21 Small Wheel Bicycles - The Zippy Revolution

Middle aged businessman going to office by cycle

Dean Mitchell / Getty Images

Bicycles and Bikes.
When those words are uttered most brains no doubt trot off to the memory to retrieve images of diamond framed vehicles with two large wheels of about 26 inch diameter. While that might be prevailing view of bicycles, it is not the complete picture. As we shown on TreeHugger many times, bikes come in all shapes and sizes.

Smaller wheels tend to make a bike much zippier to manoeuvre, stronger (shorter spokes) more compact for storage and they turn heads. The gearing is adjusted to compensate for the wheel size. They do however, find potholes faster and don't 'track' as well on loose surfaces. Overall, however, they are hugely fun to ride and isn't that how cycling should be?

Collected here, after the fold, and in no particular order, are twenty one (21) of those bicycles with smaller than standard spinning bits. (Stay tuned for a companion round-up on trikes and quad bikes.)

1. Moulton

Moulton esprit bike photo

Introduced back in 1962 the Moulton was arguably the earliest commercially produced small wheel bicycle. It was also one of the the first such bikes to offer front and rear suspension. Oh, and the AM spaceframe model holds the world speed record for bicycles of conventional riding position, at 51mph. Here we show just one of several variants that have evolved from the past 46 years; the 20" Moulton Esprit. We've noted the Pashley - Moulton TSR and Moulton New Series.

2. Brompton

Brompton M3L bike photo

Although Moulton may have been the pioneer, it is the Brompton that 20 to 30 years later had the numbers on the road in the UK and Europe. This iconic (it was chosen to help represent London at the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony) 'Made in England" commuter bike, with its 16 inch wheels, is renowned for its swift conversion to a small folded size.

3. Bike Friday

Bike Friday Pocket Expedition bike photo

More often spotted in the US than either of the above two would have to be Bike Fridays. Much loved the world over these fast folders were joined in the past few years by an even slicker brother, the 16 inch Tikit, which can be collapsed in a mere five seconds. Here we've pictured the 20 inch Pocket Expedition.

4. Dahon

Dahon hammerhead bike photo

Another well known small wheel bike is the brand conceived in Californian and made in Taiwan - the Dahon. David Hon's company would eventually lay claim the title of world's largest selling folding bicycle manufacturer, with over 2 million bikes sold throughout 30 countries, 25 years after the first model rolled off the production plant. Above is the Hammerhead.

5. Birdy

birdy monocoque bike photo

In Europe one might see quite a few small wheel bikes bearing the branding for Birdy. This German bike was designed in 1995 and like the Brompton and Bike Friday, the 18 inch Birdy is well liked for its rapid folding prowess, as well as for its suspension. Some high end models are available with the mostly maintenance free Rohloff gear hub. For our pic we've selected their top of the range, Birdy II monocoque.

6. Airnimal

Airnimal Rhino Black bike photo

Airnimal is another British company with a penchant for smaller than normal wheels. They have three basic models, the and Rhino, with a multitude of variations within each model. Two, the Chameleon and Joey, use 24" wheels, whilst the more rugged of the team, the Rhino, seen here, goes with that classic BMX standby, the 20 inch rim.

7. Strida

Strida 5 bike photo

The Strida, was also designed by a Brit - they sure do like small wheel bikes don't they? Since it first appeared in 1987 the Strida has progressed through numerous rendering, like the Strida 3 to arrive at its current 16" wheel, aluminium framed Strida 5 version. Although originally made in the UK, then Portugal, it is now owned and made by Taiwanese manufacturer Ming Cycle. Our founder stows his in the closet

8. iXi

ixi bike bike photo

Not long after TreeHugger hit the web, the iXi appeared and it seemed to personify all that we stood for back then: Slick design, cool looks and supportive of a greener, less energy intensive way of life. The iXi can separate in half, it has (like the Strida) a greaseless drivechain, 16" wheels and folding pedals.

9. GoBike

gobike bike photo.jpg

When we wrote about the GoBike two years ago we noted that its availability seemed a little sketchy. And seems to still be the case. While this very cool looking machine still has a functioning website and we can find them for sale for $1,000 USD, we've also read on several occasions that the company has folded. If this is true it's shame 'coz this Canadian designed 20" wheel, 8 speed folding bike came complete with groovy front and rear suspension.

10. Swift

Xootr Swift bike photo

The Swift's heritage is too convoluted to tell in the space we have here. Suffice to say it was the early 1990's brainchild of designer, Peter Reich, ex-bike racer Jan VanderTuin, and was later commercialised by Karl Ulrich, maker of the Xootr scooter. The Swift folds by pivoting the rear forks forward, allowing the seat post to drop all the way behind its 20" (406mm) wheels.

11. Mercedes Benz

mercedes benz folding bike photo

Yes, strange as may sound, Mercedes Benz are behind this rather space-age, fully suspended folding bike. It was due for release in April of 2008, but, to be honest, we aren't sure if it ever made it to market. But that doesn't stop it from being eye candy and sparking the imagination of bike designers. The rear rack was designed to still hold luggage when the bike folded down and the disc brakes were said to somehow perform dual duty as a bike lock.

