by Jody Brooks
This is a review of the 2012 Tern Verge X20 folding bicycle, one of 6 folding bicycles in the Verge line. Verge bikes are a set of folding bicycles focused on speed/performance with 20 inch wheels.
What initially distinguishes each Verge bike model is the number of gears, represented in their model numbers. In general, more gears means more options when climbing. Also, if the gear ratios are right, more gears also means more speed on the flats.
Each Tern Verge model is distinguished beyond its gear range with things like overall speed, internal shifting, overall weight, etc. The Verge X20 really stands out because it excels in not just one, but many, of these aspects.
The X20 is a folding bicycle with a minimum of compromises. Some may feel the X20 does this by compromising your bank balance. It is not a cheap folding bike. However, even on this score, the Verge X20 compares favorably to other high performance folding bikes on the market.
Initially, what stands out on the Verge X20 are the components: both for their performance pedigree and their aesthetic appeal. The SRAM Red shifting on the X20 includes the exact same set of SRAM front and rear derailleurs that provide the lightning fast, crystal clear, shifting found on many top of the line road bicycles.
The one obvious difference is in the shifters which are designed for a straight handlebar. Otherwise, you enjoy the same fantastic shifting on your folding bike as you would on any high end regular bicycle.
The Verge X20's bike bling continues with the FSA SL-K carbon crankset. Again, the same kind of crank set you find on many high end road bicycles. The only difference here is a pair of extra large front chainrings made custom for Tern. Instead of a standard 53/39 tooth count for the front chain ring, the Verge 20 ships with a 55/42 tooth count. This comes in handy later. If you've never seen it, check out some Verge X20 pictures.
With 20 different gears into which you can shift, the Tern X20 is second only to the Verge X30h for shifting options in the Verge line. That said, gears are only as good as the ratio.
A chronic challenge for bikes with smaller wheels, like the Verge line of folding bikes, is increasing the gear ratio between the front and rear gears, respectively. This helps compensate for the higher rate of revolution with smaller wheels. This web page by Sheldon Brown provides a concise explanation of the issue.
Typically, the gear ratio issue gets resolved by reducing the rear gear tooth count, increasing the front gear tooth count, or doing the equivalent with proprietary gear systems set inside the rear hub.
For example, the Verge X30h invokes the latter option by way of the SRAM DualDrive II internal hub shifting system. This has the effect of turning the Verge X30h's front chainring from 53T to ~71T. This gives the Verge X30h top end gearing that rivals many road bikes. That is incredible.
Still, with anything proprietary or non-standard to the road bike world, service can sometimes be hard to come by. The Verge X20 overcomes proprietary gear shifting pitfalls while still delivering a nice top end gearing by extending the front end of a standard drivetrain. The rear cassette is the same you find on a standard road bike: 11/28 or 11/32 tooth range. The difference is simply that the front chainrings are slightly larger than what is normally found on a regular road bike.
This produces a lower top end gearing than you find on the Verge X30h and a few other folding bikes. However, the top end gearing is still respectable on the flats and downhill. I find I can sustain 30kph with a moderate cadence and 35kph by really winding out. I won't be winning any downhill road races but 30kph is slightly higher than the average speed on the flats that I achieve with my standard road bike so the Verge X20 rarely feels like a sacrifice. And again, down the road, maintenance of the X20 drivetrain should be stress-free thanks to standard and ubiquitous parts.
Weight! The Verge X20 weighs just 9.3 kg (20.5 lb). That makes it the lightest of the Verge series and the lightest folding bicycleTern makes this year. In fact, it is one of the lightest folding bicycles on the market.
There are lighter folding bicycles with comparable components. Bikes like the Bike Friday PR Super Pro Red weigh in at 7.5kg(16.5lbs). However, it only supports riders of 86.36kg(190lb) while the Tern Verge X20 supports riders of 110kg(243lb). That's a huge difference to 200 pounders like me.
