Folding bikes have exploded in popularity, thanks in part to volatile gas prices and a renewed emphasis on cleaner, greener transportation options. You can put a folding bike in a car trunk, carry it on the subway or store it in your office or apartment to prevent theft. The best folding bikes are lightweight and can fold in seconds, making them a great choice for commuters or cyclists with limited storage space.
Most foldable bikes include quick-release levers or hinges that fold the bike; pedals and handlebars can also be folded down for a more compact package. Some folding bikes include a carrying bag. To keep weight down, folding bikes typically have minimal accessories. Some come with fenders or small rear racks, but you'll have to pay extra for these accessories on most bikes. The majority of folding bikes come with 16- or 20-inch wheels like you might find on kids' bikes, which we cover in a separate report. However, it is possible to find full-size foldable bikes with 26-inch wheels or mini bikes with 8- or 12-inch wheels.
Folding bikes aren't cheap. Though there are several under $350, they are heavier and less compact. If you only have a short commute or want a folding bike only for occasional weekend fun, these bikes may do just fine. But if you have to ride several miles and then carry your bike on public transportation, consider paying more for a lighter bike. If price is no object or you want a little assistance, an electric folding bike can ease your commute considerably, especially if you face any challenging hills.
The best folding bikes often cost a pretty penny, but they have several advantages over their budget-priced counterparts. For one, the top-rated folding bikes are lightweight and have a very compact fold, which can make a big difference if you are using the bike every day. They may also be more durable and fully featured.
Reviewers love the Dahon Mariner D7 (Est. $580) for its comfortable ride, durable construction and especially its reasonable price – some comparable folding bikes are double the price. The bike has 20-inch wheels and comes with a rear rack and fenders. It's available in brushed aluminum, graphite and ultramarine blue.
Owners largely say the Mariner is a joy to ride. It has a high seat and adjustable handlebars, and unlike some folding bikes, it feels almost as stable as a regular bike, they say. Riders who have hills to tackle or just need a little more versatility appreciate the bike's seven different speeds, and reviewers say the gears shift smoothly and easily.
The Mariner isn't the lightest folding bike at 26 pounds, but that's still substantially better than cheaper models. Jason Francis of FoldingBikeGuy.com praises the bike's quick, small fold: In his tests, it takes just 14 seconds to fold the bike into a package that's 25.6 by 12.6 by 31.1 inches. It can be a bit tricky to roll the bike once it's folded up, notes Tuan Do of FoldingBike20.com. That's a critique some owners echo. A few others say the seat can be uncomfortable for more than short distances.
As its name suggests, the Mariner was initially designed for boaters who needed a quick mode of transport once they docked. Because of this, its aluminum-alloy frame is very rust-resistant. Several owners say they've used the bike for at least a few years without issues. Dahon backs the bike frame with a five-year warranty and other components with a two-year warranty. The Mariner can accommodate riders from 4-foot-9 to 6-foot-3 and up to 231 pounds.
Many folding-bike aficionados will tell you that U.K.-based Brompton has almost legendary status for its bikes, but they don't come cheap. The Brompton S1E (Est. $1,255) is the entry-level bike in this manufacturer's vast line, but reviewers say that doesn't mean it skimps on quality. It has 16-inch wheels and can be customized to an extreme degree on Brompton's website – buyers can choose from a vast array of colors, add souped-up tires and mudguards, and even tinker with frame material, handlebar type and gears, among other things.
The S1E is a single-speed bike, so it's best for riders who won't often need to tackle hills. Otherwise, reviewers say it's a top performer: The bike is "really fast" and "tears up the flats," according to experts with NYCeWheels, a New York City bike shop. Ricky Do of BikeFolded.com says the S1E is comfortable to ride despite its small wheels, and Folding Bike 20's Do says steering is responsive and stable.
At 22.8 pounds, the S1E is lighter than the Mariner. Its biggest claim to fame, however, is a very compact fold – roughly 22 by 21.5 by 10 inches, a third of its unfolded size. That makes it ideal for urban dwellers who have little storage space or those who need something as small as possible that can accompany them on a packed bus or subway car. However, some reviewers note that performing the fold is also a bit lengthier and more complex than the Mariner's, with a longer learning curve. A carrying bag, the Brompton B-Bag (Est. $225) is available separately.
