The Dahon

The Dahon

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My friend Robbie is no slouch on a bike. He is a former Mass-Rhode Island district road race champion, he has been beaten by the likes of Steve Bauer and Davis Phinney. The man can always get on a bike and haul ass, he always will. He drove by two days ago and was hot to go for a ride. I looked in his car to see only cycling shoes, a helmet and a small lumpy bag, he removed the bag from the car and looking like an off-duty magician, pulled out what appeared to be the remnants of a bad kid’s-bike-versus-snow-plow accident but was instead, a Dahon. A Folding Bike unlike any folding bike I’ve ever seen. This magic trick continued as he unfolded this little transformer into the most unlikely thing that would still fall under the definition of ”bicycle.” Everything was hinged and telescoped and yet it had a serious racing saddle on it. To my eye this was an inexpensive, carbon fiber free, heavy duty-commuting machine.

Robbie is an old school racer who rode a fixed gear track bike everywhere in the off-season to improve his spin. He rode his track bike through the Callahan Tunnel in Boston, a highly illegal feat I suspect never done before or after, for every reason.

But I digress.

Now he prefers to get across NYC on bike rather than wait for the next crowded subway car but his commute into NYC requires a trip on the Long Island Railway and having wrenched his back man-handling his regular bike around, by necessity, dove into the world of miniature bikes. Robbie is also a silversmith and unafraid to work some metal. This Dahon is now a fixie and to make it a smaller package it needed smaller 14” wheels, which meant a larger chainring, which meant a modified chainstay, which meant a modified shorter front fork, one thing leads to another you understand.

We did go for a demonstration spin. His position on this bike is his regular road position in the drops. He easily whipped up to 23mph and claims he has hit 35mph on this contraption. With the tiny wheels he could draft me so close he could put his hand forward and touch me. Road riders are quite horrified to be unable to get rid of Robbie and his clown bike on a 40-mile ride. The bike can be checked at a coat check! He rides much more now because he always has this portable bike that is fun, fast and safe to ride.

This has changed my thinking. I always assumed the S and S coupling of a standard bike was the only serious way to get portable. I guess it’s my 700C paradigm. It’s nice to see it from another angle.

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  1. @Dan O
    Dan O, you are correct. I saw a civilian on a small wheeled bike today and the whole package was depressing. It is the rider, not the bike.

  2. @frank
    This might be a record for showing seatpost. I don’t think you could ride one of these with your seatpost requirements.
    I’m not sure what size gear Robbie has but he did have to modify the chain/seat stay to accommodate the chain with it’s big momma chainring. It must have been a long gear because at 23mph he was not really spinning it.
    DA-HON, that is correct, sounds Chinese but is a California company. Go figure.

  3. Hey everyone, Big JohnO has writen up a great review of my Dahon but our visit together was short and rushed so there are a few miconceptions! This bike is a kids bike Dahon no longer makes called the Sweet Pea. It had 14″ wheels and I changed them to 16″ so I could get large enough gear inches and also better tires and rims. The front chian ring is something like a 56 and the rear cog is a 12, giving me 71 gear inches which is perfect for my fitness and ability to hang with the big boys on all but the steepest ups and downs. It weighs about 20 Lbs and maybe some day I will spend some bucks on it and lighten it up. I haver done a rolling 60 mile ride on it at 18+ mph.
    Dahons are great I also own a 20″ 8 speed with Rolf wheels that wieghs18 Lbs! But I am in love with the little fixie cause it folds up so small. Dahon came out with a single speed this year called the Uno and that would be a great fixed bike at an afordable price.
    Thanks to John for the pics and blurb!!

  4. Shouldnt there be a rule about this…I mean a rule stating this is wrong on multiple levels?

  5. Your just mad cause its embarrassing when I ride with you guys and you have trouble keeping up.

  6. But seriously if you take out how I look (an escapee from an insane asylum circus) when riding this machine and I realize that is not an option for most here, it makes a huge amount of sense.

    It is first and foremost a travel bike that is light, highly functional and an amazingly good ride. It goes everywhere in its bag which means that there is no carrying, hassling (and worrying about theft) with heavy locks.

