By Stewart Port
I’m a 64-year-old guy with heart disease. I ride for everyday transportation and errands when I can, and occasional 10-20 mi. jaunts for exercise and recreation. I’m otherwise in good shape, but I have a hard limit for sustained exertion– the arteries to my heart are narrowed and propped open with hi-tech Chinese finger-cuffs. So when my (mostly younger and healthier) pals urged me to join them on their annual weeklong bike camping trip. I really wanted to go, but was torn. I didn’t really have any rolling or camping gear that was up to the trip, and 30 miles of all-out effort while potentially rolling along by myself with the pack far ahead didn’t sound like much fun.
And then there was the Tern, conveniently on loan for evaluation to the publisher of this fine outlet, who happens to be my neighbor, and one of the instigators of the tour.
At first, I hated the idea of being the old guy on the e-bike, but Moe patiently explained that it wasn’t a regular e-bike, but rather an e-assisted bike– Pedal, and the motor amplifies your efforts, with a choice of four levels. No pedal, no go. Hell, you could even turn off the electricity and kick the entire 60 lbs down the road purely on burrito power. And the cargo deck solved the problem of having no proper compact, lightweight camping gear– I just stuffed my quilt and pillow in a soft bag and gathered up my usual car camping kit and backpack and mini-cooler, and bungeed the whole impossible pile down on the rear cargo deck.
First, a short ride to the train station. Starting out in the lowest gear, my first pressure on the pedals produced powerful acceleration. (Note: Hold on tight when starting out! There’s a bit of a learning curve, but the various power levels make it possible to really dial in the effort, spin rate and speed for varying conditions) With a hand from an obliging conductor I loaded the thing up into an Amtrak San Joaquin, and we were off to Antioch, our starting point at the edge California’s Sacramento River Delta.
The trip from Antioch to Locke, a picturesque old Chinese town up the Delta, was about 30 miles, and apart from the half mile of 7% grade climbing up the Antioch bridge, the route is the very definition of flat, though the winds can be stiff. For the most part, I found myself switching between equal periods of pedaling unassisted and using the first level (“Econo”) to keep up with my crew’s 10-12 mph pace (Yes, the speedometer is very cool!). I found myself wishing that there was an even lower level of assist available. When I used the assist, I consoled my wounded pride by figuring I was using just enough battery power to make up for the thing’s fat tires, 60 lb curb weight, and the ridiculous pile of gear strapped behind me. I was surprised at how easily and smoothly it rolled un-assisted.
The fit adjustments were convenient, especially the handlebar quick-release adjustments which made stopping and making minor changes to avoid fatigue a reasonable solution to the straight bars’ lack of different places to grip– If I were using it mainly for touring, I would want to add climbing pegs or some sort of bar extension. When we got to our bivouac for the night, an orchard and adjoining wood, the fat tires did nicely on the rougher surfaces.
On the trip back, I put it to a harder test. I was traveling alone for the last 15 miles, and I had a train to catch, so I allowed myself the second and third levels (“Touring” and “Sport”) and cruised along at 15-16 mph, switching to the highest level (“Turbo”) for the bridge. At about a mile from the station, I noticed the ride getting a little squooshy, and sure enough, the rear tire was looking low. With no patch kit or pump, and not much time to spare before my train, I gave it the juice– I put it on the highest setting and the lowest gear, and pedaling hard, fishtailed into the depot on a completely flat tire, with scant minutes to spare. Amtrak came through for me again in Oakland– The agent was kind enough to let me leave the rig in the secure baggage area while I walked to my house to get my car. Getting it into the trunk of the old Jetta for the ride home proved easy enough, and without taking off the wheels it only projected a foot or so beyond the back of the car.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone abuse defenseless rubber and aluminum so, but the wheel and tire appeared none the worse for wear when I broke them down to patch the tube (A small sliver of glass that had worked its way through, and eventually cut the tube..)
All in all, the GSD, and its fine-grained pedal assist control system is a great addition to my life. For a lot of folks and situations it can tip the balance towards making a trip on two wheels as opposed to four, or not at all.
Read Part One here: Tern GSD review Part 1