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Best folding bike 2021: Ideal singlespeed and geared folding bikes from £350 - Expert Reviews

Best folding bike 2021: Ideal singlespeed and geared folding bikes from £350 – Expert Reviews

If you only have room for one bike, then you should probably make it a folding one. These versatile machines allow you to switch seamlessly between pedal power and public transport – you can ride to work in the morning sunshine, and if the weather turns rainy you can just pick up your bike and hop on the train. They take up far less space than a normal bike, too, meaning you can pop them in the hallway, under the stairs, or in the boot of your car. And as you can carry them into a cafe or office without thinking twice about it, they’re much less likely to get pinched.

But with tons of choice on the market, which is the best folding bike to buy? We’ve taken the time to ride and review most of the big names out there, and here you’ll find a handy buying guide which explains the features to look out for, followed by our pick of the best folding bikes on the market.

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Best folding bike: At a glance

How to buy the best folding bike for you

Conventional bikes only need to do one thing well. Folding bikes need to do three. That makes designing a great folding bike a real engineering challenge for manufacturers, as they have to balance the requirements of an efficient folding mechanism, easy portability, and ride characteristics that echo their full size counterparts. You won’t be surprised to hear that not every folding bike manages to get the balance right.

There are upsides and downsides to almost every design decision. Compact folded packages are more convenient to carry, but bikes with very small wheels can be twitchy to ride. Light bikes are more efficient to ride and lug around, but tend to cost more. Multiple gears can make your progress uphill less taxing, but are hard to integrate into small wheels.

Which features should I look out for?

At the heart of every bike is its frame. This can be made from a range of materials including ultralight carbon fibre, middleweight aluminium, or the heaviest and most rugged option, steel.

Bolted to this are the wheels, which come in different sizes and affect both the ride and the folding characteristics of the bike – as a rule, bigger wheels roll more easily over bumps and imperfections in the road.

Most people will want to look for a model with gears, as these allow both faster and slower riders to pick a resistance level which suits their legs best. Without gears, hills may turn into an out-of-the-saddle struggle. With everything from minimalist single speed options all the way up to models with ten gears, there’s something for every budget and experience level.

It’s worth paying attention to the little details, too. Mudguards are a good addition – firstly because nothing can dampen your newfound enthusiasm for cycling like a soggy bottom, but also because they’ll allow you to wear smart work clothes for short rides without worrying about getting covered in grime.

Finally, it’s well worth looking out for puncture-resistant tyres, as these will cut down the amount of time you spend laid up at the side of the road with flats. Some manufacturers may try to cut weight with lighter tyres, but these are a waste of time for a commuter bike. As it‘s generally trickier to remove the wheels on a folding bike, you want to avoid punctures as much as is humanly possible.

How much do I need to spend?

As folding bikes need to do more than their non-folding siblings it makes sense to invest a little extra. If you’ve not ridden a bike since childhood, £300 might seem like a lot of cash to drop. However this is the minimum you’ll need to spend to get a bike that’s both comfortable and durable. It’s also possible to spend many multiples of that amount if you so wish. Compare it to the cost of a travelcard or a gym membership over the course of several months, though, and it won’t look so expensive after all.

There is also the cost of ongoing maintenance to consider. This is where more expensive machines can come into their own, as they’ll often require less regular intervention to keep them running smoothly thanks to more durable components.

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The best folding bikes to buy

1. Brompton M3L: The best all-round folding bike

Price: From £1,175 | Buy now from Halfords

A design classic, the Brompton is the very definition of refinement. Unusual in a premium bike, it uses steel for its frame and structural parts, and while this is normally associated with more budget options, it’s employed here to boost durability. Perhaps this is why it’s not unusual to see Bromptons going strong after over a decade of service. With every model meticulously constructed at the brand’s London factory, the quality control and after-sales service are simply second to none.