12. Airframe

Airframe bike photo

The bike lays claim to title of the "lightest folding production bicycle available that has good, generous conventional riding dimensions." The four and eight speed commuter weighs in at 10.5 kg and is said to fold in 10 seconds (after a little training). AirFrame was designed by a British architect - yep, another one from there.

13. Mezzo

Mezzo D10 bike photo

And just to convince you that the Brit really do have a deep seated fascination for small wheel bicycles we continue with the Mezzo, again from the UK. Avoiding hinges in the main aluminium frame gives the bike a stiffer structure, providing what its makers believe to be more control, and better acceleration. Previously we mentioned a Paraglider carrying one on his flight, so he could cycle back to his car. Here we picture the new curvy Mezzo D-10.

14. Di Blasi

DiBlasi R24 bike photo

Escaping from the British Isles for the moment we head to Italy to find the Di Blasi. Available either in high tensile steel or stainless steel frame this 13+ kg seven speed bike is replete with 16" wheels, which power an on-board dynamo light. We've shown the R24 here, but Mr. Rosario Di Blasi has been making folding bikes since the early 1950's, when he prototyped a fold-in-half motor scooter! His bicycle was later perfected in 1973.

15. Giatex

Giatex Chiba bike photo

A tad different to most folders, the Giatex of Taiwan performs its shrinking act through why they term "stretching frame technology," which really means the top tube of the frame telescopes back past the seat post, which itself drops way down. The handlebar stem and pedal also manage a folding trick. Plenty of models to select from, sporting either alloy or steel frames and 16" or 20" wheels.

16. Breezer

Breezer Zag 8 Bike photo

In case you were wondering if the USA might've forsaken small wheelers to the mercy of all those British bikes, we tender the Breezer as evidence that they have not. On show here is the Zag 8. It utilises 20" wheels and eight speed gearing to toe around people 4'8" to 6'4" on its aluminium frame. They also offer, amongst five models, the incredibly cute Itzy, which would melt your heart with its tiny 14" wheels.

17. Easy Racer

Easy Racer Ti Rush bike photo

Not sure if we can legitimately include these here, as only the front wheel is really smaller than standard, but hey, what the hell, let's risk it. Last time we picked the Javelin. This time we showcase the Ti-Rush, which the manufacturers gush is "perhaps the most exquisite bicycle being manufactured in the world today." Apparent the titanium frame of this two wheeled recumbent provides a 5% increase in performance over it's aluminium framed brother. Look down the back of your sofa for a spare $5,900, if you want one!

18. X Bike

X bike photo

More of a glint in a designers eye, than a commercially successful product, the X Bike is a prototype small wheel bike from the guys who dreamed up the Strida. It's injection moulded, ultrasonically welded carbon glass frame folds up with a skew joint scissor action, while steering is managed by auto-tensioned cables via variable ratio pulleys! The solid PU tyres are smaller than small, they're miniscule.

19. Genius

Mobiky Genius bike photo

With its incy wincy 12" pneumatic tyres the Genius by Mobiky is sure to attract attention, but if such curiosity gets too much for you, spend three second folding its aluminium frame, grab the built-in carry handle and leap aboard a bus to make your escape from the admiring crowds. For its size the Genius does have the unexpected, like a three speed internal gear hub, front and rear brakes and folding pedals, whilst weighing in at nearly 13.5 kg (30 lbs).

20. Like-a-Bike

likeabike bike photo

This penultimate entry in our roundup has small wheel because it is designed for small people. Specifically for young kids around the ages of two to five. It is not a pedal powered bike, but a true push bike. The wooden Like-a-Bike is said to teach balance and control at a much earlier age than with traditional child bicycles with outrigger trainer wheel. Its concept dates back to 1817 when Baron Von Drais invented a two wheeled "walking machine", also known as the Draisienne or "hobby horse".

21. A-Bike Plus

A-bike photo

We conclude with what is tagged as the world's smallest, lightest folding bike. A remarkable feat of engineering brings together an aluminium frame with weeny little 6" pneumatic tyres that can be inflated to a rather firm 90psi, all in a package that weighs a paltry 5.8kg (12.9lbs). Designed by Sinclair Research, who bought us the world's first pocket calculator, the A-Bike is primarily intended to get riders from home to rail-or-bus connections and thence to their offices, and the reverse. Where does it spring from? The UK, of course.

Whilst long this is not an exhaustive list of the planet's small wheel bicycles. (For example, we could've also have included the Suitcase bike, and the Briefcase bikes.) But we reckon it should give you a taste of what is out there, and maybe open eyes a little wider to the possibilities of riding a small wheeled bike.

See also our post on the fastest folding bikes,, as well as our Buy Green Guides on Small Wheel Folding Bikes and Large wheel Folding Bikes.

[Disclosure. This writer has ridden an 17" wheeled AM Moulton for nearly 20 years.]