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Folding bikes are the black sheep of the bike community, neither respected by hard-core cyclists nor frequently used by the average citizen. But a new global company called Tern Bikes is out to change that perception—and, in the process, change transit.
“We just said, look, a folding bike doesn’t have to look and ride like a contraption,” says Steve Boyd, the company’s general manager in North America. Tern Bikes launched publicly last year after several employees of Dahon bicycles, including the founder’s son, departed to form a new company to create high-quality folding bikes.
The most reliable market for folding bikes is people with “acute needs”—they’ve got an RV or a boat and want to keep a bike on it, they live in small walk-up apartments or face other space constraints. These people will find Tern bikes on their own. Boyd and his colleagues, though, want to expand the market.
“We’re broadening it by calling it urban transportation,” Boyd says. “More and more people are moving into these re-urbanization movements in places like downtown L.A. where no one lived five years ago.”
Tern’s pitch is the first-mile, last-mile argument: Bikes can effectively extend the useful range of public transit by providing an easy way to get to and from stops. Folding bikes are even more effective in this role because of their compact size; they also encourage bike commuting in the event of inclement weather, since they can be easily carried not just on public transit, but in any car.
Sixty four percent of trips in the U.S. are two miles or less, Boyd says, and if people would bike just ten or twenty percent, it would have an incredibly beneficial effect.
“A bike, in general, can fix everything,” Boyd says. “The world’s problems, much of them revolve around congestion, pollution and obesity, and the bicycle is the perfect solution to all those problems, and our [folding] bikes are the most useful of all bicycles.”