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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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Review: My Xootr and Me! Xootr Swift

Ooh, the Xootie is lookin muy caliente with this Glamour Shots photo filter!

Hola Bike Commuters!  The Xootr Swift and me, (or as I refer to him as the “Xootie” because it rhymes with “cootie”) and I go way back: to August of 2011!  Xootie arrived at my sister’s place in L.A. by ground shipping in a shorter than average cardboard companion.  Just in time to liberate me from the four-wheeled nonsense of my vehicluar-obsessed family in L.A.  Digression: Last year, they insisted that they drive me seven blocks from Grandma’s house in Santa Monica to Auntie’s house in Santa Monica. I took my jugular hostage with a plastic Taco Bell spork in order to escape a 3-minute trip in an oversized SUV driven by my crazy half blind aunt and took off on the Xootie.

Okay, back to the REVIEW: So what does Xootr have to say about the Swift?  For a company that usually makes scooters, I was impressed!  For $749, you get a good commuter bang for your buck.   Here is the obligatory spec list with bullet-points, because they do it better than I can on the website:

Xootr Swift Fold Bicycle Features

  • A folder that rides just like a regular bike
  • Nearly all parts are industry standard…no weird and incompatible stuff.
  • One of the lightest folders out there (25lbs.)
  • Ready to go out of the box. We’ve made the hard choices for you.
  • Super stable, rigid TrusFold frame system
  • Available as either an 8 speed or single speed (black only)Note:Single speed version is sold out.

Some things I’d like to +1 include extra-sturdy frame, solid as a rock!  As the seat post is the pin that locks the rigid frame, it’s a larger diameter than normal.  So, I often locked it with a cable knowing that if some lolo decided to steal it, I’d be SOL.  Another +1 for the fact that it has similar geometry to a “regular” bike with full-size wheels.  Even though it has 20″ wheels, it doesn’t feel crunchy or cramped up like you’d think.  In fact, here’s a craptastic photo of the Xootr next to my Bumblebee Scott road-monster at home:

Due to lack of photo-taking skills, I had to edit in pink. Handlebars and seat height real close to the road bike set up.

Also, in as well as, in addition to, the Xootr Swift folding bike proved a worthy travel companion, as I have stuffed him into everything except the overhead compartment for carry-ons: the back of a Toyota Corolla trunk, large rolly wheeled suitcases, under the tables at a booth in a craft fair, the back of an eight-passenger State vehicle, tiny apartment elevators, and a dingo.  The trick with this folder is that the seat post acts as the locking mechanism for the bike, making it as easy to collapse as fainting baby goats.  The handle bars also have a quick release pin making the bike even midgier for the back of my co-worker’s Subaru.

No need to fold down the seats with this spectacular Xootie nugget!

The Xootie Swift has been tons of fun around town!  I’ve used it for every commute day and even lent it to a visiting friend (who complainted of taintal discomfort, but I blame that more on a weak sack than the engineering of the bike).  With it’s BMX-sized “bulletproof” wheels, it is a whippy mo-fo.  I’ve casually bunny hopped some spam musubis and quickly detoured from road to sidewalk to bike path in order to avoid traffic congestion during rush hour.  With the 8-speeds it’s golden for cruising on errands or commutes up to 12 miles and taking Diamondhead uphill! Hook me up with an easy gear ratio any day: I’ve got nothing to prove!

Curbs or Spam musubis, nothing stands in the way of Xootie Swift's BMX wheels.

I have had all kinds of comments shouted to me in downtown while waiting at lights or turning corners, “Nice blue on your bike” or “Cute, your bike!” or “Fancy bike, where’d you get dat?”  Confessional Digression: I have grown fond of the Xootie, but due to it’s small size  I felt like a clown on the way to a kid’s brthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese the first couple of weeks. I have always wanted to commute on a folding bike but never had a small enough apartment that it didn’t make sense to get the big kid wheels for the same price.  I’d been eyeballing origami cheap $200 single speed or 3-speed suckers since the original purchase of the Kona Dew back in 2007.  Claiming no technical expertise on the subject of bikes but lightyears of experience in good old-fashioned bikey fun, I was won over by the Xootie as it’s a mini-wheels are nostalgic of childhood, and it’s a very practical commuter choice.  Oh, the SHAME.  It’s like hanging out with my dorky little brother who is actually a lot of fun and more like me than I’d like to admit.

