Even the best folding bikes compromise a number of the things a typical bike can offer, such as speed and comfort, but they are undeniably one of the best solutions for getting around town. Whether you're riding to public transport and then on to work, or you live in a studio apartment where storage space is at a premium, a foldable bike makes for reliable transportation that doesn't take up much space.
So if you've got a new job in the city, are just tired of being squashed on to public transport like a sardine, or want to slash the time it takes to walk to the office, read on for a rundown of the best folding bikes we use to rip around town – or jump to the bottom to find out what to look for in a folding bike.
Best folding bikes
Tern BYB S11
Rides like a regular bike, folds like a folder
Folded size: 33 x 78.7 x 51cm | Gears: 1x11 | Claimed weight: 12.7kg | Sizes: One size
The Tern BYB (Bring Your Bike) S11 is a 20in folder that aims to bring the ride quality of your regular bike to one that folds small enough to fit comfortably under your desk. The brand says that its double-joint design collapses down 30 per cent smaller than traditional folding models, but the joint and lock design makes for a robust frame that doesn't ride like a wet noodle.
When folded, built-in spinner wheels allow you to roll the BYB S11 along without needing to lift it, while an anchor bolt connects the front and rear dropouts, so it doesn't unfold as you make your way through train turnstiles or as you board the bus. With 20in wheels and tyres, the Tern sees a 1x11 Shimano Ultegra drivetrain – including a Shadow rear mech – with an 11-32T cassette paired with a 54T front chainring.
Tern Link C8
Entry-level folding bike that will fit in a luggage rack
Folded size: 39.5 x 80 x 73cm | Gears: 1x8 | Claimed weight: 12.8kg | Sizes: One size
Tern's C8 is one of the brand's entry-level folding bikes, which transitions easily and compacts right down. Using the brand's FBL two-joint frame design, the top tube breaks away in the middle, and the wheels are stuck together with the brands Magnetix 2.0 dropout latch.
The C8 has 20in wheels that are finished in Schwalbe's Impact BigPack tyres, which have decent air volume and good puncture protection. The C8 has eight gears at the back, complete with a Shimano Tourney mech and grip shifter on the bars for maximum reliability with minimal maintenance. At the front, the bike uses Tern's Physis 3D Handlepost, which is made using 3D-forging so the structure is a single piece, removing the need for welds and increasing stiffness.
The gold standard in folding bikes at a price you can afford
Folded size: 58.5 x 56.5 x 27.0 cm | Gears: 1x3 | Claimed weight: 11.76kg | Sizes: One
Brompton bikes are considered the gold standard in folding bikes for their foldability, reliability and comfort. The B75 is the brand's most affordable build, with a steel frame and a simple spec, featuring Brompton's M-type U-shaped handlebar and 16in wheels and tyres. While the B75 is a bit cheaper than the standard Brompton, it's sold as an off-the-rack model, rather than the fully custom experience.
It has three gears and uses Brompton's wide-range gear hub, produced exclusively for the brand by Sturmey Archer. At the back, all Bromptons have an elastomer between the front and rear triangles, which acts as a simple-yet-effective bump absorber. Better still, the Water Blue colourway is one of the best paint jobs Brompton does.
Dahon IOS D9
Best for if you have a lot of ground to cover
Folded size: 76 x 44 x 87cm | Gears: 1x9 | Claimed weight: 13kg | Sizes: One Size
Rolling on 24in wheels and tyres, the Dahon IOSD9 is the ideal folding bike if you have a longer commute. With the bigger wheels, the IOS D9 also has a 9-speed Shimano Alivio drivetrain, with an 11-32 rear block and a 53T chainring to satisfy your need for speed. When a stoplight turns red, or the busy-busy businessman who is too busy to look up from his phone steps out in front of you, the mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors will help you avoid a collision.
With the large wheels, the bike doesn't fold down to be quite as compact as some of the others, but it'll still fit under your desk, and it only takes about 20 seconds to transition. With an aluminium frame and the bigger wheels, it's not offensively heavy, either, and shouldn't give you too much trouble as you climb the stairs up to a train platform.
