Monday, January 12, 2009

Short Term Review : Dahon Speed TR



The Dahon Speed TR is Dahon's dedicated folding touring bike. After a weekend away with the Dahon with a load, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Having owned a Bike Friday, I wasn't expecting the Dahon to compare so favorably. There's a lot to like, a few things to change, and some things I wish they would have considered.

Gearing/Drivetrain
The drive train works around the SRAM DualDrive II rear hub, which has planetary gears that mimic the experience of having a triple up front, without the problems a front derailleur/ 3 chainrings create with a folding bike. The left hand trigger shifters have little icons that indicate the rough gearing adjustment (little uphill symbol, flat, downhill logo). The cassette is an 8 in the back and is shifted with trigger shifters with numbers from 1-8. Basic stuff.

The shifting was straight forward. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I'm a die-hard friction shifter so I wasn't expecting to like the index shifting of the SRAM set-up. The shifts were crisp and responsive. One GREAT advantage of the DualDrive is that you can use EVERY gearing combination. There's no need to worry about cross chaining since the "triple" is in the rear hub. I found myself really liking this feature. Usually, it would be that the granny gear had only 3 or 4 usable gears in the back and anything beyond that would require an upshift in the front. That's fine, but this shift usually happens on something steep and with a load for me and there's a great to-do in the front. The DualDrive eliminates this problem and I'm free to traverse all 8 rear cogs while in the "granny".

Brakes
The brakes are V's and stop the bike well. Enough said. For me, the feeling was more responsive than a Brompton's brake and the same as the standard V's on a Bike Friday.

Wheels
This is one of the areas where I had a few concerns. The front wheel is radially laced to a dyno hub. The rear wheel is laced radially on the non-drive side and crossed on the drive side. For me, I was a little uncomfortable with this set-up. I've built the wheels on Laura's touring bike and my own and can attest to the the strength of a good hand built 3x wheel. During this trip, everything went smoothly. No broken spokes. However, if I were going to take this on a longer trip where I was further away from towns with bike shops, I would rebuild the wheels to 3x in the rear and 2x in the front.

Saddle and Pedals
Stock one is fine, but I prefer a Brooks. So for me that was a no brainer.

After having used the QR MKS pedals for a few weeks, I decided to replace them with the non-QR MKS Touring Pedals. The reason was the QR ones seemed to pop off at inopportune times.

Kickstand
The bike comes with a kickstand but it is useless. It was cut about two inches too short so the bike kept leaning over and toppling. I didn't use it at all while on tour.

The photo above shoes it standing with the kickstand but that took some serious finessing to get it to settle in between the open and closed indents.

Racks
The Dahon comes stock with front low-riders and a rear rack. The rear rack is rated only to 25lbs. I don't know if that's a conservative estimate or really how much the rack will take. For fully loaded touring, it would be nice to have a rear rack that is rated to atleast 50lbs.

I don't have any front panniers, so I can't really comment on their strength or how they affect steering.

The rear rack performed well. I had some concerns that my Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus rear panniers would hit the derailleur but they cleared it just fine even when stuffed pretty well. One concern would be for people with big feet or people with panniers that don't allow for any adjustment. I had to adjust the QL2 hooks on the Ortliebs to allow for maximum clearance (meaning that the racks were shoved as far back as possible). I was able to eliminate pannier strike but anyone with really big feet may have a problem with pannier strike (I was wearing size 10 Keens).

If I were to go on a really long and remote tour with this bike, I would probably try to see if I could fit a Tubus rack on this bike or perhaps the folding rear rack that Bike Friday sells.

Lighting
The Dahon comes with a Euro style rear light that has a steady on setting and that's it. No blinking. It's bright and visible.

It also comes with a front dyno-light. On the website and other samples, I've seen the light mounted at the fork crown. This particular sample I have, the light is mounted low to the fork, which is bad place to put it. Without any bags on the front, the beam is already obscured by the tubing of the rack. With a bag mounted on the front, the light would be rendered useless.

The output of the light isn't that great to begin with, so I would either augment/replace the light with something from Planet Bike (like their dyno hub or battery Blaze model).

Fit/Handlebars
This is a real tricky part about this bike. When touring, it is imperative to have a bike that fits well since you're putting in some serious saddle time. With the Speed TR you can adjust fit with the saddle height, some fore-aft and tilt with the saddle rails, and some minor adjustment of the handlebars.

The seatpost is a proprietary diameter (it includes a pump), so you can't swap it out for something with more or less setback.

The handlebar and stem angle/length can be adjusted to some degree by rotating the handlebar around the tube to which it is attached to. This gives you maybe about an inch of height and reach adjustment. Not bad, but if you need more serious adjustment, the proprietary stem design doesn't allow for a quick swap.

Fortunately for me, I was able to get a pretty good fit with the bike. I'm about 5 foot 9 inches with a 30 inch inseam, for reference. A little taller and a little shorter and you're probably in the bikes golden fit zone.

