News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media, news, education, and information services.
  • Barron's
  • BigCharts
  • DJX
  • Dow Jones Newswires
  • Factiva
  • Financial News
  • Mansion Global
  • MarketWatch
  • Newsmart
  • NewsPlus
  • Private Markets
  • Risk & Compliance
  • WSJ Pro
  • WSJ Conference
  • WSJ Video
  • Big Decisions
  • Business Spectator
  • Checkout51
  • Harper Collins
  • New York Post
  • PropTiger
  • REA
  • Storyful
  • The Australian
  • The Sun
  • The Times
19054.72 0.16%
  S&P 500
2200.07 -0.13%
5365.40 -0.39%
  U.S. 10 Yr
-17/32 yield 2.375%
  Crude Oil
48.09 0.12%
1.0554 -0.69%
The Wall Street Journal
  • Home
  • World
  • U.S.
  • Politics
  • Economy
  • Business
  • Tech
  • Markets
  • Opinion
  • Arts
  • Life
  • Real Estate
  • Today's Paper
    • World Home
      • Africa
      • Asia
      • Canada
      • China
      • Europe
      • Latin America
      • Middle East
      • Brussels Real Time
      • China Real Time
      • India Real Time
      • Economy
      • World Video
    • U.S. Home
      • Economy
      • Law
      • New York
      • Politics
      • Real Time Economics
      • The Numbers
      • Washington Wire
      • Journal Report
      • U.S. Video
      • What's News Podcast
    • Politics Home
      • Think Tank
      • Washington Wire
      • Politics Video
      • WSJ/NBC News Poll
    • Economy Home
      • Real Time Economics
      • Economic Forecasting Survey
      • Economy Video
    • Business Home
      • Management
      • Tech/WSJ.D
      • Aerospace & Defense
      • Autos & Transportation
      • Commercial Real Estate
      • Consumer Products
      • Energy
      • Entrepreneurship
      • Financial Services
      • Food & Services
      • Health Care
      • Hospitality
      • Law
      • Manufacturing
      • Media & Marketing
      • Natural Resources
      • Retail
      • CFO Journal
      • CIO Journal
      • CMO Today
      • Logistics Report
      • Risk & Compliance
      • Bankruptcy Beat
      • Heard on the Street
      • Business Video
      • Journal Report
      • Business Podcast
    • Tech Home
      • CIO Journal
      • Geoffrey Fowler
      • Christopher Mims
      • Joanna Stern
      • Li Yuan
      • Billion Dollar Startup Club
      • Tech Video
      • Tech Podcast
      • Startup Stock Trader
    • Markets Home
      • Bonds
      • Commercial Real Estate
      • Commodities & Futures
      • Currencies
      • Deals
      • Financial Services
      • Funds
      • Stocks
      • Your Money
      • Heard on the Street
      • MoneyBeat
      • Wealth Adviser
      • Ahead of the Tape
      • CFO Journal
      • Journal Report
      • Market Data
      • Markets Video
      • Markets Podcast
      • MoneyBeat Podcast
      • Heard on the Street Podcast
      • Watching Your Wealth Podcast
    • Opinion Home
      • Arts in Review
      • Book Reviews
      • Commentary
      • Editorials
      • Letters to the Editor
      • Best of the Web
      • Columnists
      • Morning Editorial Report
      • Peggy Noonan
      • Political Diary
      • Opinion Video
      • Potomac Watch Podcast
      • Foreign Edition Podcast
    • Arts Home
      • Arts in Review
      • Books
      • Speakeasy
      • Arts Video
      • WSJ. Magazine
      • Speakeasy Podcast
    • Life Home
      • Careers
      • Cars
      • Food & Drink
      • Health
      • Ideas
      • Real Estate
      • Science
      • Sports
      • Style & Fashion
      • Travel
      • Off Duty Daily
      • The Daily Fix
      • Life Video
      • WSJ. Magazine
      • WSJ Puzzles
      • Off Duty Podcast
      • The Future of Everything
    • Real Estate Home
      • Commercial Real Estate
      • House of the Day
      • Mansion
      • Real Estate Video
Aim higher, reach further.
Get the Wall Street Journal $12 for 12 weeks. Subscribe Now
Subscribe Sign In

A Bicycle, To Go

Folding Bikes Go Mainstream But Still Get Curious Looks

Jym Dyer can ride his bike 70 miles in a day. He's pedaled it in Paris and the California mountains. And when he's done, he can fold it up and stick it under his desk.

