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Tern GSD S10 LX electric cargo bike review: no more excuses

A powerful, impressive cargo bike in its own right, but it’s really all about the accessories

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Tern’s GSD is one of the best electric cargo bikes around.
Tern’s GSD is one of the best electric cargo bikes around.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

For certain parents, especially those in the US, the decision whether to take the kids to school on a bike or in a car often hinges on the weather. Sunshine and blue skies make it an easy choice to take the bike. But when the clouds roll in and there’s a hint of rain in the air, the idea of arriving with two soggy kids on the rear rack often steers some parents reluctantly toward the car. 

Bad weather is just an excuse, really. People in other, more bike-friendly countries will ride in all seasons. Are they made of heartier stuff than us car-coddled Americans? Yes, but maybe we don’t actually need ice in our veins to ride through blizzards and hurricanes. Maybe we just need better accessories. 

The Taiwanese bike company’s GSD is already one of the best cargo bikes on the market

Thankfully, Tern has a solution to help make these decisions a lot easier. The Taiwanese bike company’s GSD is already one of the best cargo bikes on the market. But with the addition of the Storm Shield, which provides an impressive layer of protection for passengers on the rear rack, you may be tempted to ride right into the eye of the storm, come hell or high water. 

Let’s start with the bike itself. Tern first introduced the GSD in 2017, and since then it’s released several updated models. I tested the top-line model, the GSD S10 LX with the Bosch Cargo Line motor. Tern loaned me its Storm Shield, Storm Box, and Clubhouse accessories as well. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Motor: Bosch Cargo Line
  • Top speed: 20mph (32km/h)
  • Range: 32-65 miles with single-battery configuration 
  • Battery: 500Wh
  • Weight: 71.7lbs (32.5kg)
  • Brakes: Magura MT5 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes
  • Drive: Chain driven Shimano 10-speed geared hub
  • Tires: 20 inches
  • Extras: SunTour suspension front fork
  • Price: $5,499
The GSD is a workhorse e-bike.
The GSD is a workhorse e-bike.
The Bosch mid-drive motor is especially powerful.
The Bosch mid-drive motor is especially powerful.
The GSD’s price may turn some people away.
The GSD’s price may turn some people away.
It’s not the most powerful e-bike, but the GSD makes up for it with its ability to haul lots of stuff.
It’s not the most powerful e-bike, but the GSD makes up for it with its ability to haul lots of stuff.

Looking at this bike, you may be left scratching your head at the design. The GSD doesn’t look like a traditional bike, with its small wheels and angular step-through frame. The back half of the bike frame is a mess of intersecting triangles and trapezoids. But looks are deceiving. The wheelbase is only slightly longer than most single-occupancy bikes, which matters a lot for storage and transportation, