I bike commute to work, but for other trips where I don't want to arrive covered in sweat and/or would take longer than 30 minutes each way, I generally have to drive. I'd like to be able to get anywhere in my city without a car. My city (Austin) has OK but not great public transit and the buses only hold two bikes (and are always full). We also have Car2Go, but there isn't always one nearby. I figure that if I had a folding bike, I could always get to one or the other fairly quickly and make most trips around town 30 minutes or less.

So, what folding bike would you recommend for:

  • Occasional use. 5-10 times per month.
  • Short trips. 1.5 miles or less each way.
  • Some hills, but nothing too steep.
  • Very compact size and easy transport. I need to be able to take it on a bus and fit it in a Smart Car.

EDIT to add:

  • I'm 6'3", about 200lbs
  • I generally would have 10lbs+ of gear with me.
  • I'll spend over $500 if necessary, but looking for the cheapest bike that will get the job done.
  • This depends enormously on your budget, and how much you weigh. Many folding bikes have a weight limit of ~200lbs. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jun 16 '11 at 0:37

For those requirements I would be tempted to get a scooter. Our Jeff has a blog post up on that topic. For 1.5 miles a scooter is a useful compromise in the direction of "tiny but usable".

Otherwise if you want to try a folding bike just about anything cheap will do. This question compares two bikes at about $US200 each. For 2 mile trips it's not too important, and spending a lot of money for something that is better for other situations doesn't really help.

But for me, I'd rather pay a little more and get something that will be more versatile and last longer. For $300-$400 you can get an actual bicycle that fold and can be ridden (rather than a bicycle shaped object). Brands like Dahon are reasonable and cover the range from quite cheap ($US490) to slightly insane ($US2700+) and they're available worldwide (There are cheaper Dahons but they don't seem to be on that website - there's a single speed Boardwalk, but you have hills so it probably won't work). Further up the cost scale you get Brompton (folds small) and Birdy (rides well) as well as others. But $1000+, so hard to justify for your needs.

Most of the 20" wheel folding bikes go small enough to get them into the luggage space of a small car, but you may find that you can't get anything else in there at the same time. Smaller wheels (usually 16") generally mean the bike folds smaller but suspension becomes even more important. But again, not for a couple of miles each way. I suggest taking your car along to a shop that stocks a few folding bikes and having a play.

edit: given your size I doubt a cheap bike will last very long. They're just not built for it. I'm only 185cm/90kg and most folding bikes feel pretty flimsy to me. I suspect the Dahon Boardwalk D7 I linked to before is the least worst option under $500. To get really rigid at your size you'd need something like a Bike Friday or Airnimal.

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  • I agree with this. Cheap folding bikes are generally worse than cheap wallyworld bikes, especially the ones with a frame hinge; imagine one folding while you're riding it. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jun 16 '11 at 0:39
  • I forgot to add that I'm 6'3" and about 200lbs. – noah Jun 16 '11 at 1:34
  • As usual, moz is spot on. The Swift Folder is another good, relatively inexpensive contender for heavier riders. It doesn't fold as compactly as some of the other options, but the design has minimal sources of play. – lantius Jun 16 '11 at 3:38
  • @lantius: thanks. The Swift looks like a good design but I fear getting it into a Smart would mean taking the second seat out of the car :( The annoying thing for me is that many of these designs can be beefed up fairly easily - a friend built a Birdy clone that felt rock solid under me, mostly just by beefing up the rear suspension pivot. Not something you can do aftermarket, but it would add all of 50 grams at time of manufacture. I had a 20" Birdy but sold it because I barely used it, and that worked fine (normal Birdys use 18" wheels) – Мסž Jun 16 '11 at 3:50
  • Bike Friday does "heavy rider upgrades" -- my Tikit has one -- but their bikes are too expensive for most riders, and overkill for a situation like this. I wish Brompton did the same thing; a Brommie is the perfect bike for a bus/bike commute. (Small folding size is most important when lugging a bike up the stairs on a bus.) – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jun 16 '11 at 5:02

Get a Dahon Vitesse. This is the 7 speed model with aluminium frame. This is a personal recommendation as I have been riding mine for years, I bought it for one particularly tricky commute and have not stopped riding it since. Folding time is 10-20 seconds depending on urgency, I too am 6'3" which means it is easy to get the height right for the seat as that means it is on the max-height mark.

