First published 1 June 2008
2. Back to the future
3. On the road
The Hammerhead is a mini-bike with folding pedals. You can flatten it and shove it under the bed, or prop it up against a wall where it will look cute and take up hardly any space. But ye cannae fold it up, Cap'n, that's just a Jedi Mind-Trick, to mix popularist metaphors.
Pardon? 'Folding' is that which folds: A folding chair. A folding company. A folding bicycle. The 2006 Dahon Hammerhead doesn't fold. Why then, does it get lumped in with those goofy folding 'clown's' bikes everybody's riding? Because, the handlebars come off, and, er, the pedals fold - and it's made by Dahon, where everything is supposed to fold, even when it doesn't.
Quirkily, later Hammerheads 'fold', or rather demount. Breakaway couplings in the tubes provide for busting your bike into pieces in public. But the later bikes lose the front suspension, paring the weight down by two kilos over the 2006 model. You want speed, comfort, AND a low price? The Hammerhead provides only speed and it's not cheap. Go away. This bike is is not for you.
The Hammerheads and their pretty cousins, the Dahon Smooth Hounds, were nice bikes. Inspired by Italian design, the aluminium framed non-folders were stiff, fast, and light. Ten and a half kilos of alloy (less on the later models) with almost no steel components could be carried up stairs, but not ridden down them, sprinted around cities but not easily carried on public transport, nor, with the expensive Truvative, Shimano and Kinetic componentry, left in railway station bike racks with any hope of remaining when the owner returned.
Did I say 'were?' Dahon Europe killed off their thoroughbred alloy speedsters in 2008. Or rather, the non-buying public did, by not voting with their wallets. Some 2006/7 bikes are still around in dealers, but not for long.
Wack up the charge on the flux capacitor and dial in May 2008. Geeks on the inter-rant pick up on Hammerheads being remaindered by a Wigan bike dealer. The bikes are 2006 Hammerhead 7's, new, boxed, with a five hundred and fifty quid discount on the original eight hundred quid retail price. The finish is matt Shark Gray, stimulating a feeding frenzy.
Yours truly snags one on a Sunday, it arrives on Wednesday. By Friday the Hammerheads have all been devoured. Smug internet-savvy owners polish their new bikes; manly (and womanly) pride surges on the digital dirt-track.
Hammerhead owners form an ad hoc 'Team Smug-Head' on the bike forums, vowing to get together to burn off the lycra roadie boys in Hyde Park, London. They might just succeed. Because, out of the box, a 2006 Hammerhead 7 could be the fastest 20” wheel bike you've ridden. Well, up to 20 mph. Unless you've got the lighter 2007 model.
Damn. Pride comes before a fall. The 2007 Hammerhead is faster still ...
Twenty inch wheels? They accelerate well, especially when the front is a radially laced Kinetix Comp with Kinetix Neutron cartridge bearings. The rear has an 8-speed cassette, and a front derailleur gives a gear range of 35"-95". The rest of the fit is similarly upmarket. Not Dura-Ace prices, but remember this is a bike you're supposed to toss in the back of your economy sedan and then load shopping on top of. If you can still afford shopping after buying the bike.
Even though it doesn't fold, the HH7 is compact enough to be transportable without recourse to spanners. Kinetix QR's make dropping out the front wheel easy, although there's no cable quick-release on the rather ordinary but effective dual-pivot calipers. The downside? You'll drop your Kinetix 74mm QR down a drain while you're assembling the bike. They're fifty quid each, butterfingers. If you let the tyre down to get it out of the caliper, you're going to have a coronary pumping it back up to 120 psi with your hand pump. See? You can't keep a race-horse in a shed.
The ride is 'sporting' - unpretty Kinetix Q suspension on the front fork is factory tuned to the bone-jarring side of 'stiff' but manages to make the ride bearable – just. Schwalbe Stelvio 28-406 tyres slightly narrower than a shoe sole complete the road interface, and a pretty SDG BelAir SL I-Beam saddle, apparently made from razor blades, completes the torture. Weight can be placed forr'ard on the TT bars, and Dahon supply a three-pronged allen key for adjusting bar and seat height. The sealed cartridge bottom-bracket is slick and creak-free.
The 2006 Hammerhead 5.0 has flat bars, the 7.0 gets Kinetix TT bars with Shimano Flight-Deck levers. These, for the unknowing, including myself, combine gear shifting with brake levers and give a Tour De France shift every time. Fingertip shifts are smooth and fast, the levers alone drown the Hammerhead in gallons, sorry, litres, of street cred.
But, and it's a large but, the bike doesn't do slow, and there perhaps is its commercial downfall. It's not a commuter, it's not a tourer (although could be), it's highly stealable, and it doesn't fold. It doesn't understand mudguards, comfort, or luggage, it's components are made of unobtainium, unless you're made of money, and, being a thoroughbred, it will be sick on public transport.
The sole purpose of the Dahon Hammerhead then, is to get from Point A to Point B in as short a time as possible, regardless of rider comfort or practicality. It's probably the most impractical 'folding' bicycle in the world and this, is of course, is why you want one.
Be quick, though. Hammerheads, like their aquatic namesakes, are in imminent danger of extinction. The Smooth Hound 'touring' version, with Brooks saddle, practical components, and leatherbound steering wheel, is similarly endangered, but just as desirable.
Dahon UK: http://www.dahon.co.uk
Society home page