Folding bike is not a modern invention like we thought. It’s always had its own position in the bicycle history when people desired for compact commute solutions. Let’s check out the illustrated history of folding bikes in the pictures.
Folding bikes were derived from full-sized bikes. Velocipede (or Boneshaker) is the first type of bicycle with pedals, it was invented by Frenchman Ernest and Pierre Michaux in the 1860s. A decade later, it was replaced by ordinary bikes (bikes with a large front wheel and a tiny rear wheel) and then safety bikes (common bikes we are riding today) in late 1880s.
There’ve been many debates about the inventor of folding bikes but Englishman William Grout is regarded as the inventor of the first folding bike in 1878. However, it is more like a portable bike because riders need to disassemble the frame and fold the front wheel only, the whole process can take 10 minutes. The design didn’t have a chance to take off, especially when safety bicycles became more common.
The first real folding bike was invented by Emmit G. Latta from the United States. He filed a patent in 1887 and it was issued 1 year later. The patent was then sold to Pope Manufacturing Company but they never manufactured the bike.
Historically, folding bicycles couldn’t reach mass consumers because of expensive manufacturing costs. Therefore, they are more popular in military as a portable and fast means of transportation. French military wasn’t the original inventor, but they helped manufacture and commercialize a folding bike. Production of the Captain Gérard folding bike began in 1895.
Faun folding cycle is not the first folder but it has the mechanism that many folding bike manufacturers are still using nowadays. The frame of the machine here shown is constructed in 2 distinct parts, which are connected by a stout hinge, so that removing a strong hollow pin, the front half of the machine may be bent back so that the front wheel lie against and parallel with the back wheel, while the handlebars are also hinged and can be turned down into the position indicated in the figure, after simply removing a bolt on the top. The bike was produced in England in 1896.
The Italian cavalry cycling corps with folding bikes strapped to their backs. The photo was published in an 1910 issue of National Geographic.
BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) was the most well-known folding bike manufacturer during the WWI and WWII. Above is the 1914 Raleigh Military Model with Rifle Mounts.
BSA also made the 1942-1945 WW2 BSA Airborne Bicycle to use in battle by paratroopers. The bicycles were expected to help them move faster but they weren’t used much because larger vehicles like jeeps were available at the same time.
After some quiet decades in the history of folding bikes, we started seeing more interests in the 1960s and 1970s. More manufacturers were interested in the niche market and some iconic folders during this period are the Moulton, Raleigh Twenty, Bickerton Portable, and Puch Pic-Nic. The Raleigh Twenty is very close to folding bikes these days, it features quick release levers for easy height adjustment of saddle and handlebar, 20-inch wheels, Sturmey-Archer 3-speed gear with trigger control, caliper brakes and strong carrier.
The 1980s marked a new milestone in the history when Andrew Ritchie began production of the first Brompton folding bike in 1981. 1 year later, Dahon was founded and the first Dahon folding bikes hit the market in 1984. Montague Bikes was founded in 1987 and they started making full-size folding bikes since then.
Dahon and Brompton are still the largest folding bicycle manufacturers until today.
Disclosure: I might earn commission from qualifying purchases. We use the commission to maintain the website, buy new products and create content for free, so thank you!