folding bicycles fit into a particular and specific niche that mostly concerns the commuter. rather obviously they have to conveniently and quickly fold and unfold while providing a tolerable degree of rigidity, yet require to be of a weight that promotes the very portability that is the kernel of their existence. tern's verge range offers a series of folding bicycles with twenty-inch wheels, the x18 pretty much at the top of the tree and the only member of the clan featuring drop bars and shimano sti levers. the folding factor is rather robustly catered for by two remarkably sturdy levers: one at the base of the steering column and another towards the rear of the curved and fluted aluminium frame. both of the levers offer impressive resistance to being opened, once the red sliding locks have been negotiated. rather than find this something of a travesty, i could only but be reassured that there was very little chance of either inadvertantly disengaging themselves while in motion.
the frame consists of a substantial single beam that curves downward from front to rear, splitting into two seatstays as it passes the large diameter and particularly tall seatpost. this is held in place by a quick-release lever allowing it to be dropped out the end of the short seat tube and offer extra stability when the bike is folded. the stem or steerer is a smoothly industrial piece of polished alloy that drops at an odd angle to the perpendicular when folded. i'm pretty sure that the height of this cannot be adjusted up or down, but in the interests of my personal safety, i made no attempt to find out. the drop bars are held in place by a custom-made syntace two-piece stem that can be altered through an impressive range of angles to suit the rider. i left it precisely where it was on arrival because it suited me just fine thank you very much. the tern tarsus fork offers both visible and physical rigidity coupled with headset bearings that made steering pretty much trouble free.
on a bicycle costing well in excess of £1500 it came as something of a surprise to find shimano sora sti levers. however, in mitigation, there is a solid reason for this. in order that those 20 inch wheels might accommodate an appropriate set of gears, the smallest sprocket features a tiny nine teeth, necessitating the use of a shimano capreo rear hub, a component that currently only accepts a nine-speed cassette. with the upper ranges of the shimano catalogue having all shifted (pardon the pun) to ten or eleven speed, sora is the only one left offering the facility for nine. the front gear mech is also from the sora range (hardly an iniquitous situation), but the verge's dignity is preserved through the use of an ultegra rear mech. the shiny, polished brake calipers are made by the same folks (american classic) that produce those deep rim alloy wheels with the rolf look-alike paired spoking pattern at front and a two-cross drive side, radial non-drive at the rear. these were shod with a pair of schwalbe durano 28mm tyres, though it's worth my pointing out that the inner tubes need to have 60mm presta valve stems to clear the deeper rims.
the bottom bracket from fsa sits inside a tube curving downwards from the main frame, holding onto a 53/39 fsa chainset. married to the 9-26 tooth cassette this provided a perfectly usable 28" - 109" gear range. should you wish to carry luggage on your speedy commute, the inside faces of those swooping seatstays feature a couple of allen bolts to which a small rack could be fitted, though i've no idea how the foldability would be affected. the saddle perched atop that incredibly long seatpost was provided by kore. attached to the right side of the front fork and the left-side of the rear are two magnetic discs that keep the whole shebang together when folded. the process of so doing takes only a few minutes, and is something that would undoubtedly be accomplished quicker the more often you did it. it would be advantageous for the permanent owner of any of the tern folders to place an indelible mark on the seatpost to aid height adjustment when reassembling.
while some folding bicycles arrive with pedals that can be flipped up when folding, the tern arrives with two adapters in place on the fsa cranks, accompanying a pair of specially adapted pedals that simply push into place. to release the pedals and avoid scraping unwary ankles during the commute, it's a simple matter of removing a plastic circlip and sliding the retainer towards the crank to release the pedal. for the bulk of the review, however, i opted to fit a pair of crank brothers candy pedals in order to use cleated shoes. if you follow suit, always make sure you know where you left the pedals and adapters. there is also provision for a bottle cage on the top of the frame's main beam.
folding the bike is relatively simple. unhooking the steering column folds it at an angle to the perpendicular, allowing the front wheel to be turned in towards the frame. unlocking and releasing the frame clip folds the front of the bike towards the back, those two magnets lining up to keep everything securely together. it's then an easy matter of dropping the seatpost till the base hits the ground (gently) and locking it in place. the whole bike can then be lifted and carried into or out of buses, cars or trains. granted, though it's a relatively light bike, you wouldn't want to carry it too far.
let's face it, bicycles of this genre were hardly conceived in order to alleviate the strain of a rural commute. the bus service up here is so infrequent that it's way simpler to ride from point of departure to destination than to stand patiently at a bus stop. nor is there any great demand to ride to the likes of kentish town underground, fold the bike, swipe the oyster card and pop through the attended gates provided for those with luggage, buggies or, as in this case, a folding bicycle. however, from my point of view and perhaps from that of tern's uk distributors, paligap, sending it up here for a holiday was the ideal way of assessing its versatility.
i will readily confess that the only time the tern inhabited its folding stance was in order to allow the snapping of a few photos. for the rest of its holiday, there really was no need.
