A recent question on the Dahon Philippines Facebook group piqued my curiosity…which doesn’t happen very often. I felt Dahon’s product lineup had gotten a little stagnant in the past few years. New bikes such as the 16″-wheeled Jifo and later EEZZ, their 20″-wheeled big brother the Qix, and the Brompton-aping Curl showed up in the news, but none of them really spoke to me.
Perhaps it’s because I was waiting for a successor to the long-lived K-/KA-frame family that included the Speed, Mariner, Vitesse, and the unicorn that is the Formula S18. These bikes were among the most customizable in the range, enjoying good aftermarket support and readily accepting of various drivetrain combinations. For the longest time, too, the Formula S18 was the one and only Dahon bicycle with 20″ wheels that was built for disc brakes.
So when someone asked about a model called the Dahon Launch D8, I did a quick search on Google…and was pleasantly surprised.This was what I was looking for.
AT LAST: DISC BRAKE READY – AND 100 MM FRONT HUB SPACING, TOO
With the arrival of the Launch, the Formula is no longer alone. Poring over the spec sheet, the Launch D8 comes equipped with Tektro Aries post-mount mechanical disc brake calipers chomping down on 160 mm rotors, which I think is generous for such a small-wheeled bike.
Gone are the mounting posts for V-brakes…and also gone is Dahon’s proprietary 74 mm front hub spacing. The Launch’s fork is now built for 100 mm hubs, which is the defacto standard and greatly increases the number of hub options you can use with your wheels.
A JIGSAW PUZZLE OF A MAIN FRAME HINGE
Outwardly, the Launch resembles a Vitesse or a Formula frame. It isn’t until you fold the bike in two that you realize Dahon have injected what I think is the most significant change in the frame’s evolution: the new “Jaws-Clamp” main frame hinge.
An older version of this design was dubbed “Lockjaw” and featured on Dahon’s folding mini velos, such as the Dash/Hammerhead. The Lockjaw hinge had finer “teeth” needed to work with smaller tubes, and required tightening and loosening a pair of locking hex-head bolts.
The newer, stronger Jaws-Clamp design also brings with it a bump in the maximum rider weight rating. My Vitesse is rated for 105 kg (230 lb); the Launch will carry up to 130 kg (287 lb).
After four years, Bino was due for a change of footwear. Part of the reason why I stuck him on the turbo trainer at home was simply in anticipation of this fact.
The smaller 406 mm wheel size means greater rolling resistance and a faster overall wear rate, since the tires’ tread circumference makes more revolutions to cover a given distance compared to, say, Hyro‘s 622 mm. This was demonstrated in dramatic fashion by the sheer amount of rubber dust generated by my rear wheel whenever I used Bino on the turbo trainer.
Soon enough, it was also made crystal clear to me by how badly worn the rear tire got. At first the tread’s profile got flatter, with more of a pronounced step between the center and the shoulders. Later, the biased threads of the tire carcass were beginning to peek through, some of its carbon black oozing out and slipping on the turbo trainer. At this point, Bino sorely needed new rubber on his wheels and was definitely unsafe to ride on the road.
I paid a visit to Tryon in Makati and bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires. Bino’s outgoing front tire was also a Marathon Racer, but of a previous generation. The appearance of the sidewall logos, tread pattern, and other features were quite different between them, but they do share the Marathon series’ signature puncture protection.
20″ x 1.5″ (ISO 40-406 mm); also available in 16″, 18″, 26″, and 700C wheel fitments
“Level 4 Raceguard” double-layer nylon puncture protection belt
“SpeedGrip” rubber compound for good handling
“LiteSkin” full-length reflective sidewall
67 TPI casing
Maximum load rating: 75 kg per tire
Claimed weight: 340 g per tire
Pressure range: 55-85 psi
According to the marketing spiel, Schwalbe’s Marathon tires were specifically built for toughness and long service life, for applications ranging from touring to commuting. The “Racer” is so-called because it is the lightest model of the Marathon range – not really for its competition chops. Reinforcing the commuting bent, this was the first tire I heard of that had reflective sidewalls, although my original outgoing pair didn’t as they were of an older vintage.
