In order to get a bicycle on Boston’s commuter rail system during peak hours, a folding frame is a requirement. However, whether justified or not, the thought of 20” wheels starts circus music in my head. So with the prospect of a new job in the city, and a daily mixed commute via bike and train, I wanted a folding bike with big-boy wheels. It also had to be solid enough to handle dirt roads and my fondness for riding stairs. Tern is on a short list of companies who can supply such a bike, and they sent a pre-production Joe P-27 for review.
Click past the break to the full review to unfold…
The P-27 is the newest in the Joe line, and with 27.5” wheels and tires, Shimano disc brakes, and 9 speed Acera drivetrain, it’s the flagship. At $1,100 MSRP there are less expensive Joe models, but I’m a big believer in disc brakes and getting the best drivetrain you can afford. I’m also a fan of 27.5” tires, and their improved rollover abilities compared to 26”. With the stock 2.0 Schwalbe tires, the overall wheel size is larger than a 700c road bike with racing tires. For a folding commuter with bigger tires, 27.5” makes a lot of sense.
The P-27 is a super-sturdy folder, great for both the daily grind into the city, and weekend rail-trails or carriage paths. Considering its utility as a folder that can get a little dirty, the price seems reasonable. For further convincing, consider that the P-27 is a bit of a “quiver-killer”, in that it could replace that old 1990’s MTB turned commuter or kid-hauler in the shed.
The Joe’s strength comes from its burly frame design which centers around Tern’s FBL frame joint (four-bar linkage). The FBL™ connects the oversized top tube with the DoubleTruss rear half. It’s a solid and efficient feeling platform, without any hint of play. I’ve seen similar linkage mechanisms on other folders, but not to this scale.
The oversized yet elegant FBL folding point instills complete confidence, so I had no hesitations about riding curbs and stairs, and it allows for a smooth and very quick fold. A couple seconds is all it takes. A nifty magnet holds the bike together while folded, so there are no straps or clips to slow you down. With a little practice I could fold and unfold the Joe quickly while on the move. That is, I could fold the bike while walking alongside it, and I could also go from pushing the folded bike to riding without having to stop. It’s the switchblade of Leatherman-style bikes.
Being able to push the Joe when folded is a nice and possibly necessary feature, because the Joe isn’t light, and cyclists aren’t known for their upper body strength. While the bike is elegantly formed, all that aluminum makes for a hefty 30+lb bike, which is awkward to carry when there isn’t a toptube to shoulder. Something to consider if you will be schlepping it up onto trains or flights of stairs.
The other tradeoff to a plus-sized folder occurred to me on my first rush-hour train ride. I got the stink-eye from several unhappy office drones for taking up more than my share of space. A 20” folder would have provided a slightly smaller footprint, but for me the improved speed and strength of the full-sized Joe was worth the small decrease in commuter karma. I didn’t even bother taking the extra steps to remove the bars, drop the seat, or pull off the quick release pedal. I preferred the bike ready to roll, for a clean getaway.
But those additional space saving features are clever. There’s a 3-in-1 metric wrench thoughtfully tucked in one of the ergo grips, so you can quickly pull the stem and mount it to the nub on the front fork. The slotted stem is marked with lines which allow it to be quickly re-mounted. Thanks to the slot and marks, the stem slides back on both straight and to your desired height, and makes me wonder, why aren’t all stems slotted this way? And finally, the right pedal pops out and into bracket under the saddle.
While it’s not singletrack, slicing through downtown traffic can be a close second for excitement. Combine crazy Boston drivers, rain, and a rotary, and you get a sprint for your life rush that can carry you through the whole day. I found the Joe to be quick handling and it accelerated well. It bobbed and weaved like a champ. The snappy handling was likely enhanced by smallish frame sizing. At 5’10”, I’m often between Medium and Large size frames, but the size Large Joe did not stretch me out, and was perfect for tight urban riding. On the move I didn’t notice any weight penalty. One afternoon I was later than usual for the train, and with no time left I was able to hop a median, dash to make a light, and roll right on the platform, making the fold and walking through the door just before the conductor closed it.
While riding in the city, I never thought about the Joe being a folder. However, I’d occasionally be tempted by singletrack and that’s where I was reminded of the Tern’s limits. There is a wire stand under the bottom bracket, which reduces BB clearance significantly. This is a handy feature for folding, and keeps the bike upright when folded. But the stand will catch on the lip of any drop-off you roll that is larger than a foot or so. It makes that horrible expensive metal grinding sound, and I only had to do it once to learn my lesson. At 155lbs I could get away with some aggressive urban riding, but the Joe is a folder, and it’s probably best not to ride it on rocky singletrack. Rail-trails and carriage paths are an acceptable limit for a folding bike.
Two notable specs shined through on my weekend rail-trail rides. The Schwalbe Marathon 2.0” touring tires and the BioLogic ergo grips. The Marathon tires accelerated better than their name implies, and the big contact patch handled well, even on wet pavement. I worried they’d washout off-road, but was surprised how well they did on gravel and dirt roads. And after a couple months of gravel and city riding, no flats. The BioLogic ergo grips were the other standout, adding to the Joe’s overall comfortable riding position. I have small hands, so I was concerned about restricted brake access with wide grips, but had no issues. I may convert to these grips on my other bikes.
If you’re in the market for a full-sized folder, the Tern Joe 27 should be on your list. There are some trade-offs in weight and folding size, but for me they are more than offset by the burly but nimble design, and total lack of circus music.