Bikes · Car Free · Parenting

New bike day (with the Tern GSD)

As soon as we found out our offer had been accepted on the house in Vashon I realized that the Packster wasn’t going to work for commuting due to the limitations of the water taxi (I had been using it even on days I wasn’t transporting kids as a part of my commute because it was the only bike I had). I had ridden the GSD briefly when the demo model first arrived at G&O but I hadn’t been considering getting it. With a water taxi commute looking likely I decided I needed to take a more serious look at it and rented it for two days (which led to my previous review).

The rental convinced me that the GSD was the best fit for our upcoming needs, so we put down a deposit and began our long wait. I was ~14th on the list to get one through G&O. The first bikes were initially expected in the spring and we thought we had plenty of time before we’d need the GSD for them to start coming in. Unfortunately, a series of delays resulted in the bikes not starting to arrive until July. After a few weeks dealing with a less than ideal commute situation with little T in tow (and picking a different color than I’d originally wanted so things wouldn’t be delayed even more) I finally got to take my GSD home on July 19!

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I had originally picked out the Silver Blue color but switched to the Beetle Blue because of limited availability of the Silver Blue. I have to admit that now that I have the bike I rather like how much brighter the Beetle Blue is. The Packster is pretty drab so it’s fun to have a showier bike. The matching of the Yepp seat with the bike was entirely unintentional. We’ve had this Yepp since we had the BodaBoda but it does look pretty gorgeous with the Beetle Blue GSD. After a lot of waffling I opted for the Dual Battery version because having more batteries seemed like a good idea and adding a second one to the GSD is one of the cheapest ways out there to get a 500WH Bosch PowerPack. In terms of kid-related accessories I also selected the Rolling Jackass kickstand, stoker bars for H, the ClikFix seat pad, and the Carsick Designs sling bags (for better Yepp compatibility). I’m hoping to put on a frame lock but the first set the shop got in are the version where the key is retained in the lock whenever the lock is open and I’m not interested in that system. Hopefully I’ll be able to get one with the non-retained key soon. I replaced the seat post with a Kinect Body Float post like I have on my Packster because the GSD lacks suspension and my back does not appreciate the road quality in Seattle. Finally, I opted to replace the stock pedals with MKS Allways pedals because I want the extra grip in the rain and something I felt certain would last through the thousands of miles I intend to rack up on this bike.

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Showing off the stability of the Rolling Jackass kickstand

From the shop I was able to leave and pick up little T from daycare, then go hop right on the water taxi. This was a moment of truth for me. I picked the GSD specifically for this situation but I didn’t actually get to test it on the water taxi until I brought mine home. I’m happy to report that it works very well. It sticks out about 3-4″ further than a normal bike because the front wheel is too small to push all the way forward in the rack and the Yepp seat hangs off the back a bit. But the small wheels make the turning radius nice and tight, which is very helpful getting the bike in and out of the rack and the slight overhang compared to the other bikes is not an issue. The biggest drawbacks are that I can’t back it into the rack because the derailleur is too low and will get damaged by the rack and that the Super MotoX tires are just a touch wide for the rack and I have to squeeze it in.

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GSD on the King County Water Taxi. Most of the overhang is Yepp seat, so moving the Yepp forward if needed can bring it almost completely in line with the “regular” bikes.

There were a few compromises made in order to make the GSD work as well as possible with the water taxi. I went with relatively narrow stoker bars for H instead of a passenger rail, in part to keep the bike narrower and easier to load on the water taxi. I will likely have to switch to using the passenger rail in a year or so when it’s time to transition Little T out of the Yepp because I won’t want him on the deck for longer rides without the rail but for the time being it’s nice having the bike be as slim as possible. I’m also not planning to add a front rack for the time being because I feel it will make getting the bike on and off the water taxi substantially more difficult since it adds to the effective length of the bike. Since we have other bikes we can use if really high cargo capacity is needed for things like camping I’m not expecting that to be an issue but it’s worth keeping in mind that without the front rack the bike is definitely going to have a significantly lower capacity than a full sized longtail, especially if you have a Yepp seat in use and can’t use the rear bags to their full capacity.

The second moment of truth was when I got off the water taxi and headed up the hill. For the uninitiated, as soon as you leave the north end ferry terminal on Vashon you head up a ~1 mile long climb of ~8-10%. The only alternative route is slightly longer and has sections as steep as 16%. So to get home there is no way around a steep and relatively long climb. During the rental period I’d taken the GSD up some fairly steep hills but definitely nothing with the sustained climbing that the ferry hill entails. And while I knew the Packster and Load handle that hill fairly well even with cargo on board, they both sport the higher torque CX motor, while the current iteration of the GSD has the lower torque standard Performance Line motor. Thankfully the combination of being lighter weight than our box bikes and the gearing setup Tern has chosen makes the GSD a very capable climber. In a head to head race I think it would lag a little bit behind the Packster (with the new 42t cassette we recently added anyway) but I easily pass the other ebikes on the hill most days, even though I’m typically carrying a good bit more cargo. If I want to push myself I can manage 10-12 mph for most of the hill, on easier days I tackle it at 8-10 mph, and if I really can’t put in much effort of my own I can still get up the hill with a passenger on board at 5-6 mph. On the other side of my commute, when I head up First Hill via Yesler, I tackle a much shorter section of ~16% and the GSD does well there too. It can be a challenge to start off on such a steep incline, but as long as I’m able to keep moving the climb is quite doable. I’d say you should expect to need to put in enough effort to be in the aerobic zone any time you are climbing >12% grades but anything less can be accomplished with fairly light effort if you’re willing to go slow enough.

