Monday, April 27, 2009

Folding bikes at LL Bean!

As you’ve noticed from this blog, I’m a big fan of folding bikes. They open up bicycling to a lot of people who would not consider it. I imagine that most Americans don’t have large SUVs or trucks to ferry bikes to places that are more bike friendly. For most cars, you can get bike racks to carry your full-sized bikes on the outside. However, that is an added expense. Folding bikes solve this problem.

Folders are also more storable for urban residents who don’t have a large garage or big backyard. People who live in large high rise apartments or condos can benefit from folders. Just fold the bike and put it in the corner of the room or closet.

So, I was really excited to see that LL Bean, a major retailer,is carrying Dahon folding bikes. The bikes that I saw were Dahon Ecos and they are selling them at $379. I had not seen the Eco before, but they look similar to the Dahon Mariner/Vitesse. (Dahon tends to sell the same bike under different names to retailers). I also know that REI, another national retailer, is selling the Novarra Buzz Fly By at its stores and online. The Fly By is basically the Dahon Mu with slightly lower level components.

Progress? I hope so. Snapped this pix of the Dahon Eco at my LL Bean store:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Find a Saddle and Stick to It

Saddles, or bicycle seats, are very personal choices. I’ve heard it described that your sit bones have a lot to do with your how well you like a particular saddle. Luckily, I’ve found one that works for me. It is the Bell Mountain Bike saddle. This particular saddle is available at places like Kmart and Walmart. And, I’ve never paid more than $20 for it. It has a dimple along the back and a hole more to the front. The indentions in the middle must be for a man’s prostate, which should not be pressed (by your weight) completely flat to any surface. The material of the saddle is vinyl. This saddle has no springs, but good cushioning.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do any long distance rides and mostly use my bikes for commuting, running errands, and the occasional weekend ride. I hardly think about this saddle being there when I’m riding. It’s that comfortable. The only slight negative is that the saddle is sewn. During rainy days water can penetrate it. When there’s rain in the forecast and I’m leaving my bike out, I wrap it up in a grocery bag, though.

Give this saddle a shot. You may like it. (My specs: I don’t have a wide bottom, my waist is 34” and weigh around 170lbs.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Great value folder: Downtube 2009 8FS Review

4.17.09 Update. Have only done 3-4 rides on this bike. One of them was a wet ride. Anyway, after that ride, the rear derailleur wouldn’t shift. I tried all the suggestions on the Downtube site ( to no avail. BTW, the derailleur on the above link is not the same as the one on my 8FS. For example, there are no H & L screws. It turns out that the inside of the shifter cable had developed some sort of white crud. It wouldn’t move. I replaced it with new cable and housing that I made sure was greased up. Now, the shifting is working great. It works even better than when I got the bike new.

I have been using the Dahon Yeah to run errands in mostly city streets and alleys, and the lack of cushioning is very noticeable. I really needed something to improve the rough ride. I was either going to get 1) some Schwalbe Big Apple tires to install on the Yeah or 2) get a brand new full suspension (FS) bike to replace the Yeah.

Big Apple tires are highly regarded because they are wider and tend to run at lower pressures which help to cushion the ride. On the bikeforums site, there were some posters that mention that the BAs are not really a replacement for a full suspension bike. That made me wary of them a little. The thing that turned me away from the BAs was the price. For a pair, they were going for about $80 (including shipping).

I decided to look at full suspension bikes. I looked at a couple like the Dahon Jetstream or the Birdy bikes. These bikes are expensive, though. They are usually around $1000 for each. I had been hearing good things about Downtube bikes. The owner of Downtube (Yan Lyansky) is a folding bike enthusiast and posts on the bikeforums site. He also is very committed to customer service as he always seems to “take care of” his customers esp. if they have problems with their Downtube bikes. While Downtube has a storefront and some dealers, their business model is geared to selling online, thereby passing cost savings onto the customer.

One of his full suspension bikes, the 8FS, was on sale for $299. This was the best price I could find on a new FS bike (and with a 1 year a warranty). Compared to the $80 I was going to pay for the new BA tires, I decided the 8FS was a better deal.

Let me cover what I liked about my 8FS. First, the bike was ready to ride out of the box. I just unfolded it, put it together like the instructions directed and I was ready to go. There was no rubbing of parts or squeaks of any kind. The suspension works as advertised. I can now do some curb drops and roll on the sometimes brick-layed streets of DC. The rear suspension is adjustable so I have set it sort of stiff so I don’t bob up and down when I pedal. The tires are Kenda Kwests (the same that come on the Yeah) and they roll very fast on asphalt. For some reason, I think that the Yeah makes me pedal more when I am on flat surfaces (high rolling resistance?). I believe that the

8FS almost feels like riding the 700c tires of my commuter bike. The bike also comes with some cushy handgrips. I usually ride without padded gloves so these grips are perfect. Downtube also includes bar ends. I probably won’t be using this bike to do long rides where I have to shift hand positions and use the bar ends, but it’s nice to know they are there. Finally, The 8FS comes with a bell to alert folks as you are about to pass them.

In terms of what I didn’t like, the first thing would be the shifting. I have tightened the cables and the shifting is still a little rough. It is acceptable to a person not used to riding bikes like I do, but not for me. There is a noticeable clunk when going to a low gear. Before I tightened the cables, gears would sometime slip down by themselves. That problem seems to have been fixed. Maybe a new derailleur and new cable would be an upgrade that I would consider. Another thing that’s good about Downtube bikes is that they use parts that would work on other “regular” bikes. Dahon uses mostly proprietary parts so upgrading those is time consuming and often costly. I probably won’t do the derailleur/cable upgrade because the area where I will ride this bike is mostly flat with just some gentle hills that would require me to use 1-2 gears.

The stock brake pads could be better on the 8FS. They don't give me the quick stops that I am used to. Kool stops will usually solve this. Another minor gripe is the high standover height of the 8FS. All the folders that I’ve ever ridden don’t make you raise your feet so high to straddle them. This one does. I also wish this bike came with full cover mudguards or a customized fender solution (from Downtube) to add them easily. The folded state is a little jagged. If you need a folder to put in the back of your hatchback, it will work though. This folder has given me the closest approximation of a full sized bike in terms of riding feel (I know, I know, I've only ridden Brommies and Dahons).

Other minor gripes: bike is a little heavy; about 28 lbs. and the stock saddle is more race inspired meaning thin like. I prefer something just a tad wider. Finally, some of my pix have question marks. That's because I don't know what the purpose of these holes that are on the bike.

Pros: ready-to-ride, cushy suspension, surprisingly speedy, handgrips, bar ends

Cons: rough shifting, weak brake stopping power, no fenders/mudguards, heavy bike, stock saddle not for me

Bottom line: If you are looking for a excellent value in a full suspension folder, look no further than the Downtube 8FS.