Burdening the Contortionist: Your options when Mounting Gear on a Folding Bike.

As portable as a laptop bag

Lets talk folding bikes!!

These marvelous Lilliputian contraptions have a rich history and occupy a curious niche within the cycling ecosystem. As with covers, they should not be prejudged based on first appearances as the vast community of “folders” who own and love their folding bikes will be the first to let you know just how wholesome owning one can be.

Brompton and Dahon
A Brompton and a Tern, two of the most popular folding bike brands lying side by side, ready to be smuggled into a train.

As an avid bikepacker, I’ve spent some time thinking about how a folding bike would fit into the tour by bike setting and my major concerns with fold bike touring boil down to wheel size and gearing. Preparing for a cycling tour is no easy task, and choosing a folding bike as your beast of burden for such a journey complicates things even further.

Most folding bikes come with 20-inch wheels which make them highly portable when commuting or traveling on public transport but compromises their ability to handle challenging terrain. If you plan to do bikepacking over distances greater than your home to your work, then opting for a folding bike with 700c wheels and wider gear ratios will go a long way in making the ride more bearable.

Brompton and Raleigh Sprite
A folding bike next to a regular commuter bike. Notice the drastic difference in wheel and tire sizes.

Despite my hangups about their suitability for long bike tours, folding bikes are amazing for travel; they’re small, lightweight, versatile, and extremely practical, but they aren’t always as capable as a dedicated touring bike when it comes to carrying loads. So, how do you go about loading as much bike packing gear as you can on a bike that offers so little frame size to work with?

Taking everything into account, your mounting options are largely determined by the brand of folding bike you own. As with touring bikes, all folding bikes are not made equal: some bike frames come with front mid-fork and/or rear mounting eyelets while others don’t and others have patented mounting accessories that are brand specific. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the four popular folding bike brands: Brompton, Bike Friday, Dahon and Tern .  

The recommendations below may apply to other folding bike brands but it is not guaranteed since there is a risk of incompatibility, depending on the specific components involved. Ultimately, the mounting options in this article should be considered unproven and subject to the needs and expectations of the individual. That said, we think that your gear mounting solution will probably be one or a combination of the following:

1. Touring panniers and Racks combo 

A pannier mounted on the rear rack of a folding bike.

Touring panniers can be used to carry a lot of gear. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to use regular panniers with folding bikes, and no matter what you do, you will face heel-strike issues. For this option, you will need a rack to hang them on either at the back of the bike or on the fork. Your choice of racks may be limited to those made by your bike’s manufacturer but there may also be some cross-compatible racks. Ultimately, you have to do some research and confirm what rack fits your folding bike.

A front rack is usually mounted at the end of the fork legs and at the crown on the bike fork. An example of this setup is the Spartan Rack that is made for folding bike brand Tern. These front racks offer a low-center-of-gravity for stability when loaded with panniers. You will be able to load a total weight of between 10- 22kg on your front rack depending on your folding bike brand.

The Spartan front rack

Rear racks mount from near the rear dropout and up to the top of the seat stay. Because loading weight to the rear of the bike has less of an effect on the bike’s steering than at the front, you can carry heavier loads by mounting panniers onto the rear rack.

Folding-bike specific rear racks such as Tern’s Loader Rack which can carry loads up to 25 kg (55 lb.) and the Sidekick Doublewide Decks that can carry loads of up to 100 kg (220 lb.) are extra-wide lower decks that have impressive carrying capacities.

The Tern Loader Rack

Mounting Adapters

If your bike frame lacks eyelets, then rack adapters may be just what you need. These nifty add-ons are a secure way to mount a rack on a bike that was not intended to have a rack. With this setup, you can bestow on your folding bike the load carrying abilities of a touring bike!

The Tubus QR Adapter is ideal for mounting a rear carrier on a bike dropout without lower eyelets as it utilizes a quick release skewer to clamp a bracket in position for interfacing with the 2 lower mounting holes of a rear rack.

One downside to the Tubus QR adapter is that once installed, removing your rear wheel won’t be as easy and you’ll not want to have your panniers mounted when you do remove the rear wheel since the weight will then be supported completely by the upper rack struts.

On the other hand, if your bike frame has no rack-mount eyelets at the top section of the rear triangle, then seatpost collars will solve your problem. The Salsa Rack-Lock Seatpost Collar and Axiom Trekk Seat Collar are great examples of seatpost collars which will add threaded eyelets to your seatpost thereby allowing you to attach a rear bike rack.

The Axiom Trekk Seat Collar. Observe the the two eyelets at the top which will serve as mounting points on your bike frame.

