By Cat Perry
Tern Bicycles wants you to think of a road bike—now think of a just-as-solid version that's made by a company that is known for urban commuter bikes for 9-5ers and delivery guys. Tern wants you to feel the satisfyingly smooth, fast, maneuverable, speedy, plus collapsible frame. But it's hard to believe you can get that expensive road bike feel in a collapsible frame.
If you take a look at the newest models in the Tern Store and specifically its Verge line you'll see that this is more than a one-off ambition, a new foray. True there have been bumps along the way, including recalls, but models like the Verge X10 and this, the Verge X18 (The Blue Streak, pictured above), are really solid attempts at the best of all worlds.
What Tern says about the Verge X18:
"The Verge X18 may look small but you won’t know it when you’re in the saddle. From the cockpit through the drivetrain to the ultra-strong 20 in aero wheels, the Verge X18 delivers a complete road bike experience in a bike that fits under your desk."
Sounds nice, but does it stack up?
I took the X10 ($1,950) for a few test drives, both in a 7 mile park
with hills, downhills, and straightaways, plus I rode it through heavy traffic in the city, darting in between cars to North Brooklyn. At only 21 lbs I was keen to see how the aerodynamic origami
bike that held together by an N-Fold, snap-in-place doubletruss frame would hold up to true distance cycling and pot-hole-ridden New York City Streets. Ten speeds were telling me it could, but I
couldn't wait to find out.
The setup: The website claims it takes only 10 seconds to set up. But it took me longer for the three weeks I test rode this puppy. Toward the end it got closer to 20 seconds. No biggie.
The overall bike feel: It's so light—lighter than I expected. Which gave me a level of confidence on the bike that was pretty much right out of the box. I carried it somewhat
awkwardly, but without strain down three flights of stairs with no problems. A good start. A quick adjust seat and handlebars give you customized height, so it accommodates a wide variety of heights, with a saddle height
from 26" to 36.6".
The ride feel: Riding in the park on a downhill, I was able to pick up speeds of 30 mph quickly. I know that's not terribly fast as far as fast goes, but it's fast enough speeds
in seconds to get the gist, but still be able to brake fast enough in case a young child darts out in front of the bike as their crossing the bike lane. Still I was more than impressed with its
true speed. I was told this would be great for rides of up to 40 miles, no problem. I could definitely see that possibility, though I'd surely swap in a different seat, as the saddle was light
and aerodynamic, but, left a little to be desired for longer rides—as many factory bike seats can, depending on individual needs.
The speed: The Kinetix Pro X 20" wheels are a super-light (1,100 gram; or 2.6lbs) foundation that can really take flight when allowed to. "Our new Kinetix Pro X wheels set
a new standard for 20" wheels. Custom 27mm rims are taller for strength and more slippery aerodynamics. Custom-forged Sapim aero spokes are straight-pull for improved durability and laced in a
patented Rolf paired-spoke pattern for strength." All that lingo translates to uberfast speeds; but on a less-smooth pavement, as it would with many road bikes, that also means more tire and tube
changes. The hard, fast tires didn't feel uncomfortable, though; the tires and frame somehow worked together so that I didn't feel every blemish on the road. I did have to inspect and patch the
tube after that first ride in the park and a 23 minute ride home. Wasn't excited about that. But it wasn't a biggie. It could be that the small size reduces the surface area and therefore creates
more pounds of pressure per square inch. (I don't know if that's physically the case, but it seems like a plausible cause of the tire hyper-sensitivity.) I'd say the speediness made up for that,
but it may get old to have so many popped tubes due to such small tires.
The frame: Now, more solid than a few years ago. This little guy was one of the models recalled in 2013, along with S- and all X-level Verge frames, and the Links series that was
recalled in 2014. But I won't leave you with just bad news, though: Both series have been revamped, rebooted and rereleased with better
forks called Hydroform that are formed with a single piece of Hydroform that makes up the fork blades, shoulder, and crown, which allows thicker walls, which means way more safety.
Everything on the market now is up to code and in the green.
The carry: Try farmer's carrying a 15" wide, by 28" long bike for more than a couple of blocks and you're a dodo. It's awkward, actually. So the second option, which is NOT recommended by the manufacturer is to keep it collapsed, but to lift the seat to riding height and use the seat as a handle to push or pull the bike along, in front or behind you, respectively. It's like having a small, more agile stroller or granny cart. That was the easiest solution to traversing a city. And it was suggested I could bring it into restaurants and the like, but again, it wasn't a perfect normal size or awkwardness-free maneuver to do so.
The snap close design: Here's where the real truth lies. I have to admit that I was hopeful and looking forward to the convenience of transporting this tinier version of
road warrior onto crowded subways without the eye rolling that I'd normally get with a full road bike. But I didn't get that far.
The frame has N-Fold technology, which makes it relatively compact, but the one magnet that's holding the bike closed is no bigger than a refrigerator magnet—way too small to handle the weight of keeping the front half of the bike securely fasted to the back half, especially if you're moving. Which is absurd. Plenty of times I was trying to carry it just down stairs and the magnets on each half just didn't line up just right and the bike flew open and I was left sheepishly holding the parts together myself. I finally added a bungee cord to my Tern regimen. A simple lonely bungee cord made this nearly $2,000 bicycle into an actually functional collapsible bike. It wouldn't have worked otherwise.
THE OVERALL: Though, as I mentioned, I did ultimately have to use a $2.00 bungee cord to keep it securely closed and had to reinflate tires
and replace the tube after a number of rides I took in just a few weeks, this bike is promising. It's far more practical in a space-starved environment. Yet it's still incredibly sturdy and safe,
plus quick, agile, light, and super-fast! If I had endless gobs of cash, I would definitely splurge on one of these babies. And I'd be keen to test this newest iteration with drop handlebars, for
an even more elite road bike feel. I have s special place in my heart for the Tern, especially living in a big city like New York. And as the world urbanizes, collapsible bikes are the future.
and this brand is at the fore to pay attention to, as they're getting a lot of things right already.