The Folding Society

The Dahon Helios 7

Since this report was published on 28 September 2002, we received on 1 October 2002 some additional information from Joshua Hon of Dahon, in particular giving some details of the version to be introduced for 2003. We are reproducing the information which Joshua gives at the end of the report, with references in brackets in the main report to the point which Joshua makes. You can access the comments from the main text via the links on the reference numbers - then use the 'back' feature of your browser to return to the main text.

It is encouraging to find a manufacturer who will lend us a test bike, responds positively to the comments in our report, and is making continuous improvements to their models - there is no product which cannot be improved!

In the past we have rarely commented on Dahons - although they are the largest folder manufacturer, they have never been particularly popular here in the UK, perhaps because of the strength of the indigenous manufacturers. Although their earliest models were rather basic, and did not match the riding performance of local machines like the Brompton, specification, quality and performance are reportedly now much improved, and through the good offices of Mark Bickerton of UK distributors Cyclemotion, I have recently had the use of a Dahon Helios for ten days to test.

The Helios is normally sold in the UK through Ridgeback, but the test bike carried the Dahon name. At £499 it is aimed at one of the most competitive sectors of the market, potentially pitted directly against the Brompton in terms of price (1).

The bike arrived in a large cardboard box, in its folded state, and in addition with the seat pillar and saddle removed. My first experience of the bike was therefore the unfolding process, which proved quite straightforward and quick. Since I always fit my preference of saddle to a bike anyway, I did not test the supplied saddle (it looks a reasonable offering on a bike f this type and price), but fitted one of my own. 

Helios pedal Both pedals fold/unfold very neatly - simply push them in and twist them down when folding, or just twist them out to unfold. The locking mechanism of the pedals is quite secure, and the pedals are quite pleasant and robust in use.

Main frame joint The folding of the main frame and handlebar stem involves two catches, to reduce the risk of accidents. 

In its folded state the bike is quite neat, and although no bag is supplied, I would not be too worried about taking it onto a train naked - it is not as compact and unobtrusive as an unbagged Brompton, but it is still unlikely to attract unwelcome attention. With its polished aluminium frame, the bike looks quite attractive when unfolded, and indeed when folded, although the handlebars looked excessively high for someone of my height. Carrying the bike when it was folded was quite easy, and it felt somewhat lighter and easier to carry than a Brompton, the compact dimensions of which make it rather awkward to carry for smaller, less strong people, and which tends to rub against the leg when carried. Without bagging, the folding time is comparable to that of a Brompton, but I would say the Brompton has the edge, especially if luggage is being carried, as there is nothing to compare with the quick release bag of the Brompton. A rear carrier is fitted as standard though, whereas the front luggage mount of the Brompton is extra. The rack is fairly small. No bottle bosses are provided, and there is no pump, nor a means for mounting one. On the positive side, good mudguards are fitted as standard.

The tyres fitted to the test bike were rather substantial Ritchey 20 x 1.5" ones with a fair amount of tread (circumference 1515mm). The test was too short to be able to comment on life and puncture resistance, but they seem to roll better than one might expect for rather wide tyres rated at not particularly high pressures.

V-brakes are fitted front and rear, with reasonably solid levers on the bars - certainly nicer than the ones on the Brompton. The brakes are light and powerful - almost too much so, resulting in rather snatchy performance, which emphasises any problems with the wheels running slightly out of true.

Bars and changerThe rear gear mech is a Shimano Sora, operated by a very light and positive twist grip - a Shimano RevoShift. Although this is a budget mech, it changes quite well, if less smoothly than the more expensive models. A 52 tooth chainring is fitted and the 8-speed derailleur has sprockets of 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24 and 30 teeth. With the tyres fitted to the test bike, this gives gears of 33, 41, 47, 55, 62, 70, 82 and 90 inches. Personally I would prefer a lower overall range for a bike of this kind and the type of riding that I do, but this is obviously a matter of taste. Fitting less chunky road tyres would lower the gearing anyway, or a smaller chainring (which would mean a new crank set, as the ring is not changeable) could be used to reduce the overall ratios if required. The gears are well spaced, as the figures show.

