, many folding bikes come with three-speed hubs, for a variety of reasons. (Less maintenance, cheaper and lighter than 7 or 8 speed hubs, and derailers can get your pants leg messy when you have a folding bike on the train.) This is only an issue if you have hills, and it's not one of your specific concerns, but it is a factor for general use of folding bikes.

However, faster gears can make a longer ride more pleasurable--and shorter. My 3-speed folder tops out around 26 MPH, which means it's not so great for a long day of touring. (For some, speed isn't an issue, so this won't matter to parient riders in very flat areas.)

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I wonder how much the smaller wheels would hurt your momentum. I can coast on my road bike for quite a while, but think smaller wheels, with their much higher RMP would incur more friction (in the bearings), not to mention smaller bumps causing them to slow down. –  Kibbee Dec 4 '11 at 2:37
    
@Kibbee - That's my experience, yes; small wheels don't coast as well. However, they accelerate like mad. (I can blow away most roadies when riding my Bike Friday - or even my Dahon - away from a red light, but they lose me on the flats.) –  Neil Fein Dec 4 '11 at 3:13
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A well-configured folding bike that is designed for long-distance riding should not be noticeably hard to ride.

Possible issues:

  • Poorly configured: Check the normal things: Are the tires properly inflated? Are brake pads rubbing? Are the wheels true? Is the chain properly lubricated? Are the bottom bracket spindle and axles free of play, not overtightened, and well-lubricated? Any of these can easily give a bicycle a sluggish feel. I don't have much experience wrenching folding bikes, but I suspect that the wheel bearings need even more careful care than usual, considering that the angular velocity of the wheel is approximately doubled.
  • Design: Some folding bikes are not designed for long rides. Not all bicycles have designs that are optimized for touring and/or distance riding. If a bike's main design goal was to have it fit in a suitcase, it's possible the designers skimped elsewhere. This isn't to say that a bike can't be designed to fit in a suitcase and be good for riding centuries, it just makes the design harder and therefore more expensive.
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The ergonomics of folding bikes vary as much as full full sized diamond frames. Consider these varieties: the Dahon makes a folding 3-speed "marine" bike, optimized for salty conditions; Strida makes a triangle shaped bike that's really quick to fold, great for multi-modal transit commuting; while Bike Friday will do a bike fit and produce a bike you can tour a continent on. –  memnoch_proxy Dec 3 '11 at 4:59
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Indeed, I have seen people ride Bike Fridays on week-long tours. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 3 '11 at 19:34
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I rode a mile alongside a British couple that started on they're Friday's from San Diego in June, and were cruising thru Bellingham WA in October, still on tour. –  memnoch_proxy Dec 4 '11 at 6:02
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At 32 pounds, it may be even as much as twice as heavy as a nice road bike. In addition, with only 6 gears, you simply may just not be used to the gear ratios.

When ever I get on my steel SS which is only the one gear but much heavier than my normal road bike, I do feel very sluggish as well.

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Many folding bikes sacrifice ride-ability for portability. I have a Brompton M6R... when used for short distances and/or multi-modal commuting, it is great. You ride upright, no need to wear cycling specific clothing and no need to carry heavy locks since you can bring it with you and fold it under the cubicle. However, it is not as stable as a full sized bike... it is twitchy and obviously will not go as fast. Unlike my other bikes, I cannot ride the Brompton hands-free unless there is relatively heavy luggage in the front rack. The 16" wheels also mean you have to watch out for deep cracks / sharp potholes or run the risk endoing.

TLDR; The light loading of the front wheels on many folding bikes make them twitchy and relatively unstable.

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The smaller wheel affects how fork angle and rake interact. You almost need a negative rake to come close to reproducing the behavior of a larger wheel. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 29 '11 at 3:11
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Apart from what is said in the other answers about sizes and angles that are different on a folder, you must consider that small wheels need more airpressure in the tires than average wheels. The harder the tire the smoother the ride. I commute with a folder every day to the trainstation and as soon as the airpressure of the tires drops the bike gets sluggish and it feels like cycling against the wind. As soon as the tires have the right pressure it feels like having the wind in the back. I keep my 20" wheels at 3 to 4 bars (don't know how much PSI that is sorry) Yours, Harm Linsen, the Netherlands.

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Heavy, small frame size, awkward fit and small tires all contribute to the overall ride quality, and difficulty. Not really suited for longer distances.

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Some folding bikes do very well on long distance rides. The Origami Mantis, Crane, and Cricket models are compact, but they have a good riding position and nice geometry.

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Welcome to Bicycles SE. We're looking for answers with more detail on this site. Please consider editing in the reasons why the models you mention are better for long distance than other models. bicycles.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer –  jimirings Oct 31 '13 at 19:54
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No one has mentioned the fact that on folding bikes, the handlepost is connected to the frame at 12+ inches from the handlebars whereas a road bike or a city bike are connected to the frame within a few inches. That makes handling "squirrely." One gets used to it quickly but you cannot relax as much while riding as on a standard bike. No "look Ma! No hands!" on a folder. ;-)

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Tire pressure is the biggest issue with small wheel bikes. High pressure in small wheel will lower rolling resistance, but you might want a spring cruiser seat to comfort your buns. ... Also your body might not be use to the folding bike fit, so it feels tiring. In time you will get use to it, just like all different fitting bikes, and put some air in those tires man!

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