Folding bike touring is becoming an increasingly popular niche in bicycle touring. The best folding bikes for touring offer a number of unique advantages over traditional touring bikes. They are versatile, easy to transport, secure, and allow you to travel places that other bikes can’t go. Of course, there are some significant disadvantages as well. This guide lists the pros and cons of folding bike touring. We’ll cover bike transportation, maintenance, parts availability, comfort, security, luggage options, efficiency, costs, and much more.
In recent years, folding bikes have become more capable touring machines. These days, they are a realistic alternative to full-sized touring bikes. Many manufacturers even offer touring specific models. A wide range of luggage options, touring components, tires, and accessories are available for folding bikes. In the second half of this guide, I analyze 8 of the best folding bikes for touring including the Brompton, Bike Friday, Dahon, Birdy, Tern, Airnimal, Montague, and more. You can skip to that section here. I’ll also talk a bit about folding bike touring luggage and components. Hopefully, this guide helps you decide whether or not folding bike touring is for you.
I also made this short video to outline the main points of the article.
What is a Folding Bike?
A folding bike is a bicycle that is designed to fold or collapse compactly. This makes the bike easier to transport and store. You can take your folding bike with you wherever you go, including into hotels and on public transport.
While touring, you can fold your bike up and take it with you on a bus, train, or plane then tour when you reach your destination. A folding bike is a great way to explore cities and even travel long distances.
Folding bike designs vary greatly. The design affects the fold time, fold size, comfort, efficiency, durability, price, and more. Some folding bikes are better suited for touring than others.
Most folding bikes have a single main frame tube. The head tube is welded to one end and the seat tube is welded to the other end. The rear triangle extends back from the seat tube. The seat post and handlebar post are much longer than on standard bikes.
A number of different fold designs exist. The most common design features a single hinge in the center of the main tube, allowing the bike to fold in half. A more compact design features a second hinge that allows the rear triangle and wheel to fold under the bike. In both cases, the seat post and handlebar post fold or collapse down.
Folding bikes usually feature smaller wheels than standard bikes. The most common wheel sizes are 16” and 20”. Folding bikes with 18”, 24”, 26”, and 700c wheels are also available. Generally, the smaller the wheels, the smaller the bike can fold.
Folding Bike Touring Pros
1. Folding bikes are cheap or free to fly with
The biggest benefit I have found to folding bike touring is that you can save a significant amount of money on airfare. The bike can fly as a regular checked bag on most airlines as long as it meets the checked bag size requirements.
For most airlines, this means you must pack your folding bike into a package with dimensions totaling less than 62 linear inches (158 cm), and weighing less than 50 lbs (23 kilos). Checking a folding bike is usually free on international flights where one checked bag is included in the fare. On domestic flights, you may need to pay $25-$50. You’ll pay whatever the standard checked bag fee is.
Checking a full-sized bike is usually much more expensive. Each airline charges a different rate. Most airlines charge $100-$200 each way. Of course, some airlines are much cheaper. For example, Alaska Air will fly your bike for only $25.
2. You can take folding bikes on buses, trains, and in taxis and Ubers
Folding bikes pack down small enough to fit in the luggage storage area of busses and trains and in the trunk of any taxi or Uber. If bicycles aren’t allowed, you can simply fold up the bike, slip it into a bag, and nobody will know what it is. It just looks like a large piece of luggage.
3. You can bring your folding bike into your hotel room, hostel dorm, or Airbnb
Many hotel managers don’t want bikes in their rooms. The reason is that bikes are dirty. They can bring mud and grease into the room. You could also damage the walls or doors if your bike hits something while you’re moving it around. While understandable, most bicycle tourists don’t like these policies.
Because folding bikes are so much smaller they can be stored in a large bag. As long as the bag is clean, most hotel managers will have no problem with you bringing it into the room. If you pack the bike before you check in, they won’t even know what it is.
Having your bike with you in your hotel room gives you extra peace of mind. You don’t have to worry about your bike while it’s locked up outside or in a storage room where who knows who has access.
4. You don’t have to cycle everywhere
When you tour with a folding bike, you have the freedom to skip boring or dangerous sections. For example, maybe you’re arriving in a large city and you don’t feel like riding through heavy traffic. You could hire a taxi or Uber to drive you to your hotel. Maybe you’re riding through a flat, dry area that’s not very scenic. You could take a bus to the mountains or the coast and skip that section. If you simply don’t feel like cycling, you can bag the bike and travel like a backpacker.
5. You can explore more places more easily with a folding bike
Maybe while touring you decide that you want to take a budget flight to a neighboring country or nearby island. With a folding bike, you can pack it up and fly relatively hassle-free.
You could also store the bike at your hotel’s luggage storage and take a side trip without your bike. If you tour on a full-size bike, a side trip may be cost-prohibitive or impossible.
6. Folding bikes are easier to pack up for transport
When flying with a folding bike, you don’t need to go through the hassle of finding a full-sized bike box. You can make an appropriately sized box by cutting and taping smaller boxes to size. You can pack the bike in the comfort of your hotel room.
When traveling by bus or train, you can carry a folding bike bag and store the bike inside of it. Sometimes, you don’t need to pack the bike at all. You can just fold it and place it in the luggage area. Some people have even taken their Brompton folding bike into the cabin of airplanes and stored them in the overhead bin. Check out this cool site for photos.
7. You don’t have to worry as much about getting stranded
If your folding bike fails catastrophically and you can’t ride it, you can hitch a ride back to civilization. You can haul a folding bike in even the smallest of cars. This often isn’t an option with a full-size bike.
