Bikes

First look: Tern GSD

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First time out on the GSD. We hadn’t brought their big jackets so this was a quick ride.

I first took a spin on the Tern GSD back in December. I’m not a big fan of longtails (or midtails). I love box bikes for the lower center of gravity, the ease of talking to my kids and seeing what they are doing, and how easy it is to protect them from the wind and rain. Although they ride differently than normal bikes, you adjust to it fairly quickly and I don’t find them more difficult to park or store than a longtail like the Spicy Curry or Edgerunner. So I didn’t really expect to like the GSD much. I was pleasantly surprised. It was fairly rainy and cold so I didn’t spend that long on the bike but I enjoyed the ride. I had both kids with me and didn’t find the ride as unstable as I usually find longtails to be with them on board. Even so, I didn’t really have a need for a GSD, so I didn’t really think much more about it after that.

Fast forward a bit and there are some changes headed our way that mean I need a bike capable of carrying two kids but small enough to be stored and transported like a “normal bike”. It absolutely must have assist because I still need to navigate the Seattle hills. And because we’ve already got 2 bikes with Bosch frame mounted batteries it makes the most sense to go with another bike that will use the same batteries. The GSD seems like the best fit for those needs, so we started seriously considering getting one. Luckily for us, we don’t need the bike immediately, because the first round of orders haven’t been delivered yet (Tern recently announced they are ~2 months behind schedule but are now producing the bikes and they should start getting to dealers soon). However, the demo bike is still available at G&O so we set up a 2 day rental so that I could get a good feel for the bike.

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Set up for our rental. I opted for the Carsick bags over the Tern bags because they’re a easier to use with a Yepp on board. These are Yuba “hold on bars” for H.

This time instead of two Yepp seats I had them set it up with one Yepp for little T and a set of hold on bars for H. A hooptie-style setup would be a bit better, given H’s age, but unfortunately Tern hasn’t produced anything like that for the GSD yet (the first con for this bike) and the ones that G&O have had produced independently can’t accommodate the Yepp seat (EDIT: The passenger rail made by Cyclefab for G&O DOES work with the Yepp seat. So that is an option and you should contact Cyclefab for more details if you are interested in getting one. They also make the Rolling Jackass). I also had them put on the Carsick Designs sling bags and Rolling Jackass kickstand. With only two days with the bike I’m not ready to give a thorough review (the way my schedule worked out I only got to have kids on the bike for ~15 miles of the ~45 miles I covered in those two days) but I thought I would share my initial impressions.

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Two kids, two kid bikes, no problem.

First and foremost, the bike is fun to ride. There’s a bit of a settling in period with the smaller front wheel feeling a little squirrely at first (especially when you normally ride a giant box bike with the front wheel way out in front of you), but once you adjust it’s easy to steer and the handling feels very much like a normal bike when you ride without kids. Add the kids on and you definitely notice their movements but it’s less obvious than on something like a BodaBoda and for me is easier to handle than a Spicy Curry or Edgerunner. I am very hard to please in this regard, so it’s a pretty big deal for me to say I like the way this bike handles with both kids on it. It’s also pretty impressive on hills between fairly low gearing (but still more than adequate to top out the assist at 20mph) and the Bosch Performance Line motor. And Tern has also opted to pair that drivetrain with some really amazing brakes. When I got back on my Packster I found myself really missing those brakes (and the ones on the Packster aren’t bad!). I did find downshifting on the GSD a bit frustrating. It’s not quite as smooth and takes substantially more pressure on the shifter. On the Packster I can downshift 2 gears at a time effortlessly. On the GSD I struggled because my thumb wasn’t long enough to push the shifter far enough. I suspect it could be tweaked but it just wasn’t quite as nice “out of the box” as the Packster.

The Performance Line from Bosch is one of my favorite assist systems and it’s well implemented on the GSD. I found myself wishing for the CX motor on hills at times. Not because I was actually struggling to get up them with the GSD but because I’m just used to the extra torque. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and I doubt most people who don’t regularly ride a bike with the CX motor would ever miss it. If I could pay a bit more to have it I’d do it, but since it’s not an option I’ll be fine without it. One thing I LOVE is that Tern installs the wiring for the second battery even if you don’t buy the dual battery version of the bike. I wish every manufacturer would do this. It means you can buy the single battery version now and add the second battery later if you decide you need it. Or use a second battery from another bike if you’ve got more than one Bosch bike that uses the frame style battery. I do wish they had either included the Powerpack 500 instead of the 400, though I understand not doing so at this price. But it would be nice if the first battery could at least be upgraded to the 500. If you get a second battery that one is a Powerpack 500.

