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:
- 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.
- 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 box alone was pretty cool, for whatever that’s worth. With excitement, I peeked inside:
Huzzah! I lifted it out carefully…
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:
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.
… 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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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?