Words and photos: Chris Catchpole
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You’ve never heard of Tern? Neither had we until quite recently. Behind the Taiwanese brand lies a history of folding bike invention and family acrimony. Brand founder Joshua Hon is the son of the creator of Dahon folding bikes, David Hon.
>>> Read more: The best folding bikes: a buyer’s guide
Back in 2011, when young Hon decided to enter the folding bike arena, father Hon swiftly filed a lawsuit against his son, citing breaches of patents, misuse of assets and other such legal issues, which weren’t settled until earlier this year. So with beginnings that lack the smoothness the name may suggest — the tern being the classier cousin of the seagull — the brand is now moving forward as a brand in entirely (or almost) its own right.
After hearing this history, something clicked. I’d wondered why the two brands’ bikes look so similar. The Tern has ‘borrowed’, shall we say, some design cues from its predecessor while injecting some of its own. The hinge arrangement, for example, folds the bike in half in a fashion similar to Dahon. The Tern, however, has a much faster locking system that saves time.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say it must be one of the fastest folds in the business. Even a casual commuter can fold this bike down, ready for train duties, in around 10 seconds, and that’s on a slow day. If you’re feeling competitive, you may pack it up in half that time. In essence, it’s a three-fold system. Firstly the bike folds in half around the centre. Then the saddle is lowered with a quick release, and finally the handlebar folds over against the side of the package. A strong magnet and rubber catch help keep the fold tight when you’re running up stairs or fighting for the last space on the train.
But before you picture yourself with your trusty Tern elegantly traversing through busy stations, I must tell you, you’ll probably struggle to run with it, or fit it into the last cubic foot on the train without excessive tutting from crabby commuters. With a pair of 20in wheels, it’s not the smallest fold. And by only folding in half, it can be awkward to hold to one side as you walk. On the upside, though, both wheels sit level on the ground, so you can use the saddle to steer or drag it.
I’ve given this bike a fair amount of abuse, taking it in and out of London’s busiest stations, and throwing it in my boot between photoshoots. Within weeks, signs of use were showing.
A rubber retaining snapped and a magnet bracket bent, leaving me to question its long-term reliability. While these parts don’t affect its rideability and they are probably covered under a standard one-year warranty, but what about after?
Small parts such as these assist its folding elegance, and once they’ve had it, you’re left with some seriously hard-to-control pieces of metal.
Durability aside, I did enjoy testing this bike. It’s a good ride and fun on flat city streets. The singlespeed is perfect for spinning along in traffic, and it’s responsive enough to reward a bit of extra effort, should you be so inclined. I’m sure folding bike manufacturers must be constantly annoyed with comparisons to Brompton, but it’s not quite as practical or desirable, and at almost half the price of an equivalent model, it’s probably naive of me to hope it would compete on quality.
Tern Link Uno £425
Frameset Link, 6061 aluminium, patented OCL
Chainset Cold-forged 6061 aluminium crank arms, hand-polished
Brakes V front, Coaster rear
Wheels 20in aluminium rims
Tyres Schwalbe Citizen
Bar/stem Physis QR, 2D forged aluminium, 4 patented technologies
Seatpost SuperOversize, 6061-AL
Size range One size, 20in
Pacific CarryMe £399
This might be taking the space-saving idea to its very limits. This is the aptly named the CarryMe, from expert folding bike-maker Pacific. Weighing in at under 8kg and with ridiculously small dimensions, if you’re tight for space on a cramped train or aren’t willing to keep your rusty old commuter indoors, then this might be the key. The tiny — just 8in — wheels would be swallowed by some of the London potholes I’ve seen recently, but on the plus side, its nimble handling should make it easier to avoid hazards in the first place.