The new Marathon Racers I got had beads that were ridiculously tight. This particular set was perhaps the toughest pair of tires I’d ever fitted onto my custom LitePro x Newson Sportec wheelset with 14 mm internal width, especially the one I mounted on the front wheel. Every time I used my bead jack to wrestle the tire up and over the rim, the wire bead would just walk itself right out of the bead hooks somewhere else. It was a frustrating ordeal that resulted in at least one tire lever getting sacrificed to the tire mounting gods. Eventually I ditched the bead jack and used every other trick in the book to finally seat this tire on Bino’s front wheel, after much cursing, the process leaving me a sweaty mess.
Despite the deeply cut directional blocks on the tread, the Marathon Racer is strictly an on-road tire. Not that you’d want to take a folding bike like Bino to the trails anyway; it’s just not made to withstand that sort of riding. At 60 psi front and 70 psi rear, grip is fairly good, even in the wet. They lend themselves well to the deep lean angles that small-wheeled folding bikes excel in when cornering at speed, even on shiny concrete parking floors where traction isn’t so great compared to paved asphalt or concrete roads. They will relinquish grip quite quickly when cornering or braking on wet steel surfaces or wet leaves, though.
Normally I’d go into more of the minutiae of tires, but any discussion about the rolling resistance these tires offer is moot, at best. Neither is any discussion on ride comfort much of one. The 20″ wheel and tire combo is never really going to roll or cushion road acne as well as a 700C combo, and I don’t think this will change much with the kind of tire you mount. That said, since starting my indoor training in January, it’s no hardship for me to maintain an average pace of 17-20 km/h around my usual commute loop, so the Marathon Racers do seem pretty efficient.
Given how much swearing it took to fit these tires onto Bino’s wheels, the Marathon Racers should make up for all that gruntwork with their puncture resistance. For the most part, they do. Even on my old set, I had only ever one puncture. Best to carry a beefy set of tire levers with you if you run these on your folding bike, not the ones that come with your multi-tool…and make sure your rim strips or rim tape is up to snuff to avoid punctures from inside.
With the air volume of an inner tube under it, like most other tires, it should stretch out and loosen up a bit over time, allowing for easier dismounting and remounting…I hope. Fingers crossed.
Finally we come to the reflective sidewalls. I think they’re nice, and any feature that boosts visibility to other road users, especially at night, is worth considering. They’re not perfect, however. The reflective stripe on mine doesn’t follow the circumference of the tire so well – it has a few wiggles along its length. I’d also prefer that Schwalbe broke these down into four long segments instead of making the tire one reflective hoop, because when the tires are in motion, the reflective segments are more eye-catching and convey a sense of the bike moving much better.
Schwalbe’s Marathon Racer tires, in a sense, are ideal for small-wheeled folding bikes such as Bromptons or Dahons, where wheel removal, tire dismounting, puncture repair, and tire remounting can be such bothersome procedures that any measures taken to avoid all that faff are worth your money. Virtually unknown in mid-2013, my old pair went for PhP1,300 apiece; with their popularity rising in the past few years and manufacture moving to Indonesia, they can now be found for PhP1,000 each.
Despite the “Racer” name, I don’t really consider these ideal for competitive use. They’re jack-of-all-trades tires; durable, grippy enough, resistant to punctures, and mid-pack in width. For really fast folding bike riders, Schwalbe’s diamond-patterned Durano or full-slick Kojak might be better options, while comfort seekers might be better served by their balloon-like two-inch-wide Big Apples. For ultimate puncture protection, everything else be damned, Schwalbe can sell you a Marathon Plus.
Folding bikes came on in a huge way in 2013, and all signs point to this category of bicycle increasing in popularity. More people are getting bitten by the cycling bug, and many of them are looking at folding bikes as the way to go.
So, as a prospective buyer, you ask – which folding bike is for me?
Be aware that with any folding bike, you are essentially juggling two things – the “folding” bit and the “bike” bit. The frame and wheel size determines a lot of what you can and can’t do with a folding bike, so let’s start with that. This isn’t meant to be a definitive guide, but should serve as a primer for the prospective folding bike buyer.