8. Folding bikes are easier to mount and dismount
Most folding bikes feature a step-through frame. This allows you to easily get on and off the bike. You don’t have to throw your leg up over the top tube every time you mount your bike. This can be a plus for older bicycle tourists as well as those with joint problems. Folding bikes are more accessible.
9. You can bring your folding bike into restaurants and grocery stores
Most restaurant managers won’t mind if you fold up your bike and place it by your table while you eat. When you go into a grocery store, you can carry your folding bike in your shopping cart.
Some Brompton owners even use their bike and luggage as a shopping cart. For example, check out this clever setup. Your bike and gear are less likely to get stolen if you bring them with you.
10. Folding bikes can perform as well as full-sized bikes
You may assume that the small wheels will slow you down. This really isn’t the case. A quality folding bike that is designed for touring can be just as fast and efficient as a full-sized touring bike.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the smaller wheels are significantly lighter. This means they have less rotational mass. They spin up faster and with less effort. Manufacturers also adjust the gearing to compensate for the smaller wheels. You don’t have to work harder to ride a small-wheeled folding bike.
11. You can bring your folding bike into your tent
If you travel with a two-person tent, you can fit the folding bike inside to protect it from the weather or theft. If you are staying at a campground, you can store your bike inside while you are away. This improves security.
12. Folding bikes are a conversation starter
Everyone wants to learn about the bike and see how it works. Making friends and meeting people is easy with a folding bike.
13. Folding bikes can feel more stable
Folding bikes have a low center of gravity. This is because the bottom bracket usually sits lower to the ground. Your luggage also sits lower to the ground because the wheels are smaller. This lower center of gravity can make the bike feel more stable. You can easily maneuver at low speeds. The bike can also be a bit easier to control while descending hills.
14. Folding bikes are easier to transport to and from the airport
One of the biggest hassles of bicycle touring is transporting the bike to and from the airport. When you tour with a folding bike, you can travel to and from the airport in a cab or by public transport. You can box and unbox your bike in the comfort of your hotel.
When you tour on a full-sized bike, this isn’t an option. You have to find a large taxi that can accommodate the big bike box. Full-sized bike boxes don’t fit in small vehicles or in public transport. Your only other option is to ride to the airport with the box strapped to the bike then pack all of your gear there. When you arrive, you have to unpack your bike and assemble everything at the airport. This is stressful. Particularly if your flight leaves or arrives in the middle of the night or if the airport is located far outside of the city.
15. You have more transportation options when you travel
When you tour with a folding bike, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the airline or bus or train company accepts bikes. This allows you to book whichever ticket you prefer. You could book the cheapest ticket or the most convenient. You can also fly on smaller planes take minibusses that can’t accept full-sized bikes.
When you fly with a folding bike, you don’t have to worry about the oversized luggage charge. You pay the regular checked luggage rate. This opens up your airline options.
You can also hitchhike with your folding bike. Because a folding bike is so compact, it can fit in the trunk or back seat of almost any vehicle. This opens up the possibility of integrating hitchhiking into your bicycle tour.
Folding Bike Touring Cons
1. Some components wear out more quickly
Rims, tires, and hubs won’t last as long on a folding bike. The reason is that the wheels need to make more revolutions to travel the same distance as a full-sized bike. Because of this they wear out and need to be replaced more often. For example, you might only get 5,000 miles out of a 16″ folding bike rim. A 700c touring rim might last 15,000 miles. This adds maintenance costs.
2. Folding bikes have proprietary parts
Pretty much all folding bikes have at least a few non-standard parts that are brand-specific. Some folding bikes have more proprietary parts than others. The drawback is that if a proprietary part breaks or wears out, you’ll have to buy a replacement from the manufacturer.
While touring, you may find yourself in a country that the manufacturer doesn’t serve. You may not be able to get the part that you need. Third-party options are usually not available. If the brand goes out of business in the future, you may have trouble finding some parts.
One example of a part that is proprietary on most folding bikes is the frame hinge. Some folding bikes use proprietary brakes, racks, cranks, derailleurs, handlebars, etc.
Brompton folding bikes have the most proprietary parts. According to this article, Brompton folding bikes have 1200 proprietary parts. That’s about 80% of the bike. Bike Friday folding bikes seem to have the fewest proprietary parts. Almost everything is standard-sized.
3. Some folding bike parts are harder to find
Some folding bike parts are odd sized. For example, 16 inch wheels and tires, short cage derailleurs, and extra long seat posts are common on folding bikes but not on full-sized bikes. Many bike shops don’t keep these items in stock.
Quality wheels and tires can be particularly difficult to find. This can be a problem if you’re touring in the developing world or in a remote region. You may need to have spares shipped in if something breaks or wears out.
4. Folding bikes can be uncomfortable
Taller riders can feel cramped on folding bikes. Many models are designed for riders under 6′ 4″. The smaller wheels can also make the ride feel a bit rougher.
5. Folding bikes are more fragile
They just can’t take the beating that a full-sized touring bike can. This is partly because the hinges make for weak spots in the frame. The extra long seat tube and handlebar tube can also create weak spots.
Many folding bikes also use lower-end parts than standard touring bikes. These aren’t as durable. It’s easier to damage a folding bike than a standard touring bike.
6. Folding bikes are more expensive
A folding bike that is suitable for touring usually costs $300-$600 more than a comparable full-sized touring bike. If you compare a folding bike with a full-sized bike at the same price point, the full-sized bike will come with much higher quality components. A similarly specced folding bike will be significantly more expensive. For example, a mid-range standard touring bike might cost around $1500. A folding bike of comparable quality might cost $2000.
This extra cost is due to the added complexity of the frame and folding mechanism as well as the proprietary parts. These parts are more expensive to design and manufacture because they are built in smaller quantities. Manufacturers have to cut costs elsewhere to meet their price point.
