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Gear Prudence: I have some friends who have folding bikes, and they seem to like them a lot, but I’m just not sure. They seem kind of silly. What are some advantages and disadvantages of having a bike that folds? —Fear Of Looking Dorky
Dear FOLD: Folding bikes are like better Transformers—they convert from heaps of machinery into ready-to-go transportation, but don’t further enrich Michael Bay. They take up less room in storage (leaving more space for your other bikes, which you should not try to fold) and, much like a Yorkie in a purse, can be brought inside establishments rather than locked outside (ask permission first!). That quality is especially useful at places that lack sufficient bike parking. They also can be taken on the Metro, even during rush hour when full-size bicycles are banned. There are many brands of folding bicycles, like Dahon, Tern, and Brompton, each with pros and cons and spanning a variety of price points and aesthetic preferences. (Full disclosure! I own a Brompton and am an Anglophilic snob.)
For the most part, folding bicycles ride the same as their nonfolding counterparts and can have similar gearing (their smaller size doesn’t necessarily mean more effort on the pedals) and might prove more nimble in the city, but don’t expect to win any races or easily conquer hundreds of miles. They’re not really meant for that.
The primary difference between a folding bicycle and a regular bicycle is size—folding bikes typically having smaller wheels. This might impact their handling and leave you more susceptible to potholes, road detritus, and taunts of “tiny tiny two-wheels!” from mocking schoolboys. Additionally, if you are of a certain heft or length, there may be something inescapably Gulliver-in-Lilliput/Russian circus bear to your appearance when riding one.
Nevertheless, their practicality (if not affordability—they tend to cost as much or more than their nonfolding brethren) makes them ideally suited for the space-limited urban dweller or the multimodal commuter who splits his or her trip time between bike and train. Vanity and squirreliness aside, join the fold. —GP