As each bike comes custom-built, you can choose your preferred gearing, ride position and extras. Our personal favourite is the classic all-steel M3L, which features a comfortable, upright ‘M-type’ ride position, three-speed internal gearing, and mudguards. Lower or higher handlebars are also available, alongside models with lighter single- or two-speed gearing, or a six-speed hub option for more challenging rides. Riders after the lowest weight (and a far lighter wallet) can also select a super light model, which uses titanium parts.

Whichever you choose, the folding mechanism is smooth and easy to operate, and creates one of the smallest collapsed packages available – it’s really quite brilliant.

Key specs – Folded size: 58 x 56 x 27cm; Wheel size: 16in; Weight: 11.6kg; Frame material: Steel; Gears: 3-speed internal; Extras: Rack and mud guards

Buy now from Halfords

2. B’Twin Tilt 500 Electric: The best budget electric folding bike

Price: £900 | Buy now from Decathlon

This electric folding bike is so cheap, it feels like the electrical parts have been chucked in for free. In fact, on first glance, the removable battery appears to be missing entirely, hidden as it is inside the frame. This sort of trick is normally found on more expensive models, and it’s a cool feature, although in other areas the Tilt’s budget pricing is more obvious.

Chief among these is its weight, which combines with a portly folded size to make carrying a bit of a chore. Then there are the v-brakes and basic finishing kit. Yet, given the cost, it’s hard to see the Tilt as anything other than exceptional value, especially with mudguards and lights fitted as standard.

With big, 20in wheels and an adjustable handlebar, the ride is assured and will be comfortable whatever your height. Powering the bike forward, its 250W brushless hub motor offers three assistance modes. Oddly, these relate to the maximum speed up to which the assistance is given rather than the degree of help provided. Spanning Eco (10mph), Normal (14mph), and Sport (15.5mph), we reckon most riders will leave it permanently in the last of these.

Key specs – Folded size: 83 x 67 x 45cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 18.6kg; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 6-speed; Extras: Mudguards and lights

Buy now from Decathlon

3. B’Twin Tilt 500: The best folding bike under £500

Price: £350 | Buy now from Decathlon

Decathlon’s fully-equipped B’Twin Tilt 500 is the cheapest folder we’re happy to recommend. Proving that bottom-of-the-market doesn’t mean bottom-of-the-barrel, it features 7-speed Shimano gearing and a weight-saving aluminium frame.

It also comes fitted with everything you need to get underway, including integrated lights, mudguards, kickstand, and a chain guard. Great for both safety and ease of use, having these pre-fitted will save you a pretty sum when compared to purchasing each one later.

With 20in wheels and a basic folding mechanism that sees the handlebar remaining outside the collapsed package, the Tilt 500 isn’t the easiest bike to carry once folded. However, it’s quick to convert and makes a great first folder.

There are some things to bear in mind, though. For instance, while the saddle will keep your bum happy for shorter trips, longer journeys will have you wishing for a better-quality seat to cushion your posterior. And while it’s nice to see a rack and mudguards included as standard, the rest of the components are more basic. If you use it a lot, you’d better be prepared to spend a significant chunk of the purchase price on its first service.

Key specs – Folded size: 78 x 66 x 44cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 12.9kg; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 7-speed; Extras: Rack, mudguards, and lights

Buy now from Decathlon

4. Hummingbird Single Speed: The best folding bike for speed and lightness

Price: £3,745 | Buy now from Conran Shop

If only the stiffest, lightest folding bike in the world will do, then we have some bad news: you’re going to need some serious cash at your disposal. The Hummingbird is a no-expense-spared vision of the ultimate 6.9kg folding bike. Handmade in the UK from carbon fibre, it’s laden with the kind of high-end components that would have any cyclist drooling with excitement.