7. Folding bikes can’t haul as much weight
The hinge and long seat post and handlebar post create weak spots. Folding bikes have a lower carrying capacity than diamond frame bikes. Most folding bikes can safely haul around 110 kilos or about 240 pounds. This includes the rider and luggage.
If you’re a bigger person or like to travel fully loaded, that’s just not enough. For comparison, a decent full-size touring bike can easily handle 300 pounds. Some can carry much more.
8. Folding bikes can be inefficient
There are a number of reasons for this. Most importantly, folding bikes tend to have some flex. There may be some flex at the hinge or on the main frame tube. The long handlebar post and seat post can also flex. Folding bikes are less rigid than full-sized bikes. When you pedal hard, some of your pedaling power can be wasted flexing the frame. The gearing can also reduce efficiency.
The reduced efficiency means you will cover less ground and burn more energy while touring on a folding bike. For example, maybe you’re used to traveling 50 miles per day while touring. On a folding bike, you may only be able to cover 40 miles per day. Over the course of a long tour, this inefficiency adds up. You might cover 200 fewer miles per month on a folding bike than you could on a full-sized bike.
9. Folding bikes ride rougher than full-sized bikes
Because the wheels are smaller, folding bikes can’t roll over potholes and bumps as easily. When you hit a pothole, the smaller diameter wheel can fall further into the hole. When you hit a bump, the wheel has a harder time rolling over because the angle of attack is higher.
This makes bumps feel more harsh. This means that folding bikes aren’t as good for gravel and off-road riding. Some folding bikes offer suspension to improve ride quality.
Folding bikes can also feel a bit twitchy due to the small wheel size. Small wheels steer faster than large wheels. When you turn the handlebars, the bike responds quicker. This takes some getting used to.
10. Folding bikes don’t last as long as standard touring bikes
Though you’ll likely get thousands of miles out of any folding bike, it probably won’t last as long as a rigid steel framed touring bike. Depending on the brand, the hinge is a weak spot. Many folding bikes also come with lower-end components that don’t last as long as quality touring components. Most folding bikes aren’t really designed for high mileage.
11. Folding bikes look kind of funny
You’ll look like a clown riding a tiny bike. This bothers some people and others don’t care one way or the other. If you don’t like the look of small wheel folding bikes, you could choose a folding bike with full-sized 26″ or 700c wheels.
Montague offers a range of full-sized folding bikes. These bikes look different from standard diamond frame bikes but they don’t have the goofy tiny wheel look.
12. Folding bikes attract more attention
People will want to talk to you and ask questions about the bike. They will stop you to ask you what you’re riding and how it works. Some people will simply stare at you as you ride by on your funny looking bike. Whether or not this happens depends on the country you’re riding.
The extra attention can get annoying if you just want to be left alone. It is hard to be anonymous as a bicycle tourist. A fully loaded touring bike always draws some attention.
13. Folding bikes are not ideal for off-road touring or bikepacking
Folding bikes usually come with either a basic suspension system or no suspension at all. There aren’t really any quality suspension components available for folding bikes. The smaller wheels also don’t roll over large obstacles such as roots and rocks as well as larger wheels. Most folding bikes also don’t have room for wide tires. The maximum tire width that most folding frames can accommodate is usually less than 2″. Narrow tires don’t offer as much traction and can get caught in ruts more easily. All of this makes folding bikes perform poorly off-road.
14. Folding bikes may be slower
This is a controversial point. Some will argue that folding bikes are slower because the wheels need to make more revolutions to travel the same distance so more energy is lost to friction in the bearings. Some also claim that you need to pedal more while riding a folding bike. This article does a good job of debunking these claims.
Another argument is that smaller wheels slow down more when you hit a bump. There may be some truth to this. This article shows that the speed difference between small and large wheels is minimal. Particularly while riding on the road. Even with all of this evidence, I always feel slower while riding a folding bike. I can’t explain why.
15. Folding bikes have fewer gears
Many folding bikes only have 6-8 gears. Most only have a single chainring. To compare, full-sized touring bikes usually have 24-30 gears. With fewer gears, it’s harder to remain in your optimal cadence. Your pedaling can become inefficient at times.
There is also a larger step between gears. When you shift, your cadence is disrupted more. This can reduce speed and efficiency. Not all folding bikes have fewer gears. For example, Bike Friday folding bikes use standard touring gears.
16. You’ll ride less than if you were traveling with a full-sized bike
It’s easy to fold up your bike and throw it on a bus or train. You’ll be tempted to do this if it’s rainy outside if you’re feeling tired. As a result, probably end up riding less when you tour on a folding bike. For bicycle touring purists who want to maintain their line and ride the whole way, this isn’t really acceptable.
17. It’s harder to hold the bike up when stopping to take photos
Most folding bikes have a step-through frame. When you stop, you can’t use your thighs to hold the bike up. If you take your hands off the handlebars to take a photo, your bike will fall down. This is a minor annoyance.
More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where The Road Forks
- Drop Bars VS. Flat Bars
- Flat Pedals Vs. Clipless
- Disc Brakes Vs. Rim Brakes
- Tube Vs. Tubeless Bicycle Tires
- Belt Drive Vs. Chain Drive
- Steel Frame Vs. Aluminum Frame
- Presta Vs. Schrader Valves
The Best Folding Bikes for Touring
A handful of companies make folding bikes that are suitable for touring. They each have strengths and weaknesses. Below, I’ll outline a few of the best options.
The Brompton is probably the most popular folding bike for touring. These brilliant bikes have been designed and hand-built in London since 1976. These bikes offer a compact fold, beautiful design, and high build quality. Brompton bikes also offer excellent durability and longevity. They are great for touring.
