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Intro and Mid-term Review: Dahon Mariner

So a few weeks ago I accepted delivery of Dahon’s Mariner D7 folding bike for review! I’ve been considering adding a folder to the stable, so I was pretty stoked to get the chance to take this for a spin or 20. Because I’ve been all over the place and crazy busy, I’m wrapping the out-of-the-box and midterm reviews into one here, so get your coffee and settle back!

Smaller box than usual…

First off though, some specs. The Mariner weighs about 26 lbs, which for the functionality (including folding) and price point (MSRP $599) is pretty decent. It comes equipped with a rear rack, integrated bungee (snaps into rack), kickstand, and SKS fenders. Sounds like a good fit for Bikecommuters.com! Components are mostly not big brand names, but appear solid. V-brakes provide some good stopping power, and the 7-speed drivetrain provides a decent range.

Out of the box, the Mariner was easy to set up – it came folded and without instructions, but thanks to my insane skills reasonable mechanical aptitude I figured everything out pretty quickly. Unfolding time is somewhere around 20 -30 seconds, folding time a bit longer depending on how it’s been set up. Everything is adjustable – the seatpost, stem, handlebar angle, etc. – and depending on how the handlebars have been situated they may need to be adjusted before folding (they fit in between the two wheels when folded). The seatpost always needs to come down, because the bottom portion of it also functions as support for the bike when its folded. Pedals also fold in, and there is a clip that holds the two axles together when folded; it’s not tremendously strong, just enough so the whole thing doesn’t come open unexpectedly. Once folded, the front wheel still rolls so you can move it around a bit but it’s a little awkward. Carrying it by the seat isn’t that difficult though.

So how does it ride? Pretty well! It took me a few minutes to adjust to the small wheels – they’re definitely much more responsive to small steering adjustments than my usual 700c or 29er wheels. Otherwise, everything was pretty easy: the ride is comfortable, the brakes work well, the shifting works well, and there’s really not an awful lot to think about. The only caveat there is that because everything is so adjustable, it takes a bit to figure out where to set it all to be comfortable – and then to figure it out again the next time. I’d definitely recommend making some sort of marks on it for preferred setup.

All folded.

Because I hadn’t gotten much opportunity to ride it before heading out on a family vacation to Maine, I managed to squeeze the Mariner into the back of the car (hey, no bike rack!) and got a couple rides in while we were vacationing – including one to the grocery store, which was a (very hilly) 9 mile ride each way. I went with my brother-in-law, who was on his Surly Long Haul Trucker, and found out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Mariner relative to a 700c commuting/touring bike. First, the gear range on the Mariner, while more than adequate for most cities (maybe an exception for San Francisco, but I assume all bikers in San Francisco have massive quads and can deal), was a little less than ideal for coastal Maine hills. I ran out of gears on both ends – so there was a little walking up some particularly steep hills, and then some coasting down the other side of those same hills when I got to spinning too fast in the top end. Standing and cranking really isn’t an option on the Mariner – the geometry makes it so it’s pretty much a seated-only bike. I also have to note that especially when loaded down with groceries in the back, the front end felt very light and twitchy and going downhill quickly was just a little hairy! So adding a top gear probably wouldn’t be very beneficial – but I thought having an 8-speed with a lower low end wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Finally, we both noticed that I was working a lot harder on some of the hills than he was on the LHT – mostly just a function of the wheel size and gear range, I think – but possibly also related to pedaling position (the Mariner is much more relaxed).

Loaded down with groceries.


In terms of carrying capacity, the Nuvo-brand rear rack has a 10kg (22 lbs) max load printed on it, which seems pretty silly to me. Probably a liability thing, but if there’s a rack, I’m going to want to put more than 22 lbs on it! I’m pretty sure what I carried was closer to 30 or 40, and I’d bet a decent amount of money it could take 50+ lbs without too much issue. The Ortlieb panniers I used were a little bit of a tight fit – I had to shove them pretty far back to get adequate heel clearance – but they did work. I’m sure there are other panniers that would work a bit better if you were buying specifically for this bike.

Other quibbles? I’d like to see some bottle cage bosses somewhere on the frame. I didn’t particularly like their choice of grips – I’ve been riding without gloves since I see this as being targeted for riders not all kitted out, and have found that when my hands get sweaty the grips get slippery – not good! Also, the drivetrain was a bit noisier than I prefer when in high or low gears (though functional).

Those nits aside, I’m very much liking the Mariner. It wouldn’t be my choice for a lengthy commute, but it seems quite reasonable for shorter rides and I’ve been pretty happy with how it packs down. I’ll be putting in a final report later, and Ghost Rider will hopefully be adding in his impressions after he’s had a chance to ride it.

All set to ride

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Andrew’s Biria folder review

Editor’s note: Once again, we bring you an excellent guest article from Andrew “Doc” Li — looks like we’ll be giving him his own place on the Bikecommuters.com staff real soon. Today’s review is of the Biria folding bike; longtime readers may remember we had ANOTHER guest review of a Biria bike a few years ago. You may also notice that Biria didn’t give Andrew much time at all on the bike; less than a week. And we had to talk them into that…they wanted to give him only three days to try out the folder! In any case, he handled the short time frame with aplomb. Andrew, let it rip!

I think that people either love or hate folding bicycles. Regardless of your personal views on the topic, folding bikes have definite benefits and applications that may come in handy. What follows is a review of the Biria folder.