Its feather-light monocoque carbon mainframe is paired with an aluminium rear swingarm, and its folding mechanism is ingenious. Simply tuck one half underneath the other, then pivot the handlebar downward to set it flush against the side of the bike. The process is quick and the result both feels secure and is extremely convenient to carry. It is admittedly a little longer than a Brompton when folded, but it’s still thin enough to tuck comfortably behind a train seat.

The Hummingbird’s low weight, high stiffness and racy wheels make it one of the fastest-rolling folding bikes money can buy. This version runs on a single speed drive system, although a four-speed hub gear model is also available, along with an option fitted with an e-assist motor. The only major sticking point is whether you can actually afford it.

Key specs – Folded size: 85 x 55 x 20cm; Wheel size: 16in; Weight: 6.9kg; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Gears: Single-speed; Extras: n/a

Buy now from Conran Shop

5. Carrera Transit: The best folding bike for riders who prize rideability over folded size

Price: £350 | Buy now from Halfords

A lightweight aluminium frame and durable Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub gear help the Carrera Transit perform well above its price bracket. Simplifying its design, boosting service intervals, and sloughing off weight, we were more than happy to put up with the limited trio of gears in return for these benefits.

With larger than average 20in wheels, it promises stable handling and stately progress. However, the flip side is a slightly increased folded size. With the handlebar collapsing down to sit between the two sides of the frame, its bulk is offset by a moderate overall weight that makes carrying it an acceptable, if not quite joyful experience.

At least part of this volume is accounted for by the inclusion of a rack, mudguards and kickstand, which means the Transit comes ready for everything from weekend expeditions to taking on the daily commute.

With the sort of parts you’d expect given the price, the saddle might be an early candidate for an upgrade, although the excellent Shimano gearing should give you decades of happy service.

Key specs – Folded size: 35 x 85 x 68cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 14kg; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub; Extras: Rack and mudguards

Buy now from Halfords

6. Brompton M2L Electric: The best electric folding bike

Price: £2,725 | Buy now from Pure Electric

King of the folders, all Bromptons come with a princely price tag – so it’s no surprise this electrified version also adds a chunk to the headline cost. But will its new battery and motor tempt more people to commute by bicycle?

Probably. Already one of the better-to-ride small wheelers, nothing competes with a Brompton in terms of durability and ease of folding. Now with the power to accelerate away from the lights, wizz up hills, and lug heavy luggage without breaking a sweat, it’s even better.

If you’re happy to shoulder the extra weight and cost, that is. Never the lightest, the steel Brompton’s new hub motor adds around 3kg and, clipping in place of the front pannier, the battery adds the same again. Carrying both therefore requires a strong arm, although when pedalling with the power on this is an irrelevance.

Looking much like a standard model, the electric parts are well integrated. Yet, having teased its release for years, many had expected something more radical. Little different from the aftermarket kits for electrifying your Brompton, they add 6kg and around £1,640, while robbing riders of valuable carry space.

With a range of around 20 miles in lazy mode, or up to 45 miles if you work harder, it’s all very workman-like, although maybe we were expecting a touch more va va voom.

Key specs – Folded size: 58 x 56 x 27cm; Wheel size: 16in; Weight: 16.6kg; Frame material: Steel; Gears: 2-speed; Extras: Mudguards

Buy now from Pure Electric

7. Tern Verge X11: The best-performing folding bike

Price: £2,600 | Buy now from Tredz

Tern is a name well known in folding bike circles and it tends to a variety of cycling needs— whether you want to commute across town or set off on a full blown adventure, Tern has you covered. The Verge X11 however, has one sole focus: speed.

If you consider yourself something of a bike nerd, then you may recognise some of the many highly sought after components. Like the Shimano Deore hydraulic disc brakes, SRAM Force X1 gears, German Schwalbe tyres, ultra wide gear ratio and Ergon finishing kit.

Weighing in at a mere 10kg, the Verge X11 allows you to race to work (safely of course), and fold it under your desk with no issues. It’ll also fit in your regular baggage allowance on a flight, so if you’re after a bike for some slightly more adventurous biking overseas, this could be the one for you. With a full range of gears, recognisable and respected components and a very low weight, this is a folding bike that guarantees performance and a full-sized feel.

