* Prices may differ from that shown
WHY ANOTHER FOLDER?
It seems a little strange to be writing about yet another folding bike when I already have a Brompton, the doyenne of dinky bikes that really does fold up into a shopping bag.
Getting a second was more a question of storage rather than any real need for the bike to be transportable under anything but its own rider's steam.
My wife now works at a special teaching unit some two miles from home, and the local council (London Borough of Ealing) has decided that the surrounding roads are to become a residents' parking zone (CPZ), with no exceptions. The school, predictably, doesn't have sufficient parking spaces, even though Ruth drives a Smart, and could almost park it in the sports equipment shed. Parking spaces, it has been decreed, will be allocated on a per-term basis. Since her colleagues are all coming from the four corners of London, a car-share is out of the question, and the local buses are sporadic and packed to the gun-whales with people who think it's OK to play mp3 files loudly through their mobiles.
The school being in a 'dodgy' area, complete with dark-windowed 'pimped' BMWs dispensing drugs like an ice cream salesman, leaving a decent bike outside wouldn't be a good idea, so the idea of a folding bike reared its head again in our household.
Well, she can't have mine: I'm using it!
One thing negated the purchase of another Brompton - well two if you count the fact that the Borough of Ealing is not yet taking part in the Ride2Work subsidised bike campaign, and that is the price. There's hardly a Brompton model to give you any change from 500 quid.
However, the Dahon Curve D3 costs around £400 when you add on the luggage rack, some lights and the bag to put the whole shebang in (don't be misled by claims that it costs £350).
GETTING MY MITTS ON ONE
Even better, I got mine off a geezer in Dublin who had only used it 5 times, and I ended up paying only as many Euros as it costs in £s to get it here, Euro329 to be precise including shipping.
Of course, nothing goes that smoothly, including having to go to the bloody Fedex depot in the beautiful downtown Slough Trading Estate* to pick it up, a journey that made me feel I'd driven halfway back to Dublin, and the fact that it had a flat tyre on collection. But hey, I'm a nationally-accredited cycling instructor; I 'do' punctures. You wonder if the previous owner was a 'fair weather' cyclist - OK till he got his first puncture.
To be fair, apart from a little brake dust to mar its pristine and virginal white paint job, it was 'as new'.
*In amongst all of the seller's conditions that e-bay list, how about a buyer's condition? I.e. "Don't sell me anything if you're not going to use Parcelforce - at least they leave goods at my local Post Office!"
WHY THIS ONE?
Dahon make a daunting array of folding bikes, both under their own name and for other firms (like Trek) starting at the top with full-sized bikes that merely fold (suitable only for transportation in a car boot) down to the Curve D3 which, with its dinky 16" wheels, has the potential for being as compact when stored as the Brompton. We specifically wanted something small, and with a 3-mile round trip in mind, weren't so worried about the extra effort required to propel the bike over west London's rubbish road surfaces.
I had even cherished the notion that at least here was a Dahon that folded neatly into the same space as the Brompton.
I was wrong. The Dahon not only takes more stages to achieve a full fold, but it's considerably more bulky when folded, the carrying bag being even bigger than an IKEA one.
In this all-important field, this is how they compare.
BROMPTON - Put bike in park position, with back wheel folded under.
Retract single folding pedal.
Undo clamp and fold down handlebar stem.
Undo clamp, and fold frame in half.
Lower seat post - this last action locks the whole bike together.
DAHON - Undo handlebar clamp, and swivel bars till brake handles are vertical.
Undo handlebar stem clamp, and raise handlebars as high as possible.
Undo clamp at base of handlebar stem, and swing handlebars down.
Set pedals at 45 degree angle.
Retract both folding pedals.
Lower seat post, and swivel seat.
Undo clamp and fold frame in half, making sure that a pair of magnetic catches engage.
If all that sounds fiddly, both bikes fold quickly compared to assembling a flat-pack wardrobe, but harking back to the old days of the Le Mans 24 Hour race making drivers cycle to their cars and put their bikes away before starting, would mean the Brompton rider being half a mile down the road before the Dahon rider was even getting in the car.
Like the Brompton, this bike retains the 'good old' Sturmey-Archer three speed hub gears, controlled in this case by a twist grip, whilst others in the Dahon range also offer the choice of more ratios using dérailleur gears as found on mountain and racing bikes.
For an essentially commuter machine, hub gears are a sensible choice since they can be changed standing still (unlike the latter), which is useful if caught out by a traffic light on an uphill section. Yes, I am THAT cyclist who stops at lights!
The two bikes come at rider comfort from a different angle. The Brompton's high-pressure narrower tyres do not bode well for a smooth ride over bumps and potholes, although its rear suspension does help, as does changing the rock hard original-fit saddle for a Brooks leather job. The hard tyres do however make it easy to propel
On the other hand, the Dahon relies on lower pressure fat tyres and a squishy saddle. I'm not really a fan of either of these - Raleigh tried it some years ago with the RSW16 and it put a lot of people off cycling for life. Soft tyres are hard work, and soft synthetic saddles mould themselves too well to your bum, making riding in summer a somewhat sweaty affair. Pumping the tyres up from their recommended minimum of 30 p.s.i. to their maximum of 75 p.s.i. solves one problem by making them easier to propel but make the ride excruciating on anything but a glassy-smooth surface.