Over a period of a week, I had the opportunity to test out the Biria folder. Biria, originating from Germany, is better known in Europe and introduced its line of bicycles to the US in 2002. The company’s focus is producing comfortable, commuter oriented bicycles, and its claim to fame is its easy boarding “step in” frame design. The Biria folder that I tested out (the one that is currently advertised on their website www.biria.com) has the following features:

FRAME Aluminum, folding
FORK Steel
RIMS Aluminum double wall with CNC
TIRES 20 x 1.20
GEAR Shimano 7-speed Revo
STEM Aluminum, folding
HANDLEBAR Aluminum
BRAKE Front and rear aluminum Tektro V-brakes
COLORS Black, red, white

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I measured these specifications (which I did not encounter on the website):

Weight: 24.5 pounds
Dimensions: ~24 x 20 x 14 inches
Comfortable speed: ~15 MPH (pedaling at 90 rpm, this is obviously variable)
Set up time: ~40 seconds

I arrived at Bike Attack in Santa Monica who provided the Biria folder. The first thing I learned from the friendly staff was how to fold and unfold the bike. The mechanisms are similar to other brands (e.g. Dahon), and involve a handlebar hinge, a frame hinge, folding pedals, and collapsing seatpost. A notable difference is that while the Dahon uses a quick-release clamp for the handlebar hinge, the Biria folder uses a screw-down clamp, which in my view adds some time to the folding and unfolding process . Some Dahon models come with magnets to help keep the bike folded (though I have heard of some complaints about their inefficacy). The Biria does not have this magnet feature, but the frame hinge was relatively tight such that I did not have a problem with the bike unfolding unexpectedly during transport.

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After some small talk at Bike Attack, I headed back to work. I folded up the Biria, and it fit nicely in my trunk. It took up more space than I thought it would, about 1/3 of the space. Overall, the Biria helped me save time; instead of setting up a rack and strapping on a full size bike, I just folded up the Biria and put it in the trunk. The folder also allowed me easy access to the trunk, unlike a trunk mount. The bike was also more secure as I was able to store the folder in the trunk, instead of having a full size merely strapped/locked to the rack.

From Bike Attack, I drove to a parking spot about 2 miles from my work. Parking at my workplace is excruciating and expensive. So for the past year, I became a hybrid commuter (part drive, part bike). This time however, when I arrived at the parking spot, instead of having to unstrap everything, lift off my full size, disassemble my rack, and put the rack in the trunk, all I had to do was open the trunk, lift out the folder, unfold, close trunk, and ride away.

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And ride away I did. The 2 mile trip from the parking spot to work was a good preliminary testing ground for the Biria. I also took the Biria for a grocery run. The Biria felt strong and solid, and when I didn’t look down, it rode nearly like a full size.

Small wheels made for fast acceleration and ease with uphills. The steepest hill I climbed during the testing phase was about 500 meters of 10% grade and it felt great. The braking and shifting components on my Biria folder were of good quality, well tuned (thanks Bike Attack), and felt precise and responsive.

However, small wheels also made the Biria very sensitive to even the smallest bumps in the road and created significant oversteer. These two combined meant that when I rode down hills, one particular bump caused me to veer off unexpectedly. Another issue was that the maximum extended length of seat post is just right for my height of 5’ 9”. So it might be a bit small for bigger people.

When I arrived at work, instead of locking the bike outside, I saved more time, folded it up, and took it inside. I will say that 24 pounds is not insignifcant to carry, and moreover, the limited space in my office made storing the Biria a challenge (but obviously easier than a full size). When I went grocery shopping, I actually forgot my lock, so I folded up the Biria and put it my shopping cart. Easy enough. But good thing I was only shopping for a few things, because the bike took up about the whole cart space. Brompton folders have innovated the concept of rollers and “Eazy wheels” which allows the rider to push and use the folded Brompton much like a shopping cart.

Overall, the Biria is a well built folder with standard features. It rides nearly like a full size, and is easy to fold and unfold.

From my past experiences and brief time with the Biria, I feel that the following situations would make the Biria useful, and in some cases, more advantageous than a full size:

1. Park away from a busy (e.g. downtown) area, then bike in, avoiding parking nightmares and often expensive fees.
2. Bring with you on vacation in your car, RV etc. Great for short range exploration without the hassle of trying to find parking or storing a full size on a rack.
3. If you bike to work and then go out to dinner after, you can easily put the folder into your friend’s trunk, and then after a night out, then bike back from that location. In contrast, I have never been able to store my full size in my friend’s trunk. In these situations, I either had to bike to the restaurant from work or carpool with my friend and then have him drive me back to the workplace where I parked my bike.
4. Store the folder in a car that needs to be dropped off at the mechanic and bike back home (if your mechanic is near your home).

Do good and ride well.

Big fun in small packages.

Look what arrived at my doorstep today!

As bike commuters we sometimes have to go multi-modal. Buses often have limited bike space on their racks and some commuter trains restrict the use of full size bikes. This is where the convenience of the folding bike comes in!

I use to own an orange Bike Friday New World Tourist, but sold it last year to (ironically) go on tour. At the time, I wasn’t doing a lot of multi-modal travel so I didn’t really have too much reason to fold it. Now, I find that I’m using the train a lot more and have been booted off due to lack of room for a full size bike!

I contacted Dahon to see if they would send me a Speed TR to put it through its paces. I’m planning a few mini bike tours where I’ll be combining bus, train and bike to get to my locations. Look for impressions of it soon as I take it to bike Mecca, Portland, next week!