As eBike adoption has boomed (electric bikes are actually outselling electric cars in the USA!) so has the huge variety of available eBike styles. Cruiser, commuter, MTB, cargo - there's an eBike for every style of riding and type of terrain. Pete Prebus gave us a rundown of all the common and more unusual types here.
One of the more interesting styles that has emerged is the folding eBike - a unique design that has a frame, handlebars, and pedals that collapse or "fold" for storage - just like the origami paper in our title photo. The folding eBike has some interesting selling points and features, but also some compromises and downsides. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of foldling eBikes:
Folding eBikes can (sometimes) be stored in smaller spaces
For some riders, space is at a premium, so the idea of an eBike that is full-featured yet easy to park is appealing. An eBike that folds and unfolds can help address the concern of limited storage space. On some folding bikes, the space savings can be massive, allowing storage under an office desk or in a coat closet where a traditional bike couldn't possibly fit.
On some other models, like those with huge, oversize fat tires, the space savings realized aren't as dramatic, and folding the eBike makes it smaller, but not significantly so. A fat tire eBike still takes up a lot of space, even in the folded position. If storage space is your #1 concern, consider a skinny tire folding model instead.
Folding eBikes can work well for RV'ers, people who live on houseboats, and those living the "van life" as well. Riders who can't put a traditional bike in the back of their van might find that a folding model might fit fine.
Folding bikes tend to collapse down into a "square" shape, vs. traditional bikes that are more rectangular, with a longer length and shorter width. Before buying, check the physical dimensions of the folding eBike to make sure it fits where you think it does!
Transporting folding eBikes
When not in the folded position, most folding electric bikes can be transported on common bicycle hitch racks. Some folding eBikes use fat tires that are wider than standard, if you have one of these models, check carefully that the rack you choose will accomodate them - some do, some don't, and on some models, you'll need an add-on kit to handle fat tires. We have a guide to help you match the right hitch rack to your eBikes.
Some creative riders with folding eBikes park them in plastic bins - "storage tubs" from Home Depot or Target. Depending on the size of the folded eBike, the storage tub can fit in the back of an SUV or station wagon, and since it's plastic, slides easily. Again - if you're hoping to do this, make sure to measure to confirm the fit. You'll also need to consider lifting the storage tub to the height of the trunk, which can be a challenge. If lifting a heavy eBike to that height isn't possible, a traditional hitch rack may be a better bet.
At first glance, folding eBikes might look tempting for riders who travel frequently by airplane and want to bring their bikes along. Unfortunately, the batteries used on eBikes are too large for air travel, so this approach doesn't work.
What are the downsides of folding eBikes?
Folding eBikes have a couple key downsides to consider. You'll need to weigh the downsides for your use to decide if the folding feature is worth it:
- Because the frame must fold, an argument can be made that folding eBikes are not as stiff or strong as traditional "double diamond" bicycle frames. For most riders, a folding eBike will be plenty strong, but those who do aggressive off-road riding (think jumps) will be better served by non-folding types.
- The hinge and latch mechanism takes up space, which in turn can't be used for a battery or controller. That could limit the capacity of the battery than can be used (and thus the eBike range) and on less sophisticated models, the controller - the brain of the eBike - might be strapped externally to one of the frame tubes, instead of being elegantly hidden inside.
- If you're a fan of the clean, integrated look of internally routed cables, consider that shifter cables or brake lines could be damaged if folded. As a result, folding electric bikes sometimes use more visible external cables instead.
- Folding eBikes are more expensive than non-folding models with the same specifications. For the same amount of money, you'll likely get lesser brakes or suspension on a folder, compared to a non-folding model.
- Depending on make/model, folding can be simple or complicated. If you're already intimidated by the complexity of the drivetrain, brakes, or shifters on an existing bike, you may need a tutorial video or written instructions to help you with a folding model.
As with most bicycle products, the "light, inexpensive, strong" axiom holds true (you can have two, but not all three) - the very best folding eBikes can be lightweight and strong, but they won't be inexpensive. Conversely, inexpensive folding eBikes that are also strong enough for serious use are likely to be very heavy. Folding eBikes that are lightweight and inexpensive probably aren't strong and durable enough for repeated folding/unfolding and regular riding.
Folding eBike battery life
Is battery life a compromise when riding a folding eBike? Sometimes. In an effort to balance cost, weight, and folding ability, the range of an electric bike may not be the top priority. Folding electric bikes have less physical space for batteries.
For many riders, this may not be a big deal - commuters may be able to charge under their desk during the workday, for example, making range a non-issue. But riders who want to do extended trips without charging may put range at the top of their shopping list - for those riders, a traditional non-folding eBike may have more space for a larger battery, and thus, more range.
Folding eBikes - top pros and cons
For a unique rider with specific needs, a folding eBike can be a great fit. For many other riders, folding electric bikes are needlessly complicated, and the rider would be better served with a traditional, non-folding eBike. To talk through your needs and get our recommendations, get in touch with the experts at Bike.com for guidance anytime.