Popular opinion is that a folding bike is less durable than a standard road bike or mountain bike and is therefore more likely to break. The reason for this opinion is that most folding bikes utilize a ‘folding joint’ and when a structure features a joint, the stability and durability are compromised and the risk of a frame break is increased.
As a great example take the human body, the shoulder joint (ball and socket) is the most vulnerable joint when it comes to injury because it allows movement in a large range of motion. The knee and elbow joints (hinge) only allow movement in a set range of motion, these are therefore more stable than a ball and socket but can still be vulnerable to injury.
Folding bikes are designed to be convenient and portable but they are no more likely to break than a standard road bike. This is because folding bikes are still made from the same materials as most other bikes and with manufacturing and design advancements (like a triangular frame), a folding bike will be resistant to breaking unless pushed to its limit on rough terrain.
With this in mind, a hinge on a folding bike will create a weakness in the structure of the bike that could be susceptible to breaking however, with modern technology and manufacturing methods, the likelihood of a folding bike breaking easily is low.
Are Folding Bikes Durable?
Just to make a point clear, folding bikes are not made with durability and hard cycling over rough terrain in mind. A folding bike is made with the intentional focus to be on portability, convenience and control in urban terrain.
Having said that, we live in a time with ever-improving manufacturing processes and unique designs so folding bikes are not the flimsy, cheap models that they once were in a pre-1990 era.
Take the popular Tern Verge S27h model folding bike as an example, Active.com reviewed this bike and described the durability as:
“This bike is a veritable tank”
Modern folding bikes are made with the same frame materials as any other road or mountain bike and if you use the bike for its intended purpose (short distance, urban commutes) there is no question about the durability of a folding bike and you certainly don’t need to worry about it breaking easily.
If any of the popular folding bike manufacturers in Brampton, Tern or Dahona had issues with their bikes breaking easily then you can be sure that these bikes wouldn’t be as popular as they currently are. A consumer wouldn’t buy a folding bike with the knowledge that it’s likely to break at any moment, would they?
The myth that folding bikes break easily has often come from a personal opinion that isn’t founded on many facts and usually based around antique model folding bikes that were cheap and flimsy in design, not the modern-day specialist bikes that we now have available.
Factors That Influence the Durability of Folding Bikes
There are a few factors that we need to consider when looking at how durable a folding bike will be and whether or not it will break easily.
The number one factor that will influence durability in modern folding bikes is the material from which the frame is manufactured. The most common materials used for bike frames are steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium.
Regardless of the material, a higher cost for each type will typically result in a higher quality tubing, better construction, and an overall, more durable bike. Steel is the most traditional form for a frame of a bike, while it’s cheaper and more durable than other materials it’s also much heavier and not very common in most folding bikes that are designed to be lightweight and portable.
Aluminum is the lightest of the materials but with a lighter frame comes a higher price and less durability than steel. Thanks to advancements in tubing construction and quality of material, however, aluminum frames have greatly improved in terms of shock absorption and are now much more durable than previous years.
Carbon fiber and titanium frames are the most expensive materials due to the cost of welding and advanced techniques required. Titanium is as light as aluminum whilst also being as strong as steel and is a standout option for durability but comes with a significantly higher cost.
Carbon fiber is a relatively new material used in bike construction and is incredibly light and easily manipulated to create sleek and elegant frames. It has great shock absorption and is resistant to corrosion however it’s not designed for rough terrain.
For a folding bike, a high-end steel or aluminum frame will give the best balance between cost and durability for the everyday cyclist.
Most folding bikes have a low weight limit (rider and any luggage/accessories) due to a lighter frame, smaller wheels and of course the hinge or latch points. For this reason, most folding bikes have a weight limit of 220lbs – 260lbs whereas a standard road bike or mountain bike will have weight limits of 260lbs – 300lbs.
The distribution of shock and force in a folding bike is the main weakness that means a lower weight limit needs to be in place on a folding bike to ensure it doesn’t break easily. Any potholes or heavy breaking will distribute force towards the breaking points (hinge or latch points) and this is where the possibility for any bike damage is greater.
If you don’t push these bikes to the weight limit, however, then there is no reason why they can’t be durable in the long term.
Folding bikes are designed to be used on smooth, flat and even terrain, mainly urban cities. As soon as you take a folding bike onto rough terrain with gravel, bumps, potholes and hard braking, then you’ll immediately start to test the structure and durability of the bike.
Even in urban terrains, if you start ‘curb hopping’, riding through potholes or braking hard on fast downhill descents then you’ll seriously compromise the integrity of the structure of the bike. Modern bikes are built to be durable and withstanding but only for the terrain or purpose that they are built.
Mountain bikes have thick tires and advanced suspension systems to handle rough terrain, a folding bike does not have these features, therefore if you use it for its intended purpose then there is little risk of the bike breaking.
Take Home Message
Folding bikes are manufactured with durable materials and are put through rigorous testing processes to make sure they can withstand continued use. If any type of bike was to break easily then the company would quickly run out of customers to sell to, after all, who would want to buy a bike that has a reputation for breaking easily?
The truth is, modern folding bikes are just as durable as any other type of bike, the key thing is to not push them to extremes and use them for their intended purpose the majority of the time (sometimes you can’t avoid some rough terrain and that is not a problem).