Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tern Swoop: a Commute-Ready Folder

Tern Swoop
While we are on the subject of small wheel bicycles, I wanted to share my impressions of the Tern Swoop, which is due to hit bike stores in the US any day now. I test rode the Swoop at the Interbike Outdoor Demo earlier this year. This was the first Tern bicycle I've tried.

Outdoor Demo
Tern is a Taiwanese manufacturer of folding bikes, whose 2011 launch was filled with drama. The company is owned by the son and wife of the owner of Dahon. When they left Dahon to set up Tern, the feud and back-and-forth lawsuits that followed fed the industry rumor mill for some time. But it seems that Tern is here to stay. Their initial models were met with positive reviews. Now in their second year of production, they've expanded their lineup, and that is how I encountered the Swoop. 

Tern Swoop
The Tern Swoop is an ultra low step-over model, optimised for commuting in comfort. Specs include an aluminum frame, hi-ten steel fork, 20" wheels with fat tires, v-brakes, racks and lighting, and a quick and easy fold. The bike I rode was the Di7 model, which features a Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub. There is also a SRAM 2-speed Duo model. 

Tern Swoop
The Swoop is a commuter-ready bike. The low stepover makes it easy to mount and dismount for everyone. The fenders and chainguard will keep clothing clean. The wide tires (Schwalbe Big Apples) make for a cushy ride. The generously sized rear rack and built-in cords allow for easy transport of luggage. In addition to the rear rack, there is a luggage socket into which a klick-fix adapter can be installed. This system works with a variety of front bags and baskets.  

Tern Swoop
The bike also comes equipped with dynamo lighting, powered by the BioLogic Joule 3 generator hub. This hub has an on/off switch on the side, which is said to eliminate drag ("...in the 'off' position, the magnets are pulled away from the core of the hub"). 

Tern Swoop
The Swoop's positioning is relaxed and upright, with the flat, ever-so-slightly curved back handlebars set quite high for all but the tallest riders.

Tern Swoop
I rode the Swoop around the Outdoor Demo loop a few times, as well as on dirt for a bit. In total this amounted to 2-3 miles, including some uphill stretches. The bike felt comfortable and relaxed, not unlike a full sized European city bike. The fat tires drowned out bumps very nicely. Unlike some of the other non-Brompton folding bikes I've tried, the Tern Swoop felt pleasantly un-flimsy. I did not sense any play in the fold joints, nor did I feel flex in the frame while cycling. The ride quality was stable and novice-friendly. The bike cannot be called sporty exactly, but it rode faster than its looks suggest, and the gearing was low enough to make the uphill stretches painless, as well as to handle more serious inclines if need be. 

As far as comparing it to my Brompton, the Swoop is a more relaxed and upright bike. It rode a bit slower, and somewhat less maneuverably. Without a front load, the steering felt considerably more "normal" than Brompton's distinct (some say "twitchy") steering. 

One thing I should note, is that visually the Tern Swoop resembles the Dahon Ciao, which I have not tried. Tern's claim is that the Swoop is a stiffer ride, eliminating flex in the frame, folding joint, and "handlepost." Among other differences is the Swoop's carry handle, and slightly faster fold.

Outdoor Demo
Tern representative Eric Mah demonstrated the fold for the camera, and I also tried it myself. The process is similar to Brompton's, so it felt familiar and intuitive. 

Tern Swoop
The folded size, however, is considerably larger than Brompton's (Brompton: 23" x 22.2" x 10.6"; Tern Swoop: 31.1" x 28.3"x 15"). At over 30lb, the Swoop is also noticeably heavier than a similarly equipped all-steel Brompton (which, according to the CleverCycles configurator, would come in at 26lb, including dynamo lighting and rear carrier). As the Brompton is already borderline for my being able to carry it comfortably for longer than a minute at a time; I would struggle trying to do so with the larger and heavier Tern. That said, Terns are still among the most compact and lightest folding bikes.

Tern Swoop
The announced retail price for the Swoop is in the $900-$1,150 range, including the rear rack and lighting. The solid build, stable ride, ultra low stepover, commuter-ready features, and easy foldability make it worth considering for those seeking a compact urban transport bike. Overall, the Swoop seems to be a good value. I am curious to see how it will be received once it hits the bike shops.

32 comments:

  1. We have tern nesting sites close by, very cool bird.

    Dahon is just jealous Tern is more innovative and seems to be a more solid product.

    I rode the Joe and Link, was very impressed by the build quality, lack of play and multiple ingenious little touches.

    Unfortunately this bike will have a tough time I think. Seems like a quality piece but let's face it, so many people think of small-wheeled ultra low step frames as for little old ladies, which is fine but I can't see the arthritic-hipped coming out in droves to buy these at current pricing. It's kind of in no-man's land it seems. Slightly more you get a very nice Brommie. Less...and you get a Schwinn for like $300, which seems like a good deal for septuagenarian soup jaunts.

