The Evolution of the Folding Bike

You will likely ride more often if you have a folding bicycle. With small wheels and a step-through frame, it is easy to handle and can be adjusted to fit riders of almost any size. Folding bicycles adapt to your lifestyle.

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You will likely ride more often if you have a folding bicycle. Sony’s introduction of the magnetic cassette Walkman in 1979 started the revolution of the portable music device. Since then, it has evolved into the iPod and multi-featured smart phones that many people can’t leave home without. With small wheels and a step-through frame, the folding bicycle is easy to handle and can be adjusted to fit riders of almost any size. The small stature of the smaller-wheeled folding bicycle also makes it less intimidating. As such, folding bicycles are a great choice for people who would rather that the bicycle adapt to their lifestyles.

Many inventors started to tackle the challenge of making the bicycle portable during the first bicycle boom of the late 19th century. In 1887 Emmit G. Latta submitted a patent for a folding bicycle. In it, he stated that: “The object of this invention is to provide a machine that is safe, strong and serviceable and more easily steered than the machines now in use.” The bike he proposed, he said, should also be able to “be folded when not required for use, so as to require little storage-room and facilitate its transportation.” Looking through historical bicycle books, such as Bicycle: The History, by David V. Herlihy, it is amazing to see so many early designs that already had elements of the modern folding bicycle.

The modern small-wheel folding bicycle can be traced back to the F-frame Moulton, first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1962. The Moulton has small wheels and no top tube. It does not fold, but is fast, light, portable and easy to mount. The Moulton’s popularity paved the way for a flurry of innovations, including the introduction of folding hinges. The 1968 Raleigh 20, the 1971 Bickerton folding bicycle and the 1973 Di Blasi Avia are among the dozens of folding designs that followed suit. The Bickerton inspired Andrew Ritchie to create the Brompton folding bike in 1976 with the express intent of further developing the compact portability of the folded bicycle.

Folding bikes have long been popular in large cities in Europe and Asia where most people live in apartments with few storage options. Similarly, in North America, more Bromptons sell in Manhattan than in any other North American city. Bike Friday, which makes folding bikes in Oregon, sends about 50 percent of its bikes to Asia. Dahon lists strong sales to owners of yachts, RVs and even private aircrafts.

Many North American city centers are experiencing renewed growth and densification. Folding bicycles are poised to become much more important to consumers looking for something that can fit into their apartments. But ease of storage need not be the only reason to consider folding bicycles. Their ability to fit into the trunk of a small car or be carried onto a bus or subway during rush hour makes them a very attractive option that will truly increase the opportunities you have to ride.

The portability of folding bicycles will likely have something to do with their future popularity. According to mapnificent.net, a web page recently created by Stefan Wehrmeyer that uses Google maps as its foundation, the range that you can travel nearly doubles when you incorporate biking into your trip. People who can easily bring their bikes with them, therefore, have an advantage.

One myth that should be dispelled is that smaller wheels necessarily mean a slower riding experience. Smaller wheels have more rolling resistance. However, because they are on the whole lighter and have less air resistance than larger wheels, they can be just as speedy.

The key to preventing a small diameter wheel from slowing you down because of rolling resistance is to make sure the tires are properly inflated. Smaller wheels will feel a little rougher than full-sized wheels. Most designers get around this by either including some kind of suspension or dampening into the frame design or by specifying larger balloon tires. Smaller diameter tires are also more likely to get stuck in large potholes, so extra care should be taken when riding on uneven terrain.

The advantage of a folding bicycle is that it can be condensed into a small package and stowed away while still offering all of the convenience and independence of a regular-sized bike. It’s a smaller ride that can easily integrate into your everyday life and augment your mobility.

For a great historical summary of the folding bicycle check out: foldingcyclist.com/folding-bike-history.html

6 Comments

  • Folding bikes are the ultimate social bicycle because they collaborate nicely with whatever mode of transport your friends are using and/or whatever safe/effective transport option is available. With a folding bike you aren’t left behind or banished to when or where you can use any transportation resource.

    http://www.planbike.com/2015/03/cycling-treasure-island-part-i-getting.html

  • Chris byron

    I had a Dahon, but sold it. On a tour this year I could’ve used it a lot. Getting a ride in when visiting meant I had to fix the bike that was there – with varying degrees of success. A folder would’ve fit in the Fiat 500 I was renting and I would’ve had a decent bike to use when visiting. Sad face.

  • Karen

    I ‘ve owned 2 folding bikes, Dahon and Brompton. Hands down, both great riding experiences that have only increased my ability to bike where I need to go because I can easily store them at destinations and carry them on board public transportation. The Brompton is particularly easy for me to carry on board the city bus, thus increasing my ridership considerably, as the racks on the front of buses are often filled with full-sized bikes. Many folding bikes on the market are on the expensive side but there are also many very good affordable brands out there. For an a person living in a dense city where space comes at a premium, a folding bike is the logical choice. I keep mine stored behind a stuffed chair in our living room where I can quickly grab in when it’s time to go out the door.

  • coops

    I lived in the CBD for the past few years, I have a Bullitt cargobike I use most days for work, commuting & shopping. I just moved to a new place a couple of suburbs away but there is no room to park my Bullitt securely so I leave it in a garage in the city. I’m now considering getting a folding bike so I can ride to my garage where I park my cargobike. something not quite right here…….

  • Jaume Saladrigas-Cussons

    Folding or no folding, biking is good for you. Better still if its done on a folding bicycle. I agree. I have kiked all my life; mountain, road and for the past 12 years urban. I commute everywhere on my Brompton. I run a tour company in which we conduct bicycle tours on Brompton only. People love it, it’s faster and easier then with a normal bike. I only have good things to say about folding bikes. Yes!, there is one small snag, and that is that if you happen to own a good quality bike, such as Brompton, never leave the self-propelled vehicle out of your sight – I got three stolen by not paying enough attention…

  • Jose Abraham Ongkiko

    I really enjoyed riding the foldable Brompton Bike. When I visited my british friend at Lincoln City last April, we went around places and it was truely an experience riding the foldable bike. I have been planning to buy one here in the Philippines.

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