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I have a spinal injury that prevents me from lifting anything heavier than about 10 lbs (4.5 kg), and prevents me from being in a hunched over position, without causing myself extreme and lingering (for weeks or months) pain. I miss biking. I am wondering if there exists a bike that is both very light, but also allows for riding in an upright sitting position? So far my searches have turned up nothing.

It's possible I just have to resign myself to not being able to bike anymore, but I am hoping that there is some niche build or light bike that could be modified out there that might be suitable that I have missed in my research so far.

EDIT: the bike does not need to be less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg). I just wanted to give perspective on the necessity for low weight. I weigh about 170 lbs (77 kg)

  • 3
    What do you consider super light, and is there a specific reason why it has to be (e.g. your lifting limitation)? – mattnz Apr 19 at 5:08
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    An upright position can cause compression of the spine when going over bumps, is this okay with your injury? With a leaned forward position it’s usually your wrists and arms which take the brunt of the impact. – Michael Apr 19 at 6:46
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    Do you really need a light bike, or is "not a hunched over position" the main goal? I know a couple of people who ride recumbent trikes with low gearing. The bikes are heavy but stability and gearing means they can climb hills really slowly without toppling over. They never pick up their trikes, they just roll them into their garages. – R. Chung Apr 19 at 15:24
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    @Michael as person with a bad back that's exactly what I thought. Sitting upright on a city bicycle or cruiser motorcycle is straining. And bumps feel crushing. I much rather prefer a position where the weight of my shoulders and head rests on arms while the back is straight and supported between the butt and shoulders instead of supporting it all. But injuries are different, I'm not judging the OP here. – Džuris Apr 19 at 20:27
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    @Džuris some forward bend is OK (I don't need to be completely straight), but I certainly can't maintain the position one would need to for a typical racing bike, for example. A touring bike with the handlebars a few inches above the seat would probably be OK, pending some testing. I'm glad to hear everyone commenting on upright being bad for bumps though, that is not something I had considered. – KBriggs Apr 19 at 21:51

16 Answers 16

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Here's what you need! Lightweight and upright --

enter image description here

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    I don't think I have the balance for this one, but made me chuckle – KBriggs Apr 19 at 20:22
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    To be fair, this is technically the only answer that satisfies all of the requirements in the OP as written. – KBriggs Apr 20 at 16:58
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    This is not a bicycle. – gerrit Apr 21 at 8:30
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    @gerrit just buy two then :) – Viktor Mellgren Apr 21 at 8:48
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    ha! it took me a year, when I was a kid, to learn how to ride a unicycle. However, seems like a good hobby to learn during a pandemic... – Nova Apr 21 at 16:58
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Consider trying a recumbent. They fail on your "light" requirement, with weights well above a diamond-frame.

However for a crook back, sitting in a comfy armchair is magical compared to being on a road bike.

There will be some acclimation time - don't expect to just get on and ride like normal.... OK you go back to being a complete noob who can't even balance right, for a while. After 10 minutes you should be able to ride around well enough though.

Bents are expensive too unless you're getting something used. Look for anywhere offering trials, or see if there's a Human Powered Vehicle group near you - the HPV scene is relatively hidden.

Further info:

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    I disagree with your too heavy generalization, there are many racing recumbents which are as weight aware build as diamond frame racers. – Willeke Apr 19 at 9:34
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    I will also add that weight matters comparatively little in bicycle performance compared to aerodynamics, unless we are talking about large amounts of weight (like 25-30 lbs bikes, versus bikes <20 lbs). Many recumbents are probably more aerodynamic than the average road bike due to the lower position. However, because the the OP's injury, the bike's weight now does matter more, because a heavy bike will be harder for them to lift. – Weiwen Ng Apr 19 at 13:36
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    @VladimirF, like when you get into the very light diamond frame class, there is a very expensive very light 'bent class. But in both 10lbs will be very expensive and I doubt that it is worth investing unless OP knows he will be able to ride such a bike for a long time. Most of the time when I have to lift my 'bent I only have to lift one wheel, leaving most of the weight on the other wheel(s) and the ground. (Mine are not in the very light category.) – Willeke Apr 19 at 13:40
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    my lifting limitation is not necessarily the weight limit for the bike, though the closer the better obviously. Recumbent is an interesting option, I will look into it more, thanks. – KBriggs Apr 19 at 18:50
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    @KBriggs, depending on where you are and how far you are willing/able to travel, many recumbent shops will rent out, either for a day or for a (part of a day) tour where you can try out several bikes and/or trikes. And I would not rule out trikes, even though they are heavier, as they are easier to learn to ride. – Willeke Apr 22 at 10:48
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  • Many of the (continental?) European "every-day" bikes have a relatively upright and straight back position (you basically get a continuum there from sportive strongly forward tilted position to upright or even slightly back tilted.)
    Typical features of such a bike with more upright/straight back position are U (or M) shaped handle bars (the ends are somewhere between 45° to the outside and parallel to the bike; they may slope downwards), the handle bar is often above the saddle and the stem doesn't go much forward*:

