Tern GSD v2 e-cargo bike review: The mini powerhouse, now more refined
A host of subtle, but highly functional, updates make an already-fantastic cargo bike option even better.
A host of subtle, but highly functional, updates make an already-fantastic cargo bike option even better.
The original Tern GSD e-cargo bike was one of the most interesting and innovative bikes I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in my 17+ years as a tech editor. Despite the dual 20″ wheels and unusual proportions, it boasted a truly outsized capability – not to mention capacity – that positively dwarfed its compact dimensions. I equated it to one of those European-style microvans: small on the outside, but giant on the inside. A paragon of space efficiency.
But despite its tremendous utility, there were things I didn’t love about it. The handling was overly twitchy in my opinion, and the short wheelbase and little wheels also made for a bit of a bucking-bronco ride quality.
Tern later released a second generation of the GSD, and while it strikes so similar a profile as to be virtually indistinguishable to casual observers, there are some key changes cleverly tucked away that address some of the original version’s shortcomings and make the GSD v2 an even more enticing – yet still very unconventional – option for those looking to jump into the e-cargo bike lifestyle, but are short on space.
Longtail-type cargo bikes have long adopted 20″ rear wheels as a way to reduce the load height for their capacious rear racks. However, Tern – one of the preeminent proponents of dual-20″ wheels for its wide range of folding bikes – also went with a 20″ up for the GSD. The overall layout is still essentially a longtail, but the proportions almost make it look like Tern took a traditional longtail and applied some sort of weird image filter.
There’s some solid thinking behind the idea, though.
By going with 20″ wheels front and rear, Tern was able to make the GSD remarkably compact, with a total length roughly the same as a conventional non-cargo bike, but a wheelbase that’s much longer. The low-to-the-ground layout also makes for very easy mounting and dismounting for the rider (and potential passengers), as well as a low load height for the optional front cargo carriers.
Quite cleverly, the dual-stage telescoping seatpost and extended stem also collapse vertically (meaning the GSD can fit inside many smaller SUVs and mini/microvans), while four standoffs on the rear of the bike allowed you to stand it up on end, allowing for very compact storage. You could even fit the GSD upright in an elevator.
Despite the incredibly compact form, the GSD still boasted a substantial 200 kg total load capacity (including the rider), all motivated by a Bosch mid-drive e-assist motor with optional dual batteries and fantastic range even with just one. Even the standard front and rear lights (powered by the main Bosch battery) were reasonably bright.
I usually don’t think twice when review bikes go back to their motherships, but that wasn’t the case when I reviewed the original GSD back in 2019. In my opinion, it was a prime example of super clever and thorough engineering and design, all laser focused on a specific task.
I seriously considered buying the thing (and it was perhaps a good thing for my bank account that Tern needed it back for another tester).
As impressive as the original GSD was, there was still room for improvement (isn’t there always?). The handling was twitchy, particularly at even moderate speeds. The ride quality was pretty rough. And in what could be perceived as the ultimate in nitpicking, the original kickstand was just woeful.
I’m happy to report that all of that has been addressed.
First and foremost, Tern gave the second-generation GSD a revamped TIG-welded aluminum frame. The larger-diameter tubing is stiffer than the old profiles, and while that might not seem important on a cargo bike, torsional stiffness is incredibly important on long tails, particularly when they’re heavily loaded. Ever tried carrying a wiggly toddler or hauling a hundred kilos of sand – in traffic! – on the back of a whippy bike that’s longer than some tandems? It’s not exactly confidence-inspiring.
Up front, Tern addressed the handling with a slacker head tube angle for (somewhat) more relaxed steering geometry. Taking a page from Electra’s original “Flat Foot Technology” concept, there’s also a more laid-back seat tube angle to make it easier for riders to put their foot on the ground while still maintaining good leg extension on the pedals.
A standard suspension fork also aims to settle things down when you hit a bump, and upper-end models get a suspension seatpost too.
The latest models also get Bosch’s more powerful – and substantially quieter – motor units, and although Tern’s catalog of accessories for the GSD was also sizable a few years ago, it’s somehow managed to grow considerably since then.
Time for a redo, eh?
To a large extent, Tern’s revamps have yielded the desired effects.
As promised, the steering feels more relaxed than it did before, offering more of the buttoned-down confidence that’s so critical for bikes in this genre, and what seemed lacking to me in the first-generation version. It’s definitely less nervous and twitchy.
There are still limits to what Tern could do with that tiny 20″ front wheel, however, and anyone used to a more conventionally sized front wheel will still have to undergo some recalibration before they’re totally comfortable; small movements here can equate to big changes in direction if you’re not careful, particularly when combined with that relatively short (at least for a cargo bike) wheelbase. It’s an improvement nonetheless, though in my opinion, the GSD is still best suited for low-to-medium speeds in tight urban environments than suburban settings where you might be able to go a little faster.
