The Folding Society

The Mezzo d9

First published 3 September 2008


1. Introduction

2. Frame, major fittings and components

3. Gears

4. Brakes

5. Wheels and tyres

6. Extras

7. Luggage

8. Folding and unfolding

9. On the road

10. Compared to ...

11. Conclusions

12. Acknowledgements

13. Contacts

14. Right of reply - from ATB Sales


The Mezzo d9 at The Black Country Living Museum - and yes, it does have a puncture in the rear ryre in this picture, collected just after entering the car park, and caused by a very large piece of a rivet which went through the tread and out of the sidewall! The picture was taken at the end of the test, with non-standard tyres, saddle and bar ends.

1. Introduction

We first saw the Mezzo at the Bike Show in London towards the end of 2004, when a number of production prototypes were on display. The bike created immediate interest, as it was a completely new design for a compact folder, owing little to the design of any other folder, and in its folded form it was very compact. At that time there were two models planned, the i4, with a 4-speed Shimano hub gear, and the d9, with a 9-speed derailleur system. It took a few months for the first full production models to reach the market, and initially only the i4 was available, to be followed later in 2005 by the d9. ATB Sales, who distribute the bike, kindly lent us an early example of the d9 in the second half of 2005, and we published our report on that bike in September 2005 (still available HERE). Since then the Mezzo has established itself in the folder market, and although the basic design remains apparently unchanged, there have been many detailed improvements, so we were delighted when in mid-2008 ATB Sales offered us a chance to try one of the latest versions of the d9. At that time the i4 and d9 remained the only models in the range, but within a few weeks the d10 model was announced, supplementing the existing models. We had a chance to see the d10 (a production prototype) at the time the d9 was delivered for testing.

The d10 uses a more curvaceous frame than the existing models - it is of 'monocoque' design - ie a left and right half welded together along the frame centre-line - a practice which has become more common in recent years, and has already been adopted by the Birdy (for example). The new frame is reportedly slightly lighter than the existing one, which suits the d10, an up-market lightweight model (it also has a 10-speed derailleur, a v-brake at the rear and higher quality, lighter-weight components), but it is also more expensive to manufacture than the original frame, so there are reported to be no plans to replace the existing frame with this new one on the other models.

We received the test bike just after the July 2008 Origami Ride, and ATB Sales kindly let us keep it until after the August Ride, which meant that more people were able to try the bike and provide input to this report. In all some 6 or 7 people have used the bike during the 6 weeks plus that it was on test - most just for a brief trial on the Origami Ride, but one also used it for just over a week, and the rest of the time I was using it myself. Regrettably summer 2008 has been very wet, and this rather reduced the amount of testing. The bike was used for train-assisted commuting, shopping, visits to the post box, local delivery of renewed membership cards for Friends of Dudley Castle, visits to local places (such as the Black Country Living Museum, complete with camera gear and a laptop computer), and three rides of 30 - 40Km. Normally on a test we would aim to include a ride of over 50Km - the only reason we did not do so was the weather. The terrain included good and bad road surfaces, and also some canal towpath - nothing terribly hilly, though enough to necessitate engaging bottom gear quite often.

As this test was carried out over a longer period than is sometimes possible with test bikes (about 6 weeks), I did experiment with tailoring the bike to my personal requirements (see the photograph at the top of this page) rather more than is usually the case, so this report might be considered as being closer a owner's view over a period of a few weeks rather than as a short test report for a publication.

At the time of the test the list price for the Mezzo d9 was £645.

2. Frame, major fittings and components

The Mezzo comes in a single frame size, but the saddle height has an enormous range of height adjustment - it is clearly marked at 1cm intervals (which helps to get it right when unfolding) ranging from11 to 30 (small number is with the saddle at its highest position) - I used it at 26, which means that it could have been raised 15 cm. Even allowing for the fact that I am rather short, this should accommodate most riders. The handlebar stem can also be raised - at it lowest position the handlebars were a bit higher than I would like, though changing from the rising bars fitted to some flat bars would solve that for me. At maximum height the bars should suit most taller riders, though VERY tall people who favour a very upright riding position, or those with back or neck problems, might wish for a bit more. Fore and aft adjustment of the saddle to handlebar distance is achieved by sliding the saddle on its rails, with the option of mounting the seatpost with the (micro-adjust) bracket forward or backward. It should be possible for the vast majority of riders to adjust the machine to suit their dimensions and riding style.