islay is comprised of acres and acres of sky, complemented by a similar level of wide-open spaces mostly linked with a faltering network of badly surfaced roads. considering its agricultural heritage and the fact that tractors are not getting any smaller, scrabbly tarmac ought surely to be considered our birthright, rather than an iniquity to be suffered. however, tiny twenty-inch alloy wheels favouring a deep rimmed configuration could hardly be expected to offer the most comfortable means of traversing the aforementioned roads. oddly, nothing could have been further from the truth.
my first ride on what several people assumed was a kid's bike (?) truly took the form of a commute. yes, i can but admit to its being directly from home to debbie's and back, but rest assured there was a specific purpose other than to sup froth and eat cake (actually, a double egg roll). in order to remain as near to business-like as possible, i fitted the stylish quill pedals and wore my leather brogues as well as civilian garb. in this manner, that kore saddle wasn't exactly the best option, even when wearing a pair of padded boxers under my trousers (i know, too much information).
i had no need to alter the angle of the syntace stem; the cockpit space was pretty much spot on straight from the box. despite any snobbery over the spec of nine-speed sora levers, their function was pretty much unimpeachable throughout the review period. after a couple of cable tweaks to set the gears, they worked just hunky dory from beginning to end. as a commuting bicycle, it fulfilled its function impeccably, though i'm pretty sure i'd replace the saddle if it were mine.
that is not, however, to disparage the saddle unreservedly. in more regular mode, when dressed as an escapee from the peloton and wearing bibshorts, it was every bit as good as anything else on the market. while scooting along in the midst of the sunday ride peloton, forget to look down at the tiny wheels and you'd all but forget their size. though it might seem like an odd thing to say, the tern rode every bit as well as a regular bicycle. trammeling the highways and byeways, punctuated every so often by a cattle grid, the only real reminder of the tern's folding capabilities was the incessant rattling of the magnetic disk fitted to the rear dropout. irritating is too kind a word. however, any owner could tape it up to preserve his/her sanity.
one of these days i'm going to invent a regulated system of scientifically measuring a bike's chuckability. the tern offers a great deal more than i'd expected, though given my limited experience of such machines, perhaps i prejudged it too harshly. avoiding potholes and agricultural dollops that might hinder pelotonic progress was simplicity itself, to the extent that, by the time the review period was ending, the tern felt as if it was doing so of its own volition. i did have fears (unfounded as it turned out) over the safety of the schwalbe durano tyres. big rubber shrugs off most of the hebridean unevenness, but for no particular reason, i'd thought these little blighters might struggle. i was wrong.
despite the brake calipers being unbranded (kinetix), their efficacy was pretty much beyond doubt. pressure and modulation were more than ideal and stopping power was quite incredible. admittedly it's possible that twenty-inch wheels require proportionately less friction applied than 700c, but nonetheless, i managed to lock the back wheel on more than one occasion until i got the hang of how much of a handful was needed.
the only difficulty i can foresee related to the wheel/tyre combination is a perceived diffculty in obtaining twenty-inch inner tubes with a 60mm valve stem. those packed in my saddle pack looked as if they'd just clear the edge of the deep rim and i was banking on the hose from my mini-pump having appropriate tenacity to grasp the endge of the valve. fortunately, i never had to find out.
deep-rimmed wheels don't always fare too well up here due to the preponderance of very strong crosswinds. very much in their favour, the little wheels were often almost the same height as the roadside verges, thus protecting them from the inquities of gusting winds. i can honestly relate that they behaved every bit as well as a regular pair of rims. though i'm mindful of the fact that these were hardly designed to cope with the wide-open spaces of scotland's west coast. the fact that they did with aplomb speaks very highly in their favour.
if there was anything that marked out the verge x-18 as slightly left of field, it was when climbing the steeper portions of islay's roads. standing up to climb, even when in commuter mode with the quill pedals was far more stable than i'd expected, but perhaps due to marginally less rigidity than a normal bike, i found myself lagging slightly on the ascents. it's also the only point at which being bounced about by less than billiard flat surfaces seemed to affect forward progress. don't misunderstand me; the variation was slight, but noticeable nonetheless.
and though i rarely avail myself of a drink while on any bicycle (i know, i know), i did not have the temerity to attempt reaching down to pull the bottle from its cage; it always seemed too far away. it may also be worth noting that a bottle cage atop the frame's main beam has a tendency to interfere with folding the handlebars. it's hardly a complete travesty, but in a hurry in a crowded train station...
i enjoyed the tern far more than i'd led myself to believe i would. for me, and perhaps for paligap too, this was an experiment, because let's face it, had it fared less well, none of us would really have been too surprised. i doubt there are too many tern dealers based in the more remote parts of the uk. demand is likely confined to the more urban regions. however, given that the latest community housing being constructed around the island resembles rabbit hutches with sloping roofs, it may be that the eager cyclist has less than ideal room in which to house a more regularly sized velocipede.
i can't pretend that £1700 isn't rather a lot of money to pay for any kind of bicycle, let alone one that folds, but there's little doubt that the x-18 incorporates some impressive frame technology that allows it to behave as if it has big wheels, doesn't fold and an ability to be lifted with one hand. if you only have room at home for one bike and don't fancy being restricted in the quest for performance, this might be the perfect choice. or even if you have two colnagos and a pinarello in the bikeshed, it offers the opportunity to avoid having to slow down too much on the way to the office.
monday 4 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................