    everyday bike with upright position

    While many of these have rather heavy frames (particularly the "grandma frames" with single tube with very low step through need that one tube to be very thick), there are also lighter ones. E.g. as a student I rode one with a light aluminum frame: it was a diamond frame with two thin tubes for the top.

    The ones with very upright sitting position often have extra springy saddles and there's also the possibility to have a suspension seatpost. And of course wide tires run at relatively low pressure. On the front, the fork of these bikes will usually provide some suspension as well.

  • An acquainance with back trouble uses a trekking/trouring bike and a butterfly handlebar that is turned upwards (and the brakes are on the upper part). Somewhat similarly (but not for long term use), I once needed a more upright position on a tour and the solution was turning my bullhorns upwards (and change left-right, otherwise they'd point inward back).
    I've also seen roadbike handlebars mounted upside down, but I cannot say how well that works.


Others have already written on trikes and recumbent bikes.


Jahaziel correctly points out that among the bikes with this easy or comfort geometry there are many "tanks" that easily weigh 20 kg. However, in my experience, there is substantial variation in that, and I suspect that some of the options that help making modern bikes lighter may not be good for OP's back, e.g. the straight aluminum forks that have no suspension whatsoever. And an aluminum frame with suspension fork can easily weigh as much as a decent steel frame.
OTOH, I've seen (and owned) bikes that were more sportive than the indestructible 3 gear tanks, but with a more relaxed/upright position than on a road bike, with somewhat lighter frame and derailleur gear.

With a lifting capacity of 5 kg, OP will need help to get up the bike when it is lying on the ground for all but the most naked road bikes.

I further suspect that there are further "weighty" decisions that only OP can take:

  • is the softer riding on balloon tires worth additional 2 - 3 kg?
  • is the weight of rack + basket a good investment since OP cannot carry a backpack, and bike bags are heavier than a thin normal bag in the basket?
  • Battery lights instead of a hub dynamo?
  • derailleur gears instead of internal gear hub? What range of gears does OP need?
  • Or is sturdiness important after all since OP needs to be able to rely on the bike?
  • Will a light bike frame + appropriate lock still weigh less than an old, not too heavy steel frame bike which can be left around with a light cable lock?
  • Butterfly and those U-shaped handlebars do weigh more than a narrow straight one of course (BTW, they are available in aluminum, no need to have them in steel as in the image). But that doesn't help OP if the required position is not possible with the light handle bar.

Putting a different stem and handlebar on a light trekking bike frame may go a long way (but that will need careful trying - but then, OP will probably need to carefully try a whole lot of bikes/part combinations).

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  • That style looks promising, thanks! Your post is quite clear, no need to worry about your English. – KBriggs Apr 20 at 15:34
  • I agree that the geometry of this bike type is really comfortable and very upright posture. However they are ussually very heavy as they are thick steel. Regarding spine compression due to upright posture, this bikes may have "suspession" saddle which helps a little (I fitted a plush saddle for similar reasons). They use wider tires than road at lower pressures, wich also helps. – Jahaziel Apr 20 at 20:28
  • @Jahaziel: I added some more considerations about weight. (Of course, also the older, the heavier, also because only the sturdiest survive decades - but there are also suprisingly heavy aluminum bikes around in this category) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 20 at 22:28
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    To answer some of the questions in the edits, gearing requirements would be minimal. The place I live is basically flat. In most aspects of my life, my primary consideration is weight, so if the question is "is [x] worth an extra [y] weight" the answer is almost always no, regardless of what [x] is, for any value of y>0. – KBriggs Apr 21 at 19:50
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    In that case, I'd experiment with a pretty much naked road bike or single speed bike (for the light frame + components) with "high" stem (or even a new light fork that has not yet been cut to length + spacers) and U-shaped / butterfly handlebars. IMHO if you find a local bike shop that will let you try such options that worth while. I have no idea whether road bike geometries actually allow this or whether it won't work since frame length is wrong as the frame was never designed to be used that way. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 21 at 22:00
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Does something already exist? Probably not. Could something be custom-built for you? Definitely.

