What Should I Look for in a Folding Electric Bike

The market for folding e-bikes in California is booming. Almost every major e-bike brand offers a lineup of folding electric bikes. Most folding e-bikes are available on 20” wheels.

But there is more to the equation than wheel size. Other aspects to consider include a battery pack, e-bike weight, motor, and frame quality. So how can a beginner navigate the vast maze of products and constantly new features? This guide is here to help you with your decision.

Folding Mechanism

This is by far an essential element of folding e-bikes. The folding mechanism dictates how you fold the e-bike. Below are some of the most popular mechanisms for folding e-bikes.

Split Fold Mechanism

The split-fold mechanism is the most widely used option in folding e-bikes. It is often used with bikes with 20” wheels and up.

There is a hinge at the center of the e-bike’s frame. This allows the e-bike to fold in half. The mechanism is quick and easy to use.

A major disadvantage is that these e-bikes are relatively heavy with more volume. They are ideal for cyclists who are always traveling.

Triangle Hinge Mechanisms

A hinge in the bike’s frame allows the rear wheel and triangle to be folded. It involves clasps and hinges, making the mechanism more complicated.

It takes longer to fold the e-bike. However, once you fold the bike, it will occupy a tiny volume. This makes it easy to carry the e-bike with you.

This mechanism is becoming increasingly common and is now the standard in folding e-bikes.

Break Away

Some folding e-bikes use a diamond frame. This frame requires a ‘breakaway’ folding method. The pivot point with these e-bikes is at the seat post.

The pivot point hinges and helps you separate the frame into two different pieces. Hence the name ‘break away’. You’ll have to practice to get more efficient with the breakaway mechanism. 

Most cyclists find this mechanism to be unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming. Furthermore, the learning curve with breakaway styles is also very frustrating.

Consider the Durability of the Ebike in California

Folding e-bikes are ideal for cyclists who want an alternative to commuting to work. They are sturdy, tough, and can cover at least 200 miles on a single charge.

After all, you aren’t buying a folding e-bike only for it to break down. The e-bike should be made using quality components to fold without getting damaged.

Here are a few things to assess when selecting a folding e-bike in California.

Frame Material

The frame material can make or break your experience with folding e-bikes. The frame is what holds together the entire e-bike and its components.

It is vital for the frame material to be both durable and lightweight. Some choices include aluminum, carbon fiber, steel, and titanium. Let’s discuss them below.

Carbon Fiber

This frame is made by bonding several sheets of carbon fiber in a mold. Another method is weaving carbon into textiles and applying it to a plastic resin.

The biggest advantage of using carbon fiber is that it is very light. The weight of carbon fiber is light compared to steel and aluminum. It is also highly resistant to corrosion.

A major advantage of carbon fiber is that it can be folded into complex shapes. This allows manufacturers to be more creative with their designs for folding e-bikes.

Manufacturers can use this property of carbon fiber to make their e-bike aerodynamically efficient. This explains why bikes with carbon fiber have less drag at breakneck speeds.

Some of the best folding e-bikes use a carbon fiber frame. This is mostly because of its compact weight, which improves ride quality.

Moreover, it can be folded thousands of times without compromising its structural integrity. For perspective, carbon fiber is five times tougher than steel.

A carbon fiber frame allows the folding e-bike to stay durable without being excessively heavy. Another advantage is aluminum alloy because it is more durable than steel.

However, it manages to keep the overall weight on the low end of the spectrum. The only disadvantage of carbon fiber is that it is more costly than other materials.

Aluminum

Aluminum was the default choice for e-bike manufacturers until the advent of carbon fiber. There isn’t anything wrong with aluminum; carbon fiber is better at everything.

The only real advantage of aluminum is that it is relatively affordable. It is known for being lightweight, even when compared to carbon fiber.


Aluminum frames are available in a ‘butted’ form. There are three variations of butted aluminum frames:

  • Single butted: Thick at one end only
  • Double butted: Thick at both ends
  • Triple butted: Two thicker ends with a thin layer at the center

The stiffness-to-weight ratio of butted frames is very high.

A major advantage of aluminum frames is that they are very durable. Unlike steel, you would have to go out of your way to dismantle their frames. Aluminum frames are easy to dent, however.

Steel

The steel used to be a popular choice several years ago. It is rust-resistant and highly durable. The only downside is that it is incredibly heavy.

The weight of steel frames makes them less ideal for use with folding e-bikes. They are also very likely to be dismantled.

On the whole, manufacturers avoid using steel because several alternatives are available.

Titanium

Titanium combines the best of both steel and aluminum. It is extremely durable and incredibly lightweight.

The material is ideal for folding e-bikes where weight and durability are essential. It also boasts properties like corrosion resistance.

Titanium does have a reputation for being a premium product. So expect prices to be sky-high when buying an e-bike with a titanium frame.

But titanium bikes have incredible durability that can last a lifetime. When you consider its durability, the value proposition for titanium starts looking better.

Note that they are heavier than carbon fiber and aluminum frames.

Tire Casings and Protection

The tires of folding e-bikes have to be smooth, flat, and have all-weather tread patterns. The ideal width of tires for e-bikes is between 28 mm and 42 mm.

