Tern’s funky container exhibition booth at the 2013 Taipei International Cycle Show are designed to be reusable, which is in line with the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability

Terns are small and light migratory birds that are known for flying over long distances.  The Artic Tern in particular, sees more daylight than any other animal, as it migrates from its northern breeding ground to the Antarctica waters. Like these birds, Tern, which is one of the latest folding bicycle brands, is committed to designing and making quality products that can bring you distances and still remain light and compact (foldable in this case).

TERN Verge X30, a speed demon of a bike that is good for climbing hills. Do not judge this bike by its small wheels

Tern took the world by storm when it was first launched on 18 June 2011. The company, which is helmed by Joshua Hon (face of the company) who co-founded the enterprise together with his mother Florence Shen, is based in Taipei with offices in the US, China, Finland and the UK. While Tern may not share the same heritage and history as other folding bike manufacturers, their products have certainly “Tern-ed” heads already. Barely two years old, Tern has already garnered several distinguished awards for their bicycles and most recently, the Verge S11i bike and Physis 3D handlepost have both been awarded the 2013 Taipei Cycle Design & Innovation (d&i) Award.

Tern’s bikes & accessories at the Taipei Cycle Show 2013

Now the backstory of Tern’s founding has been widely publicized to date which you can pretty much read up about on your own. In a nutshell, Joshua Hon was formerly a Vice President with Dahon, the company that his father Dr David Hon founded, and where he had been working at since 1992. Hence, it was definitely a big “Tern” of events for him to decide to leap out and start a totally new brand. Nonetheless, official statements had been released prior to the start of the 2013 Taipei International Cycle Show stating that both parties have amicably settled their legal dispute over intellectual property rights out of court. From what was gathered, both parties seem glad that things have reached a closure and are more than happy to move on and focus on their businesses.

On 21 March 2013, Day 2 of the Taipei International Cycle Show, Tern organized their first ever social ride! I have to commend the Tern team for a job well done. The ride was well-organized – safety was looked into and marshals were stationed at critical points to guide riders along the route. The Tern’s team camaraderie and dynamism was evident. It was definitely an enjoyable night as we rode along Taipei’s lovely riverside bikeway to the Miramar Le ble d’or restaurant where we sat down to dinner for a chat with Joshua Hon.

Joshua Hon with his head “Tern-ing” bikes

Do share with us Tern’s corporate philosophy.

At Tern, we want to make great products and also have fun while doing it. At the same time, we hope to be able to give back to society once we achieve success.  (Tern donates at least 1% of net profits every year to social and environmental causes). It is important to find a good balance in how to run a business – while it is important for businesses to be financially sustainable, it is also important to create an environment where people are happy to work at. People in our company are passionate about bicycles and we hope our transportation products will get others to utilize the car less and take the public transport more frequently. A lot of our managers are also shareholders of the company. We do this because we want our employees to feel that everyone is in this together to make things work. Not only will this foster teamwork, it will make work a lot more fun and people will ultimately perform better at their jobs.

What were some of the biggest challenges faced during the last 2 years?

The idea to create a new brand was tossed around when a group of us were sitting by the poolside of a rented house in Las Vegas back in 2010 (in the midst of Interbike).The first challenge we had was how to launch the new brand within 8 months.  The initial team that helped to launch Tern was small but comprised of talented and passionate individuals doing so much and so quickly. We wanted to create a brand that people could remember and decisions had to be made on how to make the brand work. Tern was eventually unveiled to the world on 18 June 2011. 

Two months later, when we made our debut at Eurobike, the Europeans were shocked to learned that TERN was put together in 8 months – according to the Europeans, it would take them 8 months to decide on colour and paint.

Another challenge that we faced was asking our suppliers and distributors to start with a new brand. It was certainly a big risk for everyone.

Tern Swoop Duo which garnered a Eurobike 2012 award

What are the key elements to consider when it comes to developing a good folding bicycle?

Developing a folding bicycle encompasses a series of compromises to weigh. At Tern we want to make bicycles that not only ride well but are also functional. The 5 key things that we consider during the design process  includes ride quality, aesthetics, fold, price and weight.

Tern has partnered up with some transportation companies in Europe to encourage greater use of public transport together with bicycles. How did this come about?

The Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club (ADFC), which is a German Cyclists’ Federation, wanted to promote sustainable forms of transport. After some talks with companies and Tern’s distributors, the programme subsequently kicked off in Munich and then Stuttgart, and just recently, Hamburg. Such partnership with transportation authorities will be taken up by another 8 German cities by the end of 2013. We also have a similar programme in Italy.

[Writer’s Note: Tern offered a special-edition Link D8 at a promotional price for use in an initiative by the Hamburg Transport Association and the Hamburg branch of the SDFC Cycling Association]

What do you hope to achieve for Tern in the coming year?

Tern is committed to building a good reputation and designing good products that last. Serviceability is factored into the product design and the hinges in our bicycles can be replaced once they are worn out. Ultimately, we just want to get more people riding bicycles which is a sustainable form of transport and at the same time, have fun while at it.

Togoparts Team would like to thank the TERN team for making this interview possible.