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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tern For The Better?: New Folding Bike Company Debuts In Taiwan

Over the past several days there has been quite a lot of noise over the debut of a new line of bikes from a brand new bike company. Tern Bicycles introduced their new product line in Taipei last week along with some promotional material under the slogan... Life Unfolds.

The bicycles look handsome. They appear easy to operate and they are being targeted to woo younger, urban riders who might have previously eschewed the clunkier iterations of the folding bike-- iterations like those from Dahon, the industry leader in folding bikes.

This strategy is no coincidence as Tern was founded by Josh Hon and headed by his mother Florence Shen, the acting General Manager. Both Shen and Hon are still current board members at Dahon as they are the wife and son of David Hon, Dahon's founder.

From Bike Biz:

The company’s debut product range comprises 22 models based on five frame platforms. Retail prices are expected to be comparable with nearest competitors, ranging from $400 to $3,500 (although pricing is likely to be higher in the UK). There will be a three-phase international roll out, with 35 distributors confirmed to date. A UK distributor is expected to be in place by August. The first bikes will be shipped in September, with the rest of the world following closely behind.
It’s a brave move launching a new company to focus on such a niche product - braver still when there is well-established, direct competition. At a press panel session the day after the launch, senior members of the Tern team detailed how the company is so different to its competitors.

Although Tern is an entirely new company, it is mainly comprised of former Dahon Global team members. With so much shared between these two companies it is difficult to imagine Tern as an entirely new entity competing against industry stalwarts. Instead it looks to be more of a means to focus on a younger demographic without damaging Dahon's established reputation in the markets it currently enjoys superiority. Tern, in many ways, acts like Dahon's boutique brand. In a similar vein, QBP is the parent company of both Salsa and Surly bikes. Both Salsa and Surly are independent companies and operated as such, yet each focuses on a different segment of the market to reduce overlap and cannibalization of their respective customer base.

One look at the video above and we have a much clearer idea of whom Tern would like to target.

The video depicts young, hip caucasians cycling through Taipei's urban landscape (anyone who knows Taiwanese streets will immediately see what a little traffic control can do to distort reality).

For Tern, it is important to distance itself from Daddy's company and appeal to a different demographic. The first part of this effort is by ditching any inference that it may be an "Asian" brand beyond the gorgeous origami crane logo. Dahon sounds too "foreign". It sounds like it comes out of a factory in Asia (which they both do). Dahon does not sound elegant... it sounds "Asian"... as if Asian were a pejorative and the word is often thrown around as a pejorative on bike forums.

It is also very important to demonstrate the product's authenticity by having caucasians flaunt the product. I have even lent my own likeness to some exercise products as "The guy on the box" (an entirely different and uglier experience). Another time my friend donned a white lab coat for an ad selling water filters that were "so miraculous... they can turn wine into water." Both the white face and lab coat contributed to lending authenticity to the product. My friend was really not Dr. Winthrop and had no authority in the business of water filtration save for the miraculous filtration qualities of his liver on a Saturday night. This is not unusual as in Taiwan, we are expected to both actively exploit and are exploited for our "whiteness" and all that it entails.

The one quote from the Bike Biz article that struck me was about the expected life of the product.

Like cameras, each bike should last for about three years before it’s replaced. This will allow product designers to work towards designs which will be put into production three years from now, not in six months’ time. They will have time to work on really worthy innovations to produce true distinctions between older and new models.”
I am not sure if this is a reference to a life of use or its life as an SKU#.

Regardless, they are on the right track in looking at ways to make the urban riding experience better with a nice looking bike that I hope will convince non-riders to give cycling a try.