Spark Notes: The Xootr Swift comes in S,M,L and XL sizes, and looks more like a scooter than a bike.  Surprisingly, it’s a quick commuter considering the size of the wheels.  Eight speeds makes tackling hills a no brainer! Three months of commuting through Chinatown, with it’s streets shimmering with crushed glass vials, and no flats is a good sign for the stock tires!  I give it five thumbs up for portability, easy to fold, assemble, and carry, flashy blue color, and whippy maneuverability like Willow Smith.  I give it one big toe down for initial dork factor of riding a bike that looks like a scooter, and grip-shifters (yucky to fix when they get stuck!).  If you like rooting for the underdog, go for the Xootr Swift!  For a more tech-savvy review, check out this one from Velo Bike Parts in October 2011.

Xootie in the sky with diamonds.

Melon Bicycles-Slice Review

We received the Melon Slice a few months back to test. Melon Bicycles provided us a demo unit and we were not paid to provide this review. Here’s our disclaimer.

melon slice

What: Melon Bicycles, Slice 20″ folding bike

Price: $599

Specs:
Frame 7005 aluminum-octagon shape
Fork 7005 aluminum
Folded Size 34″L x 27″H x 13″W
Folding Time 15 seconds
Weight 25.5 lbs
Suggested Rider Height 4’-8? to 6’-3?
Maximum Rider Weight 240 lbs
Crankset SRAM Truvativ Touro 52T
Chain KMC HG50 108L
Hubs Formula FB-31FQR, Formula FB-32 RQR
Spokes 14G Steel, 12mm brass CP nipples
Rims Weinmann ZAC20
Tire Kenda K909, 20?x1.75?
Shifter SRAM MRX Pro with display
Rear Derailleur Sora 8 speed
Cassette Shimano CS-HG50-8, 12-25T
Brakes Promax Alloy V brakes
Brake Levers Promax 2.5 Finger Alloy
Pedals VP folding pedal
Saddle Cionlli
Seat Post 34×550mm
Handlebar 25.4mmx500mm, swept 6 degrees
Stem 300mm folding

Riding the Melon Slice is actually pretty fun. What I liked most about this bike is the fact it is super nimble. If you recall riding a BMX bike when you were a kid, just think of the same type of agility and handling, but in a grown up way. Since the Melon Slice has a shorter wheel base than the average bike, its handling is really quick and responsive. Popping wheelies and the occasional bunny hop is pretty easy on the Slice. So why would a bike commuter be doing those tricks? Well in my commute, there are tons of obstacles such as pot holes, trash, debris and even animals. The Melon Slice was awesome when it came to last minute directional changes.

The ride experience of this bike was very pleasant. It’s a smooth riding bike and if needed it could mash. When looking at this cute little folder, you’d think its going to be a bike that your grandmother would be riding. In fact I had some people call it an “RV Bike.” Not sure if you knew this, but folders are pretty popular with RV folks since they store pretty easily in tight spaces. Anyhow, the Melon Slice is quite a sleeper. I mean just look at it, it’s cute. Nothing about it says HI PERFORMANCE. However, that all changes when you start pedaling. The 52t chainring gets this bike moving like no one’s business. Combine that with the 8speed Shimano 12-25T and this bike will fly. There really isn’t much effort needed to start reaching speeds over 20mph.

Shifting with the SRAM MRX grip shift was pretty accurate. However, towards the last week of testing, I noticed that the rear derailleur needed to be slightly tuned. The Promax brakes are pretty powerful. They can stop me without a problem, and I’m a big guy, 208lbs (all muscle).

One gripe I have would be the width of the handlebar. It measured at 20″ wide. I prefer to ride with a minimum of 25″ bars. Besides, I like the extra leverage I can get with wider bars. It makes climbing out of the saddle easier. So there are two options: you can invest in an expensive set of wider bars Pricepoint.com has one for $10, or you can get a set of bar ends to help with the leverage when climbing.

The Melon Slice is very durable frame. It’s gusseted for extra strength and it’s pretty stiff for a folder. Even though this bike is pretty strong and durable, it does have a weight limit of 240lbs. So that means no big boys or girls. The folding ability of the bike makes this thing pretty easy to store. Folding the bike only takes 15 seconds and it’s pretty self explanatory.



I know what you’re already thinking, “what about fenders and racks?” Well, you’re in luck. Melon Bicycles have already addressed that issue. They sent me a fender and rack set that they have available on their site.



The rack has a 20lbs capacity. But I noticed this thing wasn’t really meant for the large seat post since it was giving me some play when I would load it up. I really dig this rack for its storage.


There was play on the clamp. The fittings that came with it were too small.

All in all, the Melon Slice is a pretty decent folding bike. I like how fast this thing goes and the gearing was just right for hills and flats. Its’ a very nimble bike, handling is exquisite, the wheels stayed true and the shifting stayed pretty tuned up until last week. But that’s nothing that a few turns of the adjuster barrel couldn’t fix. So for $599, this folder has all the benefits of a small commuter/folding bike, but it also has the capabilities to keep up or pass other riders with bigger bikes.