Mezzo     Mezzo

The Mezzo with the saddle at my height, and at maximum height. The handlebars are in their lowest position in both pictures , and the saddle is in an intermediate position in terms of fore and aft adjustment. The tyres in these photographs are Primo Comets, not the standard Mezzo ones - the white sidewalls of the Comets detract from the appearance of the bike.

The frame is currently available in 6 colours (charcoal, sand, green, blue, red, black) - the test bike came in green, which would probably not be my first choice. The finish of the frame is superb - anodised aluminium provides a satin sheen, and should resist chips, scratches etc better than any alternatives (apart from titanium). As it is an aluminium frame (and almost everything else is aluminium) corrosion should not be an issue. After 6 weeks of testing in very wet waether the only signs of corrosion were a coupleof grubscrews bolts which are used to adjust a plastic bracket which holds the front wheel assembly when folded.

Overall this bike really looks of exceptionally high quality, with no signs of skimping in order to save money at the expense of quality, and personally I would rate it as second to none in appearance.

All the components also seem to be well chosen in terms of finish, quality and performance, and while they do not match the top component groupsets from Shimano and Campagnolo (these component groupsets are considerably more expensive than the entire Mezzo), there is no sign of any inferior components being used for cost reasons.

The quality of assembly of the test bike was also beyond reproach.

It was apparently a major objective of the Mezzo design to have a single-piece main frame, with no hinge, to ensure there is no frame flex; as an elderly, weak, rider, I have to say I have not noticed frame flex in most folders (Bickerton, Airframe and A-Bike excepted, of course), and certainly the Mezzo seems excellent in this respect.

On a compact folder it is not surprising that there are no bottle bosses or provision for mounting a pump, though I must say I would welcome them on almost any bike - Dahon's Curve does manage a set of bottle bosses, though on the other hand the more expensive Birdy, which certainly has aspirations for longer and more arduous rides, does not provide any either.

Saddles are a very personal component - the one supplied with the Mezzo was entirely satisfactory, though at the end of the test I substituted an old Brooks B17 leather saddle, to see whether this improved the rather harsh ride, and this is the saddle shown in most of the photographs..

The only component which we were disappointed with was the folding pedals - they fold well, the bearings run smoothly, and until we used them on a wet day we were very happy with them. Unfortunately they are remarkably slippery when wet - everyone who tried the bike on the August 2008 Origami Ride commented on this. Later in the test I substituted some MKS removable pedals - if any of the photographs in the report show these, please note that they are not standard!

Pedals     Pedals

The folding pedals - they performed well, except that they are very slippery when wet.

3. Gears

The d9, which is the model we tested, is equipped with a 9-speed derailleur (11-26 sprockets) and a single chain ring (54 teeth). This equates to a range of  33.4 - 78.9 inches, using the common method of describing bicycle gearing. Although the range on this latest d9 is wider than on the earlier one we tested 3 years ago, it is still narrower than that chosen by some other manufacturers of derailleur-geared bikes of this kind.

The gears are changed via a Shimano Tiagra rear mechanism and an SRAM trigger system on the bars, with a means of adjusting the cable both on the rear mech and on the front trigger. Overall the system worked well and changed smoothly, though sometimes immediately after a fold/unfold it would take a few changes before the cables settled into their normal run positions on the frame, resulting in slightly awkward changes (a common problem with derailleur-geared folders).

Rear Mech    Changer

Left: The Shimano Tiagra rear mech and 9-speed gear cluster - note that this picture was taken with a non-standard 11-32 cluster fitted, not the standard 11-26, and as in most of the pictures here the tyres are the Primo Comets, not the standard Mezzo ones. Right: SRAM changer - push the upper lever to change up, and the lower lever to change down.

The i4 model, which we have never tested, has a 4-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear, giving a narrower range, with slightly larger steps between the gears. While some buyers may prefer the hub gear for the potentially lower maintenance and less susceptibility for damage, we think most people will probably opt for the derailleur versions. The new d10 model has a 10-speed derailleur (11-28 sprockets) and a single chainring (56 teeth), equivalent to 32.1 - 81.8. While the gear range is therefore slightly wider, there is no real reason why a similar range could not be achieved on a d9 by fitting a different cassette, and although some gaps between the gears would be a little greater than on the d10, they would still be quite acceptable for most riders.

