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

Smooth Hound

Categorically, it is tempting to classify it as a hybrid, but it isn’t accurate to call it a hybrid. It’s far more exciting than that.

The first impression I got when I received the Smooth Hound was: “what kind of  concept is this?” It has the Dahon-ubiquitous 20” wheels, but doesn’t fold like a traditional Dahon. It has Ultegra shifters and a Tiagra rear derailleur, but isn’t a road bike. It has a Brooks saddle, but doesn’t seem like a full-on touring bicycle. So what kind of a foldable bike is it?

Dahon categorises this bicycle as a “Road Bike” – the same category as its Tournado, Speed Pro TT and Speed TR, which, respectively, is a 700C touring bike, a 20” time trial bike, and a 20” folding touring bike. So where does this bicycle fit in?

Riding it is rather interesting. I have never used moustache bars in my life, so it was a mix of apprehension and excitement. The choice of a moustache bars gave a rather dynamic riding position to the Smooth Hound. On one hand, you could ride with a slacker, more upright position by using the ends of the moustache bars, on the other, if you wanted a more aerodynamic position, you could use the inner section.

Of course, the moustache bars can be rather annoying at the same time. For one, if you rode using the ends of the bars (i.e. slack, upright position), you would be unable to reach the brakes. Conversely, if you wanted a more aerodynamic position, you could reach the brakes, but you couldn’t reach the shifters. This created a problem if you are a frequent shifter – you’ll often have one hand on the handlebar, while trying to finesse the Ultegra shifters into the next gear.

The frame feels a lot more rigid than any standard folding Dahon (Speed, Jetstream, Mu, et al.), probably because of its double-tube construction as opposed to having a single tube. The stem is also very rigid – no flexing here, which is good. Riding on it, I felt a lot more powerful, even in the upright position. Power transmission is really good, especially in the aero position. Brakes aren’t the most powerful, but adequate for most situations you’ll encounter on the road.

I do have a special issue with a few things. Being a loaner bike, I never got adequate opportunity to test out a few things. The Zorin Postpump, an air pump integrated into the seat post, is one of them. These tyres don’t like to puncture – they have a lining that is puncture resistant. Notably, the Postpump comes with a Schrader valve instead of the Prestas that come stock on this bike. This will necessitate a converter in order to use it.

The Brooks B.17 saddle is another pity. Having a few weeks on it, I haven’t broken the seat in, so it stresses my “male anatomy” and my buns and has been the Achilles heel in the overall impression of the comfort of the bike.

Enough generalities – we must now find out wherein is this bike’s raison d’être by putting it through some tests.

Test One: How competent is it as a folding bike?

This is an easy test. The stated folded size is 35 x 79 x 88 cm, according to Dahon. So it looks a bit like this vis-à-vis a Dahon Speed.

Size wise, the Speed won, but only marginally. Both could be folded and be rolled on one wheel, which is an essential feature for any folding bike – you would never want to lug 11kg for long distances. Of course, the Speed is neater, and easier to fold, a few quick-releases and latches, and the bike’s folded. On the Smooth Hound, you need an allen key to release the catches, for the most compact fold, you’ll need to remove the handlebars, which was done here.

The touring rack did add to the size of the bike, but it can be removed, and eventually would have to be removed when I tried to put it in the boot of my hatchback.

With the touring rack, seat post and handlebars removed, there was no problem putting the bike in, but being a bit bigger than the Speed, which goes in with the seat post removed, I couldn’t close the boot without taking out the shelf on the car, as the wheels were jutting out. The wheels are quick-release, so you could take them out too, if you need to keep it in tight spaces.

Therefore, the conclusion is that if you’re into the smallest size, you’d rather have another Dahon. Of course, Dahon never made this to be a folding bike – it’s a mini bike that folds, which also brings about certain advantages of its own, such as a sporty geometry, frame rigidity, no heel strike when cornering, etc.

Test Two: Is it a good commuter?

Dahons are famed for being a commuter’s bicycle, and if this has any Dahon pedigree, it would mean that it is up to the challenge of going through crappy roads, back roads, bike paths, and grueling streets full of uneven road bulges and potholes, unforgiving hills, motorists not respecting your right of way are all a daily test for the bicycle’s mettle. Balloon tyres and saddle for comfort, powerful brakes to stop when errant motorists appear, and a wide gear ratio – especially important is its low range – are all important factors that will decide if this is a good commuter.

To test it, I took to the road; the worst roads for that matter.

On a rough surface, the bike handled well, with the fat Marathon Racers softening the vibrations especially well, small potholes were rolled over with impunity. On regular roads that are well maintained, the occasional humps and bumps were easily overcome.

Safe to say, you’ll be commuting on this bike for a long time. It has tyres that are perfect for anything you throw at it. I took it to East Coast, to Kallang, to the city, to Bendemeer, to Little India without a hitch. The gearing (26 to 100 gear inches), is more than adequate for hills and flyovers, even when loaded with a laptop, books and a camera. What this configuration lacks is simply fenders for those rainy days, which you can buy as an option.

The verdict

Test Three: Is this bike any fun?

Although this bike is not the fastest, it is nonetheless pretty fast, speedoholics would be pretty happy with this bike. The Marathon Racers, pumped up at 85psi, has a very good compromise between low rolling resistance and comfort of a balloon tyre. The very beautiful lines of the bike, its moustache bars and Brooks seat, you’ll be catching many glimpses from other people when you cycle. Its eccentricity in styling is in fact very attractive.

An added benefit with this bike is that its geometrical distances can be modified to fit a myriad of riders. You are able to adjust seat post height, seat to handlebar distance, handlebar height. So your growing teenager can ride it, and so can your spouse.

Grass and unpaved terrain was not a problem either. While grass increased the rolling resistance by a lot, there was adequate gearing to overcome this. This bike can tackle gravel, compact sand and hard mud, too. Of course, this is not a full-on off road machine, anything but hard, compact surfaces, and you’ll know why 50 – 85psi is not a pressure MTB riders use often.

The beauty of this bike lies in its dynamism. It is not merely a bike that can go on the road, but it can tackle a myriad of surfaces with its forte being on the road. This gives you the ability to be spontaneous about your ride. You can be riding Mandai, and then turning into Track 15. You’ll enjoy it when you go for a leisure ride that takes you to the (ever disappearing) Singaporean countryside, where the roads are not friendly to a 23c tyre, and you’ll enjoy the silence and vibration-free ride on the road where a MTB tyre would be complaining.

Therefore: What is this Bike?

Initially, I thought this bike was a conceptual failure. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want a bike that is neither a very good road bike nor a compact folding bike. But the more miles I put into the bike, the more I learnt to appreciate it. Yes, it is not a road bike – not as fast, not as aerodynamic, not something you’ll ride at the Coast Road in a peloton. Yes, it isn’t the best folding bike in terms of compactness. But what you get, however, is a bike that is a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the ability to ride in a variety of conditions, in comfort and style. Leisurely and comfortably upright, or aerodynamically and speedily crouched, the moustache bars can allow you to adapt to whatever suits your appetite on that day.

The biggest consideration when you are considering buying a non-folding bike vis-à-vis the Smooth Hound would probably be whether you’ll be putting it in your car often, whether the bike will have multiple users, and whether the bike will be used in conjunction with public transport. The ability to fold can get you out of many ruts, such as when you have a puncture, or when it rains, you can hail a taxi or get on the train. The ability to modify geometrical distances is an advantage if you are going to have a “family bicycle”.

Riding this bike has been a great joy. Categorically, it is tempting to classify it as a hybrid, but it isn’t accurate to call it a hybrid. It’s far more exciting than that.