In about a week’s time, Angela and I will be moving to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We’re really looking forward to the shift (more on that another time perhaps), but as I’ll be commuting around 3 days a week I wanted to find a way to reduce the time it takes to get to and from the train station at either end (about 15 mins walk each end — so an hour a day).
Some time ago I started looking into a fold-up bike for work, in part inspired by Digital Eskimo’s “bike fleet” for staff. But also a reflection of the increase in my monthly expenditure on taxis since moving to our shared office at Redfern from the CBD. My friend Miream had also suggested I look into electric-powered bikes/conversion kits.
So I did a bit of digging and found two Sydney suppliers of electric bikes. After chatting to Jake at Sydney Electric Bikes (SEB) and trying out a folding Apollo Stowaway 2.0 at the store, I was excited by the idea.
SEB allows you to hire out an electric bike to “try before you buy” — so I hired the Apollo for a few days to see how it would work in practice. I had it over a weekend and used it to nip across to Parramatta from Merrylands, and then on the Monday I used it to travel from Redfern to Bondi for a client meeting. On both occasions there was a good mix of flats and hills, and at the end of the ride (about 10 mins to Parramatta and 15–20 mins to Bondi) I was quite comfortable — no overly sweaty — about the equivalent of a brisk walk.
While I was sold on the concept, I wasn’t sold on the actual bike. I stand at 185cm tall, and the Stowaway’s ride height was just too low for me. Also, the 8 speed gear set on the Apollo was too low also — once on a hill I was “freewheeling” which I find extremely disconcerting, especially in city traffic.
I’ve had my eyes on Tern folders for some time. They seem to be the natural successor to Dahon, who were leaders in fold-up technology until recently (there’s a lot of politics behind Tern/Dahon, but I’ll save you the details). I learnt from Jake at SEB that Tern are only distributing 4 models in Australia, the Link P9, Link P24h, Link C7 and Verge P18.
Fortuitously, Jake was able to arrange a demo bike, fitted with a rear motor, of the P24h. I tried out the bike and it was a much better fit. But unfortunately the rear mounted engine system left a lot to be desired (the Apollo was fitted with a front-wheel mounted motor). The Tern bikes’ front forks are too narrow for a front-mounted motor, but Jake and the crew started to explore options for how we might solve the problem.
It turns out that the Apollo front forks and stem are suitable to retrofit on the Tern, so that’s what we did. And after using the bike for the last week, I have to say the end result was worth the effort.
The Tern is a terrific bike — I’m really enjoying riding it. The gearing and ride height are perfect for me. The 8 speed external and 3 speed internal hub gear set combination provides an excellent gear range, and I’ve been able to reach just under 50km an hour downhill on the bike, which is very zippy for a folder. The Tern’s folding mechanism is smooth and very easy to understand and use. I did a demo for some of the folks at work yesterday and they were very impressed with how quickly it packed down.
It’s perfect for the train trip in — I’ve stowed it a number of times this week on both the Blue Mountains trains (which have areas in the entrance to the cabin for bikes and luggage) and standard CityRail metro trains. The folding mechanism is important for train riding, as CityRail charge a child fare for non-folding bikes taken onto trains during peak hour.
I rode from Redfern to Gardeners Road in Alexandria (about a 5km ride) for a business meeting the other day (in my suit), and again the bike did the job beautifully, with only light exertion equivalent of a walk of similar length. The only (minor) thing I’m not 100% sold on are the pedals. The Apollo’s pedals seemed a better bit of kit to me.
I have to say, too, that I’ve been thoroughly impressed with SEB’s work. The ability to hire before you buy, and the extensive effort they’ve put into this conversion (being the first Tern they’ve converted there was a lot of trial and error) has made me a fan.
Jake is still looking into suitable front forks that may allow us to restore the Tern front stem, as the folding mechanism is smoother than the Apollo’s. But even if what I’ve got is what we end up going with, I think I’m going to be a very happy commuter.