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The Evolution of the Folding Bicycle: A Brief History

At FLIT, our aim is to develop the best folding ebike on the market, and whilst we have spent years engineering our award-winning lightweight folding ebike, the FLIT-16, we cannot claim to have invented the folding bicycle by any means! In fact, we are building on over a century of innovation and invention.

For World Bicycle Day this year, we’re celebrating the history of the the folding bike! Here’s our brief history: from initial design conception to the folding bikes that we see on the market today.

Initial design conception of the folding bicycle

The folding bike, in one form or another, has been around since the late 19th century and, although its initial conception is unclear, it has been attributed to an inventor in the US by the name of Emmit G. Latta. Latta filed patents for a number of different bikes, but the most important one was in 1887 for a bike that ‘can be folded when not required for use’.

Emmit G. Lata’s patent – the first folding bike concept?

Whether or not Latta was successful in building his invention is unknown, but he did eventually sell the patent to the Pope Manufacturing Company who manufactured bicycles and automobiles at the turn of the century.

Sadly, no examples of Latta’s bike exist today but the patent suggests it would have been a world away from what we are developing at FLIT in the 21st century!

Manufacture of the first folding bike

Whilst the initial idea was conceived in 1887, the first folding bike was not manufactured until later in the 19th century, when a french soldier named Captain Gerard saw the potential in the invention for military usage.

Soon after the rest of the world followed suit, and at the start of the Second World War there were countless in production.

The most well known of these folding bikes however, was produced here in the UK by the Birmingham Small Arms Company. The bike was used by British Paratroopers in World War II and was actually specifically designed to land on its handlebars and seat, so it didn’t damage the wheels!

Folding bikes were used by British Paratroopers in World War II. Image credit: Pinterest

Despite its wartime success, the folding bike was not immediately popular with the wider British population, particularly as the bicycles in general began to lose their popularity in the early 1950s.

This was in part due to a new invention that had taken the world by storm: the private car. As people began driving everywhere, cycling fell by the wayside, and so too did the folding bike.

The folding bike revival

It wasn’t until the 1970s that folding bicycles finally began to gain popularity. The benefits of being able to store your bike inside easily, and the flexibility to take your bike on other means of transport were being realised.

The 70s saw the production of a number of different folding bikes, such as the Raleigh 20 and the Bickerton bike, and from here the folding bike really started to take off.

The 1980’s saw the creation of the Brompton bike and the Dahon bike, and both of these companies remain some of the top producers of folding bikes across the world today.

However, there are now scores of manufacturers globally providing competition, each offering a different take on the folding bike. Some have even branched out into the ebike market: adding a battery and a motor to allow you to ride further, faster, without the sweat. This is where we come in!

The folding electric bike: the answer to saving our cities?

Modern cities are becoming increasingly congested and polluted. The average London driver spent 6 days stuck in traffic in 2021, when two thirds of these car trips could be cycled in less than 20 minutes. At FLIT, we believe that the folding electric bike is the answer to saving our cities. By developing lightweight folding ebikes that allow you to zip past traffic, with the flexibility of folding your bike to take it anywhere, our aim is to get more people out of their cars and cycling instead.

Flit lightweight folding ebike - at the station
Folding ebikes give ultimate flexibility in the city

Introducing: the FLIT-16 folding ebike

We’ve spent the past 3 years developing our folding ebike, the FLIT-16. Our focus was to develop a folding ebike that was the perfect balance of being great to ride (not cramped, or flimsy-feeling like other folding bikes), whilst being super compact (to easily fit onto train luggage racks, and store in small city apartments), and lightweight (easy to carry upstairs, or onto the train).

Riding the FLIT-16 Folding Ebike
Spacious frame geometry and a hinge free top tube on the FLIT-16 make for a great ride
FLIT-16 folding ebike, at home
The FLIT-16 is designed to fit neatly into small city apartments
Carrying the FLIT-16 folding ebike
Weighing the same as an average cocker spaniel (at just 15kg), it’s easy to carry the FLIT-16 upstairs

If you’re interested in the how we developed the FLIT-16, from our initial sketches to the final design, check out our blog series:

  1. Development of the FLIT-16, Part 1: concept, design, prototype
  2. Development of the FLIT-16, Part 2: from raw metal to bike parts
  3. Development of the FLIT-16, part 3: painting and assembly

Or, click the button below for full details on the FLIT-16 folding ebike.

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