In early April, we posted about the discount on folding bikes offered by the Wellington Regional Council. With a folding bike, you can travel on any of the region’s public transit, including the new Matangi trains, Go Wellington and the Valley Flyer. The Council’s voucher will secure you 30 percent off a Dahon folding bike until the end of 2011.
I will admit: when I first heard of the deal, I groaned. I have a bike. Two, actually. One is my quick commuter—used for daily errands and general transport—and the other is my Sunday cruiser, better suited to a beach boardwalk than the headwinds of Wellington but still a happy-making ride and thus essential. The need to purchase yet another ride just to serve the interests of transit companies and operators struck a few resistant chords in me, as follows: 1) the defiant anti-consumer- don’t tell me to buy something I really don’t need; 2) the defiant consumer- don’t tell me what I have to buy if I do have to buy something new; and 3) the defiant recycler- aren’t there plenty of used bikes out there looking for good homes?
All that defiance made me suspicious; I don’t like hearing myself say no before I know what I’m saying no to. And the truth is, I don’t know folding bikes from elephant dermatitis. So I called Simon Kennett, the Active Transport and Road Safety Coordinator for the Regional Council, and the guy behind the Council’s folding bike vouchers, to ask if I could take the folding bike our for a spin. Simon is a true gent; he invited me down, offered a quick primer to solve the mystery behind the folding parts and set me and the bike free to roam the town for an hour. (By the by, when I returned safely, he gave me some reflective tape for my helmet. I love presents.)
When Simon started researching a folding bike for the voucher program, he initially looked to the Giant Expressway. The folks at iRide suggested that he also consider the Dahon brand. While Giant dabbles in folding bikes, the folks at Dahon have specialized in creating innovative and tolerably-priced folding bikes with the aim of encouraging more people to participate in environmentally sustainable transport. The Dahon importers jumped at the opportunity to bring more bikes to the Wellington market and shared a sample bike with Simon for the public to test.
That bike is the Dahon Eco C7. It’s a mid-range folding bike with a decent price made even better by the Council’s voucher. The bike would normally retail for $799 but will sell for $560 with the discount.
Here are the stats: the Eco C7 weighs 12.1 kg, has a seven-speed Shimano drive train and powerful ProMax V-brakes. The Dahon site suggests a rider weight of no more than 105 kg and a rider height of up to 193 cm. If you’re concerned about color coordination, the Eco C7 comes in red, blue, white and black, although I don’t know if all colors will be available in participating bike shops. The Eco C7 has a variety of accessories available on the Dahon website, including a rack and seat-post pump, but the most likely candidate to thin your wallet is the CarryOn Cover bag. It’s priced at about 50 bucks and stores in its own saddle bag when you’re riding. The bag has a padded nylon shoulder strap for comfort but, more importantly, is made of rip-stop nylon that will save you, your work clothes and your fellow train or bus commuters, from bike grease and grime.
Simon rolled out the Eco C7 to the lobby of the Regional Council and immediately folded it up. In its folded form, the bike is approximately 30 x 80 x 66 cm. A strong magnet mounted at the wheel axis holds the folded frame together and the seat provides a good handle for lifting and carrying the bike around. If standing on a train or bus, the bike would sit at your feet in place of your briefcase, or it may fit in the spaces between the seats.
Although the Dahon site promises a folding time of about 15 seconds, my time trials barely broke 30 seconds after repeat attempts. As the process only requires four steps—fold the handlebars, fold the frame, turn in the pedals and lower the seat—I’m sure with more practice, I could improve my record.
After putting all the pieces back in place, and assuring myself that each of the latches were locked and secure, I rode off. Simon had mentioned that the bike is a bit twitchy on the first ride. Initially, I think that’s correct. But as with any smaller bike, it’s just a matter of adjusting to the lighter handling and quick response. The bike launches quickly from a full stop and, even in gears 5 and 6, the push-off requires little brute force. After riding about 50 feet, I felt less like I was riding a commuter utility bike, and more like I was playing on an old Raleigh Sport. Though with better brakes and more gears. I didn’t sit completely upright, but it was close.
Maybe it’s the aluminum frame, maybe it’s the size, or maybe the seat, but I felt the bumps under me a bit more than I might on my full-size ride. But I also found myself quickly and easily avoiding them with tight and precise turns. I took on a mild incline and found myself still comfortable and relaxed, even as my legs spun in the second and third gears. While the seven gears are more than enough to get you up steep grades, I don’t think, and Simon agreed, that the Eco C7 would be my bike of choice for really long and steep rides. It felt perfectly comfortable, however, on the flats and mellow hills and I rode for just under an hour without any inclination to stop. If I’d been coming home for work, I imagine that the Eco C7 is the sort of bike that would put a smile on my face even after a crap day.
Overall, the Eco C7 offers a stable, quick, and pleasant ride that’ll get you to and from the station and make you enjoy yourself as you go. If I kept a bike like this in my office, I would be pretty keen to hop out for a spin with any excuse– lunch, coffee, a check on the Oriental Bay fountain– just for the fun of it. You’ll want to avoid potholes (but when is that not the case?) and you may want to consider the bag both for its convenience and wardrobe protection. If you’re pushing 105 kgs, I would suggest that the upper weight limit might be a good incentive to get on the bike and pedal it wherever you need to go.
Finally, as a commuter, if you’re familiar with that mix of dread and hope that a train won’t have room for you and your bike, this little ride should alleviate your worries. You’ll be able to hop on board and get yourself where you want to go. And during your journey, you can anticipate the fun in store for you when you arrive, unfold your bike and blast off into the wind.
Starting in May, the 2012 Giant Expressway will also be discounted under the Council’s scheme but at 25 percent. We’ll keep you posted if test rides are made available for that model.
For your own chance to ride the Dahon Eco C7, contact Simon Kennett at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’ll talk to you about folding bikes, hook you up with the discount voucher and maybe some reflective tape… if you’re lucky. If you do give it a try, or you already have, please share your thoughts with us. Or, if you have experience with taking your folding bike on trains or buses, let us know how it goes.
FYI: Bikes, folding or not, are allowed on the East West Ferries and the Wellington Cable Car at the discretion of staff. For more information about bikes on public transit, check out the current policy.