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The History of the Folding Bike

December 18, 2020 6 min read

[2020 Updated] The History of the Folding Bike - Change Bike - Change Bike UK

Folding Bikes in the 19th Century

Bicycles, in their regular form, were becoming more and more popular towards the end of the 19th century, so naturally inventors started trying to improve on the design, and make them more portable. In 1887, the American inventor Emmit Latta was granted a patent for his design of the first folding bike. He stated that it would be easier to manoeuvre, take up less room when not in use, and be easier to transport. The design of the bike shows that it literally folds in half, with the wheels ending up next to each other. The Pope Manufacturing Company purchased the patent from Latta, but it's not known if they actually went ahead and produced the bike, as no examples of it have ever been found. Pope purchased many other bicycle patents around the same time, because the bike industry was growing, and they wanted to get ahead of their competition. They included some patents for folding tricycles, which were also created by Emmit Latta.

Folding Bikes Used in the Military

In 1900, Mikael Pederson adapted his Pedersen bicycle into a folding model, and this was used by the British army. It weighed 15 pounds and the wheels were 24 inches in diameter. By the time World War II came around, the army wanted a folding bike that could be carried by soldiers parachuting out of a plane, and would also withstand being dropped onto the ground. The Birmingham Small Arms Company were chosen to manufacture these bikes, and they had to adapt the frame so that it could be folded. It was designed so that the wheels would be protected from the impact of hitting the ground, with the saddle taking the brunt of the fall. However, the weight more than doubled to 32 pounds as a result. These folding bikes were even used during the D-Day Landings, but were soon forgotten about once the war was over. Several other countries around the world also used folding bikes for their military. One example is the Columbia Compax, which was used in America by paratroopers in 1942. However, this didn't actually fold, as they claimed. It completely came apart at the middle, and could then be transported as two separate parts.

The Modern Folding Bicycle

It wasn't until the 1960s that manufacturers started to consider making folding bikes again. This was mainly due to the design of the newly released Moulton bicycle in 1962. It wasn't a folding bike, but it didn't have the usual diamond shaped frame, that were commonly used on bikes at the time. Alex Moulton decided to change the frame shape by removing the top tube, making it easier to get on and off, especially for women. He also gave it much smaller wheels, which made it faster than a normal bike, and a lot lighter too. Companies saw the potential of adapting the design to include the folding element. By the 1970s, lots of manufacturers were producing folding bikes, with the majority of them offering a model in that category. The most famous was the Raleigh Twenty, and this was initially called the Stowaway, when it was introduced in 1971. It was produced for 13 years, and proved extremely popular. It was similar in looks to the Moulton, but it had a hinge in the middle, which allowed it to fold in half. The hinge design in folding bikes is still widely used today, amongst other methods.

Bickerton Portable

After the success of the Raleigh Twenty, Harry Bickerton decided to design another form of folding bike, called the Bickerton Portable. He made the frame entirely out of aluminium, which is very light in weight, and didn't use any welding. The bike had lots of levers and clamps, and folded in on itself to be even more compact in size. This greatly influenced the next form of folding bike, called the Brompton.

Brompton Folding Bike and Dahon Folding Bike

In the 1980s, the folding bike, as we know it today, really started to take shape. In 1981, Andrew Richie started to produce his first Brompton folding bike, after visiting Harry Bickerton's workshop. Also, in 1982, Dr David Hon began production of the Dahon folding bike. These bikes are still the most widely used brands of folding bikes in the world today. Both Richie and Hon looked at all of the folding bikes that had been previously produced, including their flaws, and designed their models to be better and more efficient. Montague Bikes was another company started in 1987, by the father and son team Harry and David Montague. Instead of creating another smaller folding bike, they created a full-sized folding bike, which some cyclists prefer, and it still folds up relatively compactly.

The Advantages of a Folding Bike

Folding bikes are becoming more popular all the time, and for good reason. Their unique frames and size give them lots of advantages over normal bicycles.

Storage -

A folding bike clearly takes up less space than a normal bike. If you're short on space at home, then your bike will easily fit into a cupboard, under your stairs or even in the boot of your car. This is the reason folding bikes are more prevalent in big cities, where living space is limited. This has benefits from a security aspect too, as if you can bring your bike inside more often (at the office for example), then there's no chance it will get stolen or damaged.

Easy to Transport -

The best folding bike will be light and easy to carry around. This gives so many more possibilities for cyclists. Folding bikes can be taken on a train when going to work, and even onto an airplane if you're going on holiday. Most modern folding bikes will be roughly the size of a suitcase, and some even come with bags to carry them around in. They are easy to fold too, so if you're in a rush to catch your train home one day, you won't have to stand there for ages trying to fold your bike up. Also, if someone has to climb lots of stairs to get to their home or workplace, then carrying a folding bike makes this a much easier task.

Speed -

Folding bikes are fast, and it's possible to accelerate quickly, even when you're just setting off. They're lightweight, meaning the cyclist won't have to use as much energy when riding it. Some folding bikes are going electric too, with small motors in them to give the cyclist a slight boost when they need it, which is especially useful for commuters who are rushing to work. They don't actually add much weight to the bike, and don't take up any more room.

Variety -

There's a lot more choice out there if you're looking to buy folding bike online. It's not just commuters that are purchasing these bikes, but they are being purchased for recreational use too. It's important to consider why you're buying one, and ensure you get the best folding bike for your needs. Consider where you'll be using it, how fast you need it to be, and if you need any special features on it. For example, if you're using it for leisure reasons, and will be riding it across rough terrain, then a folding mountain bike would be the best folding bike to choose.

Tried and Tested -

It's becoming more popular to buy folding bike online, which also means there are lots of reviews out there. This is useful if you're looking to change bike, as you can read the reviews, see which bikes are the most popular, what their faults are, and make sure you're buying the best folding bike available to you. Cyclists know what they want, so when certain models are better sellers than others, it will be because of their quality and features. Reading about how comfortable the bike is when riding it, and how easy it is to fold up, are other bits of information to learn before purchasing.

The folding bike has evolved over the years, and today's designs are getting lighter and more compact. So for people wanting to change bike, whether it's a normal folding bike, or a folding mountain bike, then this could be the right option for them. There's likely to be further innovation in this field in the years to come, so it's exciting to see what the folding bicycle will look like in the future.

Jack Purdie
Jack Purdie



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