On the test bike we carried out a number of modifications, as mentioned earlier, and this included fitting an old 11-32 cassette which was available. Such things are very much down to personal choice, but for me the significantly wider range compared with the standard d9 (or even a d10) was very welcome (27.5 - 79.8 in), especially in providing the gears to make climbing the local hills much easier. While for many (perhaps most) owners the standard gearing will probably be fine, we think it would be nice if an option of an 11-32 low/wide range were available.

Our test team as a whole had differing views about the gearing - most did not have any comments, but one young rider who likes to use a low cadence (pedal slowly in a high gear, rather than 'twiddling' the pedals) definitely wanted some higher gears, while another wanted more at the high end and definitely more at the low end, and a third (myself) would easily live with the top gear, but would definitely like one or two more lower gears (hence the fitting of the 11-32 cassette, which for myself resulted in a near ideal gear range for this machine).

4. Brakes

The d9 has caliper brakes (Promax) fitted front and rear, operated by very nice, positive levers. Adjustment is by the usual screw arrangement on the calipers themselves, and an over-centre lever allows the calipers to be partially opened when removing a wheel. Most of those who tested the bike found the rear brake rather unimpressive - it would certainly slow the bike down, but you really needed to use the front brake as well in most circumstances. We did try checking the system and cleaning the rear rim and pads, but this did not make any difference, and we had similar experience when we tested the bike back in 2005 (actually there does seem to have been some improvement since then). The new d10 model has a v-brake at the rear, which is perhaps significant, though a caliper will be retained at the front - and if you are wondering, yes ATB have thought about the implications in terms of the different cable-pulls required by the two types of brake, and the two levers on the d10, while looking the same, are set to give the appropriate pull! While there are apparently no plans to use the frame of the d10 for the cheaper d9 and i4, it would seem possible that they might modify the d9 frame to use the rear v brake in the future Sadly it would have to be a manufacturing modification, so would not be retrofittable to exisiting bikes.

Brakes     Brake levers

Promax Caliper brakes - the front one is very effective, but the rear one is rather lacking in bite. The brake levers are well-made and work well, with no excess free play in the bearings.

5. Wheels and Tyres

The Mezzo uses the popular 349 version of the 16 inch wheel, as used by Brompton and the Bike Friday Tikit, but substantially larger than the 309 16 inch used by the Dahon Curve and Strida. Wheel size nomenclature is strange, and, for example, the so-called 18-inch wheel of the Birdy is only a shade larger in diameter.The wheels are anodised black, with polished stainless spokes, and look attractive. The rear hub has a standard quick-release, which makes wheel removal easy (as I discovered when I picked up a very large nail within 1Km on my first ride - I changed the tube and still got to the station in time to catch the train; another puncture at the end of the test proved equally easy to fix). At the front, the wheel fixing is combined with the folding system. We will describe how this works later, but the result is that although there is what looks like a modified quick release at the front, wheel removal is not at all straightforward, and you need an 8mm socket (not a spanner) and pliers to be able to remove the front wheel for tube replacement in the event of a puncture - please make sure you adapt the tools you carry on the bike accordingly, and do make sure that you don't misplace the small 8mm nut when you have taken it off. As we'll describe later, the way the front wheel is located for folding is much improved on this d9 compared with the one we tested in 2005, and although the system is different now, front wheel removal was just as awkward (if different) on the earlier version.

The wheels are drilled for Schrader vales, and these are fitted as standard. Personally I prefer Presta valves, as these seem to make it easier to inflate the tyre, and also seem to hold pressure better. The tyres are marked as being produced by Cheng Shin, and the moulded information on the side wall quotes a pressure of 55psi maximum. However, an additional sticker on the side quotes a maximum of 85 psi, and this higher figure is apparently correct (changing the moulds to show the higher pressure is presumably not done for cost reasons). The tyres have a Kevlar strip to reduce the likelihood of punctures - apart from the enormous nail we picked up on the first ride, we didn't experience any punctures with these tyres, even on the Augsst 2008 Origami Ride, when a group of 14 riders suffered no less than 4 punctures. The side walls have a reflective stripe. We'll comment on the performance of these tyres in the 'on the road' section later. Please note that the photographs in this report were taken after fitting another make of tyre - certainly less visually attractive in my eyes than the standard ones, but which I though performed better on the road!

6. Extras

A rack and mudguards are not only standard on the Mezzo, but they are integral to the design, and so cannot be removed. There is no propstand, but providing there is no luggage on the rear rack, or you remove it first, you can perform a quick first fold to stand the bike on the rear carrier - it is moderately stable when this is done - more so than a Brompton, but not sufficiently so to enable parking in this way when off road. No pump or tools are supplied. A user manual is supplied with the bike - you can also download this from the Mezzo web site. A video showing how to fold and unfold the bike is also supplied on DVD - also available from the web site.

