The best folding bikes 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.
If you want the best folding bike on the market -- and are prepared to pay for it -- reviewers say Brompton folding bikes simply outclass the competition. This British-based company enjoys rave reviews for its compact folding bikes. Every bike is built to order, so there are a variety of configurations available, but the Brompton M3L (MSRP: $1,280) receives a number of recommendations for its stability and incredibly small fold. The final fold size -- 22.2 inches by 21.5 inches by 10.6 inches -- one of the most compact among comparable folding bikes. The bike comes with 16-inch wheels, three-speed gearing, fenders and reflectors. It weighs 25.3 pounds and can accommodate riders weighing up to 250 pounds. Brompton folding bikes are designed and built in England and sold through bike shops in the United States (Brompton.co.uk includes a list of dealers in the U.S.).
The Brompton M3L consistently earns the highest ratings from group tests of folding bikes. Reviewers say the Brompton M3L is incredibly comfortable to ride because it includes suspension over the rear wheel, which helps absorb bumps and vibration over rough roads." After an acclimation ride, the Brompton proves itself a surprisingly stable cruiser due to its long wheelbase," says Sarah Rose in Men's Journal. The compact fold also attracts raves. "Like owners of small dogs, Brompton fans tend to take their bikes everywhere, mostly because they can: The bike fits comfortably under a desk or restaurant table," says Michael Hsu in The Wall Street Journal. Unlike some folding bikes, the Brompton M3L stays closed when folded, which makes it easy to carry.
If weight is your primary consideration, the Brompton is also available in a lighter design, the Brompton M3L-X (MSRP: $2,010). The M3L-X weighs 23 pounds and uses some titanium in the frame to keep the total weight down, but it's expensive. Britain's Daily Mail tests this configuration and gives it a perfect 5-star rating. Testers rave about the simple design, which makes for quick folding and unfolding, and they praise the stable handling. "Unfolded it handles far better than its small wheels and simple three-gear hub would lead you to believe," says Simon Munk.
Brompton folding bikes can be ordered with a variety of handlebar styles, gearing options and accessories, so there are a number of configurations available. However, reviewers also like the Brompton S6L-X configuration (MSRP: $2,100). Compared to the M3L, the Brompton S6L-X uses the S-type design, which has flat handlebars and a sportier position than the M-style model. The bike has six speeds and comes with mudguards and Brompton's superlight frame.
BikeRadar.com gives this configuration a high overall rating. Editors are most impressed with the folded size, which is easier to carry than its competitors. "The Brompton fold is still the benchmark; it proved pretty intuitive and trouble-free," the editors say. "And unlike some rivals, the Brompton was a doddle to carry up steps without getting in people's way." Like the Brompton M3L, reviewers say the rear suspension makes a big difference in ride quality. "The Brompton is very stable, feels very nimble, and the rear suspension soaked up the small bumps providing a smooth ride," says Bicycle Times magazine. However, the "lively" handling may be uncomfortable for those who aren't used to riding a small bike, according to BikeRadar.com.
Dahon is another big name in the folding bike world, and its new Dahon IOS XL (MSRP: $1,600) earns recommendations for those who want a folder that rides like a "real" bike. The bike has 24-inch wheels, which will benefit commuters who have long journeys or ride over rough roads. The bike has eight speeds, an aluminum frame, Avid Juicy disc brakes, fenders and safety lights. It also features a dynamo-powered hub that will charge your cell phone or MP3 player while you ride.
The Dahon IOS XL can't compete with Brompton folding bikes when it comes to weight or folded size -- the Dahon bike weighs more than 33 pounds and has a folded size of 14.9 inches by 30.7 inches by 32.3 inches. However, reviewers say that the Dahon IOS XL isn't designed to be the lightest or smallest folding bike. Indeed, ride quality is where this bike shines. "Balloon-tired 24-inch wheels smooth out bumps," says Sarah Rose in Men's Journal. A quick 15-second fold is another plus, and reviewers love the unique cell phone-charging feature. However, the Dahon IOS XL is harder to carry than smaller folding bikes.
The Strida LT (MSRP: $650) is often mentioned as a competitor to Brompton folding bikes. The Strida LT gets high marks for style and design -- including a Best of Green award from TreeHugger.com. At 22 pounds, it's the lightest folding bike reviewed in this report. The Strida folding bike has a triangular frame, 16-inch wheels, a greaseless belt drive and a rear rack. Many reviewers mention the Strida's design, calling it "trendy" and "elegant." The Strida also folds up into an easy-to-carry package measuring 45 inches by 20 inches by 9 inches.