For me, there are three general categories of folding bikes and they are classified by the diameters of the wheels they run.
CATEGORY 1: FOLDING BIKES WITH 16″ AND SMALLER WHEELS
These are usually “last mile” bikes. They are perfect for bimodal commuting (bike + public transport) because they can fold into a super-compact package, so you could hop on a bus or train, get off a station, then pedal the proverbial “last mile” to your destination. Because of this heavy slant towards portability, however, they can be limited in ability. Some 16″ bikes don’t have multiple gears, and the small wheel size means they are more susceptible to road acne and potholes. Those that do have gearing, like Bromptons, usually resort to internal gear hubs (IGH) which tend to be a niche item in the Philippines, although there’s a growing number that use conventional derailleur drivetrains. Lastly, the small tires and wheels also have more rolling resistance, so don’t expect big speed out of a 16″ bike.
One huge upside for such small wheeled bikes is how maneuverable they are in tight spaces – such as filtering between stopped cars at a red light.
Some notable examples:
Bike Friday Tikit
Brompton (all variants)
Flamingo London NX7
Strida (16″ variants)
CATEGORY 2: FOLDING BIKES WITH 20″ WHEELS
The overwhelming majority of folding bikes come with 20″ (406 mm) wheels; this size is shared with BMX bikes and children’s mountain bikes. They tend to be quite versatile, and for many people, they can easily become an “only bike.” Many of them have geared drivetrains, easy-to-find tires and inner tubes, a decent turn of speed, good acceleration and uphill climbing ability, and better protection from road bumps and ruts. They don’t fold into as small a package, but they can still be brought on the MRT/LRT as 20″ is the largest size of folding bike these trains will take.
With a 20″ folding bike, you can still cut your path through narrow gaps in stopped vehicular traffic. When the lights turn green, a fit cyclist with correct pedaling technique can power the same bike to a sprint of 35-40 km/h and maintain an average speed of 17-20 km/h on flat terrain. When the roads go uphill, the same rider on the same bike can outclimb mountain bikes – and there are even a few 20″ folding bikes that have MTB-style suspension, too. Other 20″ folding bikes even swing to the other side and are essentially portable road bikes, built for small-wheeled speed. This size is the happy median between “folding” and “bike.”
Some notable examples:
Bike Friday New World Tourist
SGM Storm series/Light Storm
Dahon Speed/Vitesse/Vybe/Eco + Tern Link
Dahon Mu/Vector + Tern Verge
Anemos Z20 “Zippy”
CATEGORY 3: FOLDING BIKES WITH 24″ AND LARGER WHEELS
At this size, you’re swinging more toward a full-sized bike, and less toward a folding one. Even folded, a 24″ or bigger folding bike is just more cumbersome to carry and stow away compared to its smaller brethren. You also lose the close-quarters maneuverability you would’ve enjoyed in a smaller-wheeled bike. The upside is that there is less unfamiliarity for those transitioning from a normal bike. There’s less of the twitchy, darty steering feel of 16″ and 20″ folding bikes, since the handlebars are no longer as far away from the front wheel. The larger wheels themselves also reduce rolling resistance and aid in momentum, so sustaining higher speeds on these machines will take less effort.
Since there is less emphasis on the folding side of the equation, many 24″ and larger folding bikes are built with toughness and stiffness in mind. The prime example of this is Montague’s Paratrooper and Paratrooper Pro, which is a full-sized 26″ hardtail mountain bike that just so happens to fold around its seat tube. Such a design eliminates potential flexing of the frame, compared to many other folding bikes which “break” the main frame tube in half.
Some notable examples:
Montague Paratrooper/Paratrooper Pro (26″)
Tern Eclipse + Dahon Ios (24″)
Dahon Jack/Matrix/Cadenza + Tern Joe (26″)
Doppelganger 806 Squalo (700C/29″)
“Which one is best for me?” you may ask. Only you know the answer to that question. Make a note of what your folding bike is intended to do, then shop accordingly. Good luck!
This article was originally published on the now-defunct United Folding Bikers blog on January 20, 2014. It has since been updated.