Searching for a folding bike
About a year ago, I had the need for a folding bike to commute to work on. If you’ve ever stayed somewhere with no bike storage and up a couple of flights of stairs, you’ll understand the appeal of being able to fold a bike, rather than struggle to manhandle a full-size machine.
If I asked you to name a folding bike manufacturer off of the top of your head, I’m certain you’d say ‘Brompton’. That’s where my search started. Sadly, finances dictated that the Brompton was out, so my search continued. That’s when I came across Tern.
Tern is a relatively new brand, run by the ex-wife and son of the founder of Dahon. They have a range of no less than 28 folding bikes, some of which look remarkably like those in the Dahon range and undercut most of them on price significantly.
Tern sell their bikes on the their N-Fold technology. This rotates the front wheel 180 degrees, while keeping the handlebar facing straight. They have described their design as “very intuitive” and claim that it “takes about 10 seconds” to unfold the bike. I’d be putting this to the test.
Tern bikes, as with Dahon, have a greater range of wheel sizes than the standard 16″ Brompton, and it was this that drove it’s appeal.
Enter the Tern Link D-8.
Described by Tern as the Jack of All Trades in the range, the D8 is designed as an everyday travel companion – great on the road, and small and light enough to take on public transport.
The frame of the bike is Aluminium and it’s driven by a dérailleur based, grip shift 8-speed transmission. It rides on 20″ wheels and weighs 12.1 kg (26.7 lb). The bike comes complete with full mudguards and a Biologic rear rack (which is compatible with KLICfix bags) which are very useful on a commuter. You can also mount luggage on the front via the luggage socket.
The 2013 model of the Link D8 comes in at £435 at Evans Cycles. This is actually £40 cheaper than the 2012 model.
As mentioned the bike uses Tern’s N-Fold technology which results in a faster, and more compact fold. N-Fold Technology includes new frame and handle post geometries and spins the front wheel by 180 degrees before the central fold. All of this results in a fold that’s not a great deal larger than that of a traditional 16″ wheeled bike.
To fold the Tern Link D8 bike, you simply disengage the mid-frame catch, fold the bike in half while rotating the front wheel. You then disengage the handle post catch and fold the bars down, finishing off by lowering the seat and (optionally) folding the pedals. It’s just about possible to do it with one hand and really is simplicity itself – nothing to unscrew like a Brompton, and nothing to go wrong.
Riding the Tern Link D8
One of the key selling points of the bike is the 20″ wheel size. As I am sure you know, bigger wheels traditionally mean a better ride – especially on the rough, potholed roads we have in London. The bike certainly does have a smooth ride, and rolls really fast for a folding bike – many times I’ve passed lycra clad commuters on carbon bikes much to their surprise! There are gears that allow you to get some speed up, and enough to ensure that you don’t run out of gears when the terrain gets really lumpy.
Living with the Link D8
I’ve lived with the Tern Link D8 for the last year, and put close to 1000 miles on it in total, so what has it been like?
Well, its on road manners are surprisingly full-size bike like. I’ve never noticed any instability from the front-end, and the rear of the bike is planted even in the worst conditions. It really is a nice ride.
The fold is simple – it really does take the advertised 10 seconds once you’re used to it – and the folded size is not bad at all. The Tern Link D8 is pretty light, although as with any folder I wouldn’t want to carry it too far!
I’ve had a few punctures – to be expected on city roads – and changing the tubes is as easy a job as on any road bike, and general maintenance requires no specialist tools beyond a normal road bike.
The rack has proved very useful with its integrated bungy cords, often I’ve strapped a bag of shopping on the back and its remained resolutely secure.
All in all, the D8 has been a good introduction to folding bikes for me, but it has not been without its problems…
Problems with the Link D8
Having been complimentary about the fold size and method, I do have a couple of criticisms. The first – and most important – is that the 2 halves of the bike are secured by nothing more than a small magnet when folded. This is fine when the bike is sat stationary in your hallway, but it falls apart with alarming regularity when negotiating stairs and public transport. Many times I’d almost dropped the bike as the 2 halves separated and unbalanced the whole package! This is a real downside to the folding system in my eyes.
The other issue is that the chain and dérailleur are on the outside of the folded package. This results in you constantly having to worry about not brushing it against your (or other people’s) legs for fear of oily marks on your trousers. Again, this is a potential show-stopper for a folding bike in my eyes.
A more abstract criticism of the bike in general is that it ‘lacks character’. Depending on how you look at it, this might actually be a positive, but to me it rides too much like a normal bike and has no unique character of its own.
If like me, you like your bike to stay clean, the Tern Link D8 is probably not the bike for you. The frame structure makes keeping it clean very difficult. It has a lot of recesses and cross members that trap filth and are hard to get a brush or cloth into. It is a little thing, and I realise that this won’t bother a lot of people, but to me it means the bike looks ‘used’ very quickly.
I would also say that the range of gears provided (12-32T rear cassette) are unnecessarily wide for a folder. I find myself using no more than the smallest 3 cogs 99% of the time which would indicate that a hub gear might be a better option – and an option that would be easier to maintain.
The Tern Link D8 is certainly an attractive prospect at an attractive price point – under half that of a Brompton – but it’s not without its problems.
If you are looking for a folding bike that primarily rides well and is well priced then you could do an awful lot worse than the Link D8.
If however, if its true practicality – and a touch of character – that you are looking for most of all then it is probably not the bike for you.
The Tern is available at Evans Cycles for £435 for the 2013 model.Tern Link D8 at Evans Cycles
What’s good about it?
- Price – under half that of a Brompton
- Wheel-size gives a smooth and composed ride
- The fold is very simple and very fast
- Comes with everything you need for city riding
- Easy and cheap to maintain
What’s bad about it?
- Fold is not very secure
- Fold leaves the oily bits on the outside
- Lacks character
- Hard to keep clean
- Dérailleur gears not really well suited to the bike
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.