7. Luggage

The rear rack is slotted so that purpose-designed bags can be locked on and released quickly, though these bags do require an additional Velcro strap to prevent fore and aft movement. The rack itself is very robust, and is used to support the back section of the rear mudguard - the sockets of the allen bolts used to fix it have been filled with epoxy to prevent removal of the rack.

Rack     Small bag     Large bag

Left: The rear rack - note the slottied design for quick fitting of the luggage, and the jockey wheels at the back, which allow the bike to bu pushed along reasonably even surfaces when folded. Centre: the Mezzo with the smaller bag fitted. Right: The Mezzo with the larger bag fitted.

There are two options of luggage designed specifically for the Mezzo, and we were supplied with both for the test. Both are attractely finished in black, with a hard plastic base designed to slot quickly on and off the Mezzo rear carrier. Partly because of this base, neither is ultra-light, but nevertheless the weight is no more than most luggage systems for folders (and non-folders) - the smaller bag weighs less than the complete Carradice SQR system, though perhaps does not have quite the capacity. Both bags are extemely well designed in terms of pockets, zips etc. The smaller one would be more than adequate for a day ride, complete with tools, some food, waterproofs, maps, and space to store an extra layer of clothes. The main compartment can also be expanded upwards by undoing a zip to give some extra space. The main compartment is closed with a zip, and there are two external zipped side pockets providing ample space for tools, spare tubes, pump and other odds and ends. The top has elastic strapping on the outside, which could be used to secure additional small items, such as a waterproof, and on the inside of the top there is a pocket where paperwork etc could be stored. The main compartment is very well padded. There is a small strap on the back of the bag which could be used to carry it, but there are also loops for attaching a shoulder strap, and this strap is included with the bag. Also on the back is a small strap onto which a rear  lamp can be fitted - as the bag is quite rigid, the lamp would remain in the vertical position. The larger bag is clearly designed for the commuter, and is amply big enough to take a 15 inch laptop (possibly bigger) and plenty of A4 paperwork. In fact it has an internal divider evidently specifically intended to allow a laptop to be carried with the minimum of risk - the whole bag is quite rigid and stiff in its normal form, with plenty of padding. There are additional compartments inside the bag for paperwork, pens etc. The bag comes with a shoulder strap, which can be mounted on two strong loops, and as an alternative there is a handle if you prefer to carry the bag this way - it makes a very effective briefcase for the commuter when removed from the bike. On the outside are two quite large pockets  for some additional paperwork, though they are not large enough for A4, and the design means they are not particularly convenient for bulkier items such as tools, spare tube etc. The top is secured by a zip (two zippers, unlike the smaller bag, which only has one) and on the top is another narrow zipped compartement where small items could be stored. On the back is a mesh pocket in which is stored a yellow protective (water-resistant?) cover, and there is a small loop for attaching a rear lamp. So far what we have described is an ideal bag for the commuter, but all these compartments and dividers might sound less suited to shoppers and those who tour. But in fact the design takes these users into account as well - though the laptop partition is not removable, it can easily be sqaushed flat against the side of the bag, leaving a larger central space. And if all the side padding and stiffening of the bag seems unnecessary, there are zipped compartments insde the bag in which this padding is contained - undo the zips, and the padding can be removed, reducing the weight, making a bit more space, and giving another two separate compartments.

I have gone on at some length about the luggage because it really is excellently thought out, and deserves the highest praise. The only things to be said against it are that the designs are fairly narrow (partly one imagines to ensure that there are no possible problems of heels fouling the luggage when riding), the front Velco fixings are slightly awkward to use, and while the larger bag was quite a tight fit on the rear rack, the smaller one was a bit loose, and tended to rattle with lighter loads.Although the weather has been bad, the result has been that we haven't ridden the bike much in these conditions, so we can't comment on the important issue of how weather-resistant these bags are.

There is no provision for mounting any luggage at the front - the steerer/stem design prohibits the very effective front luggage system which Brompton use, and which has now been adopted on at least some Dahon models. I suppose a small bar bag would be feasible, but I've never been keen on these because of their effect on the steering and stability of bikes, and the long stem arrangement of the Mezzo seems likely to make this even more of an issue than on entirely conventional non-folders. Front panniers would not be feasible either - the way the front wheel folds under is a reason no doubt why no mountings are provided.