Arguably offering a more substantial change is the addition of suspension. My S00 test sample was one of the upper-end build kits, featuring a 70 mm-travel Suntour Mobie A32 suspension fork up front (with a tapered chromoly steel steerer!) and a 50 mm-travel Cane Creek Thudbuster suspension seatpost out back.
You might be thinking neither is a lot of movement, and you’re right. But in this application, it’s more about absorbing the small-to-medium impacts that might otherwise bounce you off-line, not swallowing more severe stuff like inadvertently smashing into curbs. And in that sense, both bits do the job admirably.
Whereas the first-generation GSD’s occasionally unnerving twitchiness was only further exacerbated by ground imperfections, having suspension – even just this little bit – makes for a much more planted and stable feel. Both wheels are much less likely to bounce around, and traction is more consistent when on the brakes or turning. Instead of bracing for impact as I sometimes had to do on that original GSD, I could instead relax and just glide across the tarmac and multi-use paths without having to worry as much.
There are also benefits in terms of comfort and cargo.
Needless to say, even that modest amount of suspension makes for a smoother ride, all without having to resort to lowering tire pressure more than you might otherwise want to properly accommodate heavier loads. And at least for front-mounted cargo, that suspension fork reduces somewhat how much that stuff gets tossed about. That’s not a big deal in terms of cargo damage, mind you, but rather how much all that mass moving around can potentially affect handling.
Speaking of cargo, the second-generation GSD certainly hasn’t lost any of its remarkable carrying capacity. Despite its tiny footprint, this thing can still carry a ridiculous amount of stuff. It’s not the best for carrying big items in my opinion, but it barely blinks when loaded down with a lot of mass when properly outfitted.
To be clear, Tern doesn’t include any cargo-related accessories with the GSD aside from the built-in rear rack. While that can obviously be viewed as a serious bummer, it also allows buyers to configure the GSD exactly how it makes the most sense for them.
There are the usual things like several sizes of panniers and bags, but also things like oversized running boards and basic rack pads, a dog carrier (!), an extra-wide rear tray, and even a fully enclosed compartment for keeping kids warm and dry in inclement weather (sorry, mom or dad, you’re still getting wet). Suffice to say, the complete range of accessories available for the GSD is seriously impressive, and it speaks volumes for how important Tern considers the GSD to the company’s success.
I received my test sample with the humongous Cargo Hold 52 panniers for hauling groceries, a Clubhouse+ for hauling my kid, a Captain’s Chair for hauling adults, and a Transporteur front rack so I could still carry stuff when I had a passenger on board. Those panniers can hold two full-sized grocery bags each. My kid could easily hop into the Clubhouse+ on her own (and if I wanted more stability, there are even optional outrigger feet to supplement the seriously beefy Atlas Lockstand kickstand). The front rack is big enough for a medium-sized suitcase.
No matter how you have it loaded, the second-generation GSD’s more solid frame construction keeps everything secure and stable, and somewhat remarkably, I never noticed a single hint of creaking.
This thing is just as much of a workhorse as it was before, and the improvements have only enhanced its capabilities and livability.
As I noticed with the first-generation Tern GSD, whoever is choosing the build kits on these things is doing a heck of a good job, as the choices made demonstrate just as much careful thought as the bike itself.
The wheels are particularly noteworthy, built with seriously burly house-brand “Atlas” 36 mm-wide rims, 13g straight stainless steel spokes, and brass nipples joined in a 32-hole (plenty for a 20″ wheel), three-cross configuration to a thru-axle front hub and Enviolo continuously variable internally geared rear hub. Wrapped around those rims are a 62 mm-wide Schwalbe Super Moto-X rear tire and 55 mm-wide Schwalbe Big Ben Plus front.
Although I’d like to see a tubeless setup straight from the factory (I regret to admit I forgot to check if the rims can even be converted), lots of prior experience has proven those to be some of my favorite cargo bike tires overall, offering an efficient roll, good grip, excellent puncture protection, and great wear characteristics.
Opinions will vary on the Enviolo CVT-style rear hub. The stepless gear ratios are somewhat funky to operate with the goofy twist shifter, and it can be difficult to shift under moderate-to-hard pedaling efforts. However, I find the 380% range to be plenty for urban use (especially with the motor assist), and particularly when heavily loaded, the ability to shift when at a standstill can be a godsend when it comes time to get moving again and you realize you hadn’t downshifted beforehand.
Nevertheless, Tern offers both conventional derailleur-based drivetrains and even a Rohloff internally geared rear hub should you so choose.
Either way, the matching Gates belt drive on the IGH hub builds makes for a fantastic low-maintenance and quiet pairing, and the full-wrap guard keeps loose clothing from getting stuck in the drivetrain, too.
