Product Courtesy of: Speedmatrix Pte Ltd
Distributed by: Speedmatrix Pte Ltd
Available at: Speedmatrix Dealers

Dahon Silvertip

In the traditional Dahonological modus operandi, the frame is merely a platform upon which Dahon engineers build bikes of different configurations, as evident when you consider that there’s a Mu frame, and then there’s the Mu XXV, SL, P8, etc., which are basically the same bike with different configurations.

Dahon’s mini-bike range isn’t spared from this either. The standard double triangle Midtown Mini frame has different configurations that lead to the Smooth Hound, Hammerhead and the bike that’s being reviewed today: the Silvertip.

It is, however, immediately apparent that this bike is no leisurely cruiser. It has some serious speed enhancing equipment on it. Eighteen speeds, derailed by a Tiagra SS, Schwalbe Kojaks and a Kinetic Comp wheelset. Not the best – the Hammerhead’s configuration is – but not shabby at all. Its equipment, especially the tyres, defines the style of riding – it’s a 100% road-going bike.

First Impressions

While it may look like a “toy” bike, the ride isn’t anything near one. The geometry is very similar to a mountain bike or hybrid. After some tweaking, it felt natural. People who aren’t used to 20″ wheels might find them rather twitchy initially, but after getting used to it, it, too, becomes natural. The ride, after a 30km break-in ride, felt like any other hybrid, except when you look down, there’s that 20″ wheel.

Frame rigidity is great – because of the rather standard bike construction, the Midtown Mini frame is rather strong. You can pull up on the handlebars for more power with no problem too. Somehow, this bike somehow feels like it has a very high centre of gravity, coupled with the short wheelbase, which makes hard braking and cornering at speed a rather scary affair.

Dahon’s choice of using thumb shifters was a good call. On Dahons, I have seen twist-shifters, bar-end shifters and thumb shifters. I still love the thumb shifters the most. They are the most precise and easy to use while riding. The gearing, however, is another thing. Starting at 31 gear inches, this might prove problematic for the casual rider who hates hills.

In order to test this bike, we must put it through three tests to further understand what it is good at.

Is it fast?

While not strictly a full-fledged road bike, the choice of components tend to imply that this bike is meant to be fast. The 18 speeds is probably all you’ll ever need… until you go to Mount Faber or any other similarly taxing hill. Starting at 31 gear inches, it gets a bit difficult if you want to keep your cadence up while climbing below 12km/h. At the same time, I have never been able to use the 100″ top gear, which I find too extreme for someone with an average commuter’s fitness. The gearing is very similar to a mountain bike, in that the spaces between gears are noticeably spaced; you can definitely feel your cadence changing with every shift.

The Kojaks are a fast tyre, much faster than any 20″ tyre that I have used, especially when pumped up to a bone-jarring 95psi. Despite it only having a width of 1.35″, it actually brakes very well, turns quite well and accelerates quickly.

I really wished this bike has drop bars. It is a real pity considering that while this bike is fast, the greatest impediment to it going faster is aerodynamics. If you like hybrids, then all is fine, but if you like hitting the 40km/h mark often, then you’ll often be wishing this bike had drop bars. Currently though, Dahon isn’t selling any bike with drop bars, but apparently there will be one model in 2011.

Competent Commuter

Is it a competent commuter?

As always, Dahon designs their bikes on the basis that they were designed with commuters in mind. This bike, however, deviates from the regular Dahon formula of having fatter, treaded tyres with high puncture protection. It is a machine with speed as its priority. Nonetheless, can it take on duties necessary of a commuter bicycle?

I took it commuting, and running errands, which included locking the bike outside, a very scary affair even though I was using a top of the line $188 lock. A benefit of being a folding bike is evident – you can lock both wheels and the frame with one U lock. With a handlebar bag and the (optional) touring rack, you can hold a lot of things, even oversized stuff quite easily.

Ride comfort was above average. It was actually a blessing that they decided to put a cushioned seat on this bike, which I found very comfortable for rides. The Biologic grips were fine, I didn’t really like them a lot, and neither did I hate them. While the tyres were high pressure and narrow, they rolled very smoothly and silently and you won’t feel too much vibration on your palms. As with any high-pressure skinny tyre, potholes can be a bit jarring. You do need to toggle the distances between your saddle and the handlebars, and the height of the handlebars. Once all is in place, and the bike fits you well, it is very comfortable.

The gearing was quite good for most commuting situations, in my regular commuting route, there is a steep hill or two, but they are rather brief, and so it isn’t too much of a problem even though the gearing at the lower range is rather high. Otherwise, you’ll find the gearing to be able to tackle most situations the Singaporean terrain can offer, which consists of mostly flat roads and mild gradients.

A critical dilemma is the selection of tyres. I have ridden on Kojaks, and they are amazing tyres for speed, but not for durability. After about 600km on my Kojaks on my Speed, I find that they degrade extremely quickly, and are susceptible to cuts, lashes and snake bites on the tyre itself. Punctures don’t happen that often, out of 600km, I have had one puncture. But ultimately, this is the fastest tyre Schwalbe has and you really do feel the difference.

Folding and Rolling

In order to fold this to maximum compactness, you’ll need to have an allen key around, if not, it’s game over. Dahon foresees this and includes a L-shaped allen key that fits 5mm or 6mm screws with every Silvertip. Folding the bike into half is easy, done by just a quarter turn of the two hinges on the middle. You’ll have to lower the handlebars and stem first though, or else the seat post will be in the way, which is another two hinges. This can take upwards of a minute. Lastly, fold the pedals vertically and lower the seat. This sounds easy in description but it can be quite a tussle between you and the bike at first.

Rolling the bike on its wheels was not a problem, you just need to extend the seat post and roll it like you would. Though at times the bike may veer or worse, if you have a weak magnet like mine, the folded bike will open itself up.

The process repeats itself in reverse if you want to unfold the bike, though this is another great annoyance, because it takes another minute, and quite a bit of work to toggle the height and angle of the stem and handlebar.

Safe to say, at best, the Silvertip is a part-time folding bike. If you frequently need to fold this bike, you’re actually better off with the more ubiquitous Dahon folding bikes which are easier to fold. At times like these, I really long for the quick-release folding system.

The Verdict

Sure, I wasn’t a fan of folding this bike. But words cannot start to describe how titillating this machine is to ride. It gave me a familiar feeling that I once had when I bought my first road bike – there’s this recurring sentiment in me that wants to go out and ride the bike. It is the ecstasy in my daily commute and weekend rides.

Don’t let the lack of drop bars fool you, this bike is meant to be ridden fast. This machine arouses you to go fast; it is not a machine that facilitates people who like to take it easy. You’ll be climbing up hills way faster than you used to, because of it not having a granny gear, you’ll be rolling down hills faster because it has low rolling resistance tyres and on the flat straightaways, you’ll be squeezing out every ounce of oomph efficiently from yourself, thanks to the gearing that caters to all levels of fitness.

Ultimately, if you buy this bike, you should always treat it like you are buying a bike that is meant to fold only occasionally – in order to save yourself from disappointment – because folding isn’t the strong point of this bike. It’s there for occasional folding and transporting the bike by car to somewhere, but it isn’t for daily multi-modal commuting, unless, to you, the hassle in folding the bike is outweighed by the ride quality, which is a very latent argument.

All in all, Dahon doesn’t disappoint. The Silvertip has an impeccable ride quality, facilitated by high quality equipment and excellent design. You ought to check out the Hammerhead and Smooth Hound review too, should you be interested in the Midtown Mini line from Dahon.