Super-light bikes are generally only in the "hunched over" aggressive positions, because generally only the most aggressive, competitive riders demand and are willing to pay for them. However, there are custom builders all over the place that can build bikes that cater to a different intersection of needs.

Go to a local bike shop, go to the mechanics ask about some local framebuilders, they'll point you to some. Otherwise, you can search for some framebuilders that will build and ship to virtually anywhere. You could get a custom carbon fiber, or titanium frame that would be high-quality and quite light.

Only major downside of custom is they are not cheap. You're looking at probably $4,500+ USD or more for a complete bike. A sub-10 lb bike would be quite challenging to pull off, but since you wouldn't be racing it might be doable, though it will further increase the cost.

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  • Custom is an obvious option, but you're right, more money than I would want to spend if I have other options. – KBriggs Apr 19 at 18:51
  • @KBriggs not necessarily if you are willing to buy second hand. Last year I built a very comfy bike with drop bars (not for you) and a fully suspended frame (good for you). you can't buy a series made or even a second hand bike like this, but it was what I wanted (i like the speed but the roads where I live have either perfect or completely horrible surface). I bought evertyhing second hand (apart from consumables like chain or grip tape), and the bike ended up costing much less than a comparable new MTB, let alone a custom build. It took some time searching for parts and talking to sellers. – Pavel Apr 21 at 17:43
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    @Pavel good point. I do not (yet) have the expertise I would need to buy a bike in parts, but that would be a fun learning project for sure. – KBriggs Apr 21 at 19:46
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How upright are we talking? It’s true that racing oriented road bike frames have geometries for a relatively hunched-over seating position. However, training road bikes or “fitness” bikes (road bikes with straight handlebars) have relaxed seating positions to start with. You can additionally raise the handlebars quite a lot using a stem with steep upwards angle and as many headset spacers as possible.

As I’ve already pointed out in a comment, an upright position can cause compression of the spine when going over bumps, is this okay with your injury? With a leaned forward position it’s usually your wrists and arms which take the brunt of the impact. The spine is free to flex and properly supported by muscles.

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    It may be worth adding that handlebar drop is the vertical distance from the top of the saddle to the handlebars. Most road bikes are designed for some negative drop. Even a zero drop (bars level with saddle) will be slightly hunched over. The post seems to be saying that road or hybrid bikes can easily be set up with a zero drop to somewhat positive rise (i.e. bars a few inches above saddle). If the OP wants a very positive rise, this may be harder to accomplish on stock bikes (fork steerers not long enough), although custom would be available. I've upvoted the recumbent answer also. – Weiwen Ng Apr 19 at 13:34
  • Good point about the bumps being more impactful in an upright position, I had not considered that. It doesn't need to be perfectly straight, just not hunched over. An angle with the vertical of maybe 20 degrees is probably tolerable, bit I would have to test. – KBriggs Apr 19 at 23:39
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I will add another suggestion to the conversation, by throwing in the Pedersen.

It is a very unique and stylished bike, which would definitely fit your requirements :

  1. It has a hammock saddle, which would ease up a lot of the road bumps.
  2. It offers what is probably the most upright position that I know of (even more than a Dutch bike).
  3. It is fast and light (have seen one IRL).

This is more of a traditional take on a bicycle when compared to a recumbent.

Regardless of what you pick, a suspended seat post and a very upright position would help. Try to pick something that does not have too much rolling resistance too.

Good luck.

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    Good one, I have not seen this before! – KBriggs Apr 21 at 12:14
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Some light carbon road bike frames can be built up with flat bars, or even bought with flat bars. With an appropriate choice of stem you should be able to get a reasonably upright position. But even if you can get down to 10lbs, many of the times you need to lift a bike it's not a clean lift.

