Folding Bike Review: Tern Link D7i

April 12th, 2012

Some weeks ago, I bought a bike. The fact that I haven’t posted about it surely shows how busy I’ve been — because it’s a cool bike and it’s worth talking about.

Indeed, since I live and work at a college and I ride the bike in the biggest city park in Charleston, I’ve ended up talking a fair bit about my new wheels, to both colleagues and students. I didn’t buy the bike to “get noticed,” but there’s no question that it has happened.

Why, you ask?

Because my bike is a folding bike. More than that, it’s a really cool folding bike.

As background to how I got these nifty wheels, I should point out two things that loomed large in my decision making:

  1. I live in Charleston and have no garage. These combined facts mean that storing things outside will result in rust and algae blooming upon them. If you want to keep something nice you need to keep it inside, which means it’ll take up living space. I was thus in the market for a folding bike.
  2. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve started to favor quality over cost in my purchasing decisions. That’s not to say that money is no object — believe me, money matters in our house! — but I am increasingly interested in viewing purchases across a long term investment than across a short term impact. I was thus in the market for a good quality folding bike.

What I decided on was the Tern Link D7i. Tern is a new company, but it’s a sort of off-shoot from Dahon Bikes, which is a well-established player in the folding bike field. I liked what Tern seemed to be doing for the price range they were at, and the early reviews of their bikes looked positive.

Buying and Building

I would have liked to check one out in person, of course, but (alas!) no one carries Tern bikes anywhere close to Charleston. This fact was a bit of concern, since this was no small purchase for my income bracket. Still, after weeks of deliberation I rolled the dice and purchased one from ThorUSA. They were good to work with.

A short while later, the box arrived:

The Tern Box!

The box alone was pretty cool, for whatever that’s worth. With excitement, I peeked inside:

There's a bike in there!

Huzzah! I lifted it out carefully…

Pulled free from the box, in folded form.

It was more or less assembled, which is nice. There was a bit of work to do to put it together the first time, but it wasn’t much at all. In doing so I became aware of some issues that I’ll go into below, but first here’s a picture of it ready to go:

The D7i unfolded for the first time.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? You can see why I get comments about it as I cruise around campus.

And I’m pleased to say that it rides as good as it looks. It’s a truly awesome bike.

Problems

… except, that is, for a few problems, two of which are associated with the handlepost folding mechanism.

One of the things I’d liked about the Tern when I was researching it was the fact that it had a lot of great engineering and safety features. Among them was a safety catch on the handlepost latch: to fold it down you first pull back on a sliding safety pin before pulling back on the lever. It adds a measure of reassurance that the post won’t fold-up in the middle of a ride (which would, well, suck), yet it’s a one-handed 1-2 action that’s fast. So it shouldn’t add a second to fold times. That’s good engineering, and it’s worth some extra cost to me (since this bike is, in fact, more expensive than, say, a Citizen bike).

Alas, the actual execution of this seemingly good engineering was staggeringly bad. Sitting cross-legged on my floor, unfolding the bike for the first time, I lifted the handlepost up and started to pull the latch into place, just trying to get a feel for how the mechanism functioned. It didn’t click into place or snap shut, and I wasn’t finished with the installation of some other items on the bike, so I started to push the lever back so I could pull the handlepost back down and continue my work.

Snap.

I’m not a weight-lifter, by any means.  Yet somehow, sitting on the floor with my arms extended — pushing it away from me using nothing but the strength of my fingers — I had snapped the safety pin that was one of my excuses for paying a higher cost.

Here’s a picture of the lever, with my wee fingers holding the broken pin:

The broken pin, held close to the point where it broke off.

This was, as you can imagine, very disappointing. I remain astounded that Tern constructed a “safety” pin that’s so weak. If it can snap under those paltry conditions, it cannot possibly hold when under the weight of a rider — at which point I can’t imagine that it has a purpose beyond marketing for a higher cost to the customer. And I abhor that kind of behavior in a business.