The main reason Brompton bikes are so popular for touring is that they have the most compact fold of any folding bike. When folded, a Brompton folding bike measures just 585mm X 565mm X 270mm (23″ x 22.2″ x 10.6″). That’s around 50% smaller than comparable folding bikes from other brands. Brompton can achieve this small size thanks to the ingenious fold design. The use of 16-inch wheels instead of the standard 20-inch also helps to make the bike more compact.
When folded, you can slide the Brompton into a bag and it becomes a standard piece of luggage. You can take it with you on pretty much any plane, bus, train, and even busy public transportation. Nobody will suspect that you have a bicycle with you.
The main drawback of Brompton bikes is the fact that most (about 75%) of the parts are proprietary. Proprietary parts include the frame and fork, hinges, derailleur, seat post, rack, fenders, brakes, shifters, and many others.
Depending on where you tour, you may not be able to find a replacement if something wears out or breaks. Brompton does not have dealerships in every country. You may be out of luck if a critical part fails while you’re riding through a developing country or rural region. This means you may have to carry additional spare parts while touring with a Brompton. You’ll also need to be prepared to ship parts in if you can’t find what you need locally.
The good news is that all wearable parts are standard including the chain, cables, tires, and brake pads. You should be able to find replacements in most countries. It can be a challenge to find 16″ tires in some countries.
The 16″ wheels are a compromise. They allow the bike to fold smaller. The drawback is that they are a bit slower and less efficient than 20″ wheels. They also make the bike ride rougher.
Brompton bikes are also very expensive. Expect to spend around $1900-$2500 to buy a touring capable Brompton. On top of that, you may also have to buy some touring accessories such as a rear rack, mudguards, a front carrier block, and Brompton luggage. This adds a few hundred dollars to the cost of the bike.
The Best Brompton for Touring
Brompton bikes are not designed for touring. They are made for commuting and urban cycling. Brompton bikes come in a wide range of configurations. If you choose the right configuration and make a couple of minor changes, a Brompton can make an excellent touring bike.
- Gearing- The best Brompton gearing option for touring is the 6 speed model with -12% reduced gearing. The lower gearing makes climbing hills with all of your heavy gear much easier. The 6 speed drivetrain has a 3 speed internal gear hub and 2 speed derailleur. This offers a good amount of gear range. If you need more range, you can upgrade to an 11 speed Shimano Alfine hub or a 14 speed Rohloff Speedhub.
- Handlebars- Brompton offers four handlebar options: S (flat bars), M (medium height bars), P, (butterfly bars), and H (high bars). For touring, the M, P, and H styles are preferable. These bars seat you in a comfortable upright riding position and allow you to mount a larger bag to the front of the bike.
- Luggage- Brompton offers an ingenious front luggage system. For touring, you’ll want to install a front carrier block. This allows you to mount luggage to the front of the bike. Brompton offers a range of luggage options incluing a large touring bag. In addition, you’ll want to choose a Brompton with a rear rack. Here, you can mount a backpack or duffel bag. You can’t mount standard panniers on a Brompton because the rack sits too low to the ground due to the small wheels.
- Tires- Brompton bikes come standard with Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires. For touring, most riders install either Schwalbe Marathon or Marathon Plus tires. These tires offer excellent puncture protection and plenty of grip.
- Contact points (saddle, grips, and pedals)- For touring, many riders upgrade the saddle to a Brooks B17. If you go with M or H bars and you need an additional hand position, you can install grips with bar ends, such as Ergon GP3 grips. If you prefer riding clipless, you can swap out the peddles. Otherwise, Brompton’s folding flat pedals work fine.
- Accessories- Brompton offers a wide range of accessories. For touring, try to choose a model with fenders. These help to keep you, your gear, and the bike clean. Another nice touring accessory is the Brompton bike cover. This is a bag that packs down and attaches to the saddle. You can quickly unfold it and store the bike inside. When the bike is in the bag, it looks like a regular piece of luggage. Brompton also offers a multi-tool with all of the necessary wrenches to maintain your bike. Another nice accessory is the Zefal pump, which stores conveniently in the rear triangle. Another popular touring option is the dynamo hub. This powers a light and allows you to charge your phone.
One of the best models for touring is the Brompton C Line Explore model. It comes with a rear rack, fenders, a front carrier block, and 6 speed gearing.
A whole community exists of people who tour on Brompton folding bikes. The best resource I have found is The Brompton Traveler. This site is full of videos, reviews, recommendations, and ride reports all about traveling on a Brompton folding bike. You can learn how to safely pack the bike, make repairs, and more. Also, check out this cool article about a month-long Brompton tour from The Path Less Pedaled.
For more in-depth info on Brompton folding bikes, check out my guide: Are Brompton Bikes Worth It?
Bike Friday specializes in folding bikes that are designed for long-distance touring and air travel. Each bike is handmade to order at their factory in Eugene, Oregon.
A major advantage of Bike Friday’s folding bikes is that multiple frame sizes are available. Bike Friday can customize the frame so the bike fits you exactly like your favorite full-sized touring bike. While ordering, you will be asked to supply your measurements and the measurements of your favorite bike. The frames and forks are made from steel and are extremely durable.
Bike Friday’s folding touring bikes use 20-inch wheels. An extensive range of upgrades are available including brakes, handlebars, wheels, tires, gearing, racks, fenders, and more. You can customize your bike exactly like you want it. For example, if you want a folding touring bike with disc brakes, drop bars, and an internal gear hub, Bike Friday can build that for you. You can choose the exact components you want to use.
