Folding Bikes in 2018–What to look for?
September 14, 2018 4:34 AM   Subscribe

I might be in the market for a folding bike to speed up the walking parts of my train commute. This is in the Boston area, and I’d be looking for something largely year-round. What’s good?

I walk about a mile to and from the train, and, depending on where I’m working during the day, may have another 3 to 6 miles of walking in my day. A bike would help speed that up. I used to bike commute when I lived downtown—though I’m certainly out of practice.

Since I have walks on both sides of the train, a folding bike would be helpful. I’d like to be able to ride year-round.

What should I be looking for? I don’t have stairs to contend with, and I don’t place a premium on being able to fold into the smallest package, provided that the folded bike will be easily transported on a commuter train. I’m male, 6’1” and 200 or so pounds.

My last year-round bike was a Specialized hybrid road bike (which I still have).

I’ve never had a disc-brake bike before—is it worth springing for, in an area like Boston?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Shopping (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure how much they are over in Boston, but the default answer in London seems to be get a Brompton. The (vast) majority of folding bikes I see on the train or being ridden when I cycle to work are Bromptons.
posted by fatfrank at 4:47 AM on September 14, 2018

My father is a folding bike aficionado. Based on discussion with him, you may want to consider the maintainability of things like the hinges. Bromptons are ubiquitous and relatively unchanged year to year, so finding parts isn't that hard. On the other extreme, apparently Bike Fridays are very difficult to source parts for and when the hinges start going it may be difficult or impossible to repair economically.

Bromptons also apparently keep their value pretty well, so when my dad's needed the hinges replaced he simply sold it on Craigslist (with the maintenance issues noted upfront) and bought a new one - that exchange ended up being cheaper than doing the repair work.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:45 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing I'd consider is why you want a folder. The Brompton folds a bit easier and smaller than, say, the Dahon (or the umpteen Dahon knockoffs). The Brompton will stand up when folded. As a bike, though, it's not quite the equal of (say) a Dahon, which - for the same bike - costs much less. I have had a Dahon Speed Pro TT (no longer made, but you can find similar) for the last 10 years. It cost less than a base model Brompton, and has a higher gear ratio (i.e. I can go up steeper hills, or faster). I have wider-than-stock tires on it, and fenders, and ride it all year - in places like Istanbul and the former Yugslav countries, where pavement and weather can be non-bike friendly. Also I'm a big fat guy, and it seems to hold up. The one thing I think is most important is to ride a bike 16" and then ride one with 20" wheels. There's a difference, and you should find out whether it matters to you. I'd totally second the Craigslist suggestion.
posted by BReed at 6:30 AM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Dahon suggestion; they're IMHO better value for money than Broms. I own a Dahon Espresso (does NOT fold compact at all, 26" wheels and the handlebar is as good as fixed, so it's not a model you would be looking at), and it's a better bike than the Specialized ATB I use for getting to the train station. I only take the Dahon when I have biking to do at the other end, which has been just very occasionally in recent years. But it's been in daily use for a while a decade back. 21 gears and medium wide tyres, so not bothered by bad or hilly roads.

And on our trains the only condition is that it folds, which it does, else you're only allowed to take your bike outside of rush hour plus you need to buy a ticket. I've had the occasional protest by train personnel that it doesn't fold very compact, but the regulations don't mention resulting size. So as long as I'm not bothering others, which I don't, I'm good.
posted by Stoneshop at 7:27 AM on September 14, 2018

I have a Brompton and quite like it. It's got a simple, sensible, robust design and folds up rather geniusly. It also rides very well -- I've done 50km rides on a variety of surfaces including dirt/gravel. They also come in configurations that are more appropriate for taller riders. I have elevated handlebars and a double-extension seat tube, and my 36" inseam can sit comfortably with my legs at full extension on the pedals.

They are expensive, though. I wouldn't buy one if you weren't planning on riding it for a decade or more to amortize the cost. Otherwise just get something cheap.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:42 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've got a Bike Friday Tikit (their current commuter "Pakit" is a bit diffferent), that I've had for about 10 years now. When I bought it I had a bit of a walk on either side of a train ride, and having a bike cut down on the time a fair amount.

Folding bike specific hings to consider:

Ease of folding. My bike folds up with just one knob, and a bump to the seat post. Takes about 20 seconds to fold or unfold. If folding/unfolding are complicated you're saving less time.

Size when folded. Some bikes fold up more than others (I think Bromptons get quite small). Probably a trade off with ease of folding.

Weight. You say you don't have stairs on your commute, so this may matter less, but worth considering if you may have to lift the bike at all. Also influences..

Moving while folded. Having a bike that can still be rolled in some way while folded is very nice. Mine has a handle at the back and rolls on the front tire, easy to maneuver and I don't have to lift it as much.

I've never been an "all weather" bike commuter, so I can't say if disk brakes are worth it, but I've heard they're nicer. I'd suggest finding a local bike shop that carries folding bikes and try them out.
posted by borkencode at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2018

I literally just got a Tern and I'm really impressed with its craftsmanship. A friend has had a Brompton for some years, and it's a nice piece of machinery which has held up well, but they are awfully expensive. Even though their bikes are far cheaper, I actually find the folding mechanism on the Terns to be both easier and more elegant. And most (maybe all?) models come with built-in fenders for all-weather riding.

Commuter bonus: the Carry-On bag makes it a breeze to bring the bike onto all forms of transit. Some transit systems require bikes to be in bags; even if yours doesn't, it's really easy to carry it around this way.
posted by halation at 3:25 PM on September 14, 2018

Bromptons are expensive, as noted, but do hold their value better than any other bike I've encountered. They work well and fold small enough that you can stand with one between your legs on a crowded train, which I don't think others will.
posted by deadwax at 4:07 PM on September 14, 2018

Look into a 3 speed Strida. If money is not an object, then the If-Mode looks better than the Brompton. Check out the videos of them folding.
posted by Sophont at 9:13 PM on September 14, 2018

Big ups for strida. I use mine daily for urban commuting (just a few miles but thru all seasons). Frequently bring it on the trains, ferries, cabs and even “ coat check “ it at restaurants. Super happy w it tho have not tried many other brands. Main downside is hard to find shops to work on them. But have not had many issues in the 8 years I’ve had this specific model.
posted by pmaxwell at 10:59 PM on September 15, 2018

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