    It's useful to compare small-wheeled bikes to others, even non-folders, I think. Just to get a sense of what they can/can't do.

    Oh yeah the Tern luggage and integrated rack are pretty trick but I am not understanding how one carries things efficiently on it, as the trunk bag has little capacity. Panniers out of the question, seat bag but you can put that on any old bike. Maybe some sort of vertical backpack-style thing. Of course there's the front, but the weight capacity isn't huge. Just thinking out loud...

    It's interesting they encased the bb around the frame in order to attain a very low step over, whereas the Paper Bike did the opposite for different reasons.

    The off mode of the generator hub is genius.



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    1. Maybe with less expensive dynamo hubs drag is an issue worth addressing.

      Drag is not an issue with the Schmidt SON.

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    2. It is debatable whether drag is an issue with the Schmidt SON. But that aside, yes I am sure the BioLogic Joule hub was made to compete with lower-end versions. I also remember reading that is is meant to be commuter/city bike specific, though not sure what that means exactly.

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    3. Yesterday, on a 65 degree road ride, cruising up the main boulevard I was blown away, yet again, how efficient a really good road bike is. 28mph, light tailwind, seemingly no chain.

      This is what I've been harping about forever: any drag is bad when you don't need it. Once accustomed to it you work within what's comfortable. Taken away your limits are higher. This kind of hub, if it works, is the best of both worlds, weight and aero aside.

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    4. Commuter / City Bike Specific sounds like market - speak for not recommended for longer rides.

      I've ridden my Schmidt dynamo bike with lights out on rides in conditions and at speeds as I have my Campy and MaxiCar hub bikes.

      I have not discerned a difference that would make me want to give up the proven reliability of the Schmidt having seen so many of the other competitors fail.

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    5. Re GRJ original comment:

      The bikes in this price range do run the risk of being in no man's land. But one target market I can think of is women who want a compact step-through bike as their main commuter without necessarily folding/unfolding it on a regular basis. In that sense, the fat tires are a huge asset, addressing complaints of harshness. The lighting and the built-in carry capacity, such as it is, offer the additional benefit of making this bike ready-to-ride. Will they go for it, I don't know, but it would be a logical (and in my view not unattractive) option for many a city dweller.

      As far as $300 folders, I will try to find a Schwinn Loop and compare. I've seen a few being ridden around here, veeeerrrrrryyyy slooooowwwwly.

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    6. Now that the "I have to have it because Dutch girls have it!" movement is somewhat subsiding, perhaps there will be a move to more practicality-for-the-individual. Or Vogue will say it's super cute, one or the other.

      The loop is $222, apparently, FOUR STARS on Amazon! It seems the Loop is just a big balance bike for adults. Paddle paddle scoot. Hey I'm not hatin.

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    7. Matthew - I could not tell the difference between riding my roadbike with a SON front wheel vs not either. I'm just saying that's not indicative of whether there is in fact some small amount of drag. Anyhow, I don't want to turn this into a general dyno hub debate. Before we know it someone will bust out the charts and graphs showing comparison tests and it will be the same conversation all over again.

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  2. "Tern is a Taiwanese manufacturer of folding bikes"

    The whole ownership situation between Dahon China / Global / North American and Tern is very complicated: http://16incheswestofpeoria.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/after-the-launch-josh-hon-of-tern-bicycles-talks-business-folding-bikes-and-the-genius-of-in-n-out-burger/

    Read the comments from Dahon (North America) and John Hon (Tern) https://16incheswestofpeoria.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/trouble-at-dahon-leads-to-new-folding-bike-company/

    I'm not sure if Tern is mainly a Taiwanese company, or USA based, or truly global. After an hour of searching, I'm still not sure.

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    1. In the 16inches interview Josh Hon states: "My mother and I together own 100 percent of Dahon Global, a Taiwan-based company... My father manages Dahon China and Dahon North America." He then explains that Tern was developed out of Dahon Global, and uses their infrastructure. My understanding from speaking to them, is that Tern is a Taiwan-based company, with global distribution and factories in Taiwan, the Czech Republic, and Macau. If I learn anything to contradict this, I will update with whatever the correct info is.

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  3. I bought a Tern folding bike last August. The bike looked great and it was lovely to ride. Unfortunately it rattled too much and when folded the two magnetic discs didn't stay attached. In order to carry it I had to use additional straps to keep the bike folded. I was so disappointed I had to return the bike to the shop for a refund. I now have a Brompton and my wife a Birdy, both have been great purchases.

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  4. What is the price difference between this bike and the 26lb similarly equipped Brompton?

