Do small-wheeled bikes climb well?

Pale Rider

Legendary Member
I've recently returned to leisure cycling on a Brompton and have been finding hills more of a struggle than anticipated.

Most of it will be down to lack of fitness, but I wondered if different bikes climb hills differently with the same rider?

The most obvious difference with a Brompton is its little wheels, so I'm guessing that has something to do with it.

I bumped into a couple of other Brompton riders who reckoned their bikes are poor on hills, but like me, they hadn't tried any other bikes recently enough to make a sound judgment.

Chris S

Legendary Member
I'd have thought it would have all come down to gear inches rather than wheel size. Apparently, Bromptons typically range fro 33-99 inches. 33 inches is at the lower end of the range of most hybrids but slightly higher than most MTBs (26 inches).

If you used to ride an MTB (or something with similar gearing) then going uphill on a Brompton would fell harder.


Silencing his legs regularly
Adrian and Chris have it nailed- weight, frame stiffness & gear inches, certainly not wheel size. Climbed Ditchling Beacon a couple of times on my old Dahon Jetstream XP (bottom gear something like 22"). Its replacement, Chutney the Speed Pro TT, has a slightly higher bottom end but the bike's lighter and stiffer, and what climbing I have done on it was no harder than with my other bikes. The smaller wheels are likely to be an advantage in many circumstances- lower moment of inertia (they pick up speed quicker) and lower weight, like for like.


Here for rides.
Riding position, and the weird handling if you honk, can be added to the Brompton mix imo.

Mind you 1st on my 8 speed could get me slowly up a cliff provided I don't die of boredom on the way up the climb.


All of the above are about right - but remember that the harder you press on the pedals, the faster you go!
Clipless pedals would be a start, but like more or less all folding bikes, it's made for commuting and easy transporting, not performance. What it does, it does well, but that does not include any kind of decent performance capability.


It's a bit more complicated than that...
Having seen Mick "iron calves" Mistral and Olaf "bouncer" redfalo get from London to JoG on an unmodified 6-speed Brompton and a Moulton respectively, yes - small wheels can climb hills.


Rollin' along
Manchester way
I recently test rode a M3L for a few days, and struggled on bits of my usual lumpy commute that is comfy on my Alfine8 700c wheeled bike and equally so on my 11yo Birdy blue with 18" wheels, it does have full MTB gearing rather than 3 notchy Brommy ones. I found I was at least a gear short top and bottom.

The lad selling it had upgraded to more gears too as he'd hit the same limitation. Other than that, lovely bit of kit.


Silencing his legs regularly
You're right - my memory's playing up. Who was it?
Mark, veteran of L'Etape du Tour (!).
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