David Hon

Dr. David Hon and Dahon Folding Bikes

Brilliant physicist with a green streak

Dr. David Hon has always been eager to discover how things work. His family immigrated to the USA from Hong Kong when he was nineteen years old, and he was able to complete his education at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and USC. After attaining his Ph.D. in physics, he was recruited by Hughes Aircraft Company In 1972.

Working here for one of the world’s leading companies in aerospace technology, Dr. David Hon pioneered in the research and development of the first tactical lasers… becoming a respected leader in the field of laser technology during the “Space Race” era of the 70s.

When the oil crisis hit in 1975, many Californians realized that better urban mobility was needed to shift their reliance from gas-guzzling cars. Alternatives were envisioned in combinations of mass transit and light, economical vehicles, both human and electric powered. Dr. Hon was one of them. Recalling his days at college, where he had dismantled his bike every day to be able to stuff it into his car, he began his own tinkering on a folding bike that would appeal to the masses: light, good looking, quickly foldable – and affordable.

Prototypes began to take form in his garage. Brother Henry, amassing good sums from his lucrative computer consulting business, was able to finance these first efforts. An industrial engineer himself, Henry also took part in the folding, unfolding and testing of this two-wheeled hybrid.

Dr. Hon and laser technology

Having coauthored the “Laser Handbook”, the internationally referenced authority on laser technology published in 1978, Dr. Hon was promoted to Senior Physicist in recognition of his accomplishments. Now well recognized in the field, he was called to the prestigious Hughes Research Labs in Malibu, where the very first laser and western satellites had been developed. Here, scientists were encouraged to indulge in independent exploration. Dr. Hon subsequently developed and published a technique for efficient compression of high-power laser pulses by SBS in a tapered optical fiber [Ref. 1, 2, 3], which has become a standard for high quality/power laser fusion and in aeronautics and engineering/science research*. With hundreds of references to his work and thousands of applications implemented till now, Dr. Hon has enjoyed an exemplarily prestigious scientific career.

Dr. Hon’s energy-prompted laser research fosters Dahon Bikes

Laser nuclear fusion was viewed at the time as the ultimate answer to Man’s need for energy. The development of this green solution had long been the fire in Dr. Hon’s research, but, as high technical hurdles kept success in these endeavors illusive, his enthusiasm increasingly turned to impatience. As a devoted scientist intent on results, a more tangible method was needed to quench his thirst for a solution to modern energy needs. The decision to leave the limelight and privileges at Hughes Research was painful but inevitable.  He chose to devote his talent to more rapid results and, in keeping with his environmental convictions, Dr. Hon said farewell to lasers.

Leaving the space trade was not without prospect or impetus, however: the first Dahon working prototype, presented at the New York Bike Show, had already gained footing with rave reviews, both there and in the media. Now launching his second career in green transportation “light”, the enterprise was fortified by $2 million raised amongst 35 visionary investors, including The Carpenters and, later, Acer computers. Dr. Hon and his brother Henry were in business!

A Folding Star is born

Hoping to find an OEM partner to produce the spritely new Dahon, the brothers called on many of the major bicycle brands in the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and China—but no one was interested in this kind of “niche” product: “too big a technical bite”, “too risky”. As Taiwan was already emerging as the future center of bicycle manufacturing, a bold decision was made to set up Dahon’s own factory there. Dr. Hon, who had been educated in English, now had to learn Mandarin and acquaint himself with a whole new set of social and industrial structures and customs. This truly was a big bite – and he took it.

Shiny, stainless steel “city hoppers” began rolling from the assembly line in the new Taiwanese factory by 1984 – and they were a success. In the first six months of that year, 6,000 folders were built and sold, and Californians loved them. Soon, word spread throughout the country, and they were rolling out bikes by the tens of thousands. David Hon’s star is born: Dahon!

30 years after, Dahon is the best-known name in folding bicycles around the world. But the pursuit of newer, better light mobility technologies continues – this year, introducing their first folding e-bike innovations.


*(See Google: [laser “d.t. hon” ] and [laser SBS taper “pulse compression” ]


Reference 1: “Pulse Compression by Stimulated Brillouin Scattering in Tapered Waveguides",by D. T. Hon, Optics Letters (1980) Volume: 5, Issue: 12, Publisher: OSA, Pages: 516


Reference 2: “High-Efficiency Laser-Pulse Compression by Stimulated Brillouin Scattering”, by M J Damzen, M H Hutchinson, Optics Letters (1983) Volume: 8, Issue: 6, Pages: 313-315


Reference 3: “Phase Hase Conjugate Laser Optics”, by Arnaud Brignon and Jean-Pierre Huignard (eds.) in WILEY SERIES IN LASERS AND APPLICATIONS (2004 Book), D. R. VIJ, Editor, Kurukshetra University. Comment of the authors: “….SBS pulse compression began in earnest only after the well-known work of D. T. Hon (in 1980)”