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Folding Bike Touring: Pros and Cons

Folding bike touring is becoming an increasingly popular niche in bicycle touring. Folding bikes offer a number of unique advantages over traditional touring bikes. They are easy to transport, versatile, and allow you to travel places that other bikes can’t go. Of course, there are some significant disadvantages as well. Folding bikes are less efficient and can’t haul as much gear. This guide outlines the pros and cons of folding bike touring.

In this guide, I’ll cover bike transportation, maintenance, parts availability, comfort, security, luggage options, efficiency, costs, and much more. I’ll also explain how to choose the best folding bike for touring. I’ll cover foldability, wheel size, luggage, cost, and more. Finally, I’ll outline some of the best folding touring bikes including the Brompton, Bike Friday, Dahon, Tern, Birdy, and more.

I got into cycle touring about 10 years ago. A few years back, I was touring and decided I wanted to skip a section that didn’t look very interesting or safe. It was so much of a hassle to pack my bike for a flight or put it on a bus that I decided to cycle anyway. After that tour, I had the idea to use a folding bicycle for touring. I bought a Brompton and some luggage and fell in love with it. These days, I mostly tour on a folding bike.

I also made this short YouTube video to outline the main points of the article.

Folding Bike Touring: Pros and Cons
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Folding Bike Pros

1. You can take folding bikes on buses, trains, and in taxis and Ubers

Folding bicycles pack down small enough to fit in the luggage storage area of buses 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.

2. 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.

fully loaded folding touring bike
A fully loaded Bike Friday folding touring bike

3. Folding bikes are cheap or free to fly with

The biggest benefit I have found to touring with a folding bike 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 bicycle 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.

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 can take a spontaneous cycling vacation if you want to.

You could also store the bike at your hotel’s luggage storage and take a side trip without your bike. If you bike 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. They 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 bicycles 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. They 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. They 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 bicycles. 

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.

Brompton folding bike
Brompton folding bike in France

Folding Bike 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, rear 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 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. They 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 bicycles 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.

folded Bike Friday
Bike Friday in the folded position

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. 

A Brompton folding bike on a mountain road

9. The ride can feel rough

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 folders 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 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.

brompton travel
Brompton folding bike

13. Folding bikes are not ideal for off-road riding

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.

There are folding bikes on the market that are designed for off-road use. If you’re looking for a folding mountain bike, consider the Montague Paratrooper.

14. They are 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 bikes use standard touring gears.

16. 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

A black folding bike with a large center hinge.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Folding Bike for Touring

Folded size

The size of the bike is one of the most important considerations when choosing a folding bike for touring. It can determine where you can and where you can’t bring your bike. Generally, the larger the diameter of the wheels, the larger the fold 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 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.

If you plan to take your bike on public transportation, it’s best to choose a bike that is less than 200 liters in volume when folded. You should also carry a bag or cover for your bike. This size of luggage won’t draw too much attention. A larger bike may not be allowed on some public transport. Generally, you should choose a bike with tires that are 20″ or smaller if you plant to take it on public transport.

A few popular folding bikes and their folded sizes include:

  • Brompton (16″ wheels): 23″ x 22.2″ x 10.6″ (585mm x 565mm x 270mm) or 89 liters
  • Bike Friday New World Tourist (20″ wheels): 32″ x 25″ x 14″ (around 81cm x 64cm x 36cm) or 186 liters
  • Dahon (20″ wheels): 26” x 32.3” x 12.6” (66cm x 82cm x 32cm) or 173 litres
A Brompton folding bike next to the sea.

Fold Speed

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 once in a while for flights or to take a bus, you can consider a folding bike that disassembles. These may take 10-15 minutes to fold compactly. 

Personally, I prefer bikes that don’t require any tools to fold. Even if I don’t plan to fold the bike frequently, it’s nice to be able to fold it easily when I need to.

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″, 26″, and 27.5″. 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.

24″ wheels are good if you only plan to fold the bike occasionally. The bike will be much less compact.

If you plan to use lots of public transport, you’re better off going with smaller 16″ wheels. If you plan to ride long distances and only fold the bike once in a while to take a bus or train, larger wheels are better.

To help you decide, check out my guides: 16 inch Vs 20 inch folding bike wheels.

Luggage options

When choosing a bike, consider how you will be carrying luggage. Some models offer more luggage options than others.

Some folding bikes, like those from Bike Friday, can use standard rear racks and panniers like any other touring bike. Rear panniers can carry 40 liters of gear.

Some brands, like Brompton, offer proprietary luggage options that mount to an ingenious front carrier block. This is a luggage mount on the head tube. You can carry as much as 30 liters of gear here. A bikepacking seat bag and handlebar bag are also options.

For more info on luggage, check out my guide to bikepacking bags vs panniers. A cargo trailer is also a great option for touring.

Folded Brompton folding bike
Brompton in folded form

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 bike 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.

This is one major drawback to Brompton bikes. Most of the parts are proprietary. Bike Friday bikes use mostly standard-sized, off-the-shelf parts. Dahon and Tern bikes also use mostly standard parts.

Dahon folding bike
Dahon folding bike

Gearing

Generally, folding bikes have fewer gears and less gear range than regular bikes. On average, a folding touring bike will have 6-8 gears. How much gearing matters depends on the distances and the types of terrain you plan to ride.