    I keep it in my car (it takes up very little room) and it goes on planes, trains and boats all for free. A medium size hard suitcase for the planes, its very light bag for trains and folded on ferries I am not charged for a bike.

    There has never been a problem bringing it into office buildings, restaurants or shops either bagged or not, it folds in seconds and the time I save when I am in the city for the day doing errands is astounding.

    It would be great to have a custom one made and spend big bucks on carbon and titanium bits so that the weight would get down to 14-15 lbs. This would mean that my travel bike would weigh about the same as my first laptop.

    Bottom line this bike is not for everybody (fixed gear, limitations on weight and height etc.) but if one can get over the “have to look perfect in line with the Rules” it is an incredibly functional tool.

  7. @Rob, @Andrew
    It’s so fucked. It is so fucked. I love the matching blue cranks. I think this thing defies The Rules. Kinda like when we land on one of Jupiter’s moons and some slimy pustule rolls up to us, pulls out a pen and paper and draws a picture of a puppy, we’ll be like, “That defies explanation.” It’s pretty much the same thing.

    What is really unsettling is that my road bike shows about the same amount of seatpost.

  8. The MTB cranks were a gift from a friend who helped with the gearing, he had them on his shelf and since they matched was kind enough to donate them to the cause.

    frank :@Rob, @Andrew
    What is really unsettling is that my road bike shows about the same amount of seatpost.

    What’s cool is that there are so many equipment choices these days one can put together many different configurations. This seat post combo is more about getting the smallest fold thus the big to little post with the quick release – more weight but a necessary compromise.

    I would make one of these with 14” wheels for an even smaller fold but that does not work from 2 points – one the gearing, you would need a 60+ tooth chain ring to get a decent gear (this one is 56X12 X 16” wheels = 71 gear inches) and that messes with the folding and two as far as I know you can’t get good 14” rims and tires. This bike has bulletproof 16” wheels and high-pressure tires.

  9. Lovin’ it! My current commuter/everyday-get-around-with-the-kids bike is a five- or six-year old Montague. It’s a legitimate hardtail MTB, but thanks to a quick-release on the top tube, it folds in half along the seat tube (so it doesn’t compromise the bike’s structural integrity). Bit on the heavy side, but it’s one tough machine, gets a lot of looks and comments, and I’ve never been dropped with it out on the trails. And it fit in the trunk of my car and/or a small closet when we lived in Center City Philly. These days, I don’t fold it much, but it still provides a great ride and I’ve never thought of replacing it.

  10. Yes folding is cool and the technology only gets better, lighter and stronger. I have been seriously pounding around on the Dahon for two years now and have had no problems. I can’t wait for the next generation.

  11. I heard they were going to start making the Dahons in the Philippines. They’re going to call it the Manilla Folder.

  12. @Cyclops
    Shut the front door!

  13. nicely done, have a similar sweatpea conversion myself, I made it left side drive side in order to put a decent chainring on and maintain a good chainline, how do you find the chainline as your running it?

  14. @Rob
    thought you might appreciate

    sam

  15. @shall
    Sam, that is the urban camo stealth folder! That left side drive is clever, is the fold the same with it and is it the image or is that a mono fork?? I did some cutting and welding to fit the 55 chainring on what gear are you running and I assume it’s fixed? Where are you using it and do you have a bag for it?

    By the way this article has been buried since Cyclops’s lame joke and not many know how badly I (now we) transgress the Rules so I hope this does not jeopardize my standing and participation in the 200 on 100?

  16. @Rob
    Hell no! We need all the wind breaking fodder we can get! Although if you’re riding one of those foldies, it is going to be a looonnnggggg day, Brother.