So is there any provision for the more serious tourist, requiring to carry more than will fit in the larger bag? The rear rack is very robust, and so it would be possible to mount small/universal/front panniers on it. The only qualifications which we should mention are:

So you may be able to fit some small rear panniers, but it would be difficult to combine these with the Mezzo rack-top luggage (due to interference between the mounting systems). However, worth considering is the option of using panniers and a Carradice SQR system, and you could still put some stuff on top of the rack (though this is going to make the bike very tail-heavy). The SQR system also has the major merit (over the Mezzo luggare) that you can perform a first/parking fold without removing luggage first - sadly, there is a drawback, namely that the very substantial Carradice mount on the seat tube means that you cannot fully lower the seat post when folded, increasing the folded height. There are some alternative seat post luggage systems (Rixen and Kaul) which have minimal impact on the folded height, but these are rather underdesigned, and would only support a very small bag safely.


A Carradice SQR mount can be fitted to the seat post, allowing any of the range of SQR bags to be fitted, or a conventional saddlebag, using the appropriate Carradice accessory. Using this system the first 'parking' fold can be achieved before the luggage is removed. However, this will prevent the seat post from being fully lowered when the bike is folded. As in most of the pictures, the saddle shown here is my own Brooks B17, not the one that comes with the Mezzo.

8. Folding and unfolding

Folders come in many forms, some of which are first and foremost compact machines for train/bus-assisted commuting, and others which are high performance road bikes which can be folded if really necessary. The ability to fold into a small package for commuting certainly seems to have been a priority in the design of the Mezzo, though like many other good-quality compact folders, that is not to say that it cannot be used for longer and more challenging rides too. However, as a compact folder for commuting, the ease and speed with which it can be folded, and transported when folded, is very important.

There are those who seem to think that the weight of a bicycle is not important when you are ridning it (I do NOT subscribe to that view), but even such people must agree that the weight of a folder is important when you carry it! The Mezzo uses an aluminium alloy frame, which helps with weight (though it is important to note that the weight of any frame in aluminium is not all that much less than a good steel frame due to the fact that though aluminium is lighter for the same volume, you need a greater volume of it to achieve the same strength as a steel frame). The Mezzo is also very well built and feels very robust - no signs of flexing or under-design anywhere in the frame. Consequently it is not especially light at somewhere around 26 pounds, though it is certainly not especially heavy either. However, when folded and carried, the bike feels very well balanced, and I found it easier to carry than most other folders as a result (with most folders I have to stop to rest my arm when changing platforms at a station, whereas with the Mezzo no break was needed). In the folded state it is also fairly easy to push it along on the two small jockey wheels on the rear of the carrier - the wheels and the spacing are a bit small for a rougher station platform, but I found it easier nevertheless than with a Brompton.

But back to how you fold the Mezzo. The process does require a bit of practice, and you certainly need to do things in the right order, but once you are familiar with the process it is not difficult. The steps are:

  1. Make sure you are in a middle gear (not .too critical which one), remove any luggage from the rear rack, and stand on the right of the bike.
  2. Align the pedals so that the right hand one is horizontal alongside the rear forks.
  3. Turn the handlebars as far to the left (anticlockwise) as they will go, and hold them in this position (against the stop) for the next steps.
  4. Release the rear fork catch and flip the rear forks under the bike - the bike will now stand up on the rear rack.
  5. Bend down and release the 'Quick Release' catch on the front wheel; this is NOT a standard quick release. Now pull out the collar around this lever, and then push the end of the lever back in.
  6. If you have done this right (easy when you know how, but a bit difficult to describe), if you hold the head tube you can swing the front wheel down and then up as far as it will go.
  7. Push the stay into the mounting slot on the rear forks (this is a push fit, but with typical attention to detail, the force required can be altered if necessary with two small allen bolts).
  8. Lower the seat post (this will lock everything together).
  9. Release the catch holding the handlebar stem, and fold the step down. There is no locating catch to hold the stem when folded, but there is sufficient friction to prevent it moving.
  10. Fold the left hand pedal (no real need to bother with folding the right hand one.

With practice, this is much more easily done than said/written; at least to start with, the most awkward part is releasing the front wheel, folding it under and latching it in place.

Handlebar catch     Handelbar catch     Rear catch

Left and centre: The handlebar catch - self engaging when the bike is unfolded. small grub screws allow for adjustment if it should become looser with use. Right: The similar catch used to secure the rear triangle.