On the plus side, the latch is an over-center lever latch, so mechanically it is unlikely to need the pin. Indeed, I’ve been riding without it ever since with no sign of the mechanism unfolding. On the minus side, that once again points to this as being a marketing gimmick.

So I’m pretty ticked off on principle.

Adding insult to injury, I found that after it was assembled, this latch physically impacts the handlepost.  You can see, in the picture below, that there’s metal-on-metal contact between post and lever:

Latch impact on handlepost.

This impact will eventually crack the finish on the bike, which is a bad thing. Given where I live (salty humidity), this is a recipe for trouble.

What’s amazing here is how easy a fix this would have been for Tern. Indeed, they seem to know about the potential issue since there’s a clear plastic sticker on another part of the bike where this kind of impact can occur. That’s all that’s needed (and it’s what I’ll do, I guess).  Why they didn’t put such a protective patch here, I have no idea. Disappointing.

And then there’s this next shot. When the bike came to me there was a kind of “flaky bubble” in the finish of the main part of the bike. I had a lot of other concerns when I first got it — what with worrying about whether the handlepost would fold down in mid-ride — and so I didn’t get any good pictures of it before the blemish actually popped off, revealing this displeasing feature on my expensive wheels:

Goodie. Brand new bike has a broken finish in Charleston salty humidity. Sigh.

Last but not least, I have to shake my head at the lack of markings on the seatpost.  This slides up and down — for folding and adjusting between riders — and it’s a really smooth mechanism.  Well done.  At the same time, you would think that they would have thought to provide some default markings, even some 1-inch ticks, to help each rider quickly locate his or her proper seat height.  As you can see below, Tern took the time to put a “Max Insert” marking on it, so it couldn’t have cost much more to add something to help the user out here.  I haven’t had a ride yet where I didn’t have to stop and readjust the seatpost since I lack an indicator.

If you can mark one height, why not more?

Verdict

This sounds pretty negative, and I really am disappointed to find these kinds of problems given the money we spent.

That said, the bike is otherwise incredible.  Seriously.  We love the ride, we love the look, we love essentially everything else about it.  It’s hard (for me especially) to set aside the poor manufacturing on the finish, the poor execution on a safety mechanism, and the head-scratching omissions … but when it’s all said and done I guess I can.  I ride it with a smile on my face, and when people ask me about it around campus or in the city parks I usually talk in glowing terms.

Would I buy it again if I had the chance?

Yes. I think I would.

And if that’s not enough of a review for you, perhaps the following shot of my wife will do. A smile is worth something, no?

The Wife, happy on the Tern!

8 Replies

  1. #1 by Gerardo “Sam” Wuhl - April 12th, 2012 at 19:51

    First, the bike should have arrived to you with a little bag with 2 safety pins, so you must call ThorUsa and tell them to send them to you.

    Second, you should have received a couple of extra plastic stickers like the one you´ve described, so don´t forget to ask for them when you call for the safety pins.

    Third, I´m sorry for the paint blemmish, but in every bike can happend. Anyway, I think in your country you are entitled to send the bike back for a refund or another one…

    I´m not trying to say that your review is wrong. I consider you´ve been fair and your review is really good, but the seller should tell you about the safety pin in first place, and send you the things I´ve told you. Is not the bike company who “forgot” to do the things in the right way.

    Greetings from a Link D8 owner in Uruguay, South America. :)

  2. #2 by Michael Livingston - April 12th, 2012 at 20:32

    @Gerardo “Sam” Wuhl Thanks for writing, Sam. And awesome to hear from Uruguay!

    Another reader sent me a note pointing me toward the Tern forums, where the pin issue is discussed. I made a post there echoing some of what I say here.

