Have you ever wondered what exactly is a folding ebike, and why someone would want one? Are you looking for reliable information on what kinds of foldable ebikes are available today, and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Well, keep reading. In this comprehensive guide to folding ebikes, we are going to dive in and cover all of these topics, and more.
Let’s get started.
As the name suggests, a folding bicycle is a bike that’s been designed to fold into a compact form, making it ideal for transport and storage. Folding bikes are designed with a hinge and clamp mechanism in the middle of the frame, which allows the frame to be folded in half.
Some folding bikes also have a folding tiller - the part which the handlebars connect to - which allows for an even more compact folded dimensions.
When unfolded with the locking mechanism engaged, a folding bike operates like a conventional bike, and there should be no noticeable change in the rigidity of the frame.
These bikes have all the components that you might find on a conventional bike, including a geared drive train, pedals, brakes for stopping, and so forth.
When folded, the bike can be more easily carried into buildings and onto public transportation, and stored in compact living quarters or aboard a car, truck, RV, boat or airplane.
Folding bikes have been around since the late 1800s, first used in military applications. In the 1970s there was a renewed interest in folding bikes, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that new designs were introduced and interest in the modern compact folding bike really took off.
It would be another decade before electric bikes went into commercial production. Yamaha, the Japanese automotive company built one of the early ebike prototypes in 1989, and invented the pedal assist system in 1993.
Lee Iacocca, the American automobile executive, founded EV Global motors in 1997, a company that produced an electric bicycle model named E-bike SX, and it was one of the early efforts to popularize ebikes in the United States.
Before we get into the specifications I think it’s important to dispel one myth straightaway. The myth is that folding bikes are somehow structurally unsound or more flimsy compared to solid frame bikes.
Most modern folding ebikes have frames made from 6061 aluminum alloy, which is a precipitation-hardened alloy containing magnesium and silicon as its major alloying elements. It has good mechanical properties and is commonly used in bike frames.
The fact is that the hinge and clamp mechanism found on folding ebikes are heavy duty in construction and welded to the frame, allowing for riders up to 300 lbs or more to ride safely.
You should never ride a bike with a loose or weak clamp. If you feel like the clamp is not holding the frame together in a sturdy manner, with some wiggle or shimmying occurring while the mechanism is clamped, please check with your dealer.
Some folding ebike have the battery located within the frame itself, while others mount the battery on the downtube, in front or behind the seat tube, or on the rear rack.
Folding ebikes typically have shorter tires than a standard bike, which contributes to their portability. While there are some micro folders on the market with 12” and 16” tire diameters, the most common diameter for ebikes is 20”. There are also a few folding ebikes with standard 26” tires.
As we already discussed, because of their unique design, folding ebikes are more portable than a conventional bike. Instead of using an external bike rack mounted to your car or truck, you can stow your bike in the back seat or trunk of a vehicle. Folding ebikes are extremely popular with RV campers, boat owners and private pilots.
If you live in a small home, you don’t need to hang your bike from the ceiling or lean it awkwardly against the wall. You can tuck it away in a closet or other compact location. And if you’re a commuter, you can stow your folding ebike under a desk or in other tight spaces that would be too large for a conventional bike.
Another benefit of foldable ebikes is their ease of use. Some customers are rightly concerned that it will be difficult to fold and unfold their bike. This may be true the first couple of times you try it, but once you are familiar with the clamping mechanism, and know how to position the bike during the folding and unfolding process, it couldn’t be easier.
In fact, how you position the bike and your body is important when folding and unfolding your bike. Folding ebikes can weigh up to 60 lbs, especially if they have fat tires. So you should never lean over the bike awkwardly or try to lift the folded bike without good body position awareness. You can also remove the battery before lifting, which will take about 8-10 lbs off the total weight of the bike.
While there are few downsides to foldable electric bikes, this ebike format is not for everyone. As noted above, most folding ebikes have 20” tires, compared to the 26” tires found on most conventional bikes.
This means the bike rides closer to the ground, and can feel smaller than a regular bike. This is ok for most riders, but if you’re a big guy over 6’ tall, you might feel like you’re riding a kid’s bike.
Folding ebikes also tend to have a shorter wheelbase, and often feature a straight handlebar mounted on a straight tiller. This affects how it feels to ride the bike, and means that the margin for error is tighter than on a conventional bike. If you turn abruptly on a 20” folder, you’re more likely to lose control than if you made the same turn on a conventional bike.
Of course, as you get to know the feel of your bike, this should not be a problem. It just means that you really need to practice riding and know the limits of your bike's performance.
The Big Dog Off-Road fat tire ebike is a monster. It sports a high-powered 750W rear hub motor, which will help you climb steep, uneven terrain and plow through thick sand and snow.
The motor gets its charge from a long-range 48V/16Ah lithium-ion battery. While these specs are impressive, what sets the Big Dog apart from other fat tire folding ebikes is its full suspension frame. This dual-suspension system is perfect for off road adventures, where trails may be littered with rocks, roots, ruts and stumps.
The Big Dog Off-Road features a hydraulic disc braking system with 160mm rotors, which gives it authoritative stopping power. It also features automatic brake motor cutoffs, so anytime you engage the brakes, power to the motor will be instantly turned off. This eliminates the risk of the motor propelling you forward when you are trying to stop.
The Big Dog Off-Road is fully accessorized, with fenders, a rear rack and lights, and you can get it in a number of stunning color combinations.
Another favorite folding ebike is the City Premium from Green Bike Electric Motion. The City Premium has a curved frame and a low-step profile. This bike is therefore easy to mount and dismount, and is popular with the active senior community.
The City Premium has 20” x 3” balloon tires mounted on magnesium alloy rims. While not true fat tires, these wide tires are great for urban riding and light trails. The bike comes equipped with a 350W rear hub motor and a long-range 48V/16Ah battery. This will give you hours of boosted riding without breaking a sweat.
The pedal assist system on the City Premium is programmable, so you can choose to have 3, 5 or 9 levels of assistance. There is also a thumb throttle, which allows for motor-assisted riding, no pedaling required. And for regular riding, there is a nice 6-speed Shimano drivetrain.
That’s not all. The City Premium lives up to its name by incorporating premium bike components throughout, including hydraulic disc brakes, an integrated headlight, a suspension seat post and plush gel saddle, and a convenient rear rack.
Finally, here is the Baja 48, a standard sized folding electric mountain bike. The Baja 48 has front and rear suspension, so you will be sure to enjoy a smooth ride wherever you go.
The X-Treme Baja 48 has a 500W rear hub motor and a 48V/10.4Ah battery. This isn’t the longest range battery on the market, but it will give you hours of boosted riding. You can use the 9-speed gears to ride the Baja like a regular bike, and when you’re ready for some help, there is a 5-level pedal assist system and a thumb throttle.
The battery on the Baja 48 is integrated into the frame, which makes it more secure against theft.
The Baja 48 comes accessorized with a rear rack, front light and drink holder.
Want more information on folding ebikes? Check out our 10 Best Folding Electric Bikes for 2020.