About 100 years after the invention of the bicycle, inventors began to create a variety of disassembling and folding bicycles. As opposed to bicycles that disassemble, however, designers create folding bicycles to optimize portability without requiring full detachment of parts. At their inception, folding bicycles were used almost exclusively by the military. Following World War II, and especially after the 1960s, manufacturers produced folding bicycles primarily for the civilian consumer market.
Identifying the individual who first made a folding bicycle is difficult to determine because creators may have not documented their inventions. However, according to the Folding Cyclist website, the first known patent for a folding bicycle is documented in the United States as having been issued to inventor Michael B. Ryan in 1893. French military officer Henry G rard filed the next documented folding bicycle patent in France in 1896. In marketing the bicycle, Gerard partnered with industrialist Charles Morel, who produced the bicycles for the French military. Inventor William Crowe patented a third folding bicycle design in England in 1896. The design was distinct from previous patents: It incorporated not only a folding frame, but also folding handlebars. Manufacturers made the bicycle under the name Faun Folding Cycle.
Manufacturers produced folding bicycles beginning in the 1890s for military use. As mentioned above, the French military used folding bicycles at least from 1896. In 1897, the New York Times documented that the Dwyer Folding Bicycle Company made folding bikes for the U.S. military. Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) in England made bicycles for the British army during World War II. British military parachutists jumped from planes with the folded bikes attached to their gear.
Post-World War II Folding Bikes
Production of folding bicycles declined after World War II. Those that were produced were marketed to a civilian rather than a military clientele. In the 1940s, Le Petit-Bi bicycle for civilian consumers in France featured wheels that were smaller than previous designs.
1960s through 1970s
The Moulton bicycle gained popularity in the 1960s. Folding bicycle manufacturing increased worldwide into the 1970s. Companies such as Raleigh, Peugeot and Bianchi produced and sold folding bicycles geared toward a wide consumer market.
1980s through Today
In the 1980s, Dr. David Hon began the folding bicycle company, Dahon. Since that time, Dahon has become the most popular folding bicycle company in the world. The 1980s also saw the development of the Brompton bicycle, which also remains highly popular today. According to the Folding Cyclist, more than 100 companies currently specialize in manufacturing folding bicycles.