Brompton has a reputation for durability, and reviewers say the rugged steel frame and clamps are built to last. Brompton provides a five-year warranty for the frame and a two-year warranty on other components. Weight capacity is 242 pounds. As for height, Brompton recommends a maximum inseam depending on the bike's seat post. A standard seat post can accommodate up to a 32-inch inseam, but longer seat posts are available for taller riders.
It is possible to get a good folding bike for a few hundred dollars, but these bikes are usually heavier and bulkier than higher-end folding bikes. Most foldable bikes under $350 weigh 30 pounds or more, while bikes in higher price ranges typically weigh less than 25 pounds. They may also be less durable with bulkier folds, which can be a big downside if your commute involves public transportation or you have limited storage space.
Reviewers say the Schwinn 20-inch Loop (Est. $290) provides a smooth, easy ride at an even easier price. As its name suggests, this bike has 20-inch wheels. It comes with a rear rack and fenders, but is available only in black.
Like the Dahon Mariner D7, the Loop has seven speeds to ease riding for anyone who is tackling varied terrain. Reviewers appreciate this and say the gears shift smoothly. They praise the stable-feeling ride and the step-through design, which is especially appealing for older riders who may have trouble swinging their legs over a taller bike frame. On the other hand, the seat draws a lot of complaints for being too hard – many users recommend replacing it – and the handlebars are nonadjustable.
At 33 pounds, the Loop is much heavier than the pricier Mariner and Brompton S1E. Its fold, at 16 by 32.5 by 26 inches, is only slightly larger than the Mariner's, and Paul Thomson of FoldingBike365.com says it took only 15 seconds to accomplish. Unfortunately, there is no included lock or strap to keep the folded package together – that means users are on their own to secure it with a bungee cord, Velcro strap or something similar. It comes with a carrying bag, but many reviewers say the bag is quite flimsy and barely big enough to fit the bike without a lot of frustration.
The Loop receives mixed reviews for durability: The brakes and sturdy steel frame get mostly good marks, but several reviewers say they received bikes with flimsy or faulty components out of the box, and experts including Thomson say the low-end crankset may not last. Schwinn backs the bike with a limited lifetime warranty, though. The Loop accommodates riders up to 230 pounds, and Thomson says the long, adjustable seat post should work for taller riders.
If the Schwinn 20-inch Loop is still a little too spendy – or you just want something much simpler and lighter – the Vilano Urbana (Est. $180) could be a better option. Like the Loop, it has 20-inch wheels, and it's available in gray, white and black. It comes with mounts for a water bottle and rear rack.
The Urbana is a single speed, so it's best for flat terrain, and reviewers say it handles reasonably well. Most folding bikes have hand brakes, but to reduce bulk and costs, the Urbana has foot-operated coaster brakes like those you would find on a kid's bike. Experts are divided on whether this is a good thing: Jason Francis of FoldingBikeGuy.com says "they are very easy to use and work exceptionally well," but Rose Larson of FoldingBike20.com calls them less precise. The few users who comment on them seem to support the latter and wish for hand brake instead.
At 21.5 pounds, the Urbana is lightweight for any folding bike, let alone one that costs so little. Folded, it measures 12 by 32 by 25 inches, slightly smaller than the Loop, and since there are no cables, gears, or levers to fuss with, it's very easy to break down. For both these reasons, many reviewers are willing to overlook other deficiencies, saying it's super easy to fold and toss into a trunk or stow in a closet.
As for durability, reviewers seem to agree that you get what you pay for. Folding Bike Guy's Francis says the bike rattles while in use and some of the components feel cheap. The bike has a one-year warranty on its frame and rigid fork; other parts are warrantied only for 30 days. The nonadjustable seat post may not accommodate very tall or short riders. Vilano doesn't list an official weight capacity, but a couple of users over 200 pounds say the bike supports them just fine.