Which brings us to one of the biggest selling points of the bike: the footprint vs. cargo capacity. The GSD really is only about as long as a regular ebike. In fact, it’s actually a few inches shorter than the ones I measured in my local shop. It’s 71″ (180cm) long. This compares pretty closely to most midtails, like the BodaBoda V3 (73″), Benno Boost (74″) and the Haul-A-Day (~72″). And it’s quite a bit shorter than most longtails, like the Spicy Curry (81″), Mundo (81″), and Edgerunner (84″). At the same time, the GSD has a relatively long wheelbase, thanks to having two 20″ wheels, and a stiff frame that makes you feel very confident in the handling of the bike. Despite the relatively short length, the GSD manages to pack in a deck that’s somewhere in between the longer midtails and the longtail decks. The space behind the seat is ~24″, on par with the Spicy Curry (which has 24″ within the MonkeyBars), BodaBoda V3 (also 24″ within the MonkeyBars), and Haul-A-Day (24″ within the bars). It’s longer than the Boost (~21″ behind the seat) but shorter than the Edgerunner (27″ within the Hooptie). The total length of the cargo area is ~30″. While some of this space won’t be as useful as space behind the seat, it is still useful in some contexts. And it’s longer than any other midtail and on par with full size longtails like the Edgerunner and Spicy Curry. In practice, the GSD is a great bike for two young kids like mine and we were even able to squeeze me on the back as well during a test ride. I wouldn’t have any hesitation about regularly carrying two kids and occasionally carrying 3 on it (if they like each other). This is better than the Boost or BodaBoda that are really better as 1 kid bikes and is pretty close to what you’d expect from a Spicy Curry or Edgerunner. That’s impressive for a bike that’s this small. And if you need more cargo space they also offer a rack to allow you to carry even more cargo on the front of the bike. To really round things out and make this a great bike for carrying kids Tern NEEDS to start producing a Hooptie-style bar soon though. Otherwise the GSD is tough to recommend for those with a kid in the 3.5-6 year old range who needs more support than a ring or stoker bar can offer but doesn’t need to be in a Yepp seat any longer. I was hopeful that at nearly 5 and not prone to sleeping on the bike H would be fine with just the hold on bars but it proved difficult to get her to always hold on. I think she likely needs at least another year with a Hooptie setup and by then little T will be ready to move out of the Yepp and will need it. Hopefully Tern will come up with a solution soon for kids in this age range who need the extra support.

 

To help balance the stiff frame, Tern has paired it with wide Super Moto X tires that offer some extra cushion. I’ve come to appreciate a bike that can absorb a lot of shock for me recently. For one, I’m getting older and the less wear and tear on my back the better. Additionally, I find it can be hard to ride loose enough to let my body absorb the shocks without hurting when I’m on a cargo bike and have to let the safety and stability of my cargo come first. And finally, Seattle’s streets are really awful and there are so many bumps and potholes. Compared to my Packster (which has a front shock and a very long frame) the GSD is a pretty rough ride but one that’s definitely improved over similar bikes I’ve ridden with narrower tires. The Moto X tires are also very flat resistant and I’ve been very pleased with the one on the rear wheel of my Packster. At ~3500 miles ridden it still shows pretty minimal wear. In the long run I’ll probably add a suspension seat post to mine and run the tires at a bit lower pressure than the ones on the demo bike to help provide some extra cushion.

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Beefy tires. Beefy brakes.

Wrapping up the more minor features of the bike, it’s equipped with a decent front and rear light. The front light could be more compact but it puts off decent light. The fenders appear to provide good coverage, the seat is more comfortable than average for a stock seat, and I liked the relatively wide handlebar. The kickstand is a weak point. Rated to 80kg it’s inadequate for a bike touted as having a 200kg capacity and it’s unstable when you try to load more than one child on the bike. If it were the only kickstand option I’m honestly not sure I’d be lining up to buy the bike right now. Thankfully, you can buy a Rolling Jackass for the GSD. This kickstand is pricy ($350) but incredibly stable. It makes the bike nearly as stable as a box bike for loading and unloading children. As with all bikes of this style, the GSD lacks a rain cover. Living in Seattle I would really like to see someone tackle this issue. It’s the single most asked for feature in every group I’ve been in when cargo bikes come up.