One unique feature of Bike Friday folding bikes is their travel system. Their touring bikes are designed to pack down into a hardshell suitcase called the Travel Case. The suitcase fits the checked bag limits of most airlines.
When you reach your destination, the Travel Case converts into a trailer that you can pull behind the bike. To convert the suitcase into a trailer, you attach two wheels to the sides and a rear axle hitch to the top. If you don’t like the idea of using a trailer, you can mount standard racks and panniers. The bikes can carry a full set of 4 panniers.
Bike Friday offers two touring models: the New World Tourist and the Diamond Llama. The New World Tourist is their classic touring bike. It is designed for fully loaded touring or commuting. The Diamond Llama is their off-road-oriented bike. It is designed for gravel-grinding, expedition touring, or bikepacking bike. It can accommodate tires up to 2.1″ wide. The frame also supports heavier loads.
The biggest benefit of Bike Friday touring bikes is that they use off-the-shelf parts except for the frame and folding mechanism. There are no proprietary parts. This means that you can find replacement parts wherever you tour. This makes Bike Friday folding bikes the best choice for those who travel in remote regions and developing countries.
Possibly the biggest drawback to Bike Friday is the cost. They are expensive. The base model New World Tourist starts at $1795. The base model Diamond LLama starts at $1995. From there, the sky is the limit. You can upgrade the gearing and brakes, add racks and fenders, and even add electric assist. A decently specced touring setup would cost around $2000-$3000.
Another drawback is that Bike Friday folding bikes don’t fold as quickly or as compactly as other options. A Bike Friday New World Tourist folds down to around 32″ x 25″ x 14″ (around 81cm x 64cm x 36cm).
The frame has a hinge near the bottom bracket. This allows the rear triangle and wheel to fold under the mainframe. The handlebar and seat tube detach or fold down. The mainframe is rigid. There is no hinge in the mainframe. This design does improve strength and durability.
I took a test ride of one of these and really liked geometry and the way it rode. It did feel just like a full-sized bike. For more info, check out these two reviews from guys who have put a lot of miles on the Bike Friday New World Tourist:
- The Ultimate Bike Friday New World Tourist Review from Bicycle Touring Pro.
- Bike Friday New World Tourist review from a Crazyguyonabike User.
Montague Bikes were originally developed for the military under a grant from DARPA. They were designed to be carried by paratroopers when jumping out of planes into combat zones.
These folding bikes are unique in that they use standard 26 inch and 700c size wheels. Because of this, they offer the handling and ride quality of full-sized bikes. There are very few compromises.
Montague bikes feature tough aluminum frames and use mostly off-the-shelf components. There are only a couple of proprietary parts. Mostly in the folding mechanism. You can easily mount a standard-sized rack for touring.
Some models include Montegue’s RackStand. This unique piece combines a rear cargo rack, fender, and kickstand into one piece. Mountain bike and road bike versions are available.
Montague offers two models that are suitable for touring. The Montague Navigator is a multi-use folding bike with 700c Wheels. It features knobby 36mm tires, a 27 speed drivetrain, and disc brakes, and a rear rack. This bike is ideal for touring, gravel grinding, and commuting. It measures 36″ x 28″ x 12″ when folded and weighs 29.5 lbs. Three different frame sizes are available.
The Montague Paratrooper is a folding mountain bike with 26″ wheels. It features front suspension, mechanical disc brakes, knobby 2.1″ wide tires, a 24 speed drivetrain, and a rear rack. This bike is ideal for off-road touring, bikepacking, and expedition touring. It measures 36″x28″x12″ when folded and weighs 32lbs. Two frame sizes are available. The Paratrooper is available in 5 different configurations. They’re all based on the same frame. The more expensive models come with higher-end components.
The biggest drawback to Montague folding bikes is the fact that they don’t fold down as compactly as small-wheel models. When folded, they measure around 36″ x 28″ x 12″ (91cm x 71cm x 30cm). This is too large to avoid most airline oversized bag fees. The dimensions are larger than the standard 62 linear inch max checked bag size. You’ll end up paying the oversized bag fee to check it when you fly. You can, however, easily bring the bike on most buses and trains when folded.
Another drawback is that some Montague bikes come with pretty low-end components. Before setting out on a long tour, you might consider upgrading the wheels and tires. In addition, you’ll probably want to install a more comfortable seat and grips. Montague does offer higher-end models of the Paratrooper that come with more premium components. The frame, brakes, and drivetrain components are of good quality.
Quite a few people use these bikes for touring. Check out the Montague blog here to read about their experience.
Dahon and Tern Folding Bikes
These two companies produce similar folding bikes. They both share a strange history. The Tern company was founded by the wife and son of the founder of the Dahon company. This resulted in long-lasting litigation which ended in 2013.
Dahon and Tern each offer several folding bikes that are suitable for touring. Most of their bikes feature 20″ wheels and a durable aluminum frame.
These bikes have a classic folding design. On most models, the mainframe folds in the half at the center, the seat post collapses down, and the handlebars fold down. This results in a slightly bulky but manageable fold. The bikes fold in just 20-30 seconds.
When it comes to the fold size, a standard Dahon or Tern bike folds up to about 65 cm x 32 cm x 79 cm (25.6” x 12.6” x 31.1”). This is slightly oversized for most airlines. In most cases, you can do a bit of disassembly to make them fit into an airline acceptable 62 linear inch box.
Both companies offer a wide range of folding bikes. There are models with 16″, 24″, and 26″ wheels. Steel and aluminum framed models are available. Tern offers a range of electric folding bikes and cargo bikes. Some models come with an internal gear hub. Many models come with a rear rack and fenders. Luggage options are also available.
