Biking to work has always been a popular mode of transport for many in the workforce, but such journeys are usually restricted in distance, as provisions for proper shower facilities and bike storage at workplaces are far and few between. The former is necessary for fellow colleagues’ nasal welfare, and the latter to avoid the heartache of losing one’s beloved to some unscrupulous souls out there. A growing alternative in recent years is to integrate biking into our public transport system. Indeed, bringing bike and train (and even public buses) together has been demonstrated as a viable tool of transportation elsewhere, however this system many of us yearned for has yet to materialize, reasons ranging from our social prejudice against bicycles as a poor man’s tool, inadequate civic mindedness (just look at the number of abandoned bicycles at train station bike parking lots), to draconian rulings by our train operators that bicycles soil our world class trains and are a nuisance to other passengers. While a handful of exceptions have been demonstrated previously, it is a sheer waste of time trying to convince the train stationmaster to let you in with your typical bike, especially during peak hour madness. That sets us thinking: If we cannot get on the trains with our full sized bikes, why not get something smaller or even better still, a foldable bike that will reduce its footprint by half. Here we present one bike that is touted to fit the bill: The Dahon D7.
At the first glance, the specs adorning the chromoly frame of the D7 are nothing to brag about: SRAM entry line gripshift, Dahon in-house rear derailleur and a brand-less crankset fill up the 7-speed drivetrain department. Wheels are a pair of Formula hubs. Braking is handled by Promax V-brakes, while the brake levers and remaining parts are mostly Dahon OEM. However, a closer look enabled us to pick out the nifty features that is built into this bike.
The D7 is only slightly larger than your mountain bike wheel when folded; this compact dimension is achieved by the system of hinged pivots which allows the frame and stem to fold over themselves, secured by quick release latch levers and the 20” wheels this bike was build around. The ultra long seatpost gives sufficient allowance to fit riders from 1.50 to 1.90 metres in height and retracts sufficiently to maintain the minimal footprint. There is also a pump built into the seatpost that provides capacity equivalent to what you get from a floor pump: this makes fixing flats a breeze. Reflectors are also installed in keeping with the commuting theme of this bike. A magnetic catch secures the folded frame at the front and rear dropouts. The pedals fold out of harm’s way, and the chainring guard means less calf tattoos. With practice, one can fold up the bike in 15 seconds.
Ride-wise, the D7 is a pretty nimble machine, thanks to the sharp forward stem rake and the short wheelbase. This is a welcome trait for tight cornering in the urban environment; however riders used to slower-steering bikes will likely be caught out during the initial rides. To beginners, this bike might feel outright dangerous. The combination of the 52T chainring, 11-30T 7-speed cassette, and fast Roulez slicks gives enough oomph to go up to 30Km/h on the flats to make up time after a late roll-call.
While the D7 manages short distance trips with ease, it does not do well for rides longer than half an hour. The twitchy steering makes keeping a straight line on long stretches, such as Changi Coast Road, a daunting task, one that is made worse by a less than smooth headset. Also, the stock saddle – which is geared towards comfort – together with the upright position, does not promote pedaling efficiency. This shortcoming is of no issue, as the D7 is supposed to complement – rather than become a replacement of – the public transport system, which the next part of this review will focus on: Bringing the D7 onto the MRT.
Getting on the train is simple enough, thanks to the wider gantries and lift that have been installed in many of our stations. The lack of bulk of the folded D7 also spared me an earful from the stationmaster, compared the previous attempts with my regular bike. The folded bike can be wheeled while holding the saddle. This is extremely welcome given the weight of almost 13 kg. It is no fun to hand-carry all that mass around. Getting on a moderately crowded train is simple enough; getting off was a totally different preposition. Singaporean’s lack of courtesy in refusing to allow fellow passengers to alight first has been widely documented. This time, there was no exception, never mind that this reviewer got off the half empty train at the end of the line at Pasir Ris. An unpleasant experience, though not due to any fault of the bike. One can only imagine the sheer frustration if this reviewer had worked in town and had to fight through a bigger CBD crowd.
In conclusion, the D7 fell somewhat below this reviewer’s expectations. Having a more neutral steering will make this bike more popular with a wider audience, beginners especially, and its folding ability will score points with many recreational riders: From being able to fit a few D7s into the car bonnet, to being a space saver at home. A lighter overall setup would be preferred, as one often has to resort to hand-carrying the D7 to navigate through the typical peak hour human traffic. Despite its shortcomings, once one can get used to the D7’s handling characteristics, it very much fulfils the needs of a cyclist who wishes to integrate his ride with the public transport system.
On an ending note, it would be nice if we could experience more gracious behaviour on the trains as well.