Stability! The weight specs reveal one of the great strengths of Terns in general and the Verge X20 in particular. So many folding bikes on the market have a feel that ranges from unstable to downright flimsy. This is not the case with Tern.
Descending! The Verge X20, like the rest of the line, feels really solid. My bike commute begins with a 300 meter descent in less than a mile of terrain. The Verge X20 performs this beautifully. I can't say it is as stable as my full size carbon road bike but it is still spectacular for such a small and light bike; not to mention, one that folds.
Climbing! The stability continues up hill as well. With such a steep climb home, I want every bit of my precious energy transferred to the wheels and that's how the Verge 20feels. Although the frame geometry has a lot to do with it, the Verge X20 design has a minimal quality that eliminates unwanted flex and shift within the frame.
Terns avoid the telescoping handlebar stems found on other folding bikes. This removes one more part that could flex or shift when climbing. Instead, Terns use a simple, ingenious, handlebar clamp that pivots up and down. After several trips up my hill, the whole handlebar assembly still feels solid.
There's also a minimum of flex at the pedal thanks to the standard road bike carbon cranks and Tern's simple, yet strong, frame geometry. Don't forget to order some pedals with your bike, or plan on using a spare set you have lying around. Like any high end road bike, it doesn't come with pedals.
Another factor in the feel of stability, is the fit of the Tern X20. Most people that ride my Verge X20 are astonished by how similar the saddle, pedal and handlebar placement feel to a regular bicycle. However, since I am 190.5cm(6'3") tall with an extraordinarily long torso, the fit on the Verge X20 was initially a concern. Nevertheless, I was able to resolve this easily with a seat adjustment and a 3cm "riser" handlebar. Regardless, mine is a unique case. I've since seen many "six footers" fit the stock configuration just fine.
As for legroom, there is plenty. Even for my large self, this was never an issue. I do have to max out the seatpost height but it still feels stable and I feel fine. This is incredible for a folding bike that is so light.
Last but not least, the Verge X20 is one of the most beautiful folding bikes made. The Verge X20 has Tern's trademark frame, an elegant arch of hydroformed aluminum, coated with glossy black and deep metallic red paint.
The super thin red anodized 20 inch wheels top off the attractive components and frame to make a truly striking folding bike that turns heads wherever I go. I've heard more than one folding bike skeptic say the Verge X20 overcomes the aesthetic issues some have had with small wheeled folding bikes.
With all the great features of the Verge X20, it is easy to forget that it folds: beautifully. Like most Terns bikes, and very few other folding bikes, the Verge X20 is super easy and quick to fold. In general, Terns fold into a simple N shaped pattern, across a single plane. This makes the folding process very intuitive and/or the easiest to remember of any folding bike I have encountered.
The one minor weakness to the folding process is the locking mechanism. At each folding point, Tern clamps employ a tiny sliding button that locks the clamp. The innards of these locking buttons are made of plastic. They work great. However, they do snap off easily when the uninitiated tug on the hinge clamp before sliding the lock. Although these pins are easily replaced, these incidents make it unclear how much locking value these pins provide if they break so easily. Perhaps these locking pins would work better as metal.
The Tern Verge X20 succeeds in being a folding bike that delivers a broad range of performance with very few compromises.
Some hardcore speed demons might object to the top end speed but few cyclists can sustain the Verge X20's top speed on the flats for very long anyway. What's more, no one will be wanting for gears when climbing. The low range is great and the SRAM Red shifting delivers the gears you need at the right time.
Some may take issue with the price of the Verge X20, which is the highest in the Verge series. However, no bike in the Verge series and very few folding bikes on the market have a comparable set of high end components. These components cost a lot no matter what bike on which they are mounted. In fact, the only other folding bike shipping with SRAM Red shifting components, the Bike Friday Super Pro Red, costs over twice as much as the Verge X20!
The combination of performance, speed, reliability, maintainability, and reasonable if not low pricing, will make this the right choice for many weekend road warriors who want or need a fast, folding, commuter.
Order your own Verge X20 here!