How to choose the best folding electric bike: the ULTIMATE buyer's guide
Ok, so you’re in the market for a new folding electric bike, but there’s literally hundreds of different options and you’re not sure which one best suites your needs. This buyer’s guide will help you in your journey of choosing the best folding electric bike for you.
There’s two key questions to keep in mind while you mull over the various different folding electric bikes you’re perusing. First, how much do you want to spend? Second, what will be the primary use of your folding electric bike? The answers to these two questions will help you navigate through the myriad options out there, and hopefully, with this guide, help you figure out exactly which type of folding electric bike works best for your needs.
Let’s talk about motors. Most folding electric bikes will have a 250 watt geared hub motor, typically found in the rear wheel. The best thing this wattage output has going for it is efficiency — it takes very little power to run these and so the battery life can be stretched out further compared to a more powerful motor. For most folks, 250 watts should be more than enough power to get you around, but keep that second question in mind: What will be the primary use of your folding electric bike? For those that plan to use their folders as a short distance city commuter in a flat-ish area, 250 watts sounds like a good bet. That being said, there are some other factors to consider before deciding what power output you need. Will you be carrying heavy cargo on your folding electric bike? Will you be going through sand, snow, mud or deep gravel? Do you have steep hills in your area? If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, you might want to consider a 500 watt motor or maybe even a 750 watt motor.
There’s four different classes of electric bikes: class 1 or pedal assist up to 20 mph, class 2 or pedal assist and throttle up to 20 mph, class 3 or pedal assist and throttle up to 28 mph and class 4 which is the wild, wild West version and can have as powerful of a motor and as high of a top speed as possible. Legally speaking, class 4 electric bikes are going to be illegal to ride on virtually every public roadway, whereas class 1 electric bikes will be legal to ride on virtually every public roadway. These laws will be different from state to state (and sometimes even city to city) and country to country, so again, depending on what you plan on using your folding electric bike for, the class will be very important. For those traveling on a boat to different countries, it may or may not matter if they have a super powerful class 4, depending on what countries they visit. While someone who lives in a second story apartment in NYC with very little storage space may just need a folder to fit in a tight nook, but is forced to ride a class 1 because of local laws. So again, we ask, what will be the primary use of your folding electric bike?
For some, weight is one of the most important factors for a folding electric bike. I personally live in a second-story apartment and so want my folder to be as light as possible, so I chose a folding electric bike with a carbon fiber frame — it only weighs 30 pounds. A low curb weight might also be important for those who plan on frequently packing and unpacking their bike during trips. It can take a physical toll on the body to pick up an electric bike and awkwardly bend over to stow it away in a compartment. If you fit into this category, you’re likely going to want a carbon fiber frame if your budget permits (they’re often quite a bit more expensive) or at the very least an aluminum frame to keep the weight down.
On the other side of this coin we have heavier folding electric bikes made from either aluminum or steel for maximum durability. Steel frames are great for those plan to use their folder for some moderate off-road use, but remember, this will be a heavier bike and the steel frame will also be more prone to rust, so if you do end up going with this option and live near the ocean, watch out for exposed metal and rust.
Another hugely important factor for the frame is going to be the locking mechanisms. The standard locking mechanism for a folding electric bike is a single-stage latch that locks the frame together through pressure. Some of the more expensive folders have a two-stage or three-stage locking mechanism that adds additional layers of protection against the frame accidentally unlocking and folding during rides. This won’t matter as much for city riders, but it does become more important to have a two-stage locking mechanism for those with their eyes set on the trails.
Suspension is great, especially for longer rides or bumpier roads, but suspension forks add some serious weight to the frame and is just one more mechanical function to break or wear over time. Are you a short distance city commuter with smoothly paved roads? If so, you may want to opt out of suspension. Going back to off-road use though, yeah, you’re probably going to want at least front suspension if you plan on tackling real trails. We do recommend snagging a seat post suspension regardless of what your primary use for your folding electric bike is because they add minimal weight but provide a serious boost to comfort.
In our opinion, derailleurs matter, but not as much as on analogue bikes. One of the biggest bonuses to high quality derailleurs is lowered weight, but we’re talking a few grams here and when you have a 250 watt or higher motor assisting you, those grams are practically unnoticeable. So if you’re on a tight budget, this is definitely an area where we feel it’s okay to go with an entry-level component like a Shimano Tourney.
This, again, goes back to what your personal primary use for your folding electric bike will, but generally speaking, the more functionality an electric bike has, the better. For instance, having a folding electric bike with a rear and/or front basket means there’s plenty of room to stow your gear. For those who will be using this for camping from an RV or boat, you’ll almost certainly end up using this bike to ferry gear back and forth. Even those in the city who will use this to grab groceries will appreciate the added functionality of a cargo rack and/or front basket. If you need a rear rack and/or front basket but the folding electric bike you have your heart set on doesn’t come with one, check to see if the frame has bosses for a rear rack and/or front basket. If so, you’ll be able to snag some aftermarket gear and attach it yourself.
Lighting is another point of added functionality that can sometimes go overlooked on electric bikes. Having an integrated lighting system will make you more visible in low light or no light conditions, and can help prevent an accident.
How tall and how wide is right for you? Skinny road tires or fat off-road tires? There’s a lot to choose from and it can get confusing. We recommend not going below 20 inches for tires as the ride can start to feel a little wobbly. Of course, is size is your primary concern, smaller tires do make for a smaller footprint. If you do opt for something below 20 inches, just be careful on your first couple of rides as it may get some getting used to.
But what about fat tires? Fat tires are great for pushing through sand, snow, mud and deep gravel, but extra wide tire patch creates more rolling resistance and takes more effort from the motor to get you going. So, if you live near a beach or plan to frequent them, or live in a city where it snows, fat tires might be a better bet. This being said, if you do for fat tires, you’ll probably want at least a 500 watt motor or even higher.
Which one will you get?
Ultimately this comes down to your budget and personal needs, but hopefully this guide helps to get you thinking about the various components and details that might make your ride more enjoyable and help you get the most out of your folding electric bike as possible. If you do end up getting a folder, let us know which one you get!