Front wheel     Front wheel

The 'quick release' system used to secure the front wheel, which is disengaged to fold the front wheel under when the bike is folded. Unfortunately, although the design works well for this purpose, and is a great improvement over that used on early Mezzos, it still makes front wheel removal difficult when repairing punctures.

A number of times after unfolding I found that the front brake had become slightly displaced, so that was rubbing on one side - irritating, but easily fixed by turning it slightly on its pivot. After this had happened a couple of times I made a habit of spinning the front wheel after unfolding to see if any action would be required.

Unfolding is basically the reverse of the process - note that the catches for the handlebar stem and rear forks are designed so that you just push them (forks and stem) into place and the catches engage automatically - no manual intervension required to push the catches into place, or do up screw fasteneings; in the case of the rear forks, it also means the bike can be lifted easily as a whole, without the rear forks flopping around loose, which until recently was a significant irritation for many Brompton owners). If you just want to park the bike, remove rear luggage from the rack, release the catch on the rear forks, and fold the rear forks under - the bike will then stand reasonably well on the rear rack (at least on a tolerably even surface).

When folded the Mezzo is quite compact, the chain is inside the folded package (so minimal risk of getting oil on your clothes or anything else), and it can be picked up easily without any risk of anything unfolding unexpectedly. The Mezzo is well equipped to control the chain as the bike is folded and unfolded - often a problem with derailleur-geared folders.

In terms of folded size, the Mezzo is a little larger than the Brompton, but smaller than most other comparable machines, and, like the Brompton, the package is quite neat, with no protruding parts, and no tendency for it to want to unfold itself. As mentioned before, I found it particularly easy to carry when folded - actually better than the Brompton in this respect, despite being a little larger. Personally I'd rate ease of folding as not quite as good as the Brompton and those folders (eg Dahon) which basically just fold in the middle of the frame), but easier than a Birdy and the non-compact folders. If folded size is of paramount importance, the Brompton leads in this respect, but overall there is little to choose between it and the Mezzo, and personally I find the Mezzo easier to carry ('your mileage may vary'!).

Folded     Folded

Left to right: Birdy, Brompton, Mezzo and Dahon Curve


Above: The chain is well controlled when the bike is folded, with no risk of it coming adrift, as can happen with some derailleur-geared folders.

Like the Brompton, the folded Mezzo is a sufficiently tidy package that you would probably not be asked to bag it when travelling by train in the UK (depends on the train, time, staff etc). If you do need to bag it Mezzo offer a lightweight cover and carry bag (we have not seen them, so please visit the Mezzo website for more details).

A video showing the folding/unfolding of the Mezzo is available in the download section of the Mezzo web site.


When folded the Mezzo fits comfortably inside a Smart for Two.

9. On the road

When I tested the Mezzo 3 years ago, I was immensely impressed by its stability - smaller wheeled bikes to tend to have faster response, or, if you want to be less polite, you could describe them as being 'twitchy'. The Mezzo is exceptionally stable - more so than almost any other 16 inch wheeled machine, and indeed some folders with 18 inch and even 20 inch wheels. This is not just my opinion - just about everyone who tried the bike commented on this immediately (without being asked).

Mezzo make quite a point of the fact that the design, with no hinge in the main frame, reduces frame flex compared with folders which do have such a hinge. Certainly the frame feels very rigid, though to be honest I've never noticed frame flex in folders with a central hinge either! Just as impressive is the stiffness in other areas - the long handlebar stem system might look as though it is a candidate for flex, but in fact it was only by deliberately pulling back hard on the bars that I could detect any at all, and in normal use it was stiffer in this respect than my (elderly, older specification) Brompton, most Dahons I have ridden, and many other folders (the Birdy, Bike Fridays and Airnimals are good in this respect too).

The gears changed nicely (after a minor adjustment), though I did find that after folding and unfolding it usually required a couple of gear changes for the cables to settle into their natural position. Views on the gear ratios varied - I could live with the top gear, but I would definitely welcome one or two more low gears; the spacing was if anything a little close for my taste, though I certainly don't like very wide spacing, and for this reason I find machines with 3-speed hubs are not acceptable.Those who are strong riders, and/or favour a low cadence (ie pushing a high gear and pedalling slowly) might want higher overall gearing (as did one person who tested it), while others might have different requirements. As I've already mmentioned, my preferred choice would be to subsititute a wider-range cassette, with 11-32 range, something which is used by a number of other folders. Without any other changes, this would give me the extra lower gears, without compromising the top gear, and for me, and many riders, the gaps between the gears on this standard cassette are still very acceptable. In fact, to prove the point, I subsequently fitted an 11-32 cassette which I happened to have available. No other modifications were needed, and for me it greatly improved the enjoyment of riding the Mezzo, and made it much more versatile.

