The Bike Friday New World Tourist: How Fast Is It?

The biggest question I get about folding bicycles like the Bike Friday New World Tourist is, “If the wheels are smaller than a regular bicycle, does that mean the bicycle goes slower or that you have to pedal it more in order to go as fast as a full-sized bicycle?”

The truth is, no, Bike Fridays and similar folding bike models are capable of going just as fast as your full-size bicycle (up to a limit).

The Bike Friday website explains it best:

It’s all in the gearing. A single turn of the pedals on a Bike Friday will cover the same ground as that of a regular wheeled bike — the small wheel just turns a little more. The gears on a Bike Friday are configured to match the ratios of a regular bike.

They continue by saying:

Small wheels climb better due to a smaller diameter that needs to be rotated.

Small wheels accelerate faster for the same reason.

Small wheels are more responsive — they turn and steer more easily — the feel is rather like having ‘power steering’ on your car.

Small wheels, having a lower surface area, have lower wind resistance in headwinds.

When riding in a group, small wheels enable you to get closer together and draft better.

The design of a Bike Friday allows a smaller and and lighter overall package than a regular bike, and smallness and lightness are factors in going fast.

While there is almost no difference between the speed at which a folding bicycle and a full-sized bicycle are capable of going, there is a point at which full-size bicycles become more efficient:

Tests have shown that up to 16 mph, the small wheel is more efficient than a big wheel. Between 16 and 33 mph there is little difference. Over 33 mph the gyroscopic effect of the big wheel makes it more effective. Most folks do not go over 33 mph.

I can verify that what Bike Friday is saying about the speed of their bicycles is true. I have traveled with the Bike Friday New World Tourist for more than four years and covered thousands of miles on the bicycle, and I go just as fast on the New World Tourist as I do on any of my other touring bicycles. If there is any difference in the speed of the bicycle compared to my full-size touring bicycles, it isn’t something I can noticeably feel.

The only area where the Bike Friday and similar 20 inch wheeled bicycles fail to perform as well as full-sized bicycles is in traversing over large objects in the road, such as cracks, rocks and curbs. It is here that the larger wheels excel, due to the fact that their large circumference allows them to easily roll over certain obstacles in the road. Small wheels, however, have a harder time rolling over these same sized objects due to the fact that the circumference on folding bicycle wheels are so much smaller, and the proportions between the small wheels and the object that is being crossed over, is that much greater.

Watch the video above and you will see a few samples of how the Bike Friday New World Tourist performs at speed, in sharp turns, and going up and down a curb.


12 thoughts on “The Bike Friday New World Tourist: How Fast Is It?

  1. Dan says:

    Do you use the same length cranks on your Bike Friday as you do on your other bicycles? How do you find the BB height?

    I am assuming that these things (my questions) are non-issues as the BFs appear to be very well designed and regarded, but just curious to hear your opinion.

  2. sailinghome says:

    is this another advert for Bike Fridays..?.. if it is, maybe you should actually admit it at the beginning of the post…

    Are you trying to suggest that people should buy BFs because they are fast, because some of the arguments that you put forward and minimal or even irrelevant for the daily use of a folding bike.

    I am guessing that you actually agree that the BF statements copied from their website are substantial and important enough to be repeated here..?.. really..?

    Here’s some of the quotes with alternative views that some might think are more important….

    “Small wheels climb better due to a smaller diameter that needs to be rotated.”
    — Big wheels climb better due to the flywheel effect of the larger wheel diameter
    “Small wheels accelerate faster for the same reason.”
    — Big wheels help maintain speed for the same reason
    “Small wheels are more responsive — they turn and steer more easily — the feel is rather like having ‘power steering’ on your car.”
    — big wheels are more stable – they give more accurate directionality – the feel is like having accurate steering on your car
    “Small wheels, having a lower surface area, have lower wind resistance in headwinds.”
    — [wearing a less baggy t-shirt when I’m riding will have a greater effect on wind resistance than having smaller wheels!]
    “When riding in a group, small wheels enable you to get closer together and draft better.”
    — [I do wonder how many people choose a smaller diameter bike just to draft better with… is the extra 3″ closer that you can get with 20″ dia. wheels compared to 26″ dia. wheels going to make that much difference?]
    “The design of a Bike Friday allows a smaller and and lighter overall package than a regular bike, and smallness and lightness are factors in going fast.”
    — does the smaller and lighter overall package include the allowance for the single main tube instead of a stiffer diamond frame?.. or the folding hinges..?.. if I was going to pick a bike to go fast on, I wouldn’t pick a BF because it was “small and light”.. I’d pick a carbon bike, because compared to the BF, they ARE small and light..!

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      No. ha! This isn’t an advert for Bike Friday. I just wanted to share “How I feel” when riding my Bike Friday, because I get asked about how they handle quite a bit… and this video is my response. That is all. I know others may not feel the same way, but when trying to quickly and easily explain things… this video pretty much sums it up in my mind.

