If you are like a lot of New Yorkers, you may have trouble finding a safe and dry place to put your bike at home. Your tiny apartment refuses to budge another inch, and the street seems to be the place bikes get left to find new owners. You may also want to ride to work, but parking is hard to find. If you try to take your bike into your building, the concierge looks at your bike as if it was a giant wheeled rat and refuses to let you onto the elevator. You may also long to take your bike along on a trip that requires transit, but cannot because of rush hour restrictions or outright bans on bicycles on trains or buses. The solution you are looking for might be a folding bike.
Folding bikes can be taken with you right into your apartment, onto elevators, and into your office. This works particularly well if you also cover your bike so that no one has the chance to register "bike" and react to it.
Folding bikes also only rarely suffer the indignity of being stolen, because for the most part, the bike does not leave your sight. No more of that anticipation and dread as you walk back to your street-parked bike: "Will it still be there today?" There is also no need to carry a heavy NYC-proof lock with you while riding.
Throw away your assumptions about rickety, heavy folding bicycles that are hard to fold, fall apart while you are riding, perform badly, give you a bad ride, or require a lot of pedaling. There are now many good quality makes and models to choose from that alternately optimize ease of folding and folding size, performance, ride, and price.
Common to almost all models is that the handling is more responsive than on a full-size bike, and that can take some getting used to. It is not advised that you ride a folding bike with no hands or try any cute stunts. Gears on small-wheeled folding bikes are higher to compensate, but limited gearing on some models may slow you down. If that is a major concern for you, you might want to look more toward higher end "performance" folding bikes. If you plan to take a lot of trips that utilize transit, a bike that folds quickly and compactly may be best for you. If you are a tall rider, you may want to check out how each type of folding bike can adjust to fit you.
As with any purchase, ask yourself how you plan to use the bike and try to find the one that matches your needs best. Remember that you often get what you pay for and that a lower-quality bike may make you wish you had bought a better bike in the first place. The better quality folding bikes may seem expensive, but considering that a typical non-folding bike takes up 20 square feet in an apartment, you'll save perhaps $10,000 over ten years by being able to get a slightly smaller apartment. So you can't afford not to buy a good-quality folding bike.
Be aware that folding bikes are not for the shy. You will be asked about your bike constantly on the streets of New York, so get ready to be a spokesperson for whatever bike you choose. Folding bikes are apparently the most thrilling sight many New Yorkers have ever seen!
Listed below are some of the most popular brands in alphabetical order. Where possible, quotes from current owners have been included.
Bike Friday - this high-end brand offers many types of folding bikes for those most concerned with performance. All Bike Fridays use 20" wheels and are built to fit into a suitcase for travel. Many also quick-fold and fit into a travel bag for use in commuting. A typical "stock" model (most Bike Fridays are custom made) quick-folds in 30 seconds to 27" X 27" X10" and weighs in at 24 pounds. Bike Fridays range in price from about $730 for a stock model to about $3400 for their best custom-made bikes. To ask questions about the Bike Friday, subscribe to the Bike Friday discussion list at www.bikefriday.com/community/the_yak. www.bikefriday.com, 1-800-777-0258.
"[My Bike Friday] represents the pinnacle of 31 years of cycling for me. It is incredibly well designed and features excellent, predictable road manners consistent with high end road bikes. Steering response is very quick due to the lack of gyroscopic force in the front end. Low wheel mass makes for excellent acceleration and climbing. A delight to ride and own."
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Birdy - this German-engineered performance folding bike offers a full front and rear suspension and a light aluminum frame with options for 7 or 21 gears. It weighs in at a light 22 to 24 pounds and folds down to 34" X 22" X 11" in about 15 seconds. To see a demonstration of Birdy folding process, click here. The Birdy costs from $750-$1000 and can be checked out and purchased locally at Bicycle Habitat, Larry and Jeff's [1400 Third Avenue | 1690 Second Avenue].
Brompton - sometimes referred to as the "Jaguar" of folding bicycles, this British import folds smaller than any other model into a package that locks together and keeps the chain away from your clothes. It also can coast about in its folded state on suitcase-style casters (with optional rollerblade wheels for really covering distance). There is also an optional cover and saddle bag combo that turns this bike into a nondescript rolling black canvas object that cannot be identified as a bike (suitable for all "stealth" infiltrations of bike-unfriendly buildings). With its rear suspension, the Brompton is also known for its exceptional ride for a folding bike with 16" wheels. Price: about $700 for the simplest model, $1300 for a fully accessorized version with lights, fenders, a carrier, more gears, a cover, and a framed bag that attaches to the front of the bike. Its dimensions, when folded, are 22" X 22" X 10" and it ranges in weight from 24-28 pounds, depending on accessories. The Brompton folds in about 15 seconds. To see a demonstration of the folding process of the Brompton in animated .gif format, click here. Visit one of NYC's Brompton retailers at nycewheels.com.
"I never lock my Brompton. I just fold it and carry it with me. I have several bikes, and at 24 lbs my Brompton is the lightest bike I've got! I take it in its sack on the Long Island Railroad and everybody assumes its just a large soft-sided attache case. The bike is quite nimble but is not the fastest two wheeler on the street. I wouldn't want to ride it to Chicago but its great for errands around town and the trip between Penn Station and Wall Street or for a leisurely trip from my home on Long Island to anywhere within 25 miles or so."
