Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: London (UK)
Bikes: Dahon Jetstream P8, Speed P8, Helios P8
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2014 (folder) UK options for a London commute, opinions please
Ok, bear with my longish post, though this comes as I consider a new bike, I'd like to avoid an unintentional call only for bike recommendations, but gather some opinions related to my observations.
I have a modest London commute of a few miles, without real hills. A nice ride on my, second hand, Dahon Helios P8.
I bought a Speed P8 in 2004 (my less worn favourite) and I'm hooked on folders. While I reckon one can find a typically sized quality bike that'd be a better ride, a small bike that can be folded for a train has big appeal. Plus I suspect there's a little something in small wheels in the city.
However, as with any bike, I have my gripes and wishes for better.
The Helios will need new tyres and rims at some point, bearings, chain etc will wear too. It does creak a fair bit, something that apparently comes with the territory of the less stiff folders, especially with the two frame joints (PTFE tape works at the top joint).
Creaking from the seatpost seems to be common, but eliminated by keeping the clamp tight. The older handlepost on the Dahons is more tricky though and, while solid, I'm not quite inspired with confidence. I think the height adjustment is quite nice and worth having, but quite possibly not worth the trouble if it needs to be changed when folding.
A newer, more durable bike would be nice. Something that can take the occasional bad surface, loads of road humps, a small pot hole or two and, ideally, the occasional bump up a little kerb and down at least a few inches.
A wider tyre might be useful, but it'd be a shame to compromise on the quicker narrower tyres. The Schwalbe marathon slicks and kojaks that I've used have made for a pretty smooth/quick ride. A good tyre seems to make a big difference.
So suspension, if it won't make the bike significantly harder to push along, is a definite consideration. However choices in the UK seem to be very limited. No standard suspension on 20" Tern bikes, Dahon Jetstream may be hard to come by.
The Brompton does have rear cushioning, and a nearly unchallenged fold, but with a current commute of bike only, the small fold is not something I need, especially at some extra cost, even though it may add options for carrying a bike into buildings. The Dahons' smallish fold is good for practicality, but, in my opinion, not quite the compact fold for the tube/metro or casual carrying around.
I don't think there are many options outside of the obvious (mentioned brands plus Mezzo, Birdy, Bike Friday etc).
Punctures are a pain. Even with new kojaks (70-80 PSI), I picked up a puncture here and there from small flakes of glass or similar. I'd guess there are some tyre alternatives, but unless someone knows better, wheels that can be taken off easily seem worth while.
Folding pedals are very handy, but sadly don't last. The cheaper pedals are fine but 500 miles seems a fair distance to get out of them. I've switched to MKS removable pedals now.
My 8 derailleur gears, 11-28T giving me 35-90 gear inches, is fine for me. Low enough for moderate hills (lowish cadence) and gives me a swift ride in good conditions on the flat. I'd guess that 6 or 7 gears covering a similar range would be enough, though probably a bit less comfortable than 8 or 9.
The short stays do mean a bit of a chain angle in the 1st and 8th gears, seems to give a noticeable difference in feel and sound. Adjustments to get good shifts all the way up and down are challenging. A new cable, clean lubricated chain and derailleur would help. A new derailleur would probably also help.
A hub gear apparently avoids several issues, but I suspect that the added cost, weight, complexity (wheel changing and replacement) and loss of efficiency are not justified for me. I can live with occasionally being left in too high a gear, a more dirty and exposed chain, a derailleur sticking out and the chain jumping off the chain ring now and again.
Yes, it does jump off the front ring. There's a guard, it may need some adjustment, but I doubt the jumping will be prevented. Maybe it's my riding, I don't know. It does seem to be a combination of gear/speed changing and bumps that do it. Seems to happen often at particular places on my commute.
Finally, brakes. The Dahon V-brakes probably give more stopping power than I could safely use. However, balance does seem to need frequent adjustment, and the cheaper pads I use wear down rapidly, particularly in the wet. Cleaning may help, but I've noticed no obvious collection of sand/grit or any grinding. It also seems that rims, particular smaller diameter, have to be considered somewhat consumable or disc brakes used, with added cost, weight, complexity and strain on forks and spokes (and they seem hard to come by on UK folders).
Obviously, cost is a consideration, and avoiding theft in London. Also being able to maintain and upgrade a bike for a while, ideally mix and match to some extent. Dahon gear doesn't appear to be always easy to come by in the UK (maybe anywhere).
Perhaps my commute really does fit well with an off the shelf Tern Link (did take a pretty close look) or similar, though I wonder if I might be missing some options for a rugged urban commuter.
Last edited by technical_tim; 12-30-13 at 09:21 PM.