If you just want to read the short version, here’s my bullet list of pros and cons for the GSD.

Pros:

  • Plenty of room for 2 kids on the deck (with 2 Yepp seats there is as much space between the kids as on a full size longtail)
  • Can stand up on its end for storage/elevators/etc., can be collapsed to fit into a car more easily
  • Only as long as a normal sized E-bike (on par with R&M Charger, Nevo, Kalkoff Agattu, etc.)
  • Low deck minimizes instability from kids moving
  • Bosch Performance Line motor
  • Built in lights (bulky but effective front light)
  • Absolutely amazing brakes
  • Wide handlebars = stability
  • Highly adjustable to different size riders
  • Dual battery system wired in, even if you buy the single battery version
  • Solid, non-flexy frame
  • Fat tires and wide fenders
  • Great gear range and impressive hill climbing
  • Options for front carrying cargo

Cons:

  • First battery pack is a Powerpack 400 and not upgradeable to PP 500 (second battery, if purchased, is a PP 500)
  • Can’t put it on it’s end with a Yepp seat installed in the back
  • Stock dual kickstand is a good start, but inadequate for a bike with a 200kg capacity, tippy when kids climb on it
  • Shifting isn’t as easy or smooth as R&M bikes with similar setup (Deore 10 speed)
  • No Hooptie setup available from Tern yet (or anything else suitable for having a 4-7 year old in the front in a two kid setup)
  • No rain cover

In conclusion, I think the GSD fills a niche by giving you the footprint of a midtail with a cargo capacity and feature set more in line with a full size longtail. If you’ve got more than 2 kids and plenty of space, or if you really need weather protection, this may not be the bike for you. Otherwise, it’s probably worth a look. The price point ($4k for the single battery model) is very good for the features and quality of the parts on this bike. It works well for small spaces and should be compatible with a lot of transit systems (whether light rail or bus). It can be propped on it’s end for extra compact storage (if you don’t have a Yepp seat on it anyway) and should fit easily in a lot of cars due to the folding stem and collapsing seat post. There’s plenty of space on the deck for 2 kids and the bike handles very well under that kind of load. The stability and capacity can’t compare to my Packster 80, but the GSD is a LOT cheaper and will fit in a LOT more places. Similarly it packs in about 80% of the capacity of a longtail in a much smaller footprint. I worried a cargo bike that prioritized compactness would feel like a compromise but instead it feels like magic. I do believe this bike is a game changer, especially for cargo bike users with limited storage and those who need to regularly utilize transit. I’m excited for mine to arrive and expecting to see a lot of these on the street very soon.

 

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8 thoughts on “First look: Tern GSD

  1. Question about this:

    “there are some changes headed our way that mean I need a bike capable of carrying two kids but small enough to be stored and transported like a ‘normal bike’.”

    Just curious. What sorts of things can a Tern GSD do that your existing cargo bike cannot? Maybe go on the front rack of a bus?

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    1. In this case the most obvious thing for our situation is that it will fit easily on the Vashon Water Taxi. While the Packster 80 is possible to get on there it requires quite a bit of maneuvering and the amount of space it takes up isn’t really fair for other commuters wanting to get their bikes on board. We also don’t currently have a bike that works with light rail, street car, buses, or carrying in a car or on a hitch rack of a car. So the GSD will give us a lot more flexibility in all of those ways.

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  2. I’m really hoping to get to try one of these, a friend was looking at buying one but went another direction (and I was, selfishly, a little choked!). I would like to compare it to our Haul-a-Day, another small-wheeled bike. As someone on the shorter side of things, I sure love smaller wheels for keeping the centre of gravity manageable on a longtail. Good luck with your decision!

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    1. I’d love to compare it to a HAD but the only ones I have access to are unassisted so I’m not sure it would be a fair comparison. It seems likely to me that the HAD frame will do a better job of giving a comfortable ride than the GSD but that some may prefer the overall stiffness of the GSD. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to do a real comparison though.

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  3. thanks for the great article! I feel exactly in the same situation as you 2nd sentence and I think the gsd tern is the solution! ( I have an urban arrrow right now).

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    1. Glad you found it helpful. I still adore my Packster for sure but it’s hard to take certain places. I’d never been that bothered by it but we just bought a house where my commute involves a foot ferry to downtown then biking up a large hill to daycare and work. The Packster can technically just make it onto the foot ferry but it would be very in the way. Not viable for every day. Hoping the GSD will make things much easier.

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