Dahon Bullhead: Good folding bike parts make the difference

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My Dahon Bullhead folding bike

My Dahon Bullhead folding bike

For the past several weeks, I’ve been evaluating a Dahon Bullhead folding bike for the folks at NYCeWheels in New York. The Bullhead may be Dahon’s best secret: a folding bicycle that can easily serve as a rider’s sole machine, let alone as an excellent addition to his or her fleet.

It wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t find a folding bicycle that was also a pleasure to ride. You could find one to throw in a boat, but you didn’t really want to take it on a 20-mile ride. If you could stand riding an early, cheap folding bike from the dock to the bar and back, you were lucky.

Happily, that’s no longer the case. Take the Dahon Bullhead: Its 2-inch-wide Schwalbe Big Apple tires provide enough air volume to smooth out any ride. But the supple casings within those tires reduce rolling resistance as well, making it a comfortable bike to ride at a good clip, whether you’re on the road, the local bike trail or headed down a gravel driveway.

That gravel driveway, by the way, was part of my first trip on the Dahon Bullhead. It’s the first part of every ride I take, though I regularly walk bikes with skinnier tires up to the asphalt road that runs in front of my house. In fact, I spent a few minutes just tooling around in the loose stuff. It reminded me of the revelation from my first ride on a mountain bike in the early 1980s.

You can ride this folding bike anywhere.

Proper parts make the difference. The Big Apple tires provide plenty of flotation. You never have the grip on gravel that you do on a hard road, but handling is always secure. The Dahon Bullhead’s frame, obviously designed for a tire of this width, also offers ample clearance for fenders, which come standard and much appreciated, given the record central Illinois rainfall this spring.

So, yes, I like the tires. But there are a lot of other folding bike parts, and folding bike accessories, that add to the experience. Here are just a few:

Dahon Axis stem.

Dahon Axis folding bike stem

Dahon Axis folding bike stem

Leave it to Dahon, just about every part they add to a bicycle has a special name, including the Axis stem and the Dahon Fusion headset. For this review, let’s just refer to Axis steering system, which includes a very adjustable stem designed to mate with a plastic keyed cylinder that fits over the fork steerer tube and occupies the space between the upper headset bearing race and the top cap.

This is the way every bike with an Aheadset-type headset should work. The headset bearing adjustment is divorced from the handlebar stem. When the top cap is tightened, it distributes force through the cylinder to the bearings. You don’t have to readjust the headset every time you remove the stem (and you’ll remove the stem every time you fold the Dahon Bullhead).

The stem is tightened over the cylinder, anywhere along its length. If you assemble the Dahon Bullhead from a box, you may find that the keyed part of the cylinder is out of alignment. No problem: you can turn the cylinder without affecting headset adjustment. Just slip the stem in place, turn it to line up with the front wheel and tighten.

BioLogic PostPump.

Dahon Biologic seat post pump

Dahon Biologic seat post pump

This is the feature your friends will remember after you put the bike back in the boat (or car or closet). It’s a seatpost and a floor pump, and regardless of your opinion of its performance as a pump (I liked it), it has the undeniable attraction of being as unexpected as a wedding ring inside an ice cube or a Jeep that gets decent gas mileage.

To use the PostPump: 1) Open the quick-release seatpost binder at the top of the seat tube, 2) pull the post out of the frame, 3) flip the foot of the pump open, 4) pull out the hose formerly concealed by the foot, 5) screw the end of the hose onto the valve of the tire, 6) put your foot on the foot of the pump and 7) raise and lower the saddle with both hands to add air to the tire.

Is it the best floor pump in the world? Well, no. Like so many combination tools, the BioLogic PostPump has its limits. It doesn’t have the air volume of a standard floor pump, so it takes more pumping to bring a tire to full pressure. And you’ll tend to lose a bit of air as you screw the hose onto and off of the valve. But I don’t think it’s really trying to be a floor pump; instead the Biologic PostPump is one of the easier-to-use frame pumps on the market.

When I want to top off the Dahon Bullhead’s tires at home, I use a standard floor pump with a quick-release head. However, if I ever had a flat on the road, I’d be happy to have the Dahon’s ergonomically friendly built-in pump: it’s comfortable to use, gets the job done in a reasonable amount of time and disappears when I’m done with it.

It’s also the kind of design that gets attention from people who don’t ride bicycles. Which makes it even more unusual. And valuable.

