The Folding Society

The Dahon Matrix

By Colin Tulleth
Test report originally issued 12 September 2004

Price: £500
UK specification: Shimano Acera Derailleur, Dahon V-brakes and Shimano Gripshifters. Purchased from CH White in Malmesbury (web order available).
Size tested: Large - 19” (my inside leg 33cm).
Bike weight: 13kg.
Distributor:  Fisher. Imported from Taiwan to Frankfurt and then re-directed to the UK

First Impressions

A good-looking bike with the locking mechanism centrally placed.

Painted in a pearlescent white the bike certainly looks new and attracted complimentary comments from work colleagues.

It’s booted with city-slicks and advertised as an urban assault vehicle. Aesthetically it was let down by the cheap Suntour Nex 400 forks which drew disdain from the more full-on riders.

The frame has more holes than you’ll ever need for the fitment of racks and disc brakes. Notably these holes were unfilled - I expected them to have nuts to help strengthen the frame - so if you want to fit things you’ll need nuts…

The size was perfect for my leg length for both on-road (seat-post at full stretch) and off-road (seat-post at ¾ stretch). It’s clear straightaway that the saddle is designed to be set high. Riders of leg length greater than 34cm will have trouble fitting this bike. There is a 21” version available but this is not imported into Europe.


So, it’s a folding bike which ought to be useful for putting it on trains into cars etc… So, to the folding test. Note pedals do not fold or remove.

Dahon quote a folding time of 15 seconds… Well, this is indeed possible; it all really depends on how far you want/need to fold it.

Simple fold

Just breaking the bike in half can be done in 10-15 seconds and if you’re quick you might even manage to fit the Velcro strap that holds the bike closed. Problem with this is the handlebars still stick out across the bike and the saddle pokes up. 95cm long x 95cm high x 65cm wide. Note this is about the same size as a non-folding bike with its wheels removed…

Usual fold

Same as above but you will drop/droop the handlebars by loosening the height adjustment and then loosen the headset to rotate the bars in-line with the bike.  You will also remove the saddle as this prevents the handlebars being rotated. This is possible in about 1 minute with practice – most people would take 1½ mins. Problem is the handlebars stick poke up 25cm more than they would if removed. 95cm long x 95cm high x 40cm wide.

Small as possible

This is the “Usual” fold but with the wheels and the handlebars removed. Takes 2-3 mins. But the bike suddenly drops in length by nearly a third and height by nearly a foot. 60cm long x 70cm high x 45cm. Notably the bike does not get considerably wider since the logical place to strap the wheels is either side of the frame. Since the pedals do not remove and are included in the 40cm width figure above you are essentially using an area of dead space.

Folding Problems

You will scratch the forks against the rear stays every time you fold the bike – so permanently strapping some pipe insulation around the affected fork is recommended.

The “simple fold” isn’t that great so you will be performing the “usual” fold most of the time so a folding time of 1 ½ mins is the most realistic figure.

You’ll need a strap (Velcro one supplied) to keep the bike closed – I keep losing these.

For £54 you can buy the Dahon Doubleplay bike bag into which this bike allegedly fits given a “usual” fold. Erm well it does - but only upside down and after 5 mins of struggling. Even then it’s too big to carry. So if you want to bag it you’ll need to perform the “smallest” fold, and remove the wheels. Otherwise your best bet is a simple slipcover to protect your car or other train passengers. Dahon do produce such a thing (£20) but I’ve no experience of using it.

The test

The test consisted of four assessments

1 - On Road (slick tyres - unladen)

This was a two-part test, half of which was ridden with the bike unladen and half with a 10kg load evenly across the rear panniers (see below).

The stability of the bike unladen was good. I could almost ride the bike no-hander which is a good indication of design stability (the cheaper Dahons are apparently scary in this respect).

Upon hitting the inevitable pothole the handlebars clicked down one notch - but were easily tightened. This continued to happen after the bike had been reassembled from a fold. Upon first reassembly it seems necessary to tighten the bars, ride a bit and re-tighten them. This appeared to solve the problem.