However, for a bike you're probably not going to ride far, the combination is fine.
Weight wise, there's nothing in it, with both bikes tipping the scales at the 'low twenties' in pounds.
The Dahon feels reassuringly sturdy, unlike the Brompton's tendency to feel a bit 'whippy' around the handlebars when pulling hard.
The Dahon's brakes are the now more common 'V-Brake' design, which is very easy to keep in fine fettle and to fit replacement parts. They're also damned powerful! Being easy to disconnect them also makes it easy to extract a wheel without letting the tyres down to get them past the brake blocks. Of course, you'd normally be doing this to mend a puncture, so the tyre would already be 'let down'!
One item I really do commend Dahon for and curse Brompton for not having thought of it first, is the built-in pump concealed in the seat post. This is not just some clever way of secreting a conventional pump about the bike's person, but the whole seat post IS the pump of the stirrup variety, allowing the base to be anchored by one of your feet whilst you pump admirable volumes of air by pushing the saddle up and down. Full marks chaps - the Brompton's is next to useless!
The sturdy curved nature (hence the name) of the main frame, with its high quality powder-coat paint does give me reason to make one criticism though. To attain a high degree of rigidity, the Dahon has huge dollops of visible running welds.
Now alumin(i)um does not weld as neatly as steel, and the Dahon does nothing to disabuse me of this observation. The welds look like a novice's attempt to apply bathroom sealant with a garden towel, but this detail aside the build quality has an air of permanence about it - the various clamps and bare metal parts have lustrous sheens to them and the stainless steel spokes and alloy rims glint in the sun.
LIVING WITH IT
Like the Brompton, the ride experience falls short of that of a 'full sized' bike, where larger wheels can span potholes with less drama, and the greater innate frame strength without resorting to enough aluminium welding flux to stretch the GDP of a minor country instils greater confidence at speed.
However, it does what it's intended for admirably, with the exception of the manner in which it folds. This leaves you with no logical centre of gravity with which to carry it, and the fact that the folded package is still rather wide means that you have to hold it slightly at arm's length like a muscle-bound body builder taking his Rottweiler for a walk. Mind you, a few hours carrying this and you'll BE a muscle-bound body builder; at least on one side you will.
Of course no-one in their right mind carries a folding bike for a long distance - you just unfold it and wheel it. Basically, as long as you're strong enough to lift it into a car or onto a luggage rack, that's all the oooomph that's needed.
The small rear carrier affords the storage of a set of waterproofs and maybe some vital tools.
Fixing a rear light is problematical since the favourite spot, the seat post, is too thick for most clamps.
Not so a front lamp, as the handle bars are a standard thickness.
The seat post is calibrated to help you find the same height twice, which important if the bike is to be shared.
Slightly rougher ride aside, the Curve doesn't feel too odd compared to a conventional bike and I suppose it's no surprise that it doesn't. After all, the handlebars, pedals and saddle all fall into place as you'd except on an adult bike. If anything, the smaller wheels give you less inertia to overcome when it comes to acceleration, and you can show many a keen 'purist' a clean pair of tyres, especially by making maximum use of the twist grip gear change - just don't expect to be ahead for long!
You COULD fit a speedometer, but you'd be advised to get a radio-cordless version otherwise it's too easy (oh yes, VERY easy) to catch the wires in the hinges. Also, make sure you buy one that can be calibrated for such small wheels; luckily, 16" seems to be the bottom limit for these things.
As I said before fitting a rear light could be problematical since most seem to have standardised on a tube clip for a fixture. When fitting a front light to the handle bars, check it for clearance when folded - it may foul the wheel spokes or the ground and end up with a heavily scratched lens
Tool-wise, there's very little need for any except the correct sized spanner to remove the wheel nuts, plus whatever else you carry to repair punctures 'on the hoof'. Personally, I'd take a new inner tube and non-metal tyre levers and leave it at that. Repairs are much better done at home at your leisure where you can get the offending tube to a sink to check for leaks. Yes, where are the 'nearby puddles' or duck ponds when you need one?
There are two plugged-up holes in the main frame which appear to be for the lugs to hold a drinks bottle, but since that would mean the bottle lying on its side, you'd need one without the current trend for a pop-up drink lip which are not water-tight.
Being quite a rare tyre size, I'd order a spare along with the bike. BikeHut (the 'pro' wing of Halfords) were very helpful and ordered one for me for around £16. Inner tubes, which the bike shares with kiddy-sized "BMX" bikes are easier to some by - around £1.99 each from e-bay!
Given that we didn't want the expense of another Brompton (well, not without the subsidised deal we didn't!) the Dahon Curve is a worthy alternative with a few caveats.
No way is it small enough to take on a bus as luggage, to be put where the baby buggies are stored. Likewise, except to get moaned at by train commuters as they catch their shins on its various "sticky out bits". As a "car boot bike" it's fine though.
At least I can get BOTH bikes in the boot, although no prizes for guessing which one takes up more than half the room!