The Dahon Speed Pro TT is one of those machines that will polarise opinion among its target audience - commuters and leisure riders who are in the market for a folding bike and who have the best part of a grand to spend. In the blue corner will sit the rider who values speed above all other considerations and has less of a concern with folded size, looks and comfort. Facing him in the more pragmatic red corner, just about everyone else.
Before riding it I'd have placed myself firmly in the blue camp. Everyone's commuting circumstances are different and personally I can choose either to pedal 15 flat miles to the nearest but one railway station, or alternatively rattle off just a couple of miles before I hop on the train. If I planned to restrict myself to the two mile option I'd buy one of those disposable mountain bikes that they knock out for 80 quid in Tescos. It could be locked up at the station would be no great loss if mistaken for something worth having and stolen. For the longer commute, however, there is a requirement for something more rapid, more durable and, yes, more expensive.
The advantage of a folder is that in theory there'd be no need to lock and leave the bike to the tender mercies of one of the UK's crime hot spots. I would also have a set of wheels for the admittedly very short transition between Bath station and BikeRadar central. More importantly, if on the way home I decided that two miles sounds better than 15, I'd have the option of letting the train take the strain. In theory the Speed Pro TT sounds perfect for me.
Yet after living and commuting with the reality, I've defected to the red corner. Other considerations have overtaken the need for speed. Part of the reason is down to the paucity of Britain's transport system. The rail infrastructure is so hopelessly overloaded - at least here in the south - that any bike that does not fold down to the size of the benchmark Brompton is likely to be problematic. Even when you use an allen key to collapse its handlebars after folding, the Speed Pro TT is still a cumbersome package. Using what is regularly a standing-room-only rail service, there is often no option but to stand sentinel by the bike in crowded carriages. Bike and luggage storage areas are usually full, so fellow travellers are forced to manoeuvre around me and my metallic charge. I'm convinced it's only a matter of time before someone trips over a pedal and takes issue with my attempts at integrated commuting. Where the Brompton scores in this respect is in its ability to slot into the fortuitously Brompton-sized cubby holes found on most trains.
If the Dahon will polarise opinions from its potential buyers, it also gets more than its fair share of reaction from the general public - whether you want it or not. On my inaugural commute home I'd barely ridden 50 yards from Cardiff railway station when I got my first comment. It was one of those unnaturally forced laughs, designed to indicate not amusement but ridicule. Moments later on the Taff embankment, yet more analysis, this time from some wine connoisseurs. "Eyuur. Thassaa mad bike, init?" said one. His companions concurred with this insightful critique, adding that they considered it a machine best suited to those spending the pink pound.
While the train commuting experience didn't exactly pan out, I did eventually find a way to make the Dahon work for me. Admittedly it involved abandoning rail in favour of road, but the Speed Pro TT turns out to be a great option for the times when I need the flexibility of a car. If slightly bulky for the train, it will fit easily into the boot of even a small hatchback. Having driven to Bath it is simply a case of finding a place on the outskirts of town where I can park for free before riding the few miles into the office. After the return journey home, the bike can simply remain out of sight in the car overnight, ready, if required for a similar commute the next day.
Of course this scenario is unique to me and for such a short daily ride the expense of the Speed Pro TT would be hard to justify. But if it also served as a rapid town runabout bike at other times, it would start to make more sense. The trick with an expensive folding bike like this is clearly to make sure that it works for your specific needs.
I'm not convinced that it is best suited to commuting which involves using public transport in the UK. For those with limited storage space at home or who commute partially by car and want a bike that has some of the speed - if not necessarily the comfort - of a dedicated road bike, there is something to be said for the Speed Pro TT. Not, in my opinion, enough to justify parting with almost £1,000, but something at least. All this presupposes that you won't mind being on the receiving end of comments regarding the wisdom of your purchase from complete strangers. One of the advantages of this bike, however, is that it allows you to shoot something back, before disappearing over the horizon in a mango and black blur. It's always good to have the last word.