I get the feeling that one of the main reasons folding bikes aren’t more popular among urban bike commuters is the fact that they look different than “normal” bicycles (I’ve actually had people comment that they look like “those little bicycles bears ride in the circus”… LOL). After figuring out how incredibly useful they are for city riding and multi-modal commuting, I no longer see them as “weird” or “nerdy” at all. In fact, when I see a person on a nice folder, my gut reaction is one of admiration for the wise and enlightened choice they’ve made.
I’m not saying folding bikes are the end all, but they’re certainly powerful tools that would probably be much more widely used if they didn’t so strongly go against the grain of what we intuitively think of as “bike”. I suspect this is the same reason recumbents have never gained in popularity past their measly 0.5% of market share.
What about you? Assuming you had the need for one, would you feel self-conscious riding a folding bike? Does the look of tiny wheels turn you off or would you feel comfortable riding a bike with 16″ wheels? (I’m talking purely self-image here, not practical reasons related to bike design.)