Braking performance was rated by all who tried the bike as being rather disappointing - adequate, but no more. The problem is that the rear brake in particular does not provide much stopping power - you can slow down with it, but no more. I've come across much worse ones (the Big Dog used on early Bike Friday New World Toursists, for example), but it is disappointing - the new d10 model has a v-brake on the rear, and it would be desirable if this were to come to the d4 and d9 as well, although of course it would not be possible to retrofit it to existing bikes. The front brake performed quite satisfactorily, and the brake levers are nicely made, give good feel, and do not flex or wobble on their mountings (unlike those of some competitors!).

Those who know me will be aware that as well as being very focussed on weight reduction, I am also very sensitive to rolling resistance on bikes, and in particular tyre performance. I don't have any very scientific tests to determine performance in this respect (though I do carry out a simple roll-down test), but certainly some bikes/tyres seem to result in a much more enjoyable riding experience than others - riding a mountain bike with big knobbly tyres on the road  is purgatory compared with a good road bike with narrow high pressure tyres. Of course, tyre choice, like most things, involves compromise. The 2005 Mezzo with Cheng Shin tyres at 55psi certainly felt sluggish, but rather surprisingly changing the tyres did not seem to help all that much. I believe that although the tyres have had some superficial changes they are still basically the same in 2008, though now recognising that they can be run at up to 85psi. Subjectively, and in the crude roll-down test, the tyres seemed rather better (at 85psi) this time, though I'd still rate them as slightly below the middle of the range in terms of rolling resistance. Apart from the 1 puncture casued by an enormous nail, there were no problems with punctures, and the grip, while never seriously tested, gave no cause for concern. But another aspect of the Mezzo did cause me some discomfort, and this possibly relates to tyres, as the next paragraph will discuss.

Let me preface this paragraph by explaining that for many years I have rideden Moultons, which are of course fully suspended, and this may make me rather more sensitive to the smoothness of the ride provided by other bicycles. I did notice with the Mezzo on its own tyres at 85psi was that the ride was noticeably harsh on less than smooth surfaces. In fact I made a point of wearing an old electronic watch rather than a mechanical or electromechanical watch when riding the Mezzo, as I was seriously concerned about the possible damage due to handlebar vibrations on rough surfaces. The first stage of the August 2008 Origami Ride was along a canal towpth - the earth sections were not too bad, but parts seemed to have a very rough partially concrete surface, and I found these exceptionally painful. The other rider who used the Mezzo for a longer period (just over a week) was also very critical of the ride - in fact he commented that he might have bought the bike but for the harsh ride. Small wheels without suspension do generally result in a rather harsh ride, but it seemed particularly noticeable on the Mezzo. The subject seemed worth further investigation. The smaller-wheeled Dahon Curve gives a more comfortable ride, and this must be largely attrtibutable to the wonderful Schwalbe Big Apple tyres (fat, low pressure, so they give plenty of cushioning, but, remarkably, with no apparent effect on rolling resistance - a number of people now use this tyre for its excellent properties). Unfortunately this option is not open for the Mezzo - the Big Apple is not produced in a 349 16 inch wheel size, and even if it were, the mudguard clearances of the Mezzo would not permit such a tyre to be fitted. The other option which I thought worth trying was to substitute Primo Comet tyres. These were the first high performance tyres available in the 349 size, and competely transformed the performance of early Bromptons which had previously had to use the very basic Raleigh Record tyre. The Comet has a reputation of being extemely good in terms of rolling resistance, which is usually put down to the very supple sidewalls. Since I was hoping to reduce rolling resistance, but was also in need of a more compliant ride, and I had a set of old Comets, it seemed worth trying these on the Mezzo. The Comet is rated at up to 85 psi (like the standard Mezzo tyres), but is reported to run well at somewhat lower pressures too. I fitted a set, and after doing so I carried out my standard roll-down test (I had run the test with the standard tyres immediately prior to fitting the Comets, to reduce any effects of changes in the wind etc). Certainly the Primos resulted in an improvement in rolling resistance in this test (small, but worthwhile), and subjectively in subsequent riding the responsiveness and rolling resistance seemed improved. Judging the effect on ride quality (harshness) is more diffcult, and very subjective, but it was my impression that there was an improvement. There is no such thing as a free lunch though - Comets are a bit susceptible to punctures, very susceptible to cuts, and they don't grip all that well in the wet either (which is the reason that I don't normally use them now, and had an old spare set). Right at the end of the test I suffered another rear puncture, this time with the Comets, and casued by a very large piece of rivet, which would have gone through any tyre.