  17. @Buck Rogers
    Thanks Buck, no its just going to be the back up bike for if I make it to the parking lot and can’t walk from the car to the beer stop…

  18. The left side lets you fit a bigger chainring due to the curve of the frame and doesn´t cause any probs with the folding, in fact as the chainring is on the inside of the fold it is somewhat protected from knocks when I´m transporting it. The mono fork also brings the fold in a little tighter.
    I live in the north of spain and use it to get around Oviedo, a fairly hilly city, so I´m only running a 48-13 ratio but have been very tempted to put a bigger ring on.
    Yes it´s fixed, in fact I welded the rear sproket on so it didnt unwind while i peddaled.
    It goes like a dream, only thing that really needs changing is the folding steerer tube, which is steel and heavy, but there hard to come accross in alu.
    Was good to come accross another sweetpea conversion.
    I can´t believe dahon made such a good quality frame for what was essencially a kids bike.
    Have sketched some plans to sow a rucksack for it, but the bag will have to wait till I´ve got some more time, the fork took a lot of time, it´s made from a tange mtb fork.

  19. Sam I am still bowled over that there are 2 of us in the world that saw the potential of the mighty “Sweet Pea”! And that we had such similar approaches in terms of the wheel conversion of 14 inch to 16 inch. You were clever in thinking out side the box with the left side drive.

    I do not know how much seat post you have in the seat tube but when I used a one piece seat post for it to be the right height it was only going 3/4’s of the way down and that meant I was putting way to much force on the seat tube. It cracked and I welded it with a reinforcement tube inside and then went to a 2 piece telescoping seat post with a 2nd quick release. That meant that the lower section of seat post was all the way down in the seat tube and the stress was distributed through the whole short length of the seat tube. Also it gives a slightly smaller fold at the expense of a little more weight.

    If I did the math right I have a 71 inch gear – 54 x 12 x 16″ I really like that for the city riding and hills when I am not fit.

    That fork slays me, good work and when I can I plan to borrow the idea!

    My fantasy is to have a good builder make a titanium version with as much carbon fiber goodies and end up with a 10 to 12 lbs travel bike…. Almost as light and small as my first lap top!

    Really it is a mystery why more urban folk don’t do this sort of ride?

    1) The money saved on car/train/bus pays for any bike in months.
    2) A light folder with a bag goes anywhere and I mean anywhere!
    3) No locks to carry, no theft to worry about (thus its ok to spend more, see #1).
    4) This is a bullet proof ride that in 4 years has done about 4,000 km (100 km at 28 kph was my longest ride) and it’s fun and responsive as well as comfortable.

    Yes you have to get over the “how you look thing” but as I always say no matter how pro/rules compliant you are we all look like clowns to the gas crowd so I have no problem embracing my inner circus alter ego and spinning along side some yahoo in a gas guzzler at 50 kph and getting a laugh when I see the look. As for “serious cyclists” (of which I count myself) the ones who get this bike the quickest are the pros, one look at me drafting and the reaction is hey that’s a cool little bike and it has happened more than once. The not so good guys are usually pissed off they can’t always drop me and you can tell that they really do not like the way I bring down the tone of their pace line as I stay with them…

    If your ever in the US I hope we can meet and compare them – ride well and safe and thanks for posting up!

  20. @Rob
    Thanks for the heads up on the seat tube, I´m setting about making myself a telescopic seat post today, I´m too fond of this frame to risk it.
    Other changes to be made are getting an alu adjustable handlepost, so I can lower the front a bit and a bigger chainring.
    I´ve been using the bike predominantly when I drive to the city, I park on the outskirts and use it to run my errands, it saves a lot of time and I don´t pay parking, but I´ve been increasingly choosing it over my tourer and mtb to go out for a quick spin where I live, it´s just really fun to ride, plus it fits in a cuboard in my flat whereas the other bikes involve trapesing to the garage and fussing with locks.
    Your sweetpea has inspired me to get more out of mine, primarily speed. Thinking about it, there´s little diference in riding position to my moulton, and they broke a lot of long distance speed records in there day
    http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/heritage.html
    anyway keep riding the small wheel revolution
    sam

  21. Holy shit! We will be in the presence of greatness come Wednesday and Thursday.

    Rob, if you still have one of these, and there’s room in the car, bring it along!

    Is there anything you don’t do?!

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  23. Sam! is it possible to get a closer picture of your mono fork? I am very much interested :)

  24. @Sam! is it possible to get a closer picture of your mono fork? I am very much interested :)

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