One issue I had was with the handlebars. I usually ride with drops or with Albatross bars, both of which give multiple hand positions in varying degrees. The Dahon comes with a more or less flat mountain bar with a slight bend. Another hand position is provided by bar-ends. I'm sure that the bike uses this type of handlebar to facilitate folding, but perhaps at the detriment of some comfort. Now, that's not to say you can't do long rides with this. Many people tour on mountain bars with bar ends, I'm just not one of those people.

I may experiment with changing the handlebars to bullhorns .

Folding
This is a good bike to consider if you forsee yourself doing a lot of tours that require the train or other modalities of transportation. I've had the unpleasant experience of being bumped off an Amtrak train because there were no free hooks available. Had I a folding bike, I would have been able to get on.

The fold is in the same class as the Bike Friday, which is to say that it folds but isn't necessarily elegant.

The Brompton still folds much neater and locks together. Then again, the Brompton doesn't have the great gearing of either the BF or Dahon.

The Dahon folds a little better than the BF since the cables don't get as kinked and the Dual Drive eliminates the risk of banging the front derailleur out of adjustment (which happened often with my BF). It's still not ideal, but certainly acceptable for the occasional fold when hopping a train or a bus.


The Ride
During this past tour, I had a small Acorn bag in the front, a Camper Longflap hanging off the saddle and two Ortliebs on the rear rack. My guess would be that the combined weight was probably around 20-25lbs.

The bike rode really well with the weight. The smaller wheels put the weight really low to the ground and provided a nice stable ride without too many surprises. I had minimal weight on the front so I can't really comment on how a load on the front would affect the handling.

After an hour of adjusting to the bike, I forgot that I was on a smaller wheeled bike. It accelerated well and climbed pretty well too. The gearing provided enough low gears to spin up the hills in Laguna even with a load. If I were going to go to really mountainous territory, I would probably swap out the chainring from a 53 to something more like a 48 or 46. The bike tops out at 114 gear inches (too high for touring) and would benefit with a lower low end (stock low is 21 inches...something in the teens wouldn't hurt).

Standing climbs took some getting use to, probably more from my heavy Carradice swinging back and forth than the small wheels. The bike developed a rhythm that I had to time for, but like all things it was pretty manageable.

I would say that the only time that I felt the smaller wheels made a big difference was in descents. I definitely had to concentrate a bit more when descending at high speeds compared to my Surly LHT. The Surly is rock solid. The Dahon was stable but demanded you pay attention. The same could be said about riding while tired. The smaller wheels made for a more "responsive" ride. Nothing specific to Dahon, but to all small wheel bikes in general.

Conclusion
After this shortish tour, I was pleasantly surprised with the Dahon. Off the shelf it's a capable commuter, credit card tourer and S24O bike. There's a lot to like and it would make a great base for a better touring bike (much like the stock LHT).

If you were to use it for more serious touring, I would do the following: change the saddle, change the pedals, change the front chainring to a 48 or 46t, change the rear rack to a Tubus, possibly change the handlebars, change the wheels to ones with a cross pattern. This sounds like a lot of mods, but considering the bike retails for around 1k, you can do these changes and still be a few thousand ahead of a custom Bike Friday or tour ready Brompton.

If the bike fits you, it's a good deal. If it doesn't and you want a folder, go for a Bike Friday.

Off the Shelf: Recommend
Off the Shelf with Modifications (if it fits you): Highly Recommend

Anyone else tour with a folder? BF? Dahon? Brommie?

12 comments:

Mr. Beattie said...

SKS (formerly ESGE)
Pletscher Double Kickstand from Harris Cyclery has plenty of rave reviews, especially for loading touring and with trailers:
http://harriscyclery.net/itemdetails.cfm?ID=1034

Personally, my experience has been unless you're going with very light loads on the rear rack or a trailer, you're bike will handle and descend better by putting heavy gear/tools etc in smaller panniers up front with bulky lighter stuff on the rear.

2whls3spds said...

Russ,
Would it be possible to put a "butterfly" type handle bar on that bike? It would give you more hand positions and probably be better for a taller rider.

I have looked at Dahon's in the past, but one of my major complaints has been getting a decent fit, my saddle to pedal measurement is in the 37" range. I really like the super compact fold of the Brompton. I multi mode commute on occasion with pickup truck, Amtrak and airlines all being utilized depending on the situation. The Dahon is on the large size for going via airline.

Aaron

RussRoca said...

2whls...I'm going to try to experiment with putting on a different handlebar. My guess, it would negate the compact fold, but if you're only doing it occasiionally then it shouldn't be too big of a deal.

The Dahon and BF probably wouldn't get on as carry-on, so at that point they are packable bikes and will probably need some disassembly.

However, for bus and train travel where occasional folding is necessary, it should fit the bill.