Thicker tires provide an additional layer of protection for folding e-bikes. However, you don’t want the tires to be extremely wide. This is because it would add to the overall weight of the e-bike.

Suspension

You ideally want the bike to have suspension in the rear. High-end e-bikes often feature suspension in the front and back.

In general, folding e-bikes with rear suspension should provide excellent ride comfort. They also play a crucial role in absorbing shocks and tremors on bumpy rides.

Find a Battery That Covers the Range You Need

This is a no-brainer. We don’t recommend a low-riding range because it won’t help you commute to work.

What’s the point in buying folding e-bikes if you lose charge before reaching your destination? You should also consider your riding habits and behavior before choosing a battery.

For instance, do you forget to charge your e-bike often? In this case, you might be better off buying a more powerful battery pack.

It should cover a return trip to and from work on a single charge. There are other factors that also affect range.


Examples include rider weight, tires, terrain, and others. A higher range, in some cases, is not always better. It will cost you an arm and a leg to buy a superior battery.

A major advantage is that you can spend more of your time using motor assist. It is important to pay attention to how the battery is designed.

Smaller batteries with a compact design are more compatible with the geometry of folding e-bikes. This can affect overall range, ride quality, and performance.

Not all manufacturers use properly designed batteries for their folding e-bikes. It is certainly worth investigating the overall battery design before selecting a folding e-bike.

Motor Type

Folding e-bikes may use three types of motors. These are the front hub, rear hub, and mid-drive motors.

Folding e-bikes are not designed for performance. Instead, they are used for making the daily commute easy.

This is why most folding e-bikes use hub motors, usually in the rear. The power output of most hub motors is between 250W to 500W.

However, if you aim for top speeds, consider opting for mid-drive motors.

When selecting hub motors, avoid front wheel motors. This is because they work by pushing the front wheel when you activate the throttle.

It can feel odd and unnatural to use such an e-bike. Using front hub motors will take some getting used to.

Choose the Level of Assistance that You Need

All folding e-bikes offer two types of motors: throttle and pedal assist. The throttle engages the motor whether you are pedaling or not.

Pedal-assist engages the motor only when you start pedaling. The throttle option is not legal in some places of the world, including Europe.

However, the throttle is legal in North America. Some manufacturers offer folding e-bikes in both pedal assist and throttle.

These are further divided into three classes depending on their assistance levels.

Class 1 e-bikes in California are pedal-assist only with no throttle.

Their speed with Class 1 e-bikes goes up to 20 mph.

Class 2 e-bikes use the throttle and reach a maximum speed of 20 mph. Class 3 e-bikes have top speeds of 28 mph and do not have a throttle. They are pedal assist only.

Based on where you live, all classes restrict the motor’s power output to 750W.

What Should I Look for in a Folding Electric Bike
What Should I Look for in a Folding Electric Bike

Wheel Size

Most electric bikes use wheel sizes of 16”, 20”, and 26”. Wheels with a larger diameter often have more cushion.

There is more air volume to disperse when you go over bumps on the road. Bigger wheels can roll over bumps very easily. Smaller wheels have a more challenging time overcoming bumps.

Using bigger wheels allows for a smoother ride. The only disadvantage is that they are big and heavy.

Folding e-bikes are designed to be compact and lightweight. This is why some folding e-bikes come with 12-inch wheels – which is on the low end.

Another way to demonstrate this is to imagine a 10-inch pothole. A 16-inch wheel will likely pass over the hole with relative ease.

A 12-inch wheel, on the other hand, may fall deep into the hole. This would create problems for the folding e-bike and cyclists.

On the other hand, a 21” bike would easily pass over the pothole. The major disadvantages of larger wheels are that they are slower with a lower acceleration.

The torque output from bigger wheels is relatively small compared to smaller wheels. Wheel size selection ultimately comes down to the rider’s own needs.

If ride comfort is more important, go for larger wheels. Use smaller wheels if your folding e-bike is as light as possible.

The table below looks at wheel size and their pros and cons.

Wheel sizePros and Cons
16-inch wheelsThey are among the tiniest wheels you can find.   Pros: LightweightEasy to transport   Cons: Not ideal for longer commutes of over 20 miles (ride is too bumpy)Do not handle bumps easily Are not very fast
20-inch wheelsThese are the most commonly found wheels on e-bikes, including folding e-bikes.
Pros Found on most folding e-bikes Cyclists can choose from a wide range of tires that can go relatively fast and are easy to control ideal for the daily commute and leisurely rides   Cons They may get too heavy for folding e-bikes
26-inch wheelsThese are the most commonly found wheels on ebikes, including folding e-bikes.
Pros Found on most folding e-bikes Cyclists can choose from a wide range of tires that can go relatively fast and are easy to control ideal for the daily commute and leisurely rides   Cons They may get too heavy for folding e-bikes

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, a detailed guide on choosing folding electric bikes. They are ideal for commuting to and from work.

Is it worth buying folding e-bikes? That depends on how much money you will save on an annual basis. It also depends on whether you enjoy cycling instead of driving or using the train.

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