Head tube fittings for Dahon front bag.

I haven’t tested any bags compatible with Dahon’s luggage truss fittings, but the attachment is in the right place: on the head tube just above the wheel. Because the Dahon front bags don’t turn with the front wheel, even heavily loaded units should have minimal effect on steering responsiveness.

U-shaped folding bike chainring protector.

This folding bike has it all

This folding bike has it all

The ground is not a pleasant place for a chainring on a folded bike. On some Dahon folding bikes, the lower end of the seatpost rests on the ground below the crankset when the bike is folded, protecting the chainring teeth. Since the Dahon Bullhead is a more traditional diamond frame, a bolt-on guard serves the same purpose. It’s a good folding bike part: the kickstand you don’t have to kick.

Speaking of standard folding bike accessories, a kickstand is a great thing to have, especially when the frame includes a kickstand plate. I don’t know why I like kickstands on folding bikes—I don’t have them on my mountain or road bikes—but they sure come in handy on a folder. The one on the Dahon Bullhead is lightweight aluminum with a grippy rubber foot on the end.

Dahon Bullhead: Quick to Fold and Built for Stout

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Sam takes his Bullhead folding bike out for ride #1

Sam takes his Bullhead folding bike out for ride #1

When I took delivery of the Dahon Bullhead, I was surprised by the size of the shipping box. It looked like a full-size bike might be inside. But there wasn’t. Instead, the bicycle with 20-inch wheels was shipped with the frame unfolded.

I can imagine two reasons for the big box: 1) With the Dahon Bullhead in its unfolded state, you know what the frame is supposed to look like when you’re ready to ride, and 2) Dahon wants you to search for the folding joints in the Bullhead’s top and bottom tubes, because they’re not necessarily obvious from six feet away.

Unlike many other folders, including many Dahon folding bike models, the Dahon Bullhead has no levers to release the folding joints. Instead, it features recessed 6-mm allen wrench fittings on the chainring side of the top and bottom frame tubes.

On the other side of the frame, the only things that betray the bike’s folding potential are cylindrical bumps in the top and bottom tubes. Maybe it’s my remarkable nearsightedness, but I couldn’t see the lines that surely marked the “mesh point” of either tube on the Dahon Bullhead until I loosened the allen wrench fittings.

Here is where I want to make sure you understand one thing: the Dahon Bullhead folding bike is not a piece of furniture. However, if you’ve bought ready-to-assemble furniture in the past 10 years, you’ll note one similarity between the Dahon Bullhead and a bookshelf: the speed at which you can secure the joints of either item.

You see, ready-to-assemble bookshelves often feature a cam-lock design which meshes the shelf to the casing with a half-turn of a screwdriver. Likewise, it only takes about half a turn of an allen wrench to release or tighten either folding frame joint on a Midtown Mini folding bike like the Dahon Bullhead.

So, even though the Dahon Bullhead has no latches, it folds plenty fast, as long as you don’t drop the wrench. All you have to do is 1) fold the pedals, 2) loosen the handlebar stem at the fork, 3) lift and reposition the bars by 90 degrees, 4) loosen the main frame joints and 5) fold the frame until the magnet on the fork contacts the magnet on the back dropout. (Depending on your leg length, you may also have to drop the seat to clear the handlebars.)

Dahon has a name for this dual-hinge folding design: Lockjaw. And it’s a great way to build a diamond frame—a frame with top and bottom tubes—that folds fast and rides true without any discernable flexiness.

In fact, if you asked someone to take this folding bike for a ride, she might not realize that the bike folds at all. Like I said, the visual evidence is less than obvious, and the ride is solid: the folding capability introduces no creaking, no noise at all.

And believe me, I listen for frame noise. Dahon rates the Bullhead for a rider up to 230 pounds, and I exceed that limit by 20 pounds. It’s offered in two frame sizes: a medium for riders from 5-foot-2 to 5-foot-6 and a large for riders 5-foot-7 and up.

Being 5-foot-7 myself, I’m riding the large frame. And yes, mother, I’m working on my weight.

I remember a comic who talked about going to the doctor. The doctor looked at the comic’s height and weight and said, “You know, if you were an inch taller, you’d be a perfect sphere.” There’s a difference between that poor slob and myself, of course: the Dahon Bullhead folding bike.

Which reminds me it’s way past time for my next ride.

For more by Sam visit his blog: 16incheswestofpeoria.wordpress.com