  3. Brimstone says:

    Great summation of small-wheel riding characteristics Darren. And excellent vid. Nice bunny hop over that curb. You wordlessly demonstrate that the (minor) drawbacks of small wheels can be overcome with properly adapted and executed technique.You have very good form. I’ll point out for those who don’t immediately realize that it is extremely important to keep the pedals level in that maneuver on small wheel as there is much less clearance. I also believe it’s very good to have a solid bash guard to protect the very exposed chainwheel, both folded and unfolded.

    I have two folders, a 20″ Dahon and an 18″ Downtube. The Dahon is my main bike.

    I agree that there’s no noticeable speed difference with small wheels. And agree there are two or three minor drawbacks. I take extra care at railroad tracks etc as they’re more vulnerable to trapping. I find ‘road buzz’ harsher with smallys than cumbersomes. I ride fat tires to (Big Apples) help overcome rough road surface. Also I have a sprung saddle and cushy Ergon grips.

    The quick steering of smallys has advantages and disadvantages. I find it necessary to keep both hands on the bar most of the time when not ‘cruising’. Can make signaling, for example, or fussing with things on the bike interesting.

    Also the typically shorter ‘cockpit’ means upper body setup (handlebar, stem, saddle adjustment etc) can require careful consideration to get both touring comfort and foldability.

    Luggage has to be selected more carefully; small wheels don’t take large bags.
    Small rims & tires wear out faster than larger ones
    Braking, especially with a load & downhill, is more taxing to small wheels
    Less extreme off-trail capable

    Less room to hang stuff from (bottles, pumps, locks)
    Harder to find some accessories and components (wheels, racks, bags, dynamos, fenders, chainwheels, and especially handleposts and seatposts)
    No triangle to use for over-shoulder carry
    Hinges add complexity, flex and potential failure points, especially handlepost hinges

    I notice you don’t go into the MANY touring advantages of small folders. Probably you have other articles or books discussing these:

    – MUCH easier to fly with
    – Possible to go onto other transport nonfolders can’t: i.e. some public transport, most taxis, etc
    – Easier to lock up (harder to steal a chained-up folded bike); easier to hide; easier to take inside
    – Easier to carry through crowded awkward places like train station turnstiles and up and down stairs
    – Easier to make friends with. Folders are interesting to folks everywhere
    – Easier to maneuver (trundle) through crowds
    – More seat height adjustment for different riders and shoes
    – Possible to stack stuff higher on top of the racks front & rear
    -Possible to hang a larger bag for handlebar
    – Stronger wheels
    – Easier to walk beside

    The advantages FAR outweigh the disadvantages. Speed differences are not even a consideration. I think as more people experience smallys they will choose them and we’ll see a LOT more of them. Along with internal hubs and belt drives.

    Hey how do you load your smally for touring? Do you have a front rack, how much do you load it? Which do you take more often, folder or nonfolder?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Brimstone, again, see my full review of the Bike Friday New World Tourist. There you will see how I pack the bike and how much you can carry on it.

      In 2009 I traveled for 9 months across Europe with that bike, and have used it on several smaller bike tours.

      This year I will be traveling with a different bicycle – the Co-Motion Pangea, which is a full-size bicycle, but which can and will be upgraded with S&S couplers, which will allow me to take the bike apart and pack it down to a much smaller size. I’ll let you know how it works out, just as soon as I’ve had some more experience with the bike on the road.

  4. Connie says:

    I have a folding bicycle. This article is interesting. It was interesting about efficiency at speed, especially. It is good to accelerate from stop on an incline. I would add, I have no problem on descents. The bicycle is stable. I have considered different tires. I have thought Schwalbe Big Apple tires would be more comfortable on those bumps and cracks and things like that. If those tires have low rolling resistance, I think I will make the changeover.

  5. Brimstone says:

    Yes Connie the Big Apples are great. Make sure they’ll fit under your fenders. I can fit the 2 inchers but not the wider ones .

  6. Norm says:

    This video link is not in English but worth watching every second for a serious bike tourist…this 20″ bike featured(not the trike) is the only small wheeled bike i would ever recommend for the job. Properly triangulated rear, Full suspension, tough as nails, comfortable and transportable. Skip to 2:30 to see the bike right away but you will enjoy watching the entire touring video.

  7. Craig says:

    All sizes of wheels have been duly tried over the evolution of cycling and 20″ wheels never caught on – a common rule of thumb is 700 for taller than 5’4″ people and 650 for shorter than 5’4″ people. Notably, 700 wheels became more popular as people got taller and taller.

    So it is a far stretch to say 20″ wheels can compare well to larger wheels in handling. But I had a 20″ folding bike and enjoyed it tremendously for ease of travel on both business and pleasure. THAT is the great reason to own one. Please don’t risk going downhill fast on it though. Probably 20 mph max? Take it slow and enjoy yourself.

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