I think I should reinforce, briefly, in this section what I have mentioned before. Once I had got to grips with the process of folding, I found it pretty straightforward. The Brompton is still the only folder that I fold even when there is no need, but the Strida and Mezzo are very close behind. To me, this it the key PRACTICAL measure of  folding - many fanatics and manufacturers will extoll the virtues of their chosen folder, and quote very academic times for folding, but the acid test is whether owners try to avoid folding them, and most of these owners do avoid folding! On the Mezzo the need to unmount any rear carrier luggage is a drawback (shared with the majority of other folders), but the excellent design of the luggage also deserves a plug here.

10. Compared to ...

There are those who want a review to come up with a 'best buy'. I'm sorry but I'm not into this (different owners have different priorities, and the few (cycling and non-cycling) Which? (Consumers Association) 'Best Buys' which I stupidly bought in the distant past were rubbish, and if you read how they tested folding bikes, you would not be surprised.

That said, I will make a few comments which may help readers to assess the Mezzo and some of its possible competitors. I think the Mezzo should be judged primarily as a high-quality commuter (train etc assisted) machine. So, I'm not going to compare it with sub-£200 cheap and 'cheerful' machines (usually not very compact when folded, not to mention quality). The obvious competitors are the Brompton, some Dahons, and perhaps a Birdy, Airnimal Joey and Bike Friday Tikit.

It's your choice - and it really is down to you, your preferences, cycling requirements, budget etc. These (and some others I haven't mentioned here) are all great folders - we are so lucky today that there are so many good machines to choose from.

11. Conclusions

Choice of a folder is always a case of horses for courses and riders. The Mezzo sets out to meet the needs of commuters who also use the train and perhaps the bus, and in this respect it works very well - the fold is reasonably easy and quick once you are used to it, and the folded bike is very compact and quite easy to carry, even though it is not especially light. The optional luggage is exceptionally well designed to meet the needs of such users, though the need to take off the luggage at the start of the folding or parking process is rather a drawback. But the Mezzo is certainly not limited to this type of use - if the need arose, I would have no qualms about riding 40 or 50Km on the Mezzo, and indeed with a few modifications I would be willing to use it regularly for such rides, and longer ones. Choice of gearing is a personal matter which depends in part on the rider age, strength, riding style and the terrain: the standard gearing may be ideal for many, but personally I would have preferred to see some additional lower gears - with a total of 9 gears, this could be achieved simply by using the popular 11-32 gear cassette in place of the standard 11-26 fitted to the Mezzo - I made the change on the test bike, and I certainly preferred it set up that way. The brakes, more particularly the rear barke, were rather disappointing - adequate, but not as good as we have come to expect on most high quality bikes nowadays. On the subject of quality, we rated the Mezzo as excellent in terms of finish, the standard of the components etc.

While there are no outstanding differences between the 2008 Mezzo and the early one we tested in 2005, the many detail changes make this a much improved bike, and we really enjoyed using it. Choice of a folder will in the end come down to personal requirements and preferences; like every other folder (and indeed all products) there are a few areas in which the Mezzo could be improved, but anyone considering pruchasing a folder in this sector of the market should include the Mezzo in their evaluation.

Mezzo recently announced a new d10 model, which we have not tested; this is a shade lighter than the d9, with a fractionally lighter frame, and higher quality, and hence lighter, components. The extra gear is used to slightly increase the overall gear range compared with the d10, and notably the d10 also features a v-brake at the back. For most users the d9 is probably better value, but for those who do not mind the higher price, the d10 does off some advantages- personally we would go for the d9. .

12. Acknowledgements

We would like to thank ATB Sales Ltd for the loan of the test bike and the bags..

13. Contacts

ATB Sales Ltd, Whitworth Road, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex TN37 7PZ

14. Right of reply - from ATB Sales Ltd

As usual, we offered the supplier a right of reply, but to quote" ..(we) felt that your report was very fair with no inaccuracies; we are more than happy for you to go live with it".

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