When I arrived in London and boarded its renowned Tube train, I noticed something different right away. No it wasn't the faces or the accents -- I already was expecting that.
The bike was interesting. Not only were they compact, providing for flexibility in transportation, but they were virtually thief proof. It seemed too good to be true. How come I hadn't really seen them in DC. Oh yeah, we are the land of the Big and Bountiful while London was tight and tiny. Still, I had to check one out for myself. Yeah, it folds, but how does it ride and most importantly of all, how silly do I look on it?
Dahon or Brompton
In UK, Bromptons are King. They are ubiquitous. There is even a Brompton Bike Race. They are compact and they are expensive. The Dahon, a company from Taiwan, is gaining ground in UK and market share worldwide. They are strong, light, fast and yes, more economically-conscious, if there is such a word. Also I heard that the Dahon is more reliable for longer commutes, which I was interested in. Heck, I wanted to take one on a bike ride from DC to Baltimore without acquiring any wicked bad knee or bad back pain.
Dahon, the Honda of Foldables
So I decided to take the Dahon MU P-8 out for a spin. It was lightweight, sleek, slick and looked somewhat sporty despite its clunky wheels. I was completely enamored. In fact, I was completely sold. So sold, I bought one. On the very last day I was in London.
The Bulky Transport
Carrying the bike back to DC was not an easy task. The bike (aluminum frame) weighs about 25 pounds, and the bike bag was bulky, and navigating through London's metro system and all those stairs was not easy. I quite desperate, but very lucky to find a convenience store that was willing to give me the plastic baggies that are used to wrap juice bottles. They served as great packing material.
The Fleecing Fliers
At any rate, I got it back safe and sound (despite grief from Iberia Airlines). Make sure you check the extra bag online -- that saves you a bundle. I was fortunate to register the bike as an extra bag, not as sports equipment, which would have been 75 Euros. All in all, Iberia was very nice (unlike my experience with EasyJet earlier in the week)
The Big Surprise
As soon as I opened the bag, I was happy to see my bike had made the cross-Atlantic trip. But upon assembling the bike, my glee changed to a sullen frown as I noticed that the crankset gear was bent. I tried to fix it but the chain would continuously slip off. The chain was definitely crooked when I turned the bike upside down and back pedaled. Oh no, I exclaimed. I wasn't going to let this get me down. I didn't bring this bike all the way across the ocean to spend massive amounts of money to order a new crankset.
The Best Bike Mechanic in the World
The next day, I went to see Rob and Seth at Capitol Hill Bikes who fixed it in a jiffy with a vice grip and a mallet. As always, Rob was very reliable and I was fortunate that Seth happened to be in the shop. (Seth had sold me my very first bike 2 years ago and 4 bikes ago). He also assembled my Specialized Transition for my first Half Ironman in Cancun last September.
My Anxious Bike Legs
Then I couldn't wait any longer. My legs were dying to take it out for a spin all over the town. Didn't care what people think or whether I would get stares.
And yes indeed, I rode my Dahon 10-speeder UP and DOWN all around town, from the Mall to Chinatown, to Dupont Circle to U Street to Foggy Bottom. Even Up and down hills with the greatest of ease. The shifting was smooth and I was able to cruise up hills in tandem with other bikers with a lot bigger wheels.
In fact, I had plenty of gears, all eight of them, and the derailer shifted wonderfully and quick. After all, there really is no need to have 20-something gears (unless you're racing). All you need, IMHO, is fast, slow, one that gets you up a steep hill and a few in between.
The 20 inch Schwalbe Marathon tires provided good comfort and I heard is virtually impenetrable to thorns and hopefully glass and screws (since I get a lot of that commuting home along Suitland Parkway). I was even able to ride through a few potholes and jumped a few curbs.
So the verdict? Looks like my sleekly, sexy Specialized Transition Triathlon bike may sit in the closet for a lot longer, while I take my clunky, unattractive and a lot slower Dahon to school, to meetings, to dates and everything in between. (BTW, more ugly means less attractive to thieves)
Four months later: I should have listened to my sis. After my marathon, the bike was stolen in Philly, in a very nice part of town -- Redding Terminal Market. Yes, the bike was locked but not with a kryptonite, and I was wrong about it being too ugly for the thieves.