Price-wise, Tern and Dahon offer some of the most budget-friendly folding bikes for touring. You could buy a decent folding bike that is suitable for light touring from either of these companies for under $1000. Tern bikes are more expensive than Dahon. If you’re trying to get into folding bike touring on a budget, consider buying a basic folding bike from one of these companies and making some upgrades.
Tern and Dahon also aren’t offering any touring-specific models currently. In the past, Dahon offered the Speed TR and Tornado touring bikes. These models have been discontinued. Tern offered the Verge Tour S27H and the Joe Tour. These have been discontinued as well, unfortunately. You may be able to find these models used if you shop around.
Tern and Dahon still offer folding bikes that are capable of touring. If you buy a folding bike from one of these manufacturers, you may need to make some upgrades to make the bike suitable for touring. For example, you might have to install a rack and fenders and upgrade the tires, seat, and handlebar grips. You may also want to upgrade the wheels and tires.
It’s also important to note that Tern and Dahon sell mass-produced folding bikes. They don’t offer premium or custom bikes like some of the other manufacturers on this list. Their lower-end bikes may come with some cheap components. Quality control on some models is questionable. Particularly at the low end. Their higher-end models offer excellent quality and good value.
One of Dahon’s most popular models is the Dahon Mariner D8. This bike features an 8 speed drivetrain, 20 inch wheels, and a rear rack. It has a classic folding design. The frame is made from durable aluminum. The bike measures 810 x 330 x 665 mm (31”x 12” x 25”) when folded and weighs 12.56 kg or 27.69 Ibs. With a few upgrades, the Dahon Mariner would be ideal for light touring.
One of Tern’s most popular models is the Tern Link D8. This bike features an 8 speed drivetrain with a Shimano Claris derailleur, Schwalbe Big Apple tires with puncture protection, and a rear rack. The bike folds in as little as 10 seconds. A magnet system holds the bike folded while you’re carrying it. When folded, the bike measures 38 x 79 x 72 cm (15 x 31.1 x 28.3 in). It weighs 12.1 kg or 26.7 lb. With some minor upgrades, the Tern Link D8 would make an excellent folding touring bike.
For an idea of what Dahon folding bikes are capable of, check out this interview with a couple that rode their Dahon folding bikes from Cairo to Cape Town.
Birdy Folding Bike
Birdy Folding bikes are designed by a German company called Riese und Müller. They are built in Taiwan by Pacific Cycles.
Birdy bikes have a unique and innovative fold. The main frame has no hinge. This adds strength and durability. The bikes have both full suspension. The build quality is high.
Birdy bikes are slightly larger than a Brompton and about the same as a Dahon. They measure about 80 cm x 62 cm x 34 cm when folded. They can fit into a standard airline acceptable case. You will need to remove the pedals, rack, and handlebars.
A wide range of gearing options are available including both derailleurs and internal gear hubs. Drop bar and flat bar versions are available. There are also off-road and on-road models. Birdy bikes are a popular choice for touring.
The biggest drawback to Birdy bikes is the price. They are very expensive. Prices start at around $2000 for a touring capable model. Another drawback is that most models use 18 inch wheels. This is an unusual size. It can be hard to find tires and rims in some countries.
One of the best models for touring is the Birdy TouringPLUS 24SP. The bike features 24 speeds (a 3 speed internal gear hub and 8 speed derailleur), 18″ x 2″ wide Schwalbe tires, and hydraulic disc brakes.
Airnimal Folding Bike
Airnimal is an English folding bike company that makes a range of high-quality folding bikes. Their bikes come in a variety of sizes and configurations. Most models feature 24 inch wheels. They offer a few 20 and 26 inch models as well. You can choose from flat bar and drop bar models. Several drivetrain options are available including derailleurs and internal gear hubs.
Fold-wise, Airnimal bikes aren’t too compact. This is due to the larger wheels that most models use. You probably won’t be able to pack one of these bikes into a standard airline acceptable case. They do pack down small enough to bring on most busses and trains. These are premium bikes. Prices start at around $2000.
Airnimal offers a number of folding touring bike options. Their Joey Adventure model features a 27 speed derailleur drivetrain, heavy-duty 24″ wheels and tires, and a durable Chromoly steel frame. An Adventure Plus model is also available with a 14 speed Rohloff internal gear hub and a suspension fork. These make excellent all-around touring bikes.
Airnimal also offers a road touring option called the Joey Endurance. This bike features a 1×11 wide-range drivetrain, drop bars, disc brakes, and 26″ wheels. An Endurance Plus version is also available with a carbon thru-axle fork and lightweight wheels. These bikes include mounting points for racks and fenders.
Moulton Bikes were originally designed in 1962 by Dr. Alex Moulton. His goal was to improve on the classic bicycle design. He designed a frame that was both strong and easy to mount. He also made the decision to use smaller wheels to improve acceleration. Over the years, several versions of the Moulton bike have been created.
Today, the Moulton bikes are built by the Moulton Bicycle Company. They aren’t really folding bikes. Rather, some models separate so they can pack into a case suitable for airline travel. These bikes feature a unique full-suspension design and small wheels with high-pressure tires. The frames are unique and beautiful.
The biggest drawback to Moulton bikes is that they are expensive. Prices start at around $1600 for a base model. Some of their higher-end models sell for over $15,000. They are also not quick folding like some of their competitors.
The best Moulton for touring is the Jubilee. It has 20″ wheels, full suspension, and a separatable frame. The bike takes around 3 minutes to take apart. Several gearing options are available. Front and rear luggage racks can be mounted.