If you’re planning a long cycle trip 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 spending your time riding in cities, you can get away with fewer gears and a smaller gear range.

For touring, look for a bike with a low gear of about 25 gear inches and a top gear of about 70 gear inches. Try to choose a bike with at least 6 gears. This is sufficient for most tours.

Many higher-end folding bikes come with an internal gear hub. This means the gears are housed inside the rear wheel. This setup reduces maintenance and reduces the likelihood of damage.

There are several drawbacks to internal gear hubs. They usually have larger gaps between gears. They are heavier than derailleurs. In addition, they are a bit less efficient.

Performance

The ride position, frame stiffness, gearing, and wheel size can all affect the bike’s performance. Some folding bikes are only suitable for 20-30 mile days. More performance-oriented folding bikes can handle 50-100 mile rides.

Generally, the best performing folding bikes have 20″ or larger wheels. Frame stiffness is also important. Higher-end bikes are just as stiff as regular bikes. This surprised me when riding a Bike Friday for the first time. There was no handlebar flex. It felt exactly the same as my regular touring bike.

Lower-end bikes can have too much flex. If the handlebar post, seat post, and frame flex too much, energy is wasted. This reduces efficiency. Smaller wheel bikes are also a bit less efficient. The small wheels can get hung up on bumps. They can also feel twitchy.

The ride position is also important. It’s best to take a test ride before settling on a bike so you know it fits your body.

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. Particularly if you’re a heavier rider.

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.

A Bike Friday folding bike

Fit and Sizing

Most folding bikes come in one frame size. If you’re an average-sized rider, this is fine. If you’re particularly tall or short, you may have to compromise.

Exactly how much fit and sizing matters depends on how you plan to tour. If you only plan to use your folding bike to ride around cities and go sightseeing then it doesn’t matter as much. The bike just has to be reasonably comfortable.

If you plan to ride 50+ miles per day and cover thousands of miles, fit becomes extremely important. You will need a bike that is sized properly for your body.

One folding bike company offers multiple frame sizes. That is Bike Friday. They offer 6 frame sizes on their PakiT bike. Many of their models are custom made to order for your body. You give them your measurements and they build the bike for you. If you are tall or heavy, they can build a folding bike to fit you.

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. 

You can improve comfort by installing a new saddle, grips, handlebars, and pedals.

A woman sitting on a bench next to her Brompton folding bike

The Best Folding Bikes for Touring

  • Brompton: The Brompton is probably the most popular folding bike for touring due to its compact fold size, excellent build quality, ingenious luggage, and large selection of aftermarket parts. These bikes can be customized for any type of touring. They are small enough to fit in the overhead bin of airplanes. Brompton bikes use 16″ wheels. Their touring model comes with a 3 speed internal gear hub and 2 speed derailleur for a total of 6 gears. The main drawback is that most Brompton parts are proprietary. These are also expensive bikes. If you’re in doubt about which folding touring bike is best, a Brompton is a great choice. You can’t go wrong with it.
  • Bike Friday: Bike Friday is an American company that specializes in building folding bikes for long-distance touring and air travel. These bikes come in multiple sizes and custom sizes. They use mostly off-the-shelf components. They are well-built, durable, and reliable. They offer two touring models: the New World Tourist (a traditional touring bike) and the Pocket Llama (an off-road or bikepacking bike). These bikes use 20″ wheels. They are expensive bikes. If you plan to do some serious touring or bikepacking, a Bike Friday is the best option.
  • Montague: These folding bikes were originally designed for use in the military. They use standard-sized 26″ or 700c wheels. They offer the same ride quality as a regular bike. They are also compatible with regular panniers. Montague offers both on-road and off-road touring bikes. Their most popular model is the Paratrooper. This is a folding mountain bike. The main drawback is that these bikes don’t fold down very compactly.
  • Tern and Dahon: These are two of the largest folding bike companies. The offer similar folding bikes with a classic folding design. They offer a wide range of models with 16″ 20″, 24″, and 26″ wheel options. Their lower end models aren’t really suitable for touring. They offer some excellent higher end options that make great touring bikes.
  • Birdy: Birdy bikes offer a unique fold that is slightly larger than a Brompton. Most models use 18″ wheels. They offer a wide range of gearing and handlebar options as well as off-road and on-road models. These bikes are popular for touring but they are expensive. The Birdy TouringPLUS is their best touring model. Birdy is a German company.
  • Airnimal: Airnimal is an English company that makes high end folding bikes. Most of their models use 24″ wheels. They also offer 20″ and 26″ models. They offer a wide range of handlebar and gearing options. The most popular touring model is the Joey Adventure.
  • Moulton: These aren’t really folding bikes. They actually separate so they can be packed for travel. Moulton makes a range of high-end bikes that are capable of touring. The best touring model is the Jubilee. Moulton is an English company.

Final Thoughts

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 toured on a folding bike? Comment below with your thoughts and experience! 

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Lars

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.

wheretheroadforks

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.

Andy

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).

wheretheroadforks

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.

Robin Draper

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.

wheretheroadforks

Saturday 23rd of October 2021

Sounds like a great tour. 50-80k per day is a pretty good pace on a folding bike.

Sasha

Sunday 25th of April 2021

Great insights on folding bikes

Tom Stickland

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.

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