Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can A Folder Make It As An Everyday Commuter? Review of Downtube 8H

That is the question. The answer: we’ll see.

Ok, I’m transitioning to this Downtube 2009.5 8H as my everyday commuter. That means I’m selling the Novara, which is a great bike but it’s a little too big for me (sniff-sniff). Anyway, I bought this 8H for 3 reasons: it’s lightweight (26.5 lbs), has a front suspension fork and an IGH.

I’m intrigued by commuting on a light(er) bike and seeing if that makes any difference in my speed and tiredness (or lack of it). A lighter bike, and in this case a folder, may wear down quicker as it piles up the miles, though. We shall see.

In terms of the front supension fork, I sought out a bike with this type of fork because of my non traditional commute where I drop curbs, cut through parking lots and generally have more of an urban assault commute rather than a pastoral bike path ride through the countryside. You know my fondness for IGHs on bikes so I won’t go into that here. The 8H seems to have all these covered.

I’ve got about 50 miles on this bike and here are my likes and dislikes.

Agility: I guess I knew this from riding my Dahon Yeah and Brompton, but these small 20” wheeled bikes make a difference in making quick direction changes and avoiding obstacles on your ride. This is a definite plus. There are a couple of times on my commute where I have to cut in and out of this heavily trafficked street and the small wheels help as I dart in and out.

Fitability: Not sure if that is a word, but you can adjust this bike to fit you more than other folding bikes. The front stem slides up and down. I think you can invert the handlebars in if you are stretched out too much (I have not done this, but I know this could be helpful for some shorter people I know). The handlebars are adjustable so you can tilt them up for a more upright ride or down for a more MTB like position. I heard some people complain that they could not ride a Brompton because they felt somewhat cramped. A DT should be better in this regard.

Ride: Like my first Downtube full suspension, this bike provides a very stable ride. Not sure if the bike has a longer wheelbase and whether that has something to do with it, but the ride is not twitchy like the Brompton.

IGH: The Sturmey Archer 8FR is a solid IGH thus far. Not as good as the Alfine on the Novara, but still good. The Alfine allows you to downshift while pedaling, while this one does not, for example. The range is plenty adequate. In terms of the stock gearing, the bike is a little too high geared for me. I live in a hilly area so I try to have a bike with a low gear so I can tackle the hills here. I’m thinking of swapping out the front ring for a smaller one.

Front fork: This is my major dislike of the bike. I was expecting a more mushy front suspension fork (like on my other Downtube FS), but this one is different. It is a Zoom transarch adjustable fork. That means you can turn a screw in it and it should give you a cushy suspension or a stiffer one. The problem is that setting it at its cushy setting causes it to bottom out. I’ve played with the various settings and I still can’t get it to “give” the way I like it (and rebound back). Putting it at midrange or stiff gives a little bit of give, but not at what I would like (there’s no bottoming out at midrange or stiff). If the bike came with an identical preloaded Zoom fork like my first Downtube, I would not give this a negative.

I’ve already emailed Yan Lyansky (owner of Downtube) about this and he suggested that I send it in for warranty repair. I won’t do this, because I think that the fork works as intended and would probably be a waste and time and postage. I’m trying to see if anyone has an old Zoom preload fork that they can sell to me (Yan said they don’t have any more). If anyone out there has one, let me know. I’m also going to look into kids MTBs with suspensions to see if those would work for this bike.

Fender: The bike came with this quarter fender for the rear and nothing for the front. Come on! The rear fender will not do enough to prevent road spray up your back and you get nothing up front(!) If you commute, you WILL ride in the rain (unless you live in Death Valley, CA). Get yourself some full coverage fenders. I will.

Tires: The bike comes with the basic Kenda Kwest tires. Ok, but you can probably get more zippiness by upgrading to some Marathon’s or another high quality tire. If I end up gashing one of these tires, I’ll upgrade asap. Until then, I’ll keep these on.

Rear rack: The included rack fits well, but sits too low if you want to do side panniers. I encountered a problem with heel strike (back of my heel hits my bag as I pedal) with the included rack. I have already installed a taller rack. With bag riding higher, I don’t have that problem anymore.

Saddle: The saddle is some sort of light “Velo” saddle. It is lightweight. That’s about all it’s got going for it. It doesn’t agree with my sit bones. Will upgrade to something different soon.

All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with this 8H. The problem with the fork can be overcome with a new one. I’ll be riding it hard the next few months and maybe it’ll soften up. Except for the fork, the fenders, tires, and rack are minor quibbles that I would usually have with any bike.

Pros: lightness, IGH, agility, stable ride, fitability

Cons: front suspension fork, fender, tires, saddle


Yokota Fritz said...

Zoom's are about as low end as you can get on suspension forks, FWIW. If you're hopping curbs they'll last about a year, assuming your frame and steering tube hinges survive the damage you're inflicting on them. On something like your Downtube those elastomer forks are meant mostly to cushion road bumps.

pedaling fool said...

Yeah, that's what I've heard about Zoom's. However, I do know that a local MTB shop is able to rebuild suspension forks. I don't know what they do, but I imagine it involves putting in new elastometers and grease. Do you have any recomendations for a fork?

I see that downtube has some other forks, but they're pretty high priced. One is around $1000, i think.

Yokota Fritz said...

$1K for a fork is about as high as they go -- long travel, pretty good durability, and very light weight. I didn't know you could use those Fox forks on folders.

Seriously, the less expensive forks should do the trick for "typical" city riding; just don't ride down stairs :-)

Joseph said...

I believe that I have the old style fork. I took it off my first DT b/c I wanted to make it rigid. Let me know if you're interested in buying it.


pedaling fool said...

Yes. I'd be interested. Is it in good condition? Does it still have the bounciness? Check out my profile to see how you can email me. Thanks.