But the very best thing about his new folding bike? It's way better than his old folding bike, which had tiny wheels and wobbled when he rode. "I looked like a clown," says the software engineer from Omaha, Neb.

Don't laugh -- your next set of wheels could have hinges. Long a curiosity, folding bikes are pulling into the mainstream: Mass maker Giant Bicycles recently rolled out its first U.S. model, and last year components-maker Shimano introduced a line of gears just for folding bikes. And many have gone surprisingly high-end: Manufacturer Bike Friday has a $4,300 model with titanium suspension and 20 speeds, and even a "folder" built for two (price: $6,500). Want knobby tires with that? Now there's even a folding mountain bike sold by SUV-maker Hummer.

Folding bikes have long been popular with the odd user who needed a bike small enough to fit into a boat or small plane, but with better parts and looks, now they're catching on with everyone from commuters to people who want a bike on hand for emergency evacuations. Travelers, too, are finding new models that pack for a trip but still ride like a big bike -- sort of like the laptop computer for the cycling set. And while the $5.3 billion bicycle business still considers the market too small to track, individual makers say business is up. Dahon California, which makes about three-quarters of the folders sold in the U.S., says it has sold about 20% more bikes every year since 1999.

Sure, but with those small wheels and kid-sized frames, what about the Bozo factor?

We decided to give them a try, shopping online for five popular models we could ride without shame. To help us out, we rounded up five riders from a group called the Manhattan Weekday Cyclists. (Requirements: helmet, flexible schedule.) We figured no city could be more of a challenge, what with potholed streets, tough traffic and wisecracking locals. For good measure, we made our testers haul their wheels onto the subway.

The biggest challenge for these bikes, of course, is the art of the fold. Most of them do it the same way -- in half clamshell-style, front wheel against rear -- with various degrees of difficulty. The ones with the simplest folds can take seconds. Another took seven steps.

On the easy side was Dahon's Boardwalk D6, which we ordered from online retailer Better Bicycle Co. Trudy, the cycle-club organizer, gave it points for simplicity: Flip one latch and it folds in half, flip another and the handlebars swing down. But she felt the long handlebar tube was unstable -- "If I wanted to signal with one hand, I had to be careful" -- and another rider found it only "so-so" at quick dodges and turns.

Granted, at $250, the Dahon was the cheapest model we tried. But beyond price, we tried to keep things pretty even. All were starter versions -- or the maker's only model -- and had six or seven gears and 20-inch wheels, a compromise between rough-riding small wheels and hard-to-stow full-sized ones. (That meant eliminating some big makers: Brompton and Moulton from the United Kingdom and Montague from the U.S.) Ordering by mail was tricky, too, since many makers refused to sell a bike that way.

That's why we ended up ordering Giant's $550 folder from a local retailer's Internet site, then picking it up in person. Was it worth the trouble? Nadette, a voiceover artist, praised the Halfway's details (mudguards, errand-friendly rear cargo rack), and its well-conceived fold. But this sleek silver-on-silver bike didn't seem to ride as well as some, and tester Carolyn felt there wasn't much difference between first and seventh gears. (The company says the bike isn't intended to be a high-performance model.)

The $700 Breezer i7 won more points. Our testers thought it folded easily, and its Shimano gears were hidden away cleverly in the rear hub. Still, video editor David wasn't wowed by the ride. Plus, its hinge was big and chunky and blue accent stripes on its silver frame made it look a bit young.