Key specs – Folded size: 38 x 80 x 74cm; Wheel size: 22in; Weight: 10kg; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: SRAM Force 1x; Extras: N/A

Buy now from Tredz

8. Vello Alfine 11: Best minimalist folding bike

Price: £2,699 | Buy now from Selfridges

With above-average 20in wheels, a svelte steel frame and integrated suspension damper, this Vello Alfine 11 is one of the tidiest folding bikes around. Somehow fitting a ride similar to that of a full size bike into a small package, the Vello does a lot to justify the lofty asking price.

Its magnetic clasp system and backwards folding fork are two thoughtful design choices that make the bike both unique and easy to fold away. We’re happy to report that its range of internal gears, powerful disk brakes and its belt-drive are all low maintenance and run as smoothly as you’d expect from a bike that costs such a premium.

With such a great quality of both the build and ride, you’d think that Vello’s bikes would be seen on the roads more frequently. Its designers seem to be some way ahead of its dealers though, as its distribution appears to be quite sporadic. Hopefully, with the design quality and the brand’s move into the electric market, this changes soon!

Key specs – Folded size: 57 x 79 x 29cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 13kg; Frame material: Steel; Gears: Alfine 11 speed internal gear hub ; Extras: N/A

Buy now from Selfridges

9. Tern BYB P8: The best folding bike when you want big wheels but a small fold

Price: £1,200 | Buy now from John Lewis

This new design from Tern slims down the bike’s folded size while boosting the durability and stiffness of its constituent components. To do this, it adds a second pivot point to the frame. When combined with the hinge that sits below the handlebars, the bike now folds into a tiny package, although the process of getting it there is rather more involved.

After a lengthy learning period, it’s the work of around a minute. Once shrunk, this 20in wheel bike sits upright to take up a minimum of space, and can easily be wheeled around thanks to the casters on its rear rack

On the road, its bigger wheels and near full-size geometry give an excellent ride, which is improved still further by the wide range of gears. Much of the flex found on older Tern bikes is gone, the horrible magnetic clasp has been replaced by a solid mechanical anchor point, and other than the naff plastic chain guard the parts are of solid quality. However, the BYB’s selling point remains its full-sized ride and excellent gearing, while the fold remains something to be endured rather than celebrated.

Key specs – Folded size: 35 x 81 x 52cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 13.3kg; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 8-speed; Extras: Mudguards, kickstand, rack

Buy now from John Lewis

10. AC Atto: The best folding bike for lowkey simplicity and exceptional functionality

Price: £2,750 | Buy now from Austin Cycles

The AC Atto works hard to justify its headline price, with a monocoque carbon frame and exceptional parts list. Employing an 11-speed hub gear system, a belt drive, disc brakes, and internal cable routing, it both looks slick and is extremely durable.

Choosing to employ larger, 20in wheels, its ride characteristics are less skittish than those of a smaller-wheeled bike. This quality is enhanced by the stiffness of the carbon frame and further underwritten by the powerful hydraulic brakes and medium-width tyres.

With most of its vital parts hidden out of harm’s way, the Atto is free of oily bits that might mess up your clothes, while also forming a very neat package once folded.

Finished with components that wouldn’t look out of place on a top-flight racer, including deep section carbon rims, a titanium railed saddle and carbon handlebar and seatpost, the result is an equally feathery overall weight. The single-speed version weighs 7.8kg, while the 11-speed hub edition tips the scales at 9.8kg. Both are therefore easily light enough to make riding and carrying a joy.

Key specs – Folded size: 38 x 65 x 75cm; Wheel size: 20in; Weight: 9.8kg; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Gears: 11-speed internal hub; Extras: n/a

Buy now from Austin Cycles