Raleigh Stowaway 7
Budget folder equipped with mudguards and a rack
Folded size: TBC | Gears: 1x7 | Claimed weight: 13kg | Sizes: One size
Raleigh's Stowaway sees an aluminium frame and a single-hinge design for a simple folding process. There are magnets to hold the 20in wheels together in storage mode, and the bike comes stock with mudguards and a rear rack.
The majority of the components are Raleigh's own, including the tyres, crank and bars, although the drivetrain is a Shimano Revo/Tourney 7-speed mix, with a 14-28T cassette and 48T crankset.
The best-looking folding bike of the bunch
Folded size: TBC | Gears: 1x3 | Claimed weight: 15kg | Sizes: One Size
The Dawes Diamond is a sleek-looking folder with a 6061 aluminium frame and a three-point locking mechanism to keep the central pivot point secure. The three-speed Shimano Nexus hub is controlled by a grip shifter, for what will essentially be a maintenance-free drivetrain.
The bike comes with mudguards and a rear rack, and Dawes has even specced skin-wall tyres to complete the aesthetic of the bike, although they do have a reflective strip; this is a commuter after all. At 15kg, it's anything but a featherweight, but it's definitely one of the least dorky-looking folders on the market.
Best folding e-bikes
Best folding electric bike for compact size
Folded size: 56.5 x 58.5 x 27.0cm | Gears: 3 | Claimed weight: 11.6kg | Sizes: One size
With the popularity of e-bikes, especially for commuters, it's no surprise that London outfit Brompton has jumped on board with its own pedal-assist bike. Everything about the bike is what you'd expect from Brompton, including the M-type shaped handlebar, its compact size when folded and the Sturmey Archer wide-range gear hub, with the addition of pedal assist.
Brompton opted for a 250W front-hub-based motor with a 300Wh removable battery pack, with a claimed range between 30km and 70km. Brompton says the charge time is four hours with the included charger, or two hours with the available-for-purchase fast charger. Tipping the scales at little over 16kg, and considering that some of the other bikes on this list weigh nearly as much, it's a very respectable figure.
Tern Vektron S10
Best folding electric bike for speed
Folded size: 41 x 86 x 68cm | Gears: 1x10 | Claimed weight: 22.1kg | Sizes: One Size
Tern's Vektron is a folding e-bike that's all about getting you to your destination as quickly as possible. Using a Bosch Active Line Plus motor, which has 25 per cent more torque than its predecessor and is said to be 20-per cent lighter, the bike does still weigh a hefty 22kg. The frame has been updated to lower the centre of gravity, however, so that the bike doesn't become 'tippy' when the rear rack, which is rated to carry 27kg, is fully loaded.
Tern uses its heaviest-duty OCL+ frame joint, which uses a single shaft design, advanced welding techniques and bombproof gussets to maintain rigidity. To rein in all this weight and power is a set of Magura MT4 Hydraulic disc brakes, while a Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain gets everything moving again.
How to choose
Bigger wheels roll faster, carry speed better and offer more stability, while smaller wheels are lighter, more manoeuvrable and allow a bike to fold down smaller. Folding bikes come with wheels in sizes ranging from pint-sized 16in hoops all the way up to traditional 700c rollers, with most folding bikes based around 20in wheels.
If you have a long distance to cover, consider upping the wheel size for the increased efficiency. Alternatively, if you have heaps of stairs to climb before boarding a packed train, smaller wheels and tyres may suit you better.
Quite a lot of bikes have a one-size-fits-all frame but have a glut of quick releases and miles of adjustments to make the bikes fit most bodies. That said, if you can dunk a basketball without jumping, you may struggle to find a folder that fits, while the more vertically challenged will have a much easier time.
The whole selling point of a folding bike is the fact that in a few seconds it can go from bike to compacted storage. However, if it takes as many steps as an origami crane, steer clear.
Also, consider the quality and number of joints. The more joints, the smaller the bike will be folded. However, it also introduces more points for flex, which can make for vague handling and pedalling.
Folding electric bikes
We're seeing a lot more pedal-assist folding bikes these days, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 250-watt motors will help you get to your destination without breaking a sweat; on the other hand, some can weigh ~20kg, which if you encounter many stairs on your way to the office will definitely leave you a sweaty mess.