Speaking of the drivetrain, I’m a big fan of the latest Bosch mid-drive motor systems. There’s more torque than on earlier models (now 85 Nm instead of 75 Nm), and now that Bosch has finally done away with the internal gear reduction system (which necessitated those characteristically tiny chainrings), the whole system is substantially quieter, emitting a barely-audible whir that quickly fades into the background. As is usually the case with Bosch motor systems, the power comes on smoothly and seamlessly with no delay when you apply pressure to the pedals, with no weird surging that can often accommodate cheaper systems.
The centrally mounted Bosch Purion computer isn’t as fancy as the company’s higher-end offerings (particularly the ultra-fancy Nyon), but the display is large and easy to read, and perhaps more importantly, it’s easy to use, particularly with the remote control pad sitting right by your left thumb.
Total range is especially impressive, all things considered. Bosch offers four different levels of assist, with 50/32/26/23 miles of stated range when fully charged. Actual range obviously can vary a fair bit depending on terrain and load, but I generally found those figures to be surprisingly close – and if you really need more, Tern offers a dual-battery option, too.
Also earning high marks are the Magura MT5 hydraulic disc brakes, sporting four-piston calipers more often found on enduro bikes, as well as larger-diameter 180 mm rotors front and rear. Although the lever feel is a bit spongy, there’s power for days along with a superb level of control. Magura’s hydraulic fluid is mineral oil-based instead of more finicky DOT formulations, so while annual re-bleeds are still recommended, they’re not quite as critical since mineral oil doesn’t absorb atmospheric moisture. Either way, it’s not unusual to see cargo bikes with what I feel is adequate stopping power, so it’s good to see one come stock with brakes suitable for the task.
The finishing kit is very good too.
The saddle on the first-generation GSD wasn’t all that supportive, but the one Tern includes now is a big improvement, with firmer padding and a more agreeable shape. Genuine Ergon grips can be found at the other end, and while the wing shape looks a little odd, they’re very comfortable, particularly when you’re bare-handed.
Other niceties include front and rear fenders (although the front fender could do with a flap), updated front and rear lights that are a fair bit brighter than before, a standard Abus front wheel lock, and even a standard bell that doesn’t suck.
Overall, it’s a solid assortment of kit.
Surely you didn’t think I found the revamped GSD to be perfect, did you? Well, truth be told, it’s a pretty short list of complaints.
That new Atlas “Lockstand” is so named because of how it securely locks in place for additional security. It’s easy to engage – just push the kickstand foot to the ground and rock the bike rearward – but to release it, you need to push a remote lever on the handlebar. It’s neat when it’s working properly, but the one on my test sample was frustratingly finicky. It required perfect cable tensioning for proper functioning, and even then, there was more friction in the cable and housing than I would have liked (and keep in mind that my sample was new). I think I would have preferred Tern spec the non-locking standard Atlas kickstand and left the Lockstand as an available upgrade.
The bike wasn’t the only thing that underwent a lot of changes from the original to version 2.0; the monster-sized panniers went through a revision too, and I unfortunately liked the older ones better. They were easier to fold up when not in use, and the buckles were easier to use. You also can’t just leave the buckles undone on the new panniers either, as they’ll drag on the ground while you’re riding.
What else? Well, as convenient as that front wheel lock is, it hardly counts as even moderate security. Abus offers a heavy-duty chain that plugs into that same wheel lock for additional peace of mind, but I wish Tern just included the thing.
There’s also that not-so-small elephant in the room. Like many cargo bikes, the Tern GSD is only offered in a single size that the company claims will work for riders ranging from 1.5 to 1.95 m in height (roughly 4’ 11″ to 6’ 5″). Recommendations are one thing, real-world experiences are another. I fall right in the middle of that range, and even I find the GSD to feel a little small, if only due to those little wheels and the compact form factor of the bike in general. I think riders at the lower end of that range will still be ok thanks to that very neat adjustable handlebar setup, but I just can’t imagine riders at the upper end can avoid feeling like they’re a circus bear on a mini-bike.
Otherwise, I remain as impressed with this second-generation GSD as I was with the old one – more so, in fact. The small-on-the-outside/big-on-the-inside concept is brilliant, the execution is incredibly well thought-out overall, and the range of available accessories is beyond generous.
To come up with just a fantastic (and very clever) cargo bike like this is one thing, but to put in the effort to create a complete ecosystem like this just puts this thing over the top. I still adore my Urban Arrow, and firmly believe there are inherent advantages to a front-loader in a lot of situations. But if I didn’t have a garage to store that massive thing, I almost certainly would’ve purchased one of these instead.
More information can be found at www.ternbicycles.com.