Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review of the Dahon Speed D7

It has seen it all...

Being my first 'real' folder, the Dahon Speed D7 (2008) has been with me ever since I started bike commuting back in 2009. It has seen it all - from riding in the rain to riding in Taiwan. It has been modified, been crashed into, been in minor accidents and is basically what you'd expect from something that has seen 3,000km worth of roads in many different situations - from commuting, to leisure riding, to touring. To be more accurate, I'd say it has done about 2,300km worth of commuting, 150km of leisure riding and 550km of touring.

When I bought it in 2009, it was the cheapest Dahon at $650, and with that money, you get a folding bike with a very natural upright geometry, a good gearing range (34" to 91"), and entry-level equipment that works well. Mine came with Kenda Kwests, brand-name V-brakes... nothing special. Unlike the American versions, however, Dahons don't come with fenders and an ArcLite rack as stock, so don't be fooled by the pictures on the Dahon website...


When I first bought the bike, having upgraded from another folding bike which shall not be named, it felt like I've hit jackpot. My previous folding bike was cramped, had rubbish gearing meant for 26" bikes and thus had a very low gear ratio at the high-end (~65") which meant that going over 25km/h was just impossible. The Dahon, on the other hand, had a great geometry that is comfortable, and it had a wheelbase that makes the bike less twitchy - a characteristic inherent in small wheeled bike. Best of all, it had quality tyres - the Kenda Kwest, which is a tyre that I feel gives great bang for buck, and... the gearing allowed me to hit 40km/h when necessary.

All was well and beautiful in Singapore, where even the steepest and most tiresome hills don't last for long, or had tolerable grades. No hill lasted more than 15 minutes, which was a good thing because the gearing on this bike was quite poor when it came to climbing. Starting at 34" - which felt a bit like the lowest gearing on a road bike, it was a bit of a pain to ride up grades steeper than 4%, especially when you had a load on it. When I took it to Taiwan, I totally wanted to throw the bike off the cliff in one of its many 7% mountains that can last for around six hours. In the end, I was walking half the time, and it came to my realisation that the gearing just isn't meant for anything but flat and lightly steeped terrain.

But let's talk about things more pertinent to daily use, rather than esoteric extremes. Commuting with the bike is great because you'll be sitting upright, so you'll be able to get a better field of view, and turning to look backwards won't affect your balance as it would on a road bike as most of your weight is perched on the saddle, rather than on the brakehoods as you would be on a road bike. The brakes are moderately good - it won't beat discs anytime, but it does brake adequately well whether in the wet or dry.

Unfortunately, for people looking for a fast ride, a road bike is still the best bet. Due to its upright position, it does suffer from significant drag that will slow you down - I tested it going down a 8% decline over 2km, and I managed to reach a terminal speed of 45km/h. Its lack of close discrete gearing also makes it hard to eke out maximum performance and optimal cadence, every gear change produces a distinctly palpable change in cadence.


In no way would I say that this bike folds very compactly to the extent that it's convenient to lug around. No, it's a 12.5kg beast that folds to something like 30 x 77 x 64 cm. Large. And heavy. It's around 33% larger than the fold of a Brompton.

Folding the Speed D7 isn't too hard, you just have to fold it vertically, then horizontally. Do the seat post, and then the handlebar post, then do the frame and pedals. Done. It gets a bit more complex when you have a touring rack on it, as you'll need to rotate the handlebars such that the brake levers don't come into contact with the massive touring rack.

I actually bought the Dahon because I had a few of my bikes stolen before, and thought that it would be great if I could take the bike with me whenever I go shopping. How wrong I was. In addition to the thousand stares that I got every time I lugged the beast with me, it was also heavy and unwieldy in cramped areas. Though I haven't had any shops stop me from taking it inside. But what I have proven that it is possible if you want to have a bike 'by your side' all the time, though there's a price of convenience to pay.

If you're thinking of taking the bike out, let me just say that it won't fit in that VW Polo's boot, though the Honda Fit manages it quite well. And trains... yes, Singaporean trains do accommodate these bikes well, though prepare for a thousand stares.

A First Bike?
Absolutely! I'd recommend this bike for people who are impoverished but are looking to get a quality bike for various styles of riding. The fact that i have done so many things with it is a testament to how it can grow with your varying interests in cycling, though... not very well at some. Commuting with it in Singapore is fine and dandy, because we're pretty flat, and if you're trying to get thunder thighs, all the better this is - because it lacks adequate gearing for you to spin comfortably when faced with 7% hills.

The ability to fold is also a big plus for everyone, especially people new to cycling and haven't necessarily got the skills to do road side repairs. Punctures and drivetrain problems can now be easily fixed - call a taxi and get to your nearest bike shop!

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