Instead I'd be looking for ways to ride without ever having to lift the (whole) bike. Ride from home and wheel it into its storage, for example. Or if you have to drive to ride, use a ramp to wheel it into a big car/van/trailer, or lie it down and take the wheels and even saddle off, lifting a few lighter things into a small car. There are also low rear-mount bike carriers incorporating ramps, intended for light motorbikes on motorhomes or vans but usable for pushbikes; they're popular for electric bikes.

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4

One of the most popular bike brands in Finland is called "Jopo" which is a fairly unique style of bikes. It has high up handle-bars which makes the optimal riding position be fairly upright.

Not sure how international the sales are.

Jopo Bikes

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    It should be noted that these bikes are very heavy, because the single frame tube construction is weak and has to be compensated with heavy tubes. These do still break at head tube joint, but the manufacturer will claim that it's because you pulled a wheelie or dropped a curb. – ojs Apr 20 at 9:50
  • I have a handle bar like that on a European style trekking bike frame. I love it but it takes some getting used to to ride in such an upright position. – Sumyrda - remember Monica Apr 21 at 7:58
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It's not cheap, but you can build up a hard tail carbon MTB frame with a fixed carbon fork and flat bars and get a bike that is well under 20lbs.

A 1x11 drivetrain with a wide range cassette and appropriate choice of front chain ring will allow you to climb anything. The drawback is lack of gears for over 25mph.

You can also put relatively fat slick tires on that kind of bike. I use Schwable G-One Speed 60-584's on mine and that bike is just plain fun to ride. It's not the fastest, but big light slick tires at 30 psi or lower are just so pleasurable to ride. You can easily get a cruiser bike like position on this kind of bike. So you get the comfort of a cruiser bike with the climbing and acceleration similar to a standard road bike.

I originally built up bike as lightweight MTB with suspension fork and knobbies. I got a carbon fork and slicks for riding roads during the rainy season when the trails around here really aren't rideable. This bike is way more fun than I expected and I've spent a lot more time on it on pavement over the winter than on my road bike.

My lightweight MTB slick build

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  • What would be a ballpark cost for something like this? – KBriggs Apr 20 at 16:57
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    I'm guessing I spent over $3K on mine, I had a lot of the parts already. You can probably do it a bit cheaper by buying generic chinese carbon frame diycarbonbikes.com/collections/hardtailframes, but getting that shipped might be hard right now. I started with a 2017 Scott scale frame that I got for less $1K. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Apr 20 at 18:10
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    My current commuter is an MTB with a fixed aluminum fork. I used 700c x 35 mm tires. At lower pressure than road tires it is a very comfortable bike. I bought a seconhand bike. The fork I bougth used for US$ 30 (equivalent) thoug new it's worth about US50. – Jahaziel Apr 20 at 20:32
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    If you went with a similar aluminum frame the price would be much lower, the biggest weight loss on that bike is the fork 1.5 lbs vs 4 lbs for a suspension fork. The wheels are also quite light for aluminum rim disk wheelset. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Apr 21 at 0:39
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Have you looked at elliptical bicycles? I tested one out a few years ago. They have no seats and are 'ridden' standing up. They may not meet your weight requirement. https://www.elliptigo.ca/

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  • Cool, that would probably be even better than an upright seated one if I could find a light model – KBriggs Apr 21 at 17:16
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Cross-country mountain bikes are pretty light, yet much better suited for an upright position than road bikes. Even more if you adjust the saddle and handlebars, perhaps add a long and high-angle stem.

Mountain bikes work just fine on the road. Obviously it makes sense to switch to narrower and low-thread tires and perhaps adjust the suspension (if any), but in fact even rear suspension on road might actually be a good idea for your spine.

Sure – this will not be as fast and efficient as a road bike or incumbent, and 5 kg is just too optimistic in terms of weight. But still, I daresay this is by far the most practical option for you.

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One possibility you might consider is the "flat bar road bike". I have a Giant Fastroad which is an example of this class of bike and it's basically a standard road bike with flat handlebars like a hybrid.

