INTERVIEW by JOSHUA WONG | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of ERIC MAH
“How do you get more butts onto bikes?” For the better part of twenty years, Josh Hon has been committed to answering this seemingly simple question through his work as the VP of Marketing and Sales at his father’s company, Dahon, the world’s largest foldable bicycle manufacturer, and most recently with his new venture, Tern. On a mission to change the way the world thinks about urban transportation, Josh and his globally diverse team of cycling enthusiasts began to reimagine how foldable bikes could fit seamlessly into a future where multimodal transportation reigns supreme. Sprinting forward, Tern has already garnered a handful of international design awards in their first year out and is quickly building a following in cities like New York, Berlin, Tokyo, and Taipei. We caught up with Josh shortly after the company celebrated their first anniversary to pick his brain on the future of sustainable transportation.
First off, I hear that some birthday wishes are in order. How does it feel to be the proud parent of a one-year-old company?
Well, it’s pretty exciting. The whole team has been in sprint mode, so now I think we can all kind of take a deep breath, look, and go, “Okay, well, what did we do in the last year?” And when we look back, we’re kind of amazed at what we did. Everybody’s excited. I think everybody knows it was the right direction to go in.
What’s in store for Tern next?
We’re pretty excited because there are a lot of things that we had to cut corners on to get stuff done on time in the first year. Now, in year two, we’re able to really dig in and work on small details.
Actually, we had a product meeting today about this little rubber plug that’s designed for a small hole on our frame joint. This really tiny rubber piece is going to make a lot of our dealers and distributors really happy because it keeps water out; it keeps dirt out; it looks better; and if there are any scratches in that area, it covers them up. Little things like that are things that actually make people really happy — just doing the little details. So yes, we’re kind of excited for what we have for year two.
Tern Bicycles: innovative, stylish, foldable
Now with you being the founder of a bicycle company, I feel I have to ask: How do you get to work?
Well, I drive my Hummer 400 yards to work.
Now, seriously [laughs]. Well, actually, I live across the street from our office, so I walk to work.
How about the rest of your staff?
We’re pretty big on encouraging our staff to ride to work, and if people in the company commit to riding to work, we give them a free bicycle.
A cool twist to the program is that you can commit for a number of days per week. So you can ride one day a week or you can commit all five, and we have bikes that are level 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively. The more days you commit to, the more expensive a bike you can choose; so if you ride every day to work, you can choose our US $3500 bike.
There’s kind of a little loophole, unfortunately. There’s a guy who only lives about 400 yards away, so he rides everyday and he has a $2,000 dollar bike doing a 400 yard commute [laughs].
Foldable bikes have been around for a while and are gaining popularity in space constrained countries like England and Japan. What is Tern doing differently to disrupt this category?
Well, I think we’re not really here to disrupt the category and I think we’re not even really aiming at the folding bike category. The space that we’re looking at is people using bicycles for transportation.
In the US, a lot of the market has been recreational. It’s either mountain bikes or road bikes or bikes for kids to ride on weekends, and a lot less “Day in, day out, I’m riding to work.” So I think what we’re really focusing on is how do you make a bike that’s going to be suitable for riding day in, day out to get your errands done, to go to the supermarket, — these things.
I would say kind of the model that we are looking at as an ideal future is Holland. A huge number of their short trips are all done by bike. Longer trips are done by rail or bus, and there’s a ton of people using folding bikes. Then it’s only really intercity stuff or times where you need to be dressed in a suit when you use a car.
So that is kind of what we’re looking at. We’re just trying to figure out how we get more people living that lifestyle, rather than getting in a car, driving 800 yards to the post office, and then driving back.
How to fold a Tern bike
What will it take to convince more consumers to start choosing convertible bicycles in the US?
I think you’re obviously not going to change the US consumer overnight.
We believe the future of transport is multimodal. We’re not a bunch of hippies walking around barefoot and going, “Cars are evil.” Most of us have cars, but we try and figure out how to use cars a little bit less and more for longer journeys and use bikes for shorter journeys.
With lines like “Forum: Like ancient Rome, but with trolls” sprinkled through your website, I think I developed a little bit of a crush on your brand. Is this cheeky copy reflective of the overall personality of your team?
Well, I’ll tell you about the guy who wrote it. He’s one of our graphic designers and he normally doesn’t talk much. He’s a super quiet guy.
One day, he complained about some of our copywriting. I don’t remember at what point, but we were like, “Well, then do you want to give us a hand?” And he goes, “Okay.” The stuff that he pulls off is pretty ridiculously good, and we loved the tone, so we’ve continued with it.
If you could take anyone in the world on a bike ride, who would it be?
Well, we’re pretty big Apple fans over here, and I think that it would be pretty interesting to pick Tim Cook’s brain. I hear Tim is a cyclist and I find the supply chain job that he’s done with Apple mind-boggling.
Finally, how can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to Tern’s success?
We would encourage Daily BR!NK readers to take a look at cycling for short trips or even longer trips in a multimodal combination. I think they’ll find that they’ll feel a lot better because they’re getting exercise and reducing their carbon footprint. And of course, I would say, “Take a look at our bikes because we think our bikes are pretty good.”