    Reading through the comments on that forum thread, I did indeed learn about the extra pin and how to install it. Good for me to have a fix, I guess, but in some ways that makes the issue more problematic from Tern’s perspective. As I wrote there:

    Reading over the posts here I can see now that Tern did (to their credit, I guess?) recognize that the pin won’t stand up to use and so included an extra. But I can’t get my head around why it wasn’t a stronger part in the first place? And if you are fully expecting that customers will snap these silly little things — which Tern obviously is, since they sent the replacement up front — then why on Earth are there no instructions on how to do so? For that matter, why is there no indication that the customer has an extra among the miscellaneous things in the little loose bag?

    All that said, I don’t want to complain about this too much, because if you take away these issues the bike is fantastic.

    In fact, it probably says a lot positive about the bike that despite these issues I love it so much! :)

  3. #3 by Michael Livingston - April 12th, 2012 at 22:00

    As a follow-up, I took a look and did eventually find the “missing” plastic sticker. Thanks for giving me a reason to search, Sam. It had apparently fallen during shipping and was stuck to the front fork. Alas, it has lost its stickiness and I can’t get it to move to its proper place. Never did see any extras. :(

    Also, I replaced the broken pin using the replacement part I didn’t know I had until today. I tried to follow the instructions that Thor posted on the Tern forum. For anyone else who tries this, here are some more specific instructions:

    1. Locate the recessed allen screw hidden underneath the front of what Thor calls the “steering pod.” He says this is a 2 mm allen head. I used a 5/64″ head. Close enough.

    2. Loosen it until the metal cylinder holding the base of the latch’s big lever can be pushed free. It pushed one way easier than the other for me.

    3. Loosen the allen bolt in the middle of the copper-colored sliding safety latch. Thor says 2mm again, but I used a 3/32″ this time.

    4. The broken pin will fall out, along with the spring behind it.

    5. Put the spring back in, followed by the new pin, making sure that the “rounded” side of the head is pointing out at you and that the “notched” side is hidden against the latch.

    6. Reattach the works, being careful to line things up so you don’t strip anything out.

    7. Be sure that the latch is adjusted correctly so that the pin can clear the metal “catch” as it swings into place.

  4. #4 by Angelo - May 17th, 2012 at 02:07

    hi michael,

    thanks for the great review of this bike. i’m also considering buying the same model from ThorUSA and was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me.

    you mentioned ‘There was a bit of work to do to put it together the first time, but it wasn’t much at all. ‘ what type of assembly was needed on your part or was it just a matter of unfolding the bike and that’s it? did you need to tune it in anyway? i know Thor offers a VIP service that includes tuning, etc. and was wondering if i should spend the extra $50 for it.

    how has the bike held up after having it for a month or so – any problems or complaints?

    i’m in los angeles and was wondering how long it took for the bike to reach you?

    thanks for your time!

    Angelo

  5. #5 by Michael Livingston - May 19th, 2012 at 11:25

    I believe ThorUSA had done a “tune up” on the bike (and I did not pay extra for it). Certainly I’ve done nothing of the kind. The assembly was doing things like screwing on the pedals, inserting the seat post … quick and easy.

    No problems or complaints other than the issues mentioned above.

    And I’ve no idea about travel times to you. Sorry. Depends on too many factors. It was less than a week to me, if I recall correctly.

  6. #6 by Juan - April 1st, 2013 at 16:10

    Hello Michael,

    Thanks for your nice review of your new bike. I just bough a Tern myself a couple of weeks ago and I also share the same happyness when I ride it. However, the “max insert” mark on the seatpost seems to low for me. Have you tried to use it higher than that mark? I would really appreciate your answer because I’m a little bit worried about that. Thanks, Juan (from Buenos Aires, Argentina)

    • #7 by Michael Livingston - April 11th, 2013 at 13:11

      No I haven’t, Juan. My guess would be that as long as it feels stable it’ll be okay, but I really don’t know enough about the engineering of the bike to know for sure.

  7. #8 by Bas Rutgers - May 31st, 2014 at 09:39

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the review. I’m thinking about buying this bike and your story is very helpful.

    @ Juan, I think that the max insert mark is to prevent the seat post to stick out of the bottom during cycling and it would be okay to use the seat on a higher setting.

    Greetings from The Netherlands

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