As already noted, the handlebar height is on the high side, especially for smaller riders, and the bars themselves are mounted in what looks like the reverse direction - as they are an integral part of the stem, there is no way of making any changes in this department. The reach is quite comfortable - although at least as upright as a Brompton due to height, it is not as constrained fore and aft. Despite the length of the vertical stem, it feels quite solid in use, with very little sign of flexing. The brake levers are quite robust and operate nicely - much better looking than those on the Brompton. A bell is fitted, although it is one of those small 'ping' bells with a plastic centre to the to, which as with most of its kind rattles irritatingly (2).

A propstand is fitted as standard - useful, though the first fold of the Brompton which acts as a stand is a cleverer idea.

On the road

I rode the bike under a variety of conditions, including local shopping, commuting with train assistance, and a longer journey by train to Bradford on Avon, using the train as far as Bath, and then cycling along the towpath to Bradford and recceing the Moulton weekend ride. 

On the road (and towpath) the riding position was quite comfortable, although the bars were certainly higher than I like. Despite their with and relatively low pressure, the tyres rolled reasonably freely, though not by any means as good as Primo Comets. The gear change was slick - almost too light, especially after battling recently with an almost impossible change on my Bike Friday. Overall the gearing felt too high for my taste - as the figures had suggested. Nevertheless, on the test ride I didn't actually need to use bottom gear, and I did manage to use top gear a few times, if briefly. The brakes were very light, to the extent that care was needed to avoid stopping more abruptly than intended, and the brakes also felt rather snatchy - a change of brake shoes would probably solve this. The fat tyres probably help to compensate for the lack of any suspension front or rear, which with small wheels (even 406's) can be a problem. The ride was more comfortable than my Bike Friday New World Tourist (Newt), but way short of the standards of the Birdy or Moulton. On the towpath, it was not as uncomfortable as I had feared, though after riding from Bath to Bradford on Avon and back, I really did not want to go any further off road that day, and a repeat of that journey a week later on a Moulton Jubilee L (about 5 times the price!) felt delightfully comfortable by comparison (3).

I did detect a slight creaking from the frame - apparently at the stem joint - but otherwise (excluding the rattling bell) the bike was quite silent and reassuring to ride. I had no problems with the bike during this, admittedly fairly short, test.


The Dahon Helios is a fairly straightforward folder which is well suited for general utility cycling. It is unlikely to appeal to those who want to ride longer distances and at higher speeds, but it is not aimed at that market, and it des what it is intended for very satisfactorily. Those who like the idea of at least 7 gears, V brakes and the 406 (20 inch) wheel size will find it appealing. Those who want a more compact fold, and the excellent luggage facilities of the Brompton, will probably still opt for the Brompton. In terms of price, the Helios is fairly directly competing with the Brompton, and personally I'd regard it as a bit over priced. Although my personal preference is for the Brompton, if I only had one bike instead of 14, and was less of an enthusiast, I would find the Helios a strong contender as my choice.

My thanks again to Cyclemotion for providing the bike for testing.

Additional comments from Joshua Hon, including information on the 2003 model (4).

Additional information - response of Joshua Hon of Dahon, received 1 October 2002

1 It might be interesting to note that in other, non-UK markets, the Helios is US $499, while the Brompton sells for US $800 or more. Brompton has a special situation in the UK because they bypass the distributor and sell directly to dealers.

2. We agree about the handlebar height. Quite a few of our customers commented on this. So for 2003 we have fitted an adjustable Telescope steering column that lets the rider adjust the handlebars up and down by 12". Note that Dahon pioneered the Telescope steering column on our very first Dahon 20 years ago - this Telescope design has since been "borrowed" by others such as Birdy, et al. For 2003 we also change to a standard handlebar (that doesn't curve backward) so riders can swap out the fitted handlebar for one of their own choosing should they so desire

3. Definitely the Helios is designed for smooth road riding. The frame is very stiff so riding on paths or trails would definitely leave the rider wanting for suspension.

4. The Helios is definitely aimed at a different rider than the Brompton customer. I think you have correctly identified the customer we are aiming at with this bike: the city rider who wants a balance of performance, riding comfort, and folding convenience. For long distance road riding, touring, mountain biking and or the daily commuter, we have other bikes. If you want to review a bike that targets the Brompton customer, you should take a look at our Presto model.

Perhaps of some interest, the 2003 model Helios has been substantially upgraded as follows:

For more information on Dahons, see or

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Last updated: 2 October 2002