How to Maintain Your Folding Bike

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So you’ve got yourself a brand new, hot-to-trot, super-compact folding bike and you want to know the best ways to take care of it. That’s smart. We certainly want you to be able to get the most out of your purchase and be able to enjoy it for years to come.

Proper and regular maintenance is a big part of preserving the life of your bicycle. Fortunately, folding bike maintenance isn’t too different from regular bike maintenance. So if you are already familiar with how to take care of your bike, most of this will be a review, but that can’t hurt either.

Cleaning your folding bike

A big difference between solid bikes and folding bikes is that folding bikes sit far closer to the ground. Therefore they tend to pick up a lot more dirt and road salt, and they build up grime faster than other bikes. Sticking to a regular cleaning schedule will help ensure your bike continues to run smoothly.

Folding bike parked with a kickstand in front of some steps
That low frame makes it easy for your folding bike to pick up dirt and grime from the road.

Cleaning a folding bike frame

Since folding bikes have more points of entry than solid bikes, you’ll want to take extra care to ensure you’re not getting any debris inside the frame. Apply warm soapy water and use a cloth or sponge to wipe away road dirt. For dirt that’s caked on to the surface, citrus degreasers are OK but don’t go overboard, and be sure to rinse it off thoroughly.

One of the best bike cleaners around is Muc-Off. They also carry a range of other products to help you take care of your folding bike.

I don’t recommend using a high pressure washer because its difficult to keep the water away from the bearings and folding parts.

Once this step is completed, make sure to dry off your bike with a towel. Rust is your enemy.

Cleaning the seatpost

The long, high post is another clear difference between a folding bike and a solid bike. Regularly cleaning your seat post will help prevent dirt from entering your bike’s frame if the post slips. Dirt in the frame will make it more difficult to raise and lower the seat as your bike ages. As with the frame, Muc-Off works great. Just be sure to dry off your seatpost when you are done cleaning it.

Cleaning the wheels

With smaller wheels, it can be more difficult to reach all the spaces between the spokes that can accumulate grime. You will want to focus on the rim of the wheel to ensure there is no buildup of dirt that could get in the way of your brakes.

Cleaning the brakes

On a bike with a folding frame, more often than not the brakes will be cable or caliper rim brakes. The easiest way to clean them is to remove the cables that hold them in place and apply some light degreaser with a rag to wipe them down.

Cleaning the drive train

Cleaning the drivetrain on a folding bike is similar to cleaning the brakes. Just wipe it down with a degreaser, but don’t forget to lubricate it after the dirt has been removed.

Cleaning the chain

Cleaning a folding bike chain can be slightly more challenging for beginners. This is because to get the best results, you have to remove the chain completely. You can achieve this with a quick link tool. Park Tools is the leading manufacturer of high-quality bike tools, but there is a range of suppliers that are more budget-friendly.

Place the chain in a jar of cleaner and degreaser mixed with water. You can leave this overnight or shake and repeat until the water runs clear. If you really want to get into it, small brushes can get at hard-to-reach spots in between the links. Dry off your chain. Once it’s reattached to your bike, ensure that you apply some chain lubricant.

Mechanic in a bike shop cleaning a folding bike
If your bike needs to come apart for repairs, take advantage of the opportunity to give it a thorough cleaning. (© Umberto Brayj | Creative Commons)

Function and Safety Inspection

Now that your folding bike is nice and clean, you will be able to more easily tell if all the components are in proper working order. Or perhaps you noticed some glaring problems while you were cleaning it. Inspections are universal to bike maintenance.

Check wheels and tires

Before you go anywhere, make sure your tires have the right amount of pressure. They will naturally leak air, so a quick squeeze before every ride will help you stay on top of this. Riding your bike with low pressure tires is cumbersome. You’ll be putting more effort into it than necessary and risk puncturing your wheels.

Wheels that are straight and spin evenly are essential for your bike’s peak performance. Wheels are realigned by adjusting the spokes. Tightening all of the wheel spokes to ensure that it spins with equal distance between both brakes is referred to as ‘truing.’ It is recommended that your wheels go through this process every six months.

Check the brakes

Brakes are one of the most common components of a bike that wear out and need replacing. Fortunately, it’s also easy to tell when that time has come. Have you ever dealt with that annoying screeching, squealing sound when you try to engage your brakes? That’s the sound of your brakes telling you they need to be adjusted or replaced.

Brake pads also have a telltale wear line. Once they’re worn to that point, its time for them to go. This usually happens around the one-year mark for city cyclists.

Check the lights and bell (or horn)

Although not imperative to a properly functioning folding bike, it is a good idea to make sure that both your lights and bell are in working order to help ensure your safety while cycling.

Clean off any dust or debris that could interfere with the strength of the light’s output. Make sure your headlight is aligned and hasn’t shifted due to vibrations. If your light is burnt out, avoid replacing it while it is still hot. If you don’t have the time to wait, beware of touching the glass while installing the new bulb.

Keep your bike bells and horns clean. Dusting them off regularly will extend their life. Tighten all bolts and screws so they don’t get loose and rattle around. A lower tone is a sign of a faulty bell that may need attention or replacing.

For horns, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the wiring. If the problem isn’t with the connection, then it may be the fuse itself that needs to be replaced.

Lubricating the hinge on a folding bike

Your folding bike relies on its ability to fold. To do this smoothly, you will need to take special care of your bike’s hinges and joints. Regularly cleaning and lubricating these areas will help you avoid rust and help the hinge remain in proper working order.

closeup of a folding bike hinge
You’ll want to give your hinge some attention to keep it opening and closing smoothly. (© Robert Jack | Creative Commons)

What to do if your hinge gets stuck

If the hinge on your folding bike gets stuck, start by loosening all of the screws. If regular lubricant isn’t working, try a few drops of synthetic motor oil. If all else fails, check the bike’s warranty and customer service options. Be prepared for a bit of a wait if you do need to order new parts. Try to stay patient.

We all know that a folding bike that can’t fold is pretty pointless, and this can be incredibly frustrating, especially on new models.

Storage

So this isn’t exactly part of maintenance, but where and how you store your folding bike can impact its lifespan.

I don’t own a folding bike myself, so my advice here is based on my research into what folding bike owners have reported. I hope it helps you.

Some folding bike brands such as Dahon and Terns don’t “like” being folded. So owners choose to leave them unfolded whenever possible to help extend the life of their hinges. Of course, one of the major benefits of folding bikes is that you are able to save on storage space. So if that is a priority for you, Brompton bikes are probably the way to go.

Bike maintenance is a crucial step to being a responsible bike owner and is doubly important with folding bikes, because they get dirty faster, have more moving parts and are more expensive to repair. Our guide is mean to help you determine which areas need to be checked regularly.

If you are uncertain or uncomfortable doing any of the adjustments or replacing the parts yourself, your local bike shop is always happy to help keep your bike maintenance up to date and your ride safe.

Image at top: © European Cyclists’ Federation | Creative Commons

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