22 January 2012

"D" For "Dahon"; "F" For "Folding Bike"

Some days, the gray cloudy sky spreads like a shawl over buildings and trees.  But today, it's like the proverbial wet blanket.

So, I thought this might be a good day to talk about a bike I owned and didn't care for very much. In fact, it's part of a genre of bikes I'm not really crazy about, but not because I have anything against the genre. Rather, I find the bikes within them are all wanting.

That genre is folding bikes.  I've often felt I'd like to have one, even though I'm not travelling more than a couple of times a year.  Once, I did give into my curiosity and bought one:  the Dahon Vitesse D5.

Part of my rationale for buying it was that I could fold it and bring it into the office I shared at the time.  I was indeed able to do that, and folding the bike was easier than I expected.  However, the bike was heavier than I thought it would be (I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to that office, and my classes.) though, to be fair, it may have been because of some of the things I added to it.

The bike came in a matte-black finish.  It's not exactly my taste, but I think it was the only color choice available.  Soon after I bought the bike, I swapped out the stock saddle for a Brooks B72 I picked up on Craig's List.  That gave the bike, to which I also added a rear rack, a surprising elegance.

You've heard the term "flexible flyer."  That's what some of us called certain bikes like the Peugeot PX-10E (which I'll write about in another post).  Well, the Dahon was like a Broken Flyer:  When it rolled, it gave a surprisingly nimble ride, albeit on what felt like a broken frame.  Again, in all fairness, every folding bike I've tried--even the Brompton--felt like it was pulled apart in the middle.  I suppose that if I weren't accustomed to high-quality conventional frame, I might be able to accept that quality.  But, after about a year and a half of commuting and running errands on the Dahon, I was still distracted by it.

Another problem I had with the bike was its transmission.  The Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub that came with the bike was one of the most unreliable pieces of bike equipment I've ever had.  I never could keep it adjusted; nor could the mechanics at the shop where I bought the bike.  Someone suggested that the problem may have had to do with the fact that when the bike was folded, the shifter cable was pulled and twisted. I'm sure that was a contributing factor, but I noticed that even after adjusting the gears when the bike was unfolded, I experienced "ghost" gear changes while I was pedaling.  Even changing the shifter from the twist-grip style that came with the bike to a more traditional "trigger" mechanism didn't make the shifts more accurate or smoother.

But the fact that the frame folded wasn't the only thing that made it an unsuitable ride for me. One one of the last commutes home I took on the Dahon, a small pothole I would just barely have noticed had I been riding one of my larger-wheeled bikes swallowed the front wheel and threw me off the bike--in traffic.  Neither the bike nor I was damaged, and I sold the former soon afterward.

Perhaps one day I'll get another collapsible bike.  But, for now, if I can't take one of my own bikes on a trip (or if doing so is overly expensive or cumbersome), I'll borrow or rent.  Then I'll appreciate riding my own bikes all the more when I get home!


  1. Is the Brompton enough better you'd consider one, or does the "even the Brompton" rule it out as well?

  2. Steve--If I were traveling more, or other circumstances in my life warranted having a folding bike, I'd consider the Brompton. It's definitely a better ride, and its workmanship is better, than on other folders I've tried.

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  4. Hi Justine, Just a couple of quick comments from Dahon, if it's OK? First, sorry that bike didn't work for you. About 5 yrs ago Dahon upgraded that internal gear hub to Shimano Nexus, and we've stiffened up the ride of the Vitesse. Small wheels and short wheelbases are great for making bikes that fold up small, but these features also mean the bike won't ride as smoothly over rough roads. Brompton is a nice bike, but their wheels are even smaller than the Vitesse. The new Dahon Ios P9 has bigger wheels than Vitesse (24"), a very stiff frame with a tall hinge, yet folds up only slightly taller than the Vitesse, with the same footprint. It might be more your cup of tea. Thanks.

  5. In a moment of weakness I too bought a Dahon to throw in the van when traveling, two wheeled travellers always have more fun... It is great for shorter rides on smooth surfaces but they are getting harder to find. When I chose to use it for a solid week with friends in France I ended each day far more exhausted than those on larger wheels. A friend has not sat on his Dahon since testing the depth of a pothole!

    I tried my brother in law's Brompton which certainly rode slightly better as you might expect at nearly three times the price and I would not be too happy on anything but a good surface. I think you were too generous with your opinion of the Sturmey Archer five speed hub, it has to be the worst piece of cycling equipment I have ever bought!

  6. Coline--Thank you for your response. That I'm getting a response three years after I wrote my post doesn't make it immortal, but I feel good about it.

    You might be right in what I wrote about the SA five speed hub. SA's quality had been going downhill (mainly because of factory machinery that hadn't been repaired or replaced in decades) before Sun Race bought them about fifteen years ago. But, since I wrote this post, I've heard from people from people who've used various SR/SA products. None had anything good to say: I know of one person who wore out one of the new fixed-gear three-speeds in less than three months!

    Anyway, I can't wait to get to France again. If and when I go, I certainly won't bring a Dahon or any other folding bike I've ridden.