Despite its good looks, multiple reviewers say the Strida falls short on performance and ride quality. The unusual triangular frame certainly looks cool, but there is a downside -- the frame puts the seatpost between your legs and directly in front of your crotch. If you brake too hard or hit an obstacle, you're likely to slide forward on the saddle and slam your crotch into the seatpost. Strida says this really isn't a problem (and calls it "myth" on their website), but it is mentioned in numerous reviews. "It looks like a wheeled coat hanger, it has only one gear, and the seat front's proximity to the frame puts your junk in peril during hard stops," says Men's Journal, which gives the Strida folding bike an overall rating of 5 out of 10. Despite this downside, the Strida 5.0 has a good number of fans who like the easy fold, lightweight design and greaseless belt drive. Strida folding bikes are distributed by Areaware in the United States, and they're available at Strida.us.
Bike Friday is also well known for their folding bikes, which are designed and built in Oregon. The Bike Friday 1st Class Tikit (MSRP: $2,000) gets high marks for its excellent ride quality and easy-to-use folding mechanism. According to Bike Friday, the 1st Class Tikit can be folded in less than five seconds to a folded size of 15 inches by 24 inches by 35 inches. It includes 16-inch wheels, an 8-speed Nexus internal gearing hub, fenders, a water bottle cage and Tektro V-style brakes. Canada's Momentum magazine recommends the Bike Friday 1st Class Tikit in its latest gear guide. Editors say the bike is solidly built and has a comfortable ride. "The quality of the ride defines the Tikit," they write. A "quick, elegant fold" is another plus.
Some commuters prefer a full-size folding bike so they don't need separate bikes for commuting and weekend rides. Although these bikes aren't as easy to carry on public transportation as smaller foldable bikes, they do fold up so you can ship or travel with them more easily.
In this category, reviewers have good things to say about the Montague Boston (MSRP: $770). This single-speed aluminum bike has 26-inch wheels and a 20-second folding process that utilizes a quick-release lever. The bike weighs 24 pounds and its folded size measures 35 inches by 12 inches by 28 inches. Two frame sizes are available, so the Montague Boston can accommodate riders up to 6 feet 4 inches. Other features include Promax dual-pivot brakes and Kenda Kwick tires, but the bike lacks fenders or a rear rack. A kickstand (*Est. $20) and folding pedals (*Est. $35) cost extra.
Reviewers say the Montague Boston is sturdy and stable while riding, and the quick folding mechanism is very simple to use. Although the folding process takes a little bit longer than 20 seconds (one reviewer says twice that is more realistic), it is easy to accomplish. The big benefit to the Montague Boston, however, is its ride quality, which feels like a regular commuter bike. "I wouldn't advocate riding blindfolded but were you to try it you'd be hard pressed to tell this was a folder, there's nothing to give it away," says Dave Atkinson at Road.cc.
However, since it only has one gear, the Montague Boston isn't a good choice for hilly areas. It's also not as easy to carry as smaller folding bikes. "If you live in San Francisco, commute in a suit, or need a ride that fits under your desk when folded, keep looking," says Sarah Rose in Men's Journal.
It costs much more than the Montague Boston, but the Dahon Tournado (MSRP: $2,300) earns a recommendation from Bicycling magazine. This full-size steel bike weighs 24 pounds (without pedals), and it has a folded size of 11.7 inches by 29.3 inches by 25.7 inches. Unlike the Montague Boston, which is designed for a quick fold, the Dahon Tournado takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to pack up, so it's suitable for traveling but not everyday commuting. The bike comes with a travel bag on wheels.
Bicycling magazine says the Dahon Tournado is a good fit for travelers. "A triple-ring drivetrain and long-reach brakes with clearance for 40c tires allow the road less traveled to become your avenue of adventure," the editors write. In an older review from Adventure Cycling magazine, John Schubert calls the Dahon Tournado a good choice for tourists and travelers who want a packable bike for touring or exploring. "The bike frame comes apart into two pieces, so that after some additional disassembly the entire bike fits into an airline-legal suitcase," he says. The only downside, according to Bicycling magazine, is that the Dahon folding bike doesn't come with fenders or a rear rack (although the frame has mounts so you can add your own).