Cheap Knockoff and Off-Brand Folding Bikes
A number of companies produce knockoff or off-brand folding bikes. Some of these companies copy the design of other folding bike manufacturers. For example, you can buy knockoff Montague, Dahon, and Brompton folding bikes that look just like the real thing. You can also find original designs. These sometimes feature bizarre frames or tiny wheels. These knockoff and off-brand folding bikes are usually made by Chinese companies. Check out Aliexpress for some examples.
Knockoff folding bikes are much cheaper than the name-brand version. Usually half the price or less. Cheap Chinese-made folding bikes that start at less than $300. Higher-end models. might cost $600-$1000.
The quality of these bikes varies greatly. Some are complete junk and will start falling apart after a couple of hundred miles. Some offer a pretty good value. Before you buy, it’s a good idea to look at the quality of the components and the build quality of the frame.
These off-brand folding bikes are worth considering if you’re touring in parts of Asia where they are commonly available. For example, in Thailand, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, or a number of other countries, you can find some pretty good quality off-brand folding bikes that are suitable for touring. A couple of decent brands include Fnhon and KHS.
Alternative to Folding Bikes: S&S Couplers and Breakaway Frames
If a folding bike is too much of a compromise, a couple of other options exists. You could have S&S couplers installed on your frame or you could buy a breakaway frame. These offer all of the benefits of a full-sized bike. They also allow you to pack the bike into standard-sized checked luggage.
S&S Couplers can be installed on most steel and titanium frames. To install the couplers, the frame is cut in half at the top tube and down tube and the couplers are welded on.
Only a handful of shops around the world are authorized to install S&S couplers. You can also buy a touring bike with couplers preinstalled. Check out sandsmachine.com for more info.
Ritchey breakaway frames are designed to come apart in two pieces for packing. The downtube detaches near the bottom bracket and the top tube detaches at the seat tube.
The main drawback to these frames is the cost. You’ll pay about an $800-$900 premium for an S&S coupled or breakaway frame. If you fly often, this can pay for itself after 3-5 round trip flights depending on which airlines you fly.
Another drawback is that these bikes take quite a bit of time to disassemble and pack. You’ll have to remove the handlebars, pedals, seat, and wheels to get the bike to fit into an airline acceptable case. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll have to reassemble the bike. This can take over an hour on both ends of your flight.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Folding Bike for Touring
Not all folding bikes are suitable for touring. Some aren’t durable enough to handle the stress of touring. Some are too bulky. In this section, I’ll outline the most important things to consider when choosing a folding bike for touring.
- Wheel size- This is possibly the most important choice you’ll have to make. Most folding bikes have either 16″ or 20″ wheels. Less common sizes include 24″ and 26″. There is no perfect folding bike wheel size for touring. You’ll have to make a compromise. For most, 20″ wheels are ideal. They offer a good combination of performance and portability. Folding bikes with 16″ wheels are much more compact. The smaller wheels are less efficient and don’t handle as well. To help you decide, check out my guides: 16 inch Vs 20 inch folding bike wheels and 26″ vs 700c bike wheels.
- Folded size- If you plan to fly with your folding bike, try to choose a model that measures less than 62 linear inches (158 cm) when folded. This is the maximum checked luggage size on most airlines. If your folding bike is larger, you may have to pay an oversized bag fee. This defeats the purpose of touring on a folding bike. You might as well ride a full-sized bike. Most folding bikes with 16″ and 20″ wheels meet this size limit. Bike Friday folding bikes are designed specifically to pack into checked luggage. Brompton folding bikes pack down small enough to pack as carry-on in some cases. Most Dahon and Tern folding bikes can also fit in a checked bag. Montague bikes are larger than the checked bag limit.
- Luggage options- Consider how you will carry your stuff. Some folding bikes, like those from Bike Friday, can use standard racks and panniers like any other touring bike. Some brands, like Brompton, offer proprietary luggage options that mount to an ingenious front carrier block. When choosing a bike, make sure there are luggage options. For more info on luggage, check out my guide to bikepacking bags vs panniers.
- How long it takes to fold and unfold- Think about how you’re going to tour. If you plan to fold the bike every day to take buses, trains, and public transport, you’ll want to choose a bike that is quick and easy to fold. Some folding bikes, like the Brompton, take as little as 20 seconds to fold. If you only plan to fold the bike for flights at the beginning and end of your trip, you can consider a folding bike that disassembles. These may take 15-20 minutes to fold compactly.
- Parts availability- As mentioned earlier, some folding bikes use proprietary parts and uncommon sizes. The part you need may not be available in every bike store. For example, 16″ tires can be difficult to find. If a hinge breaks, you’ll have to buy another from the manufacturer. If you plan to tour in locations where replacement parts are harder to come by, such as rural regions and the developing world, choose a folding bike with fewer proprietary parts. Bike Friday folding bikes use the most standard-sized parts.
- Durability and repairability- You’ll want to choose a folding bike that can stand up to some abuse. Low-end folding bikes tend to be a bit fragile. For touring, look for a folding bike with a steel frame and strong hinge. Steel frames are better for touring because they can be welded back together if they break.
- Gearing- If you’re planning a long tour or you’re touring in an area with a lot of elevation change, you’ll want a wider gear range and more gears. If you’re touring flat regions or in cities, you can get away with fewer gears and a smaller gear range. If you choose a folding bike with limited gearing, it is possible to upgrade it by installing an internal gear hub.
- Carrying capacity- Folding bikes can’t handle as much weight as standard diamond frame bikes. If you’re traveling fully loaded with camping gear, it’s easy to go overweight. Most folding bikes have a max capacity of 220-240 lbs (110-120 kg). Weigh yourself and your gear and choose a folding bike that can handle the weight.
- Comfort- Some folding bikes are small and may feel cramped for taller riders. Some offer excellent adjustability and are great for all sizes of people.