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Just a small hill coming off the ferry

Since that first trip home I’ve racked up over 800 miles on the GSD in a bit about 6 weeks. I’ve tested out a couple of different kid seats, carried a wide variety of loads, bagged and dragged H’s bike a number of times. I’ve tested the limits of the dual battery setup (3 round trip commutes, 56.5 miles and a little shy of 4000 ft of climbing on turbo), the limits of how much I can carry in addition to the kids (a decent load of groceries, or several backpacks, H’s swimming stuff, and her bike), and the limits of how long my kids can handle riding on it (several hours, but not later than ~8:30 pm unless H is in a harnessed seat). I’m working on reviews of specific accessories and a more in depth look at the bike itself. For now I’ll just say that it has definitely exceeded my expectations. I’m still a box bike rider at heart but I appreciate the things the GSD makes possible due to its smaller size and I’m continually impressed by how much it can do.

10 thoughts on “New bike day (with the Tern GSD)

  1. I remember when I worked on the early planning for the King Co. Water Taxi, and also the Vashon ferry route (when WSF still ran it), many people did not see a reason to worry much about bikes. I was commuting into Downtown Seattle by bike back then and if you looked, you could see all the bikes on Dexter and Alaskan Way, and the Bainbridge ferry route was getting a pretty good number of bikes already.

    Back in the mid-1990’s when I rebuilt the floating ferry dock (then at Pier 50 at Colman Dock), I was questioned about why I made the walkway ramp down to the floating dock as long and wide as it is. Back then, people did not see a reason to make the ramp more than about 3-feet wide (minimum for a wheelchair), and they asked what’s the big deal if the ramp gets very steep at low tide? I could see even then, the cyclists vied for space on the boat and on the dock with the walk-ons. It’s nice to see your update on how bikes now use on the ferry.

    Reading between the lines of your report, today’s challenge is to educate the people behind bike-related infrastructure about designing for bikes larger than racing road bikes. That is, city bikes, cargo/family bikes and recumbent bikes and trikes. That means bike racks that work for a wider overall width of bike and varying diameter wheels with wide tires, child carriers, front and rear load racks, etc.

    It is funny, we have a working model. The future is here, in European cities – where you won’t see many people riding a road bike for commuting in the city.

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    1. I participated in a very frustrating focus group for the water taxi recently. As it turns out, bike + water taxi is now such a popular option that they now effectively have an induced demand issue with bikes and they are…struggling…to figure out how to address it. Sadly most of the options they appear to be considering are punitive toward bikes. I don’t know what the resolution will be, but I left the focus group feeling pretty unwelcome on the water taxi.

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  2. Hi, how much value add do you feel the Kinect Body Float adds to your cargo bike urban experience? I’ve been considering adding one to my Xtracycle. Thanks!

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    1. For me the difference is quite large. Without the seat post I find the GSD to be a really stiff and unforgiving ride. With the seatpost it’s a very comfortable ride where I only need toworry about the bumps so that I don’t upset my passengers. I rode the Packster for a couple of months without it and found it was rough on my lower back. Given that I spend at least 2 hours on the bike most days the seatpost is worth the investment. If I lived somewhere with better road quality I could see it not being worth it though.

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  3. Thanks I got one and agree they’re great. Was thinking of adding a suspension stem next to take some load off my hands and arms when going over bumps.

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  4. hi, at what age do you forsee your children outgrowing the Tern GSD? i am just wondering how many years use you’d get as a kid transporter. also, i currently do a bit of bike touring with my 2.5 year old, but have my second on the way and am not sure on the best way to continue these adventures, which include dirt road. do you know how would this bike be on dirt roads, or rail trails?

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    1. The wide tires will make it fairly capable off road on flat rail trails and similar. I have taken mine on several trails of that type and in a couple of dirt roads. Well packed gravel or dirt is not a problem. Beyond that will depend if your load, experience level, etc. Taking it on single track is going to void your warranty though.

      I have a friend who uses it for her 8 and 9 year old who are both >4.5 ft tall. Mostly she only has one on board at a time but they can both ride. I think it would be hard for an inexperienced rider to jump into that sort of load, but the good thing about starting when your kids are young is that you have a lot of time to build up to that load slowly as they grow. I can’t say for sure how long I’ll get but I’m expecting to be able to carry both my kids for at least 3 more years. Hopefully by then the older one will be spending a lot more time on her own bike!

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  5. Thanks so much for this review! We currently have an unassisted Workcycles Kr8 that we adore (and which my husband, who does most of the biking on it, wants to keep unassisted), so I’m hoping to get an assisted cargo bike in the next year. We’ve enjoyed the Gazelle Easyflow we’ve had for the past year for solo trips and my husband’s commute, as well as grocery runs, but definitely need something to carry the kids and have been leaning towards the new version of the GSD, which has internal gearing (yay!) and a few improvements, according to recent reviews.

    I’m also a box-bike lover, and would love to have both an assisted GSD and an assisted bakfiets, but unfortunately the finances of life dictate that I proceed slowly with my accumulation of all the fun bikes.

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  6. Hi, I just read a review which said this bike is not very stable at higher speeds, due to the smaller front wheel. I was wondering if this has this ever been an issue for you?

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    1. I’ve taken it over 30 mph on downhills here and never experienced any stability concerns. This sort of thing is to some degree a “feel” thing, where different people will respond differently to different aspects of the geometry and handling of a bike, so I would not say everyone would experience the bike as being as stable as I feel like it is but I definitely do not have safety concerns about traveling fast on the GSD. If someone is finding that their GSD is genuinely unstable at high speeds (not just that it feels a bit twitchy compared to a bike with a larger wheel or something like that) I would encourage them to take it to the dealer to be checked out.

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