# What attributes should I look for in an inexpensive multi-purpose folding bike?

I have been considering a folding bike, it would be multipurpose, for short rides of 10 miles or less. I think I want multiple gears, as it may be used as part of Canoe Advventures

My primary motivation is decreased storage and transporting space.

I'm hoping for some attributes. There are a lot of variables in the inexpensive folding bike market, wheel size, where they fold, how the connections are tightened, frame height and it's relation to seat post length and handlebar placement.

I am specifically not asking at the Bicycle sister site, as I want what they consider a BSO i.e. too cheap to be a real bicycle, hence not worthy of a good answer.

• – Charlie Brumbaugh Jun 14 '18 at 18:06
• Make sure you have a bike that fits you, with a bike that is not the best fit you will not want to ride 3 miles on it, much less 10. – Willeke Jun 14 '18 at 20:35
• This would be a better fit on bicycles.stackexchange.com. They will answer inexpensive bike questions. BSO is not the same as inexpensive. BSO means it will cost you more even in the first 300-600 miles than a valid bike. A BSO may not even have standard parts. What to look for is not dependent on cost. Cheap and value are NOT the same. – paparazzo Jun 14 '18 at 23:42
• Also, at bicycles.se the general attitude towards BSOs isn't so much "don't ride them" as "don't throw money at them" - and answers you get here are most likely to from people who are active there anyway – Chris H Jun 15 '18 at 5:59
• You can still get it migrated, just raise a mod flag and ask nicely. – Charlie Brumbaugh Jun 16 '18 at 0:33

BSO stands for Bicycle Shaped Object. Or department store bike.

Bicycle people are not down on them for being cheap. They are down on them for low value. Even at $100 it is not a good value. Characteristics of a BSO is not just cheap parts but non standard parts. When they do break (which won't be long) it will be hard to replace the part. Some times they do not even honor standards. It might have a non-standard bottom bracket or head set. Also safety. BSO is just not as strong. If it fails you can get hurt. You have lot more leverage on a folding with long seat tube and handle bars to the frame. It takes more stress than a full size bike. Start with a bike that has standard parts and standard sizing of components. It can be the cheapest Shimano, SRAM ... groups. If components are not stamped with a known manufacturer then no. In bikes there a value point where the cost of ownership optimized. As you spend more initially the cost of maintenance goes down. Then you get to a point the components are for weight / speed and more expensive parts and the cost of maintenance goes up. In a regular bike where is that max value is debatable but some where around$600 - $800 retail. For me max value is to find a bike that was$1200 new and pick it up used for $400. I don't know as much about folding but that sweet spot will likely be more. Folding same thing look for standard components. Without a triangle folding bikes have more flex. Then on top of that hinged parts have flex. Internal gear hubs are more common for clearance. How compact is a factor. The more it folds the more opportunities for weak points. Speed of folding. With some assemble required it is typically a stronger set up for the same price range. Some fold side to side and some fold front to back. Fold back has less side to side flex but it is also more in the more expensive. Get on the bike and see how it fits. Flex it and look for play. If you can notice play in any of the hinges just flexing with your hand then no. Bromptom is one of major manufacturers and they start at$1200. I am sure there are some good value bikes less than that - just a data point.

That said if you want a folding BSO go to Wallmart for $200 and see how long it lasts. On storage hang from the ceiling frees up floor space Another option is S & S couple. It is an add on the full frame lets the triangle be disassemble. If has all the pluses of a full size bike and the coupling is nearly as strong with no flex. They assemble in like 30 minutes and tools are required. You also need to be able to tune the bike as take apart and put it back together can mess with the tuning. This is more for a person that wants to put a bike on a plane. They are higher end expensive bikes. Not what you are looking for but I thought it was worth mentioning. vaya travel Another option is a single speed mountain bike. Preferable with a rigid ford. Shocks are really bad on inexpensive bikes and wear out quickly. Because of the sloping top tube it is more narrow. Pull the seat tube, tires, and handle bar and spin the fork 180 so the camber is towards the frame. Single speed as easier disassembly and less cables. Can just loosen the handle bars and spin them or go all the way and remove the fork. A full size single speed mtn is going to out perform even a high end folding bike. More comfortable and reliable. That is high end bike I picked up$900. It was not stolen - he had the original paper work.

The first problem with folding bikes (which to some extent they share with electric bikes) is that the things that make them special are quite hard to get right. This is in contrast to a standard diamond frame, where a workable bike can be made using the cheapest components from a reputable manufacturer. Some of the extra failure modes of folding bikes are quite dangerous.

The second problem (partly as a result of the first) is that good folding bikes hold their value second hand. This means that the usual advice for getting good value doesn't work as well.

There are some things you can look for though - components such as gears and brakes from a manufacturer that you can actually find (a lot of cheap bikes use shimano, who make components at all price points). Otherwise when something like a cog breaks or wears out, the whole bike will need replacing (and they're more likely to break). And make sure to deal with things like loose frame hinges immediately as they put a lot of stress on the frame. If you're tall, most folders won't fit, and those that do require extra components (like extended seat posts) that you won't be able to buy for a one-size-fits-none with non-standard parts.

One advantage you have over commuters is that you're less likely to be concerned about folding/unfolding speed or greasy components touching other things. Reviews will help, including checking that one you're thinking of hasn't had problems of falling to bits.

You're very likely to end up spending a lot more and quite soon, even more so if you're slightly heavy or ride on rough roads. And I say this as someone who rides and often recommends cheap bikes for short journeys.