The bike was nippy and was easy to throw about – with perhaps a bit of over steer, but nothing too bad. What was noticeable though was the tendency for the frame to “click” when braking or riding rough roads. Unladen this seemed to be simply irritating.

One big problem though was the “re-loc” frame locking mechanism. This simply would not stay closed and I had to resort to tape to keep it shut. This is not the main lock and really only provides some extra triangulation strength so is not critical. It is though worrying and if I was an engineer I’d fail the device. Notably Dahon claim this 2004 model has the improved version of the “re-loc”. This means either the 2003 version used to eat babies in comparison or that they haven’t really improved it much at all…

The main lock also seems to work itself loose quite quickly and needs tightening about every 150 miles. I’d mark this as a partial fail.

The bike is fitted with Shimano gripshifters. These are about the cheapest shifters Shimano produce (rrp £7.99) and have no place on an adult bike. Try shifting across the front ring and the back rings simultaneously and then try rubbing your stomach and patting your head. The latter is easiest.

The gear change is slow and distracting and if you happen to slow change or even back-pedal - do expect your chain to slap against your frame and take a whole load of paint with it. Perhaps removing a chain link might help.

The brakes are Dahon branded V-brakes which are truly dreadful. There is so much friction in the cables that I recommend stripping and changing the cables the day the bike arrives. The brakes themselves lack much power at all. They are certainly less powerful than cheap cantilevers.

The pedals - aaargh the pedals - are teeny-weeny things fit for childrens' bikes. They’re tough enough but just too small for adults – replace them.

Verdict – an OK ride - let down by the constant distraction of checking the frame is closed. Shifters, pedals and brakes are not up to the job.

2 - On Road (slick tyres – laden)

The bike was fitted with a twin-stay Trek rear pannier (rrp c.£20) and was ridden with an 8kg load split evenly across the rear within a pair of Ortlieb Back Roller panniers. This is a medium to heavy load.

Note pedals by this stage were changed to MKS Sylvan Tourers (bear-traps).

This test was when things started to go wrong…The rear of the bike seemed to have a mind of its own and the flex of the frame in normal road conditions was really quite scary. I tried riding no-hands - and the bike tried to bite me, the front swinging back on itself. Generally steering was twitchy and what had been slight over steer when unladen, became true terror as the bike tried to take chunks out of passing cars. The occasional click of the frame was now a constant click, click grind and nothing short of tape would keep the re-loc closed for more than a minute.

Having arrived home the panniers were removed immediately.

Verdict – truly terrifying.

3 – Off Road (knobbly tyres – laden)

Well after test 2 I wasn’t looking forward to this as it meant re-fitting the rear pannier, it also meant fitting a bar-bag (Ortlieb medium).

Fitting of the knobbly tyres was only possible by the removable of the bottom-bracket-covering frame stand (for reasons of clearance). Removal was easy enough. It was noted at this point that whoever had initially fitted the stand had crossed the threads making re-fitting “problematic”. NB this stand means that when the bike is folded it sits on the stand not on the bottom bracket, so saving the paint job.

The bike was once more loaded up – this time for a multi-day trek. So it was the same rear panniers plus the bar bag – all in it totalled 8.2 kg.

The test was in the Cairngorms along the Linn of Dee to Glen Feshie and back, along a good but rocky Land-Rover track. Erm that’s what I read anyway.

Once more the bike was shaky and flexing although I was getting used to it. Lots of tape on the “re-loc” thingy meant I didn’t need to worry about that coming loose. Once more at the first bump the handlebars dropped a notch whereupon they were tightened. They didn’t cause any more problems.

On the track the bike was OK – but still twitchy and thankfully there were not many tight turns to test the oversteer issue. The forks (not really designed for off-road) coped adequately and never bottomed out. Once the track ran-out was when the weight of the bike began to show. Pushing 21+kg across moorland is not fun and the bearings although sealed were clearly beginning to washout.