Final Thoughts on Folding Bike Touring
A folding bike is definitely a viable option for bicycle touring. Around the internet, you’ll find ride reports of successful folding bike tours all around the world. People are riding folding bikes across the United States, Pamir Highway, Carretera Austral, through Africa, and beyond. With a solid frame and components, a quality folding bike can be as capable as a full-sized touring bike.
There are some compromises you need to make when touring on a folding bike. The main benefit of folding bike touring is the ease of transport. You can fold it up and carry it with you on a plane, bus, train, or public transport. This can save you money and time. You can also bring the bike with you to hotel rooms, restaurants, and shops.
The main drawback is that folding bikes generally don’t perform quite as well as full-sized touring bikes. They may not be ideal for long-distance touring. Parts availability can also be an issue. A folding bike that is suitable for touring is also quite expensive.
Have you done any folding bike touring? Comment below with your thoughts and experience!
More from Where The Road Forks
Wednesday 3rd of August 2022
Great article! I've toured in Hawaii, Japan, and here at home in California on my REI branded Dahon Mu, which has an 8 speed Shimano Alfine internal gear hub. It's plenty of range for normal riding. The bike has a unique air pump in the seat tube, so you always have a pump with you. The bike has been solid and reliable for years now.
If I always had the option to travel with a bike or without, I'd definitely want to have my folding bike with me as much as possible. It opens cities in ways that neither walking nor public transportation can. Yes, in many places it's possible to rent a bike, but I've had hit or miss luck- looking at you Barcelona. With your own bike you know what you're going to get.
Most of the time I stayed at hotels so I didn't need to worry about fully loaded racks and panniers. In Japan I traveled by bus and train, and the bike fit in a special Dahon bag which was supposedly required there. I also had a Samsonite hard case suitcase which I used for the longer travel transfers. The Dahon took a little bit of disassembly- mostly wheels and handlebars off, but easily fit in the standard size suitcase. No weird sized cardboard boxes for a full size bike anymore, thanks.
A comfortable folding bike can be as fast as a road bike- I've gone on group rides with friends and I was never at the back of the pack. I have a comfy Brooks B17 on my bike, so riding all day in 'civilian' (no spandex) clothes isn't a problem. I have done some rides with panniers and a special touring rack that puts the bags pretty far back- heel strike on the bags otherwise. But most of the time I have a nice rear rack bag from Jandd that opens up to a pretty remarkable 18 liters- plenty for an overnight assuming I'll be in a hotel.
The fact you can take the easily take the bike into a tent or hotel room is great for security. In Kyoto I left the bike on the sidewalk outside the ryokan (inn) where I stayed, which was the custom there. Only in Tokyo did I 'lock' the bike with a very thin wire, and I was one of the only bikes with a lock on at all. In other places I use a U lock through the frame and sometimes take the seat with me in questionable places.
The small size is great for daily use too- for quite some time I kept it in the back of my very small car which could never fit a full size bike without an external rack. I'd drop the kids off at school and then go on a nice 12 mile ride before work everyday.
If I could only have one bike it would be a folding bike. They're great.
Tuesday 9th of August 2022
Great review! The Dahon sounds like the perfect travel bike. I'd love to do some touring in Japan one day.
Thursday 10th of March 2022
I don't yet tour on my 20" folders, but I ride heavily around anyway. Last year 2500km on my heavily modified Dahon. Performance-wise, I don't see any difference compared to full sized, but I made sure to squeeze out as much watts as possible - high pressure BMX tires, tubeless, SLX hubs, Claris derailleur, etc. In fact I prefer the folders more, compared to full size. As the center of gravity is nicely low, I can enjoy full downhill at 53km/h without braking, whereas it'd get a bit wobbly on 26". One chainring is a bit of a limitation when pushing the bike up 12% hill, at least I put in 11-36 cassette, to kinda compensate for it. It sucks that there aren't many "good" folders on the market, and these low-enders (by full size bike standards) are still overpriced. I had to "reinvent" a lot during DIY, in order to get to the desired level. For example, air shocks for 20" aren't at all common, or a cassette hub (not freewheel).
Wednesday 16th of March 2022
Good point about the low center of gravity! I agree that there aren't enough good folding bikes. Even the expensive high-end models come with mediocre components.
Saturday 16th of October 2021
just finished a 750km tour in Quebec on my Tern Link d8. Four of us on the same bikes. 22 lbs of luggage for three weeks. Great bike for all the reasons in the article above. never a sore rear end and great fun for 50-80k per day. Third multi week trip on the bike.
Saturday 23rd of October 2021
Sounds like a great tour. 50-80k per day is a pretty good pace on a folding bike.
Sunday 25th of April 2021
Great insights on folding bikes
Wednesday 3rd of February 2021
I've got several folding and non-folding bikes. Wheel size is not generally the reason that folding bikes are slower. Small wheels have lower inertia which means they have less momentum but they also take less effort to get them up to speed.
The difference is more to do with frame flex and non optimum geometry from using one size for everyone. This is very noticeable on two 20" conventional folders I've got. One is a lot faster than the other. It took me months to work out why. It's because the handlebar position is not adjustable on one and it's too high for me to be able to pull with my arms efficiently. The long seat and steerer tubes also flex which wastes some more energy. People seem to think that small wheels are intrinsically slower than big ones but think of a F1 race car which has small wheels relative to a monster truck.
The Bike Friday pocket rocket and the Airnimal Joey deal with the frame flex problem by having a pivot for the rear triangle rather than the single main top tube. The Joey now uses 26" wheels which makes the frame a bit bigger and reduces the seat and steerer tube lengths which makes them flex less.