Review: Tern Eclipse P9 Folding Bike

Putting 5 collapsible commuter bikes to the test
Chris Lesser

Tern Eclipse P9; $1,100

Tied for 2nd Place (with the Dahon Formula S18)

Who it’s for: Anyone tight on storage space—but not too tight—who is looking for a capable all-purpose bike that rides well but still qualifies as a foldinger for public transportation and office-policy purposes.[slideshow:516]

Vital Stats
Folded Size: 16.5 x 35.0 x 29.9 inches (10 cubic feet)
Wheel Size: 24”
Weight: 32 pounds
Relative Foldability Rank:
Hits: Most stable riding bike of the bunch, comes fully loaded
Misses: Safety catch button on the stem rattled annoyingly from road vibration, heaviest bike tested.
Extras: Kickstand, full fenders, ergonomic grips with built-in Allen key, flip-down pedals, rear cargo rack with integrated three-cord bungee, chainguard, standard bottle-cage mount
Buy it:

Tern is just a year old, but the company’s bike line looks like it’s been around a lot longer than that. And that’s no accident. The company’s vice president, Josh Hon, worked for 20 years at the family business, which just happens to be Dahon, the largest folding bike company on the market. The company officially launched last summer with no fewer than 22 different models. This one comes well-appointed with 24-inch wheels shod with Schwalbe tires, disc brakes and a wide-range nine-speed cassette.

Named after a migratory seabird—one of the longest-flying migratory birds, in fact—Hon has said in interviews that Tern makes “bikes that fold, not folding bikes.” Semantics, yes. But the point is that the company takes its design process seriously, which is plain to see in all the thoughtful little details that make up the Eclipse P9 model we tested. The bike’s smooth but powerful latches, for example, are ergonomically sculpted to be easy on the hands, and each one has a spring-loaded safety catch built into it to ensure the doesn’t accidently un-fold “mid-flight.” The bike’s hydro-formed aluminum frame looks good in a form-follows-function sort of way, and doesn’t lose a lot of power due to frame flex like some of the others.

With the second-biggest wheels in the test group, there is no denying this is an oversized folding bike, or bike that folds. Whatever you want to call it, the Eclipse also proved the most capable—the most “bike-like”—of the bunch, even if still sports somewhat smaller-than-standard parts (it has 170mm crank-arms and 24-inch wheels).

How capable was it? In a pinch, when I needed to get two bikes and myself to the office one day, I was able to bungee the folded-up Brompton onto the Tern’s rack and ride it a mile to a co-worker’s house who rode it the rest of the way.

Joe, the chief web developer here at The Active Times, is a man who is constantly solving complex digital problems, and he doesn’t mince words. “This is a better bike,” he immediately deduced, moments after switching from the diminutive Brompton to the stable-tracking Tern. And from a pure riding standpoint, he’s right. While the smaller-wheeled bikes can feel skittish navigating broken asphalt and gaping potholes, the Tern’s larger wheels and stout frame take it in stride, and feel quite comfortable at speed, too. The double-braced, fully adjustable stem, in particular, gave this bike the most assured front-end stiffness of the bunch (minus the traditional front-end of the Montague)—plus it’s a great feature for fitting riders of varying sizes.

Folding-wise, however, the Tern is not necessarily a better bike. It is the biggest, though, and the heaviest—taking up taking up nearly 10 cubic feet and it weighing in at 32 pounds.

So while it almost felt like a “real” bike, sorry, Mr. Hon, it’s a folder. A really good one, which comes loaded with nice accessories like a rack, bungee cords, full fenders and even a kickstand.  It’s fun to ride and easy to fold, but not nearly as easy to tote around folded, or store in tight spaces, as the smaller-wheeled bikes in this test.

Second Opinion: If there’s one thing that struck me about the Tern, it’s how relatively cushy it is for a folding bike. The beefy frame and big, fat tires make for a ride that’s cruiser-smooth. Now, however, it’s my duty to tell you how much I hate cruisers. They’re unwieldy and have none of the grace and pent-up speed of a sleeker frame on road tires. This bike weighs in a full 33 percent heavier than the lightest tested model, a fact that I’m hardly willing to forgive.

But after a couple of days on the Dahon and Brompton, the Tern’s relatively soft ride was a welcome change. And the fact that it’s fairly intuitive and easy to fold, in addition to being loaded with other features—powerful disc brakes, a rear rack, full fenders, a kickstand and 9-speed twist-shifter (this is the Cadillac of folding bikes!)—helped redeem it. Also, the adjustable stem has a really cool, two-part clamping mechanism that simultaneously adjusts reach, grip height and lever angle, which makes it easy to custom fit, and reminds me the Transformers toys I played with as a kid.

Still, I can’t ever see myself lugging it onto an elevator/train/bus/stairway in its awkward-to-haul, folded state (but doormen/conductors/bus drivers will let you, since it’s folded and all). And that, to me, is kind of the point of a folding bike. Too bad. —Peter Koch

More Info:

See the other collapsible commuter bikes we tested from Brompton, Dahon, Montague & Pacific Cycles.