Anniversary Bike – No chainstay!

The revolution of folding bicycles has certainly come a long way! Dahon, which was founded in 1982, can be regarded as one of the first companies to successfully introduce the concept of a folding bicycle to the commercial market and create a new category for bicycles in the industry. 30 years later, the company has grown to become the world’s largest manufacturer of folding bicycles.

Dr David Hon (left) with brother and co-founder Mr Henry Hon

Dahon was started by Dr David Hon, an American physicist who enjoyed a successful career as a scientist in the 1970s. During this time, he experienced the oil crisis which also coincided with his gradual realization that laser nuclear fusion (his area of research then) as the ultimate clean energy solution may not be achieved in his lifetime due to various technical reasons.  Harbouring the desire to develop something that would be more tangible and practical, he spent 7 years developing and designing a folding bicycle out of his garage before founding Dahon North America in 1982.

Unlike most bicycle companies, Dahon was founded “with the singular purpose of convincing more people to use more environmentally sustainable forms of transport”. According to Dr Hon, the idea of developing a folding bicycle first occurred to him during his high school and university days when he would cycle to school. At that time, there were some folding bicycles in the market. However, those available on the market then were far from ideal. They were large, heavy, expensive or even weak which made them unsafe for riding. Dr Hon decided to reinvent the concept of a folding bicycle and true to his nerdy scientific roots, he began studying existing literature and adopted a scientific approach towards the construction of an ideal folding bicycle.

Togoparts had the chance to catch up with Dr Hon, one of the founding fathers for foldable bicycles during the Taipei International Cycle Show.

Why folding bicycles?

Foldable bicycles offer new concepts of mobility, interactions with public transportation, storage options and parking, some of which are already practiced by individuals and these offer ideas for city planners who might consider green transportation for the future. Dahon has been innovative in terms of mechanics and style, which ignited the revolution for folding bicycles and inspired other folding bicycle companies of today to follow suit.

What were some of the fondest memories of starting Dahon?

The company has certainly gone through some challenging times over the last 30 years. Soon after the founding of Dahon North America in 1982, I decided to relocate to Taiwan to open a factory in order for Dahon to remain cost competitive. Those several years were marked with hardship – I was living in small quarters, short of money, bicycle parts were expensive and people did not seem to accept the idea of a folding bicycle at first. Thankfully things stabilized after several years and there was actually a market for folding bicycles. It was certainly a gamble.

What were some of the other challenges that Dahon faced throughout the last 30 years?

The company went through a difficult time when the Taiwan currency appreciated by 25% – 40%. This happened sometime around 1988 to 1990, which eroded our cost competitiveness. Dahon was not the only company in Taiwan to be affected by this back then. Thankfully things stabilized from 1992 onwards. This was also the same year where we first established our production in China.  We began to reorganize ourselves and things started to take off from 1993 to 1997.

Are there any upcoming plans for Dahon?

We are still working on plans to go public in Asia. During the last 2 years, we have expanded production in Europe with our European manufacturing site based in Bulgaria. On top of that, we have also improved in terms of sales and marketing. In terms of research and development, we are applying for more patents and developing new technologies. There is definitely going to be more things on the drawing board.

What do you love most about your job?

Innovation! And the ability to be able to work with so many people around the world and to help countries realize their green mobility vision. Dahon was the only folding bicycle manufacturer in Taiwan during its first 15 years of establishment. Other companies only started to follow suit thereafter. What frustrates me most is how people disrespect intellectual property which can hurt the economy. There was a period where intellectual property theft was rampant. As soon as Taiwan began to criminalize intellectual property offences, the economy began to improve and people were willing to invest in innovation.

[Wikipedia Note: Dr Hon’s inventions have been widely copied, both legally and illegally and he has been quite involved in IP protection advocacy]Check out Dahon’s 30th Anniversary Video:

Before we close the session, can you tell us something about yourself that most people do not know?

I still play basketball 2-3 times a week for 2 hours, I do not drink and smoke, I take a cold shower every day. I also play a few music instruments and compose musical pieces from time to time.