Is this the ultimate folding bike?
Tested: Dahon Flo
Description: Race-ready folding hard-tail XC mountain bike
Price: up to £1,499 (available on the net for £1,247)
Reviewer: Christos Markou
The first thing to understand when considering the purchase of this bike is that the Dahon Flo bears little resemblance to Dahon’s other products. It is not heavy. It is very stable. It is virtually indistinguishable from a non-folding bike.
If you are looking for a clunky, heavy, unstable and weird-looking folder then read no further. If, however, you are looking for a bike that can match the best mid-range XC bikes on the market but with the added advantage that it fits in a suitcase then the Flo may be for you.
DESIGN AND SPECIFICATION
The Flo was designed by one of the masters of off-road biking, Joe Murray, and uses the Tom Ritchey break-away system to allow the frame to be dismantled into two halves. The tube set is Reynolds 853 air-hardened steel tubing and the geometry is just what you would expect from a Joe Murray bike – a forward-leaning riding position that allows maximum power to the pedals and facilitates a blast up the steepest hills.
The whole bike weighs in at a svelte 10.9kg (yes it really is that light) and features a generally high quality parts spec including:
27 gears using SRAM X9 gripshift and derailleurs and Truvativ Firex Team crankset
Manitou SPV7 forks
Avid BB7 disk brakes
American Classic ultra-light hubs
NVO adjustable stem
SDG Bel-Air i-Beam saddle
Schwalbe Racing Ralph tubeless tires on WTB Speeddisc rims with DB stainless steel spokes
RIDE QUALITY etc
The first thing you will notice when you get on this bike is that this is no ordinary cross-country mountain bike. This baby is clearly built for speed and reacts instantly – no long and slow riding up to speed with this one!
The low rolling resistance of the tires, together with the ultra-light frame and running gear ensure a quick take-off every time. The bike is also exceptionally stable and the steel frame is lively and very forgiving, adding just the right amount of flex for those of us who are not sold on the need for everything in the mountain-bike world to be rigid for its own sake.
The bike could, however, feel a little like taming a thoroughbred for those who are not used to bikes of this weight and this gearing, and the low gears are fiercely powerful. Make sure you keep the weight on the forks when pulling away in the low range or you will do a wheelie on this one for sure.
Setting up the bike is easy – the i-Beam seat post and SDG seat can be adjusted for tilt and moved back and forward by the use of one bolt only and the infinite adjust stem allows for the bars to be lifted or dropped to just the right height in a matter of seconds.
I have now ridden the bike over 400 miles, combining some of the best off-road single-track trails in the UK with a decent amount of road work, and I have to say that the performance has been very impressive, comparing favourably with the best non-folders from Giant, Specialized and the like. The only thing that could be improved is the forks. They are very rigid and have easily adjustable damping, but do not have quite the travel that you need when tackling the hardest off-road work. That said they should prove more than adequate for 99% of the riding that most people will do on a bike like this.
The Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres have proved to be an excellent choice – their low rolling resistance means that there is no problem using them on road (drag is very low compared to many knobblies) and their grip off-road is outstanding as long as the tyre pressure is kept low.
Strangely enough Dahon supplied the bike with tubes inserted in the tubeless tyres – these promptly went down when faced with a long rocky downhill in the Lake District and, much to my chagrin, only one of the rims had a proper tubeless set-up installed meaning I had to invest in proper seals and valves to get the bike properly set-up. Be prepared for this weird arrangement should you buy the bike and my advice is to pull out the supplied tubes on delivery and set the wheels up properly – it reduces weight and improves off-road grip enormously.
No pedals are supplied with this bike so don’t expect to be able to take it out of the box and ride off down the street! Not being a lover of clipless pedals I fitted DMR V12 magnesium pedals (only 436gms) a good choice if you like to keep your options open on the downhills but don’t want to sacrifice grip.
The bike can be assembled/dismantled in just under 10 minutes if you are going for a full suitcase pack-up, or in just under a minute if you are simply splitting the frame to put the bike in your car boot (all it takes to split the bike is to loosen three allen bolts, two on the seatpost and one on the main tube coupler, as well as disconnecting the cables).
The seat post forms part of the structural binding for the frame and it is generally quite easy to assemble the bike once you are used to it. I found the instruction manual to be virtually useless as the order of assembly/dismantling is rather poorly thought out. The easy sequence for full dismantling is – disconnect the cables, remove the front wheel (so the bike balances easily on the forks, loosen the seat post bolts, remove the Ritchey coupler (below), split the frame, remove the rear wheel, remove the handlebars. For a quick break down the easiest order is – disconnect the cables, loosen the seat bolts, remove the coupler, remove the seat and voila the bike is in two parts!
I have managed a part break down (two parts) in 45 seconds and a full pack into a suitcase in just under 8 minutes. I generally don’t go for the full breakdown except when flying abroad (where I now don’t have to pay extortionate airline charges to take my bike with me!)
You need to be careful on assembly to ensure that the brake cables are properly running in their holders and that the cables have not slipped out of the Avid brake levers. I have found that using elastic bands on the cables when the bike is in two parts prevents the cables from slipping out of their mountings and speeds up reassembly.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Some suppliers are offering this bike on the net for as little as £1,247 in the UK but they list the Dahon suitcase as being part of the spec and then don’t supply it. The suitcase costs an additional £160 so get confirmation of exactly what will be included before you part with your cash.
The set-up on delivery can be variable. Don’t get on the bike unless it has been properly set-up by a bike mechanic. As supplied by Dahon the bolts on the Avid disk brakes were loose on my bike (a potentially fatal error by the supplier), the gears were not properly indexed, the tyres were not properly installed, and the gear cables were not in their runners. Don’t let this put you off as this is a great bike but make sure you have everything checked properly – Dahon seem to have some quality control issues on bike assembly/packing.
Do not under any circumstances install the supplied front reflector facing downwards on the bars. If you do it will foul the brake cables, pull them out of their runners when you turn, and could make the rear brakes fail. If you do fit the reflector put it on facing upwards. I consigned mine to the bin.
This is a fantastic bike in its own right. The icing on the cake is that it also folds up when you need it to.
Most people (my bike mechanic included) do not even realise that the bike is a folder and it looks and rides every bit like a race quality XC mountain bike.
If want the convenience of a folder together with the performance of a high quality bike then you should have a serious look at the Dahon Flo.
Mark Bickerton Cyclemotion writes:
After the publication of this report on the Folding Society Website, I contacted Christos Markou (pen name) to see what I could find out about the what he had said about Dahon and the bike. I have been meaning to send you my response since. Here it is!
Firstly, I am happy to know that Christos is generally very pleased with his two Flo bikes and we are delighted he has taken the trouble to submit a report to the Folding Society. However, we were disappointed to read that he had some frustrations with bikes, which were not attributable to poor manufacture as he implied, but as far as I can tell was due to poor service from his dealer.
Here are my comments and responses to what he has said:
I would conclude by saying that the Flo is one amazing bike and perhaps there are some lessons to be learned here about buying on the cheap.