The only weak point on mine was the tyres, budget for getting them too. There are a few problems with the hinges on mine, these problems have been resolved on present-day models.

It is tempting to get the more expensive models, however, in practice, anything extra, e.g. 27 gears, gets in the way of the simple elegance of the basic Vitesse model. You do not need more than seven speeds on the bike, and that should include a good enough range for your cycling cadence/terrain.

Riding a Dahon folder is like being on a magic carpet - you don't have a top tube or a big wheel sticking out in front of you. The kickstand is handy as are the mudguards. I have not used the rack much but it is there for you.

The Brompton bikes are more popular in the UK yet they are inferior to the basic Dahon bike for many reasons, Brompton also do not have the best patents for hinges etc. - Dahon do.

A particular treat of the Dahon on descents is to be able to put the feet up on the frame - 'step thru' is great.

Be prepared to ride in-the-saddle rather than out. You will get used to that, although riding out the saddle is possible some weariness of opening hinges is advised. 'Safety catches on' took me a while to learn but I don't think you can have them off on newer models.

I did also look at the Mezzo (how do you fold it?) and the Giant Halfway (what no big gears) and I looked past the brand when it comes to the Brompton efforts. All considered the Dahon came out top.

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  • I'm 6'3" and around 200lbs, and here's what happened to the seat-tube of my (second-hand) Vitesse: flickr.com/photos/armb/8163609779/in/photostream However, the current frame design is different. – armb Nov 29 '12 at 10:55
  • Also, a Brompton unquestionably folds into a more compact space than any Dahon. That doesn't matter to all users, but when it does, the Brompton is objectively better. (Personally I prefer the Dahon handling, but that's subjective, and other people prefer the Brompton.) – armb Sep 3 '13 at 11:30

My 1975 Raleigh Twenty meets all of your criteria except "very compact". The Twenty is a folder--the frame folds in half--though many modern folders get much more compact.

The upside of the old used Raleigh is that they are much more inexpensive than the best modern folders and still are quite rugged bikes. Raleigh Folders are known for their durability. Check out Sheldon Brown's site about these bikes: http://sheldonbrown.com/raleigh-twenty.html

My partner and I have two of these. We ride other bikes most places but bring the old Raleighs out when we must take them on transit during busy periods. I must say, they've been one of the better used bike purchases we've made.

They were made as three-speed IGH bikes with rear cargo racks--I usually roll with panniers on mine. They're great for short trips, though I have done a twelve-mile commute on mine several times with no problem.

You might find one of these on CL or Ebay for $150-300 in pretty good condition.

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I'll second the Raleigh Twenty post. I'm 6'0" and 170 lbs. and commute about 4 miles each way on my 1974 Raleigh Twenty. It's rugged, fast and gets lots of smiles. I upgraded the wheels by stealing the 20" alloy wheels off my daughter's abandoned bike including her rear 6-speed freewheel. Put on some 1.25" tires and a larger front chainring. I've taken it on longer rides with a relaxed cycling club and it does well. I put a basket on the rear rack and toss my bike bag (often loaded with books and papers) in there. Depending on my mood, I'll ride either the Twenty or my Trek 750 hybrid but the Twenty makes a good commuter. I haven't had to fold it but it's good to know I can even though it doesn't fold as gracefully or as compactly as newer folders.

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I have two folders that I use regularly. I have a Raleigh Twenty that I upgraded with a 5 speed SRAM IGH, and a Bike Friday NWT with a SRAM Dual Drive. I use the Twenty as my "dirt" bike; for local errands on the dirt roads in my community. The NWT is my flyer and goes along with me on trips in it's suitcase. The Twenty cost me $40 on Craigslist. I spent another 3 or 400 on it upgrading almost everything but buying used. It's a monster and a bit lighter than it was when I bought it. The SRAM 5 speed works fine for the rolling hills around here but, while I have taken it on the airplane, is a lot more work to take apart and pack than the Bike Friday.

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