Dahon - a full 60% of all folding bikes sold in the U.S. are made by Dahon. A quick survey of NYC bike shops shows that just about everyone is selling them. One particular model seems to stand out: the aluminum-framed Presto that weighs in at just 20 pounds, making it the lightest production folding bike in the world. Its folded dimensions are 28" X 20" X 11" (with 16" wheels). The Piccolo (based on the Dahon Classic, a very popular older model) has similar dimensions but a steel frame that makes it weigh in at 26 pounds. In addition to other 16" models, Dahon also offers many other attractive models of folding bikes with 20" and 26" wheels that fold into larger packages and offer better performance and ride. Prices range from $200 for a simple 20" wheeled model to $900 for a full-size mountain bike. Dahons fold in about 15 seconds. www.dahon.com (Bikes can be ordered through many local bike shops or from B-Fold, www.bfold.com, 212 529-7247).
"The bike has been a pleasure to ride and performs as well as most of my other road bikes - the shifting is exceptional. Since the Department of Transportation has moved out of our City Hall offices the Dahon has been a lifesaver as I use it downtown to get from meeting to meeting. I must admit I get far more looks from people on this bike, and more questions, than I ever have about any other bicycle I've owned. Which is great as use of the bicycle is what my job is all about."
Bicycle Coordinator, Department of Transportation, City of Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Montague - this maker offers only full-size folding bikes that are fairly light (around 30 pounds) but have correspondingly large folding sizes (36" x 28" x 12") Prices range from $395 to $645, and a soft carrying bag is an option. If you are looking to avoid the small wheels of some brands and perhaps want a good full-size bike that just happens to fold, this may be a good choice. Montagues fold in 30 seconds without tools.
Moulton - this rugged British bike with a full suspension appears to be designed to compete with full-size bikes and win - the Moulton holds the world speed record for bicycles of conventional riding position at 51 MPH. The Moulton's unconventional cruciform "separable, not folding" frame is made of a lattice of small diameter tubes that make the bike light yet stiff and efficient. Its small high-pressure tires actually perform better than full-size tires in a variety of ways. The newest versions also offer a fully adjustable handlebar that allows the bike to adapt to urban, touring, and racing uses. The more you learn about this bike, the more it seems to be designed not so much to travel compactly (which it is) but actually to be superior in design, performance, and versatility to a standard frame bike. A typical Moulton weighs about 22 pounds and separates to take up about as much space as other small folding bikes, although folding time/size is not touted for this brand. Prices range from under $1500 up to $8000. www.moultonbicycles.co.uk.
Strida - what is with these Brits? They certainly are a creative bunch when it comes to folding bikes. The British Strida truly reinvents the concept of the bicycle. Its triangle frame is like nothing you have ever seen and its greaseless Kevlar belt drive (rated to last 100,000 miles) will never smudge your clothes. It folds in seven seconds (the shortest folding time of any model featured here) into a rolling, 22 pound walking stick with the dimensions of 44" X 20" X 20". This one is sure to turn heads. The Strida ranges in price from $430 to $680, depending on how many of the many nice accessories you get. T.A. members get free shipping just for mentioning T.A. in their phone or internet order. www.strida.com.
"For sightseeing, as opposed to long, hard rides, the Strida is in a class of its own. I recommend it to anyone who likes to get around, and doesn't mind being the life of the boardwalk or the park or wherever they are riding."
Garden City, New York
Swift Folder - here's another folding bike option for those who want a good, fast folding bike at a reasonable price. Swift Folders are manufactured in Brooklyn with the New York City rider in mind. All Swift Folders are made to order, but models can range from 22-30 pounds and a typical Swift Folder costs around $750. It quick-folds in 10 seconds to a size that will get you onto most elevators. It folds down to 32" X 22" X 11" in about a minute, making it possible to put it into a duffle bag that you can use to tote it around in an inconspicuous manner (hint: we know of no elevators in which duffle bags are prohibited!). Swift Folders are available at various New York City area shops including the Hub, Bikeworks, and Recycle-a-Bicycle, where less expensive versions are featured (made with some used parts). www.swiftfolder.com, 1-800-884-5541.
"Folded, my Swift Folder fits through revolving doors and I can pass through the lobby before most security guys know what is happening. I can fold it with two simple levers and a couple half twists, it fits in the coat closet at the office, it is extremely stable for a folding bike, and I can take it on NJ Transit AT ALL TIMES!"
Outside New York
NYCE Wheels is a local shop specializing in folding bikes. They carry many of the brands listed on this page so that you can check them out in person, or www.nycewheels.com.
Web site visitors have also made us aware of PBW folding bikes,and Breezer Bikes as other folding bike options.
Want to read about more folding bikes? A buyer's guide to a wider selection of folding bikes appeared in A2B Magazine and is available here. Another more detailed buyer's guide is published by the Folding Society and is available here. The Folding Society is probably the single most detailed Web site on the subject of folding bikes and should be able to give you the answer to almost any question. Also take a look at