What makes a folding bicycle so difficult to ride?

  • I got a folding bike from Citizen (like the Miami) with dreams that I could take it on the road with me when I go to conferences but it's REALLY hard to ride very far with it. Is it because of the little 20 inch wheels? Are the more expensive folding bikes easier to ride?

    By, "hard to ride" I mean that after a few miles on relatively level ground I get tired of riding whereas on a regular bike I could ride those same miles and I'm hardly affected. Kids had trouble too... they noticed it took way more effort to ride the small bike.

    We have no idea what kind of folding bike you have. Pictures?

    We really need more information to give you a good answer. What make/model of bike do you have? Include a picture? Especially include pictures of the wheels and the folding points. Give us more information about what you mean by "hard".

    I suspect that the geometries of the pictured Citizen bikes are not very good. The wheelbase seems too short, among other things. In addition, the handlebars do not appear to be designed for good comfort.

    every day coming back from work, there's one guy (or kid, can't tell, he's 6") on a foldable bike that just goes flying past me. every damn time. and it's one of those extremely small wheels... feels bad man.

    "Forgetting to unfold it before riding" should probably be in the top ten...

    Comparing the Citizen image to a Bike Friday image one thing I notice right away is that the Citizen's head angle is quite shallow. This is no doubt to increase the wheelbase without extending the frame, but it makes steering quite unstable. The Bike Friday also has longer chain stays.

  • Some folding bikes are quite good for long distances. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be optimized for short hops, by design (or by the fact of their design limitations). You're correct in thinking that more expensive folding bikes can be much easier to ride, where the money is going for stuff like custom configuration or (even a custom-built frame). Folding bikes aren't unique in this regard, but economies of scale place additional limitations on them.

    Fit Limitations

    How to properly fit a bike has been covered in detail elsewhere, so I won't get into issues of seatpost height, reach, bar height, bar width, and so on. But most mass-market folding bikes seem to be built in a one-size-fits-none design.

    It is quite possible to get a folding bike that's sized properly. However, since folding bikes are a small slice of the bicycle market, they're somewhat pricier. And keeping several frame sizes in circulation is even more expensive. Until more people buy folders, I think we're gonna keep having this problem. And very tall or very short people (or very heavy people--most folders have a weight limit of 200-225 pounds) have a lot of trouble finding folding bikes that will fit.

    Frame Flex

    Bikes that have frame hinges--like Citizens, and Dahons (and their clones) and the Raleigh 20's--are subject to frame flex. This can be combated by keeping the hinge joint tight, but many of these bikes will never be as stiff as a bike without a frame hinge.

    Essentially, when sitting in the saddle, if you can move the handlebar forward and back, you've got frame flex. Some bikes can also have a flexy stem post, creating similar problems.)

    (The Raleigh 20 has an angled hinge joint that, I'm told, mitigates the problem. From test-riding one, I'm inclined to agree with that; the bike didn't feel flexy at all.)

    Smaller Wheels

    Also, smaller wheels do tend to be a little "squirrely", in that they're harder to control. This does tend to be more if an issue with 16" wheels than 20" wheels, however.

    This is fairly self-correcting, though, and it's something that the rider learns to compensate for fairly quickly. Until that point, though, it can impact the rider's ability to use the bike for longer rides.


    Most folding bikes come with flat bars. As with all bikes, the more potential hand positions you have, the happier you'll be on longer rides. Bar ends will do this, and you may be able to fit them on the bike without compromising its ability to fold.


    "Do you have to pedal faster with those small wheels?" It's a common misconception that small wheels make the cyclist work harder. When properly geared, small wheels can perform well.

    However, many folding bikes come with three-speed hubs, for a variety of reasons. (Less maintenance, cheaper and lighter than 7 or 8 speed hubs, and derailers can get your pants leg messy when you have a folding bike on the train.) This is only an issue if you have hills, and it's not one of your specific concerns, but it is a factor for general use of folding bikes.

    However, faster gears can make a longer ride more pleasurable--and shorter. My 3-speed folder tops out around 26 MPH, which means it's not so great for a long day of touring. (For some, speed isn't an issue, so this won't matter to parient riders in very flat areas.)

    I wonder how much the smaller wheels would hurt your momentum. I can coast on my road bike for quite a while, but think smaller wheels, with their much higher RMP would incur more friction (in the bearings), not to mention smaller bumps causing them to slow down.

    @Kibbee - That's my experience, yes; small wheels don't coast as well. However, they accelerate like mad. (I can blow away most roadies when riding my Bike Friday - or even my Dahon - away from a red light, but they lose me on the flats.)

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM