Common Misconceptions about Folding Bikes
Folding bikes are a wonderful marvel for anyone who travels or lives in a highly dense area that needs to get around. They’re also great for traveling as well but there are quite a few common misconceptions about folding bikes on the internet (big surprise there). Some of the biggest misconceptions include people thinking that the size of their wheels will dictate how quick or slow the ride is and that folding bikes don’t have the power or capacity to climb steep hills.
There are some misconceptions that believe a folding bike is far more fragile and less durable than a conventional full-sized non-folding bike. None of these things are correct and we’ll go into detail why they’re wrong and why you shouldn’t need to worry about them if that’s what’s keeping you from buying a folding bike so far. While these concerns are valid, folding bikes are designed in a way to overcome the issues and misconceptions presented here.
Now, if you’re a competitive racer or someone who participates in extra-long cycling trips, then you’re probably going to want a conventional bike over a folding bike but how much of the cycling population is that? However, one of the most common misconceptions and misleading tidbits of information about folding bikes is that they don’t go very fast and there are people concerned about the speed.
Before we can debunk the theory and talk about why it’s wrong, first, we have to discuss the concept of gear inches. It’s not a very technical explanation and it’s pretty easy to understand but it will help you understand the concept of speed on a folding bike. Gear inches on a bike is basically just the gear setting or number of inches that the bike will travel before the pedal reaches one full revolution, that’s it.
To give an example, the Dahon Mu Uno folding bike is a one-speed bike but it has 65 gear inches. For the average rider, if you pedal your feet into one revolution, you will have moved another 65 inches from where you started. This theory and misconception started after people examined the wheels of the bikes and came to the assumption that you wouldn’t be able to cover as much ground as quickly with those wheels as you could on a conventional bike.
However, while folding bikes do use a different wheel size, they do not suffer from this issue. Traditional and most folding bikes produced today will actually use gears that are different sized than a full-sized traditional bike would use. To put this into perspective, the Tern Verge X10 Ultralight folding bike has an oversized 55-inch chain wheel and a tooth cassette that ranges from 11-36 in order to achieve the 28 gear inch that it comes equipped with at the very lowest setting. However, the highest gear inch that it can get up to is 96 in just a mere 10 seconds.
Even with a high-performance conventional standard bike, you’ll have a far more narrow cassette and the chain-wheel will probably sport anywhere slightly over or under 50 teeth. Then, you have systems like the Dahon X27h folding bike that use internal hub gearing system and provide far greater gear ranges for their bikes. With these greater gear inch setups, there’s no correct assumption to say that smaller bikes will travel slower than larger bikes simply because of the wheels or their size.
Engineering and physics working together overcome the obstacle of that assumption and when folding bikes are engineered correctly, they can keep up with and some can even overcome the speeds of traditional bikes. For the 30-year anniversary bike, the Dahon created a bike with an incredible range of 37 to 167 gear inches. This bike alone can outrun quite a few traditional bikes, even some of the top performers and mountain bikes that were built for durability, hills, and speed.
When you compare the gear inches, pedal stroke count and maximum capacity, the pedal by pedal count is far higher on the Dahon than say the Bianchi Oltre XR which tops out at 112 gear inches. The Dahon 30 year anniversary bike actually travels 4 and a half feet for every single rotation of the cranks when maxed out and in motion. That should give you a basic of how fast a folding bike can go when built correctly with the right gear inches.
A lot of physics and momentum come into play here. However, this also boils down to the gear inches once again. How quickly or your ability to even climb a hill will not only depend on the momentum you’ve built yourself before getting on the hill but what the setting of your lowest gear inches is. Of course, this will also be determined by how hard you’re going to be willing to pedal as well because if you’re not very good at pedaling or don’t have the strength to do it on a traditional bike, you’re more than likely not going to be able to do it on a folding bike either.
The lower your gear inches are, the easier it’s going to be for you to pedal. The easier it is for you to pedal, the less resistance you’re getting and the easier it’s going to be for you to climb up a steep incline or hill. As discussed above, there’s numerous gear inches and settings on a folding bike that will determine how quickly you get up a hill or if you can at all.
In simple terms though, there’s no evidence to suggest that hills are a challenge for folding bikes.
A lot of people view folding bikes as fragile toys that break when slightly dropped or they go out rather quickly. This is a valid concern because most traditional bikes can last years or decades when taken care of properly. While a frame does have its own weak points such as the hinges and joints, these items are very easy to replace in a folding design, not so much on traditional bikes.
Tern is one company that has some of the best hinges in the bike business and they take their business as a passion. Most of the top folding bike manufacturers go the extra mile and take steps to prevent this from happening. In most traditional folding bikes, the joints are actually made from stainless steel and crafted with next-generation processes like 3D forging and hydroforming. These are techniques that are brand new to the market and are used to increase the durability of currently existing heavy-duty materials used in hinges or other parts of the folding bike.
With the Brompton folding bike line, they’re manufactured with extremely strong steel frames and hinges. There are joints that are locked into place and held together with clamps and despite the small size of the Bromptons, they can withstand (some of them) a 300-pound weight capacity. You’ll have to consult the manual and manufacturer on exact specifications of what an individual bike’s weight capacity is.
The high spoke count of folding bikes is also another great feature to look at when considering durability. There’s a lot of extra-strong frames builds for folding bikes that have some anti-corrosion treatment, Kevlar treated tires and paint jobs that won’t go bad when it gets a little rain on it.
There are countless examples of globe-trotters who not only travel around the world and use their folding bikes to get around but they take their bikes up mountains, up steep inclines, through humidity, through bad weather, and in third world environments to help them get around. The durability of folding bikes is next to none when it comes to quality and being sustainable.