Folding bikes, in fact, are anything but young, with incarnations dating to the 19th century. Nor are they just playthings; Montague, which makes the Hummer model, has supplied its full-size folding mountain bikes to the military, and Robert Dugger, the managing director of a Washington investment office, bought a dozen bikes for emergency transportation after Sept. 11. "Five years ago it was just hardcore fans and people buying cheapos to hang on the back of their RVs," says Michael McGettigan, the organizer of a recent three-day "Folder Fest" in Philadelphia.

Next up in our test was the $598 Pocket Metro from an Oregon company called Bike Friday. Our salesman had spent lots of time on the phone discussing models with us, and our testers praised its zippy handling and cute red paint job and called it a runner-up favorite. The downside? That multi-step folding program, which we found counterintuitive. (It does, however, fold quite compactly.)

Almost everything came together with the Swift Folder, made by a guy in Brooklyn, N.Y., who rode the thing to our office himself. Our group at first found its vertical, scissorslike fold awkward -- but once they got the hang of it they found it elegant. On the road, it felt stable and nimble. It has Shimano gears and a minimalist, "serious bike" look. Though at $820 it's three times more than the Dahon, we're calling it Best Overall.

Design Mobility
Swift Folder, $820

Quality: handling, quick fold and stable ride made it a winner. Noteworthy: Cushy seat, streamlined Shimano parts. Chromoly steel frame, 28 pounds.

Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $20 standard delivery. (In our case, maker rode it over a week later.)

Return Policy: Maker offers a lifetime warranty on the frame and a year on parts.

Web Experience: We ordered from bike's local inventor/maker. "Easiest sale I've ever conducted," he said.

Comment: Each bike is made by hand; getting one may take six to eight weeks if there's a backlog.

Better Bicycle Co.
Dahon Boardwalk D6, $249.95

Quality: Best Value. Inexpensive starter bike wasn't so nimble but it folded well -- and compactly. Nice: metal mudguards, rear rack. Chromoly steel frame, 29 pounds.

Shipping Cost/Time: One-week ground shipping to our address was $26. Bike arrived on time.

Return Policy: Five-year warranty; upgrade to "lifetime" by getting pre-ride tuneup at a bike shop.

Web Experience: You can order online, but site has to call you back for credit-card number. So we phoned in.

Comment: Site sells only models by folding-bike giant Dahon, offering more than a dozen versions. Bike takes some assembly.

Bike Friday
Bike Friday Pocket Metro 7, $598

Quality: Complicated to fold, but for stability, handling, details (water bottle) and weight (26.2 pounds), our testers called it Best Overall runner-up. Chromoly steel frame.

Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $77 for shipping, via FedEx in two days. Bike showed up on time.

Return Policy: Maker offers 30-day money-back guarantee; lifetime warranty on frame.

Web Experience: We can't recall the last time a man spent 17 minutes on the phone discussing our needs.

Comment: Maker-vendor has scores of custom models to choose from. Ours arrived in pieces; we needed help putting it together.

Bicycle Habitat
Breezer i7, $700

Quality: Snap to fold, despite square, clunky-looking hinge. "Passable" ride, said tester Louis. Shimano gears were hidden in rear wheel hub, as in our Best Overall. Aluminum frame; 27 pounds.

Shipping Cost/Time: We paid $7 standard shipping. We got our order in about a week and a half.

Return Policy: Lifetime warranty on frame; two years on Shimano parts.

Web Experience: We ordered from the online site of a local bike shop; the vendor offered to ride it over.

Comment: As with many of the bikes we ordered, the maker doesn't sell directly. Go to for retailers.

Sid's Bike Shop
Giant Halfway, $550

Quality: Not the best ride, but our group liked the extras (carrying rack,mudguards) and elegant, extra-slim fold thanks to fold-in pedals and single-side fork. Aluminum frame; 28 pounds.

Shipping Cost/Time: No shipping charge; we picked it up at a local bike shop a week after ordering.

Return Policy: Maker has five-year warranty on frame, one year on parts.

Web Experience: The manufacturer's price is $550, but this shop offered it for $529 -- without our asking.

Comment: Maker won't let dealers sell this bike online; you must pick it up. For local retailer:

Failed to load comments
Show More Archives

Popular on WSJ