After a one-night camp it was back to Braemar again and onto an inspection of the bike. The hubs were indeed almost dry but the bottom bracket appeared fine and was left alone during the inspection. The black alloy handlebars had picked up a few scratches which shows poor quality anodising – in fact they may simply be painted. The rack fitment was such that a lot of paint had been removed form the rear stays.  Dahon provide a small bottle of paint with the bike – thankfully. Painting seems to work and after 48 hours to dry the damage is barely noticeable.

Verdict – Heavy, sluggish and not really much fun – but then Dahon don’t recommend off-road activity for this bike. Since the frame is the same as the Zero G (which is a “proper” MTB) then this must be due to the wheel/hub/fork combo.

4 – Off Road (knobbly tyres – unladen)

This test was conducted in Tentsmuir Forest in Fife and entailed dashing around like a mad thing and clocking up lots of miles on fairly flat and hard-packed forestry tracks. The sort of terrain I would expect a bike like this to eat up.

Comments on this are pretty much the same as on the first road test.  The ride was adequate but the cheap shifters really ruined the ride and the poor brakes led to a few hairy moments.

Verdict: A decent ride but it still feels like riding a budget mountain bike (£150?) not a £500 specialist import.

General Conclusions

This is a folding bike for car transport or occasional long-distance train journey. The fold is simply too big, heavy and slow to be useful for a commuter bike.

For load-carrying keep the loads VERY light, it’s not suitable for full on touring due to the flexing of the frame.

Frame mechanism is poor. Armed with your sticky tape you can take it off road just keep an eye out for big bumps/holes as it’s advertised as an urban assault vehicle – so it’s best kept on towpaths or hard forest tracks.

The US and European versions of this bike have disc brakes (apparently poor ones though) and high-spec brake cables – they also cost about £300…

Shifters, brakes and pedals are inadequate.

Paint scratches too easily.

Final Verdict

Overpriced and under-specified; the frame mechanism is not up to scratch. You’ll immediately want to spend money upgrading the cables (£10), the pedals (£20), the shifters (£30) and the grips (£7).

It rides like a cheap MTB.

Immediately after purchasing this (this always happens) I spotted the identical bike on sale in Germany under the moniker “”. It also appears to be imported by Fisher - yet sells for £266-£300 through an ebay seller. Notably this has better quality brake cables and is £200 cheaper.  If you want one of these I’d pay the German rate. Just remember you’ll need a good supply of tape to keep the frame together…

Editor's comments

I have tested, and indeed own, the Dahon Zero G, which, as mentioned above, has the same frame as the Matrix. However, it is fitted with much higher quality components, and is priced at very nearly £1000. As the test of the Zero G shows, I too had problems with the re-loc working loose, though not to the extent that Colin did. Over time, and perhaps with ingress of muck, the re-loc does not work loose as easily now as it did originally! I haven't ridden the Zero G with more luggage than a not particularly full Carradice SQR bag mounted on the seat pillar, so I can't really comment about the handling when laden - I've not noticed any problems at any time when I've ridden with the lighter loads. I prefer Rapidfire gear shifters to twist grips (the Zero G also has twist grips, though better quality ones). However, on a folder the twist grip does have the slight advantage of being less liable to get caught on things when folding and carrying the bike, and I also find that in cold weather, when my bad circulation means that I sometimes have great difficulty operating Rapidfires, the twistgrips can be easier to operate. Compared with non-folding conventional mountain bikes, the Matrix and Zero G might be considered expensive, but in folder terms the prices seem pretty competitive. I've been happy with the Zero G so far (over 900Km completed now), though it's only been ridden quite gently so far, and off-road riding has been limited to canal towpaths and cycle tracks.

Folding Society home page | Return to tests page | Dahon UK

Copyright ©2004 Colin Tulleth
Last updated 12 September 2004