A conversation with a Tern

Interview

A tern, or more specifically an Arctic Tern, isn't something you would think of, if asked to describe bicycles. For that matter, folding bikes and birds are rarely put in the same context or sentence but that is exactly where you will find Tern Bicycles...

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The bird is beautiful, sleek and fast. It travels far, 70,900km per year, it flies as well as it glides through the air, performing almost all of its tasks airborne. Tern Bicycles have the ability to be taken far and perhaps glide through the air whilst doing so – the bicycles are well designed, sleek like their namesake, and the logo nicely depicts the form of the bird, in a graphic style.

Folding bikes are curious items to me; their place/purpose in the cycling world is best fitted to that of the space conscious commuter. At the same time these bikes are very interesting to look at, with their unique angles and singular tube designs. Folding bikes first appeared in 1900, when Mikael Pedersen developed a folding bicycle for the British Army. Like a lot of technology, the folding bike’s roots are in warfare! Although cycling troops proved to be unpopular, the folding bike wasn’t. There have been many folding bicycle designs since their conception, some daft, some good and very few with great design ethics. One of those few with good design ethics is Tern.

Tern is relatively new as a brand and I first saw their bikes last year. I was very impressed with the Verge range and in particular, the Verge Duo. This is where aesthetics meets utilitarian needs, something I find compelling. So compelling, I contacted Tern to find out more about the brand and who they are. What initially intrigued me was the Taiwanese connection, as they’re based in Taipei. I live in Taiwan and have a strong sense of pride for and towards Taiwan but the perception of bicycle manufacturing is fairly negative and I’m keen to put that myth to bed. But I didn’t really get the answer to that question. I got a better answer, to be honest.

Mark Bickerton, who represents Tern in the UK, answered my questions and here is what he had to say:

Tern is a new-comer to the bike industry, what do they hope to offer/deliver?

Tern is a new brand, but it comes with a design team that has been working on folding bikes for many years. So whilst it is a new brand, new company and visually different from what we were working on before, it comes with benefit of the combined resource of about 75 people who have been designing, making and selling premium folding bikes for at least the last 15 years. We are offering/delivering the best bikes that fold into the global market.

As a Taiwanese company do you see design as important?

We may be based in Taiwan, but we have a team of people involved in design based all over the world. Design is absolutely key to our company. We innovate, design and put into production great bikes that utilise the latest technology on both frames and specifications, plus we have a dedicated team of four in the art dept, who are totally integrated into our product design team, to ensure that our finished designs do not have to rely only on good engineering principles, but also artistic merit and so look great as well as function well. This is taken from our “about us” statement:

We are Diverse. In the age of the Internet and open borders, people and ideas are co-mingling with stunning speed. Our company is a reflection of this diverse new world, a richly chaotic crash of different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultural backgrounds, that ensures that our point of view is seasoned by many different kinds of eyes and our product, tested in all kinds of conditions. We have team members throughout the world, in offices in Taipei, Taiwan; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Humboldt, California; Bend, Oregon; London, England; Turku, Finland; Stuttgart, Germany; Shanghai, China;  and Schaffhausen, Switzerland — just about every time zone. Twenty-four hours a day, in some part of the world, we are designing, testing, and riding our product.

Should Taiwanese bicycle companies be looking to come out of the shadows of OEMs?

We are not what you might call a “Taiwanese” company. We are global in outlook and brand oriented. We could be based anywhere in the world. We are headquartered in Taiwan. And we do a lot of our development work and manufacturing in Taiwan. But we also have multiple offices and teams located in the US and Europe. And most of our upper management hails from the US. So we consider ourselves a global company that is a very healthy mix of different cultures, languages and perspectives on bicycle usage.

Tern has high design values, where do these come from?

Where do our design values come from? From our team. Josh Hon [one of the founders of Tern] and our designers are original thinkers. Our products absolutely lead the field in folding bike design. To make a folding bike is much harder than making a conventional bike, so we work much harder at achieving a new design than most bike companies. To do this successfully requires not just resource, training and skill, but inspiration and originality.

Who is involved?

Who is involved? That list of locations [left] tells you a lot… the team is diverse as we say… with General Management, Product Managers, Production, Shipping, Sales and Marketing based in Taiwan, the Art Dept is largely based in the USA, Head of Design in Finland, me in the UK, a team of people including design, PR and after sales in Germany, Production in China and our Engineering Guru in Switzerland. We have satellite offices in USA, Finland, Germany and UK.

Why is a folding bike so difficult to produce?

Folding bikes are so much more complicated because you not only have to make a frame that will ride well, but they also have to fold up well.

This means critical geometry for the folding function, which requires very accurate manufacture. This is very difficult to do well, and is one of the main reasons why our team has been able to stay ahead of the field for so many years, by attention to detail and all the checks and balances at the right times and in the right places. I cannot go into specifics, except to say that without the diligence applied to design and production control, our bikes would not be functionally as good as they are.

Why are is Tern called Tern? 

I am sure we should have some official answer to this, but I can tell you that it is connected with the Arctic Tern, which migrates from North to South and back again very year covering about 70,000 km. It is nimble in flight, lightweight yet strong, a beautiful looking bird and could be interpreted as a bellweather for the climate and pollution. It is a four letter word which works well in all languages, indeed Terns are found all across the globe.

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