Traditionally, a serviceable folding bike has set you back about £500. So can a machine boasting coil-sprung suspension, an aluminium frame and six-speed derailleur transmission for under £220 make the grade? Unfortunately, the Melbourne Classic is strangled by ineffective (and in our eyes pointless) rear suspension. A rigid variant, on the other hand, with improved pedals and a better stem design would make for a cheap but very cheerful runabout.
Watch a video summary of the Melbourne Classic Soft-tail Folder:
Ride & handling: Weaves and wobbles, especially when pushed hard
Thanks to a relatively short top tube, curious stem angle and iffy coil shock, handling was reminiscent of a pogo-stick. The Classic weaved unpredictably and had a tendency to flop into corners. This combination, coupled with low gearing, meant impromptu wheelies became something of a party trick. Suspension bob was so pronounced that pedals, and in some cases the bottom bracket shell, would ground on the most gentle of speed humps. Dialling the shock to the point of lockout and adopting a smooth pedalling style improved matters but much beyond 12mph resulted in an overly skittish front end - terrifying when negotiating roundabouts or trickling through town.
Akin to similarly priced mounts, the Melbourne Classic doesn’t fold sufficiently compactly for easy carrying - not overly practical on packed rush-hour trains. That said, the prevalence of alloy components keeps weight manageable and won’t leave you breathless or risking a hernia while climbing stairs or lifting in and out of the car.
Frame: Cheerful construction let down by poor shock
Aluminium provides a distinct weight advantage at the lower end of the market and to its credit, the Melbourne Classic isn’t overly heavy. Dependable plain-gauge tubes and substantial dropouts should shrug off general day-to-day carelessness, although a replaceable gear hanger would have been a nice touch. TIG welding is satisfyingly uniform, while removing the long, black alloy seat post reveals an accurately reamed seat tube and four-point carrier fixings and mudguard eyes are sensible touches. Welding on the overbuilt hi-tensile unicrown fork was decidedly workmanlike, if unlikely to fail.
The frame separates courtesy of a substantial hinged clamp secured with a somewhat agricultural quick-release that could prove stubborn in a hurry. However, securely in position, the frame displays surprising sideways rigidity. A single-pivot rear linkage and coil shock provides a degree of comfort, although performance and longevity are questionable thanks to crude construction and the use of nylon bushings. To incorporate suspension at this end of the market usually means form over function or more serious cost-cutting elsewhere. The pale blue livery might not be to everyone’s taste but proved surprisingly tough, with stone chips and abrasions having little impact.
Equipment: Low budget but generally cheerful
Unsurprisingly perhaps, most components are unbranded/OEM. The long stem folds unobtrusively and is deceptively rigid, although we have reservations concerning the use of nylon in the locking clamp which, while unproblematic through the test period, could potentially fail with unpleasant consequences and is an inappropriate place to shave a few grams. We found our knees periodically caught the underside of the bars, even after moving the saddle rails as far back as the clamp allowed.
Three-piece alloy cranks paired with a steel ring and mated to an adequate unsealed bottom bracket are functional, if unremarkable, components that should prove simple to service. The resin platform pedals felt distinctly bargain basement - particularly whippy when riding in street shoes. Designed to fold inboard when not in use courtesy of a crude toggle switch, they would be an area we would upgrade at the point of sale.
Shimano’s faithful Tourney might not set trouser clips ablaze but, mated to a user friendly shifter and six-speed, wide-ratio Mega-range cassette, ensures dependable gear selection, even under load. More experienced riders will find the ratios too low but they might be welcomed by novices living in hillier regions.
Braking, often an afterthought on some small-wheeled bikes, is courtesy of some very shapely machined alloy levers which belie their humble origins. Paired to black, unbranded V-brakes they deliver surprisingly effective stopping with good modulation and feel - even in the wet.
Finishing kit, while nondescript, is generally okay. We were expecting the seat post to have the rigidity of bamboo but even extended to its maximum it wasn’t unduly whippy. A micro adjust clamp was perhaps too much to expect but would have made fore and aft adjustments considerably easier. The luxuriously padded “Active” saddle proved a surprisingly comfortable perch over shorter distances.
Full-length chrome plastic guards might have benefited from a few millimetres' additional width but look smart while providing excellent protection from the elements. They enjoy a distinct weight advantage over the metal variants often found on budget small-wheelers. Despite a stick lodging between tyre and guard, they didn’t warp and fail, and should see long service.
The aluminium platform rack sports utilitarian welding, thoughtfully disguised under thick paint, but compensates with adequate rigidity, albeit only suitable for medium capacity trunk bags. The black theme continues with stout 36-hole hoops with machined sidewalls laced two-cross to cheap-and-cheerful cup-and-cone hubs. Bolted axles mean you’ll stand a sporting chance of keeping them but require a 15mm spanner in the event of punctures. For all this, they are reassuringly smooth and very easy to strip and service should they get the rumbles. The drillings for Schrader valves needed judicious filing - the rear claiming a valve stem on our first outing.
Spoke guards lack street cred but we were disappointed by their omission as they can prevent nasty spills in the event of a misaligned derailleur turning cannibal. We were reassured to find that, despite some feckless encounters with potholes, storm drains and casual kerb jumping thrown in for good measure, the wheels remained largely true - thanks in part to the 1.75in wide, dual-purpose Kenda rubber. Not the stuff of dreams, they nevertheless offer good cushioning with a fair turn of speed on tarmac and dry towpath.