Mezzo's D9 is a folding bike that does a bit more than fold: it's actually not bad to ride. That's a harder trick than it sounds because making a bike that has to fold as well as ride usually involves some compromise to either the folding or riding parts of the job description.
Ride & handling: For those that like riding as well folding
No folding bike, or any small wheeler for that matter, is going to ride exactly like a 26in or 700c wheeled machine and it's daft to expect them to. These are a different class of machine with their own handling traits and characteristics – notably far sharper steering, and nippy acceleration. That said, there are significant differences in the way different folders handle – often a consequence of the way the bike folds.
Unlike most other folders Mezzos don't fold in the middle. Instead the frame is made up of a one-piece central beam that the rest of the bike folds around thanks to some clever design and a couple of sturdy catches. Hanging everything off the beam makes for a stiff, efficient frame that gets more of your pedalling input to the back wheel.
That one-piece beam combined with that lack of rear suspension eliminates the pedal induced 'bob' that afflicts the Brompton, which the latter claims is more due to the suspension rather than the folding hinge.
That's not to say that the Mezzo doesn't bob, but the movement is in the superstructure - the long steering column and seatpost, rather than the frame and suspension – so it isn't robbing you of power to the back wheel. By comparison powering along on a top-end Brompton feels like riding a rowing machine.
The Mezzo is also a very stable bike. Mezzo also stress the length of the wheelbase as a factor in the D9's stability, although at 1045mm a Brompton's wheelbase is longer than the Mezzo's 987mm.
While the D9 doesn't fold quite as small as a Brompton (690x685x360mm to the Brompton's 550x580x280mm) it is signficantly better to ride. Handling is crisp and predictable, the tiller-like steering common to many small wheeled folders, mitigated by the cantilevered steering column that puts the handlebars well forward of the fork steerer thus givng a welcome dose of under-steer. (The tiller feeling is usually caused by a lack of steering off-set – there is no stem on many folders and the 'bars are right on top of the fork steerer.)
Not only is the D9 very efficient at getting your power to the back wheel it also gives you the means to produce and ample amount courtesy of a 52-tooth Truvativ front chainring matched up to SRAM's 11-26 PG-950 cassette giving a versatile range of gears. If it's ultimate power you're after Mezzo now offer an aftermarket version of the 56-tooth chainring fitted as standard to the new D10.
The D9 will spin along happily on the flat and climbs well too, even seated – if you do need to get out of the saddle to honk up a big hill it all stays reassuringly predictable. And when it comes to going down the other side the ride is as exciting as it should be and no more. You will spin out on longer descents (as you would on many bigger wheeled machines too) but as you'll be topping 30mph it's hardly slowing you down.
The combination of Shimano Tiagra rear mech and a SRAM Attack shifter delivers crisp fuss-free shifting, while the ProMax calliper brakes hooked up to four finger levers put some oomph into stopping. There's plenty of modulation too when you need to slow rather than stop.
If our test model was anything to go by, if you don't toe in the brake blocks you won't need a bell – the ear-splitting screech when you pull on the brakes alerts everyone for miles around of your presence - particularly bats and dogs.
This is an enjoyable bike to ride, our only caveat is that the one size fits all riding position might be too cramped for taller riders. Mind you, bigger riders will also need to bear in mind the Mezzo's all up weight limit for rider and luggage of 110kg (242lb).
Folding: small, but not the smallest
Once you get the hang of it the fold is fast and simple – the back wheel folds under the main beam and front twists around under it – the whole thing is locked in place by clamp on the rear dropout that the front wheel clips into. If there is a potential weak point to the design it's that if anything happens to that clamp you will have a problem keeping the bike folded.
If the fold is fast unfolding is faster still, but at 11.8kg you won't want to be carrying a folded Mezzo far. Luckily like the almost equally hefty Brompton it has castors – so trolleying is an option.
This latest incarnation of the D9 boasts a refinement to the way it folds and unfolds with the introduction of a Montague Click quick release system for the front wheel. As the name suggests with this system the wheel 'clicks' into place first then you do up the quick release lever.
To fold the wheel you undo the quick release lever then pull the two catches holding the wheel in place outwards. Mezzo are fitting this system to all of their bikes (the new range-topping D10 and the hub geared i4) and it seems a sensible move for a bike that relies on releasing the front wheel as part of the fold.
Despite a warning label prominently displayed on the handlebar clamp I forgot to do up the quick release lever twice, both times only realising when I re-folded the bike at the end of my ride. Luckily then, the Montague Click definitely works: I hopped over and crashed through potholes, up and down kerbs (to and from the bike rack m'lud); and took in some long, fast descents – all with the front wheel only clicked in.
I wonder if a system that audibly clicks into place might not lull some riders into a false sense of security simply because when the rest of the Mezzo clicks into place it's to signal that the bike is ready to ride… Or maybe I'm just a numpty.
Also don't over-tighten the quick release - it's a reet bugger to un-tighten. Oh, and the front brake cable can kink slightly when folded – momentarily locking the brake on when you unfold, but a quick pump on the lever instantly sorts this out.
Frame: solid, and strong
Essentially the Mezzo is a classic double diamond frame reduced in size and incorporating that beefy main beam as a top tube all welded together from 6061 aluminium. A sturdy pivot at the back of the frame allows the rear wheel to fold under the beam and it is locked in place by a large catch. A similar catch holds the unfolded steering column in place too.
All Mezzos come with a tough anodized finish – folders lead a hard life - and all have a rack (Mezzo also offer a range of bags and panniers to go with it). Mudguards are an essential part of a commuting bike and the Mezzo's front 'guard is actually part of the frame – so it's not going to crack or break, but anodized aluminium does add weight. Because it doesn't flex as much as normal mudguards some types of debris can get stuck in there and rub against the wheel – which can be irritating and could be dangerous.
D9s come in a choice of Black, Charcoal (our test model), Sand, Green, Blue, and Red
Equipment: most of what you need is bolted to the frame
The Mezzo's is a well specced bike for the price and we've talked about most of the major components. Of those we haven't, the tyres are own-branded 'Mezzo', but reminded us of Schwalbes. They seemed pretty hard wearing and I had no complaints about grip even in the wet. The reflective sidewall is a nice touch. Tyre size is the same as Brompton so there are plenty of alternatives out there if they don't suit.
Your contact points are taken care of by a set of dual density grips, a comfy no-name saddle eerily similar to one of Specialized's Body Geometry mountain bike perches, and the own-brand pedals fold away.
Conclusion: improved ride, bigger package
With any folding bike the final decision as to whether it will work for you comes down to which is a higher priority folded size and ease of folding or ride quality. The Mezzo is a good alternative for those prepared to accept a slightly bigger folded package for the sake of a greatly improved ride.