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    1. Looks like a steel 6-speed Brompton with fenders, rear rack, basic dynamo lighting and basic paint would be around $1,700.

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  5. Yes - birds: Velouria, have you ever gotten your hands on a Birdy? A friend of mine rides one as his everyday bike, and it came with lights and rack, too. He totally loves it and usually puts two small Ortlieb rollers on the racks - no problem.

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    1. Nope. I have never even seen one in the US, though I know NYCE wheels sells them.

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  6. Looks nice. I like the chaincase, wish Brompton could manage something to cover the chain, and I like the rear rack a lot better. On my old Dahon the rear rack was great for those clip-on Basil baskets. When you got to your destination, you could easily unclip the basket and carry it on a bus, train or whatever. It worked with the Brompton (sorta) but the rear Brompton rack is somewhat weirdly-shaped to accomodate the fold.

    That said, Brommie still has the best fold overall, but this Tern looks to be improving on Dahon's weaknesses. They should address the "stay folded" issue though, that really bugged me when trying to carry the magnetic-closure folders for any amount of time. You need a bungee to keep them secured.

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  7. Anons 10:24 and 1:58 - Thanks for sharing re the closure issues; this is not the sort of thing I could have noticed during a trade show test ride.

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    1. The magnetic closure system isn't extremely strong and I'd been thinking about it since summer, when I rode them. This was the though, "Josh Hon is a very smart guy, his bikes are really clever. He wouldn't let this be a deal breaker."

      I just now went to google (where the heck else does one go for answers?) and found this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-cpWhKiR3c

      It holds the wheels together through gravity. So there you go.

      The rest is just...technique.

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  8. "visually the Tern Swoop resembles the Dahon Ciao..."

    Resembles? Looks like the same bike to me. Why bother reengineering the frame only to imitate the look?

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    1. Intellectual property rights squabble is the result. Josh Dahon has driven design and R&D at Dahon for 20 years, according to the 16 article. It's his design, basically.

      As a parallel example, my bro is sending me a Google Nexus 7, whose voice recognition kills Siri, but has been somewhat neutered by Apple's intellectual property rights lawsuits. It's just a move to kill competition. The iPad's tech/interface gap just got a lot smaller. Same with Dahon/Tern

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    2. "design and research"
      bloody hell.

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    3. Right. The thing to understand (Anon) is that they are not imitating Dahon, they are Dahon (Dahon Global) and those are their own designs. The son wanted to take engineering in a specific direction and the father did not. So the son separated his part of the company to tweak the designs as he saw fit, renaming it in the process.

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  9. Nice looking fold. Seems to be an improvement over my old Dahon's fold. Still, I love how easy it is to roll my Brompton on to the train. Can the fold Tern be easily rolled? Like you, I can't carry my Brompton very far, especially if I have a full pannier with me.

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    1. In the video link posted by GRJim above, another Tern model is being shown rolled along using the bike's actual wheels. The Swoop's fold appears to be the same.

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  10. I have a Dahon from the 80's that I took to Hong Kong with me. It is all stainless steel, 3 speed sturmey archer hub in the back. I rode it 25 miles through the New Territories, on the freeway (by accident!) and all over Mong Kok and Hong Kong Island. It rode amazingly well and was comfortable the whole time. I think it would give any new folding bike a run for its money. By the way, I packed it in a standard hard shell suitcase, and it came in at 47 lbs total weight, so I did not have to pay extra. Nobody probably had any idea it was even a bicycle in the suitcase!

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    1. I've heard good things about older Dahon bikes. My impressions of the ones I tried in 2009-2011 (I forget the model names) were not confidence inspiring. The ride quality was harsh and I could feel play in the fold joints and stem. I would love to try an older steel one; I see them parked around town once in a while and they look interesting.

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  11. What is the cheapest, rideable folder available? Single speed is fine. Weight not an issue; more interested in durability and a riding position acceptable for up to 10 miles one way. There are so many models out there that it is hard to make an informed decision.

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    1. I would say any folder is rideable. Durability probably correlates with price. Riding position is personal so probably only you know.

      For cheap folding bikes, I suggest going to a boat supply store and ask to try one out.

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    2. having you tried contacting nycewheels and bfold, both located in new york? i've never done business with them, but during my research into purchasing a brompton, the two business kept popping up as reputable folding bike experts. i've personally had good experience with clever cycles in oregon. hope that helps.

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    3. this is a question difficult to answer without knowing more about you. what is your budget? is a quick fold important to you? what about carrying capacity? again, i would refer you to bike shops that specialize in folding bikes. they may also ask you for your height and weight to help match you with a bike that meets your needs.

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  12. Those photos nicely illustrate the thought and care given to bike infrastructure in many parts of the world.

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