Honestly I'd suggest your cheap option is the cheapest non-folding bike you can find, and take the wheels off for transit.

• This is also a very good answer, thank you. – James Jenkins Jun 21 '18 at 14:32
• Great point about simply removing the wheels if you’re not folding in a big hurry / trying to comply with a mass-transit rule – mmcc Jul 3 '18 at 2:57

There are many different folding bikes out there, do an images search if you are not convinced yet.

What you look for, besides availability and price, is size and fit, good fitting folding clasps and screws. And if your folding bike has several options to adjust it to your size that they do get to the required size without losing sturdiness.

Do a search on folding bikes for sale second hand in your region and then do check out a few which are in your budget range.
Where I live a usable second hand folding bike can be picked up for €50, (which is about $US 60) but the top of the range folders go for about €100 less than the shop prices. How much you pay in your area is likely depending upon the commuter folding bike market as well as on the new folding bikes in the local shops. You can of course also buy from the shops and paying the new price for a new bike. When you go to check out the bike, test the frame on sturdiness. When the folder is unfolded and the clamps or screws to keep the bike in the ready to ride configuration are as tight as they should be, there should be no play in the connections. If there is, forget about the bike and look for the next. As with all bikes, it should fit you, be able to be set to your measurements and preferred sitting position. The more options to adjust, the more expensive the bike will be within its brand. But cheaper brands are not always less good than more expensive brands. And if you are very tall and overweight, even the most known and expensive brands might not suit you, as someone I knew found out while a sturdy build cheaper one might. While the other answers here tell you that cheaper folding bikes are all hard to get repaired, my personal experience with a non too expensive folding bike is that is has not needed any repairs in 10 years and then I replaced the battery driven lights, in the 8 years since I have had no cost at it at all. I even still ride the first set of tires and tubes. I did pay about$300 for the bike when I first bought it, 3 speed, internal hub and back-pedal break, but there were also versions with more and different speeds and breaks.
Now there are even more different options and many cost less.

Yes, they might call it a BSO, but in my view, it did what it was asked to do. (Except that I did not get the adjustment options I would have loved.)

So if you really want a cheap(ish) folding bike, look around, new and second hand, and accept that the bike might last only 5 years rather than 50. You might be surprised though.

• I really struggled on which answer to accept yours or the one by paparazzo. They are both helpful. In the end I chose the other as it has a bit more detail. – James Jenkins Jun 21 '18 at 14:32

If you're cost motivated, then you don't need to look at anything else other than the price tag. Cheap bikes are cheap, so it doesn't really matter what they come with as long as they work. If you're really concerned about quality, then don't buy cheap. If you want to shop around for something decently good and still reasonably priced, then shop second-hand and try to find a good deal on a used folding bike.

When you get into the department store cheap end of the spectrum, the bikes are almost disposable. They come with the cheapest parts that are next to impossible to tune even when brand new, and aren't worth replacing with the same part when they fail.

Pick a price range, then buy inside that price range. Your first bike is always your benchmark bike, if it doesn't work for what you need it to, then you can always trade it in for something better.

• Going second hand is great, gets you a $500 bike for$100 or less. – Willeke Jun 14 '18 at 19:48
• I was kind of hoping for some other attributes, there are a lot of variables in the cheap folding bike market, wheel size, where they fold, how the connections are tightened, frame height and it relation to seat post length and handle bar placement. – James Jenkins Jun 14 '18 at 21:24
• @JamesJenkins If that's the info you want, then ask your question again on bikes.SE, but leave out the bit about wanting it to be cheap. Know what to look for in a quality folding bike, then go price tag shopping after you know all those details. – ShemSeger Jun 15 '18 at 16:06
• I have been trying to find the right words, to reply, these might be a bit harsher than I intend. The following is said without malice. This is the exact answer that I was hoping to avoid. Followers of the religion of bikes who frequent bikes.se can not imagine a scenario where an inexpensive (cost) bike is not cheap (quality). This answer says every bike in a specific price range is identical. It ends with a clearly false statement "you can always trade it in", this is only true if you have made a major purchase from bike shop, and are upgrading. – James Jenkins Jun 20 '18 at 12:32
• @JamesJenkins That's basically what I was trying to get across in my last comment. The question for what to look for in a quality folding bike is a good fit on bike.se. Just don't ask about cost. Once you know what to look for in a good bike, then you can go shopping in your price range and know how to identify which cheap bikes are better quality than others. I worked in bike shops for years, and operated my own when I was still living in BC. I've worked on thousands of bikes, and I can tell you that universally cheap=cheap unless you're getting a deal on a second hand or sale bike. – ShemSeger Jun 21 '18 at 16:00

Hi James in my experience the way to buy a cheap bike that isn’t a piece of junk is to buy an old bike, possibly a very old bike, put on new tires and tubes, grease anything squeaky (this may involve learning how to / paying someone to disassemble it) and enjoy it. Steel, if not rusty, holds up very well.

Ride it gently. Don’t hammer up every hill or hit every pothole. If off road pick your line and take your time and hop off and walk whenever in doubt. You have a lot of influence over what breaks.

People who own yachts often buy folding bikes and never use them. I’ve found Dahon Mariners with Shimano componenty in great condition for under \$100.

I’m a big fan of 20” (bmx size) wheels, they seem to be the sweet spot of cheap plentiful tires, durability, acceptable rolling resistance for pavement and smooth dirt, small folded size.

Shiny new BSO’s really are a thing, avoid them. Old stuff that’s still working comes with the benefit of survivorship bias, and comes from an era when things were made to be maintained.