If the thought of incorporating a bike ride in your daily commute seems more tiring than convenient, a folding electric bike might be a good option. These bikes have a battery-powered motor that can provide extra help if and when you need it, keeping you from tiring as fast and showing up at work sweaty and disheveled. They may be especially helpful for anyone who lives in a hilly area or frequently carries shopping bags or other cargo that make riding tougher. Of course, this convenience comes with a hefty price tag – there aren't really any "budget" folding electric bikes to speak of – and they also usually weigh a good bit more than nonelectric folding bikes.
Reviewers say the ProdecoTech Phantom X2 (Est. $1,700) is one of the best reasonably priced folding electric bikes on the market. Its 500-watt motor can power the bike up to 30 miles before the battery must be recharged. With 26-inch wheels, this is a full-size bike, and reviewers appreciate that it looks a bit more respectable than folding bikes with tiny wheels.
As with most electric bikes, users can opt to pedal normally, without using the Phantom X2 motor. However, a simple twist of the throttle can propel users up to 20 mph. Reviewers do love the motor, saying it's powerful, quiet and gets them where they need to go faster than their car in traffic-clogged areas. They also say this eight-speed bike feels very stable, but a few warn that the position of the battery also makes it a bit back-heavy and takes some getting used to.
Unfortunately, the same powerful components and large wheels that make the Phantom X2 an easy ride also weigh it down. At 54 pounds, it's on the heavier side for an electric bike and very heavy for a folding bike. It also doesn't have the smallest fold at 48 by 36 by 28 inches, and users say folding it can be cumbersome. For those reasons, they say it's best for those who will only occasionally fold it to put it in a trunk or overcrowded garage, or commuters who don't have to carry it up and down stairs or fold and carry it onto public transportation. They also wish there was a spot to attach storage bags on the rear of the bike, but the battery's position makes that tricky.
Overall, reviewers say the Phantom X2 is well-built with quality parts. Experts with ElectricBikeReview.com say the battery is built to withstand up to 2,000 recharge cycles, but they doubt it will do that world in imperfect real-world usage. The frame and components have a limited two-year warranty.
Though it still costs a pretty penny, the e-Mazing Innovations B.O.B (Est. $1,025) is a bargain compared to other folding electric bikes. Reviewers also love that it's extremely lightweight and compact, especially compared to the beastly ProdecoTech Phantom X2. However, you'll have to be okay with a bike that looks more like an overgrown scooter, as the B.O.B has tiny 12-inch wheels.
The B.O.B (short for "battery-operated bicycle") has a top speed of 20 mph, but its 250-watt motor can't get you quite as far as the Phantom X2 – it will go up to 20 miles on a single charge. It has a step-through frame that won't require any gymnastics to get on the bike. Like the Phantom X2, it can be used without battery assistance as well. Users say it provides a stable, comfortable ride for short distances despite the small wheels.
For an electric bike, the B.O.B is a practically feather-light 35 pounds, though that weight isn't particularly impressive compared to many nonelectric folding bikes. Dimensions of the folded bike are roughly 33 by 25 by 11 inches – relatively small – and a video review by ElectricBikeReview.com shows that the folded package can be rolled along with one hand. Several reviewers say it's quick to fold or unfold, making it a good candidate for commuters who want to take it on a crowded bus or subway.
Long-term customer feedback about the B.O.B is limited, so durability is largely an open question. While reviewers say the bike's aluminum alloy frame seems sturdy, Electric Bike Review's experts note that it might be hard to find replacement parts if something wears out or breaks. The B.O.B.'s maximum weight capacity is 220 pounds.
Owner-written reviews are in short supply for folding bikes, but a number of niche websites offer expert perspectives. They include FoldingBike20.com, FoldingBikeGuy.com, FoldingBike365.com, FoldingBikeGuru.com and NYCeWheels.com. Reviews of folding electric bikes can be found at ElectricBikeReview.com, and mainstream cycling website BikeRadar.com offers expert reviews in both categories. TransAlt.org provides a helpful rundown of major folding-bike brands. The best place for owner reviews is, unsurprisingly, Amazon.com. Walmart.com includes a number of reviews of folding bikes at the lower end of the price spectrum, and NYCeWheels.com also includes some customer reviews.