Giant FastRoad SLR1 (2017)

(From: Giant FastRoad Web Site)

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When I first got onto a mountain bike with shock absorbers, I thought I was in heaven! If I had some kind of spinal injury, shock absorbers would be a must. Given where I ride -- in the dirt where I don't have to worry about getting hit by 2 tons of metal being not controlled by someone texting-- that means that a mountain bike is a must --ever since I built one in 1971 (where the Cupertino Riders may have gotten their idea before taking up to Marin for the Repack races for Gary to copy). At the same time, I've never spent more than $500 for a bike. If you're not into racing (I'm not), the only obstacle to comfort on wheels is the low weight/high cost issue. Do you need to lift it to get it into your home? Then I can't help. But if your problem is transporting your bike with a car, then a solution that might work for you is a Hitch Cargo Carrier. Some of them even have ramps, and most of them cost under $200. OTOH, if you don't have a square receiver, you may need to have one installed (costs $200-500 depending on your car). I installed my receiver when I put a real rear bumper on my Jeep (the stock bumper only weighs 35 lbs and is worthless). I've put up to five bikes on my $75 carrier (to transport them > 100 miles), but I did need to strap them down.

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  • Welcome to SE! At first glance, this seems like a bit of a tangential discussion. However, it does touch on the fact that suspension components could offer a benefit to the OP due to their injury - although MTB style suspension is heavy, and lighter suspension items (e.g. suspension seatpost and stem, or simply rely on large tires at low pressure) exist. The discussion of methods to transport the bike is actually potentially helpful, because the OP wouldn't have to lift their bike up very far to get it into hitch rack, and they could do one wheel at a time. – Weiwen Ng Apr 21 at 19:23
  • Yea, not sure why the downvotes, these are valid points that add to the discussion – KBriggs Apr 21 at 19:44
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Granted there isn't a lot of selection in the marketplace and you'd be looking at quite a bit of money, but there are a few carbon fiber recumbents. Performer makes one: https://www.performercycles.com/recumbent-bikes/carbon-recumbent-bike-fiber/

Just be careful that you're not trading shoulder and wrist issues for neck issues. :)

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Perhaps you could find just any bike that is the closest to the weight requirement and on which the seat height suits you—and then swap the handlebar for a higher one (i.e. go from a straight one to ‘bullhorns’). However, you'll need the handles to be further back for upright riding, and I'm not sure if that would work with a stock frame geometry. OTOH a bike is properly mostly turned by leaning it to a side, instead of turning the wheel.

You'll probably also want to pick a ‘double suspension’ bike—i.e. one that has suspension in the rear too, and which would soften the bumps. I can say for sure that front suspension helps the wrists. Though double-suspension are usually ‘casual’ and thus cheap and heavy bikes, while ‘pro’ light ones are likely to be without rear suspension, since it takes away some energy that could be put into speed instead.

I must also add that upright riding has a downside of being harder on the knees. In my experience, it's for some reason easier for the joints if you push the pedals ‘away’ than if you stomp on them.

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    Rear suspension will just about double the weight. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 23 at 20:31
  • @daniel-r-hicks Dunno about ‘double’, at least if it's a spring and not pneumatic suspension. – aaa Apr 24 at 2:57
  • Coil shocks are heavier than equivalent air ones. And yes, all else being equal, double weight isn't unrealistic for a proper rear suspension – if you consider the weight of the bike alone, without wheels. Suspension can allow substituting lighter wheels though. – leftaroundabout Apr 26 at 9:54
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There are also two options that no one mentioned here:

  1. mini velo that seems to be very popular in Asia;
  2. folding bikes. You can find plenty, from very simple to e-bikes.
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    Can you clarify how this answer fits the OP's specifications? What's the approximate weight? Are they inherently designed for an upright position? If they aren't reasonably light, can you explain why you chose the answer: clearly 10 lbs (4.5kg) isn't plausible for any but the most absurdly expensive road bike builds, but we might want to suggest something within reasonable limits, or else show that the weight doesn't matter in terms of carrying the bike. – Weiwen Ng Apr 20 at 17:01
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    I've been looking for an affordable minivelo for a while. They're basically the same position as a full-sized dropbar roadbike, so don't match OP's need. Folding bikes do tend to be a little more upright, but the extra mass required for hinges and clamps mean they weigh more than a normal road bike. – Criggie Apr 20 at 21:33
  • well, as for the minivelo there are so many styles that you only have to look into them a bit: foldingstyle.net/p/mini-velo.html. They can be upright or not, depends on which one you choose. as for the weight, OP did mention that 10lbs it's not a must have. Also I believe that such lightweigh bikes do not come with low prices, see for instance this brompton: brompton.com/brompton-gbr/uk-store/bikes/…. Anyway, I was just only giving some perspectives about some options that actually no one mentioned. – gabt Apr 22 at 10:35

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