2whls3spds said...

Russ,
Can you do me a favor? When you get a chance, find out what the maximum seat top to pedal in the lowest position dimension is, with the seat post fully extended. If you use the Brooks saddle that will be a plus as that is my saddle of choice. The Brommie is still high on my list, but the TR has a couple of features I really like.

Thanks
Aaron

Oldyonfoldy said...

G'day Russ fm Perth Australia. I've heard complains abt the dynamo hub - its not free-wheeling enough to the point that it slows down the rider. Is this your experience of your TR?

Al

RussRoca said...

OldyonFoldy - I can only compare the Dahon dyno-hub with the other one I've used and that is the Shimano DH-3N70...

I noticed some drag but none that that was particularly offensive at normal cruising speeds...

One thing that was particularly interesting was the amount of vibration the dyno hub caused when approaching high speeds (around 30-30+mph)...the handlebars would feel as if you were holding on to a vibrating massager....

Now, this happens to my Surly LHT and Shimano dynohub combo as well, but not to the same degree...

I think this is the case of the dahon because the smaller wheel rotates more and the vibrations are exaggerated by the long stem...so maybe not an occurence that is specific to dahon but to all folders? I didn't have a dyno on my BF so I can't comment on how it would have felt any different..

Anonymous said...

I've got a Speed D7 and I'm experiencing the same level of one position bar boredom. I'm experimenting with a set of North Road bars to see how that works. Check out my progress on http://greenbikemonkey.blogspot.com/

Oldyonfoldy said...

Thks Russ! Forgot to say I really enjoyed reading yr review of the TR :) As a tikit owner, I must say that the "feel" & handling is much better than my Dahons. Think its because BF frame is rigid unlike Dahons w the split frame, it feels much more confident.

Wd you agree?

jur said...

Cross spoking on small wheels: 3x results in atoo acute an angle at the rim and often results in spoike breakages at the rim. 2x is closer to optimal for small wheels. Also, the radial lacing according Sheldon Brown is better on non-drive side (no disc brakes case of course).

Vik said...

I've got a Dahon D7 and liked the fit of a Speed TR I tried much better as it's just a bit longer in the effective TT.

I'm also a Tikit owner and just got a Bike Friday NWT. It's pretty easy to get a custom Bike Friday touring bike for well under $2K sized for you and setup exactly how you want it.

http://www.bikefriday.com/newworldtourist

Here is my NWT setup with drop bars, IGH hub and a dual chainring:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=nwt%20travel&w=9932605%40N08

I think you hit the nail on the head about the sizing with the Dahons. For shorter riders they fit quite well, but they don't offer much in the way of adjustment so you either have to accept a cramped cockpit or look elsewhere if you are taller. I'm 6ft.

I considered a Speed TR as it does fit me better than the D7, but when I looked at the cost ~$1200CDN and realized I could get a large framed Bike Friday Tikit for that price I went for the Tikit which has a 58cm effective TT and fits me like a normal bike.

I considered a Speed TR briefly again when I wanted a folding touring bike, but as you noted there are quite a few parts I'd want to swap out so I looked at a Bike Friday NWT and was surprised how affordable it was to get a custom bike built in the US.

I'm not knocking the Speed TR or Dahon in general. If they fit you and are spec'd the way you'd like you can get a nice bike at a good price, but I did want to point out that the price differential for a Bike Friday was not several thousand dollars - more like a few hundred and if you swap out parts of the Speed TR you are probably getting quite close to the same cost.

safe riding,

Vik
www.thelazyrando.com

RussRoca said...

jur...good points about the wheel...and to the credit of the dahon, I haven't broken a spoke, so maybe the lacing is fine given the situation...it's just for me and my 26 and 700c bikes, I've always used a 3x pattern.

vik...good points about the BF...I think I must have pimped my NWT out because I remember it being in the upper 2k

i'm intrigued by the Tikit now...do any Tikit owners think they can take it touring? are there racks and luggage for it that would do it?

I have a friend that has toured on his brompton (w/ schlumph drive) with the front touring pannier and camper long flap on the rear...

Vik said...

Russ the Tikit is a superb bike. In fact of my many stellar bikes it's the one that gets ridden most often because of the easy fold and fun handling.

People certainly have toured on Tikits. You can get a 2 pannier front rack and a folding touring rack will be available in a couple months. The existing Tikit rear rack can take smaller panniers, but not full sized Ortliebs.

This is the video that got me to buy a Tikit:

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=fQscBxx7wLE&feature=PlayList&p=07DCB83DC40A71AF&index=0&playnext=1

I've been impressed by them in every regard since then.

I will say that I think the NWT is a better touring bike if you'll be touring a lot and if you won't be using buses & trains regularly.

I posted quite a lot about my Tikit here:

www.viks-tikit.com

safe riding,

Vik
www.thelazyrando.com