The answer is of course no to most of those questions under most cycling conditions: The speed at which one must pedal depends not on wheelsize alone, but also the size of cogs; smaller wheels require larger cogs…once you’ve sorted that out, you’ll be pedaling just as fast or slow as the other larger-wheeled bicycles. And they’re only as cramped as the frame size determines them to be: buy a small-wheeled bike with a large enough frame, and it’ll feel just like your bigger bike.
The smaller wheelsize does have it’s limitations though: bumps, potholes, and for us up here in northern Japan soft snow are not the surfaces where the 20-inch wheels shine.
That said, I’ve been mulling over getting a folding bike for some time now. I live in Japan with my partner Haidee, and on our frequent journeys on trains here with our bikes, we’ve often wished we had something more compact; bikes have to be bagged on trains in Japan, which adds undue stress to the start of a trip (removing pedals, handlebars, seats, front wheels etc etc.). For a while we got away with having the handlebars and seats of our big bikes sticking out of the bike bags, but our local train station has cracked down on this and we need to dismantle the big bikes more thoroughly now.
To this end, Haidee got herself a Bike Friday Silk, which is a beautiful bike. The Gates Carbon Drive belt-drive system is so clean and smooth, and Bike Friday makes a great bike. I was keen on the Tern Verge S27h, however, because it seemed a little more cost-effective, and I wanted to try out something I could order from a local bike shop.
The Tern Verge S27h comes in any color you want so long as it is black, and it is one of Tern’s few cycle-touring oriented bikes. For under US$2,000 (in Japan), you get a bike with dual racks, full dynamo lighting system, a long-wheelbase frame, Rholoff-ready drop-outs, eccentric bottom bracket, an in-seat-tube floor pump, Avid BB7 disk brakes, and a Sram Dual-Drive drivetrain (consists of a 9-speed cassette mounted to a three-speed DD3 internal gear hub). The fold is very neat too.
Even before I took delivery of the bike, I had intended to more or less immediately swap out the Dual Drive drivetrain for an Alfine 11-speed internal gear hub. I abhor derailleur drive trains. I find internal gear hubs are cleaner, and just less hassle. The rim I wanted to use for the new wheel didn’t arrive in time for the bike, so I’m still waiting to build a new back wheel up, but that will happen in due course. The adjustable eccentric bottom bracket means an internal gear hub can be fitted without the need for a chain tensioner.
As it is though, the Dual Drive drivetrain is nice enough: the changes are solid and reliable. I don’t really feel like I need 27 gears though…
I’ve also swapped out the stock standard saddle with a spare leather Selle Anatomica saddle I had sitting around…I like my leather saddles. The stock saddle felt comfy enough on the 15 minute bike ride home from the bike shop, but on a longer tour, who knows.
The headlight gives a very nice strong light, but I feel like it shines too much in a concentrated beam, with too little light directly in front of the front wheel. Compared with the Busch and Muller Lumotec IQ Cyo that I have on my big bike, which gives a more even beam from close to far, the Tern light falls short in this regard.
Initial ride impressions is that this is one very solid bike. At 16kg, it really is a solid bike (especially for one with 20-inch wheels). Once I had the seat height tweaked and the (very nicely adjustable) quick-adjust stem adjusted right, it felt like a very nice geometry. I am 179.5cm tall (around 5’11), and the bike feels just about right. It is not a custom fit like you’d get with a Bike Friday, but for the last few days I’ve been enjoying the fit so far.
I’m currently running Schwalbe Marathon Winter (20×1.6) tires on the bike for winter here, but the bike comes stock with Schwalbe Big Apples (20×2.0). Those Big Apples are going to be very nice to ride once the snow leaves (in about three months time).
The long chain-stays on the bike mean that heel-strike is not an issue. I wear a size 11.5 winter boot, and my panniers were always out of the way of my heels.
There are a couple of inexplicable niggles about the bike though. One is the fact that there are no bottle-cage mount braze-ons on the top-tube. All of Tern’s other bikes have these braze-ons. Why on earth does Tern’s only bicycle marketed as a serious tourer not have these?! (UPDATE 2015/5/25: See the bike’s designer Thomas from Velowerk explain the reasoning in the comments). Also, my Ortlieb panniers, when mounted on the lower rails of the (excellently stiff rack) hit the Dual-Drive shifting mechanism, which causes the gears to skip. Not ideal. (UPDATE 2015/5/25: See the bike’s designer Thomas from Velowerk comments about that below.)
Overall though, the bike seems to do it’s job. Lined up with the Bike Friday Silk I can’t help but feel that the Bike Friday is a more mature design and finished product, but I do feel like the Verge S27h has potential. Potential that we hope to put through its paces in the coming years.
(To be continued….)