Another alternative that would allow you to put a standard pannier on your bike would be a Xootr Crossrack, which mounts to your seat post and provides a rail and support for a single pannier. Here one is attached to a Dahon Eco3:

Xootr Crossrack
The downside is that the bracket prevents you from fully inserting your seat post into the frame when you fold the bike but it does not prevent you from folding the bike.

You can also consider an affordable, Foldit rear bike rack that’s convenient for doing errands around town or going on short bike tours.

2. Specialty Racks

Some folding bike manufacturers offer custom specialty racks that are only compatible with their brand and provide great gear carrying solutions. Good examples are Bike Friday’s Standard Rear Rack and Folding Rear Rack which allow you to attach panniers and bags to your folding bike.

Bike Friday’s Alloy Standard Rear Rack

Bike Friday’s folding rear rack is an interesting foldable rear rack that packs flat in your suitcase and is designed to take all standard panniers. Bike Friday advertise that this rack fits all Pocket bikes, Air bikes, and tandems, including the New World Tourist, Pocket Sport, Pocket Companion, Llama, Air Friday – all Bike Friday bikes except the tikit line.

The Folding rear rack has a 55lb limit

Tern’s Transporteur Rack, Pack Rack and Hauler Rack are both modular cargo carriers that allow you to carry bags and baskets teeming with provisions.

The Tern Transporteur rack

These racks have an open-ended design and with a bungee cord/rope, you will be ready to carry backpacks, boxes, and other bulky items. The Hauler rack comes with mounting holes on the base so you can easily bolt a crate to the rack for carrying smaller items.

The Tern Hauler Rack

3. Think about a Rack-Top Bag! 

Using a Rack-Top Bag might be a way to avoid heel-strike issues but it will limit your carrying capacity. A rack-top bag such as the Ortlieb Trunk-Bag will roughly have the volume of a small pannier but I would highly recommend them nonetheless as they come packed with features such as:

  • Expandable main compartments
  • IP 67 Dust & Water Protection Rating
  • Extra side compartments
  • Adjustable padded shoulder strap for carrying the Trunk Bag off of the bicycle.
  • Safety light attachments
  • Internal zipper storage pocket for valuables
The Ortlieb trunk bag comes with a Basket Rack-Lock Adapter which is a rack adapter mounting system that comes in handy for adding a trunk bag to your touring pannier set.

4. Headtube Luggage Trusses

Alot of folding bike manufacturers offer a ‘luggage socket’ on their bicycle headtubes that then use the bike´s frame to support handlebar bags, baskets and bags, keeping the weight of the contents centered and stable. 

An example of such a setup is the Dahon valet truss and quick coupler (sold separately) which clamps to your handlebar post thereby allowing you to carry a handlebar bag on the front of your Dahon folding bike.

Tern implements its own Luggage Truss CMT that lets you mount cargo on the bike frame instead of the front fork, for improved steering stability.

The Tern Luggage Truss CMT

Brompton uses a similar setup and calls it the front carrier block which attaches to the pre-made fittings on the head tube at the front of your Brompton bike, allowing you to add and remove a Brompton bag.

The Brompton front carrier block

The block mounts directly to the front of the Brompton main frame using two 4mm Allen key bolts and incorporates a spring-loaded release mechanism. The luggage weight is carried by the frame itself, which doesn’t affect the steering of the bike and has a carrying capacity of between 10-15kg.

5. Handlebar bags

Handlebar bags offer an opportunity for you to load gear at the front of your folding bike. With this setup, you will have the ability to load bags such as the Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Classic which offers compartments large enough to carry necessities such as a camera, cell phone, wallet, etc.

However, folding bike handlebars are not very wide so your carrying capacity is somewhat limited here.

A mounted Dahon Handlebar bag

6. Bikepacking bags

If you mean business, then you may as well go all out and utilize bikepacking bags that are specifically designed to be mounted on a bicycle frame. These are often lightweight and can be strapped on just about any part of your bike that is willing to take them. Bikepacking bags range from handlebar bags, seat post bags, top tube bags and frame bags.

Bikepacking bags are our specialty and I encourage you to check out our extensive bikepacking bag catalogue which includes brands such as Caradice, Salsa, OrtliebRevelate Designs and Oveja Negra that offer frame specific and cross compatible bikepacking bags.

Final thoughts

In summary, what needs to be understood is that there is no single best way to carry stuff on a bike. The right set-up for you will depend on factors such as how much gear you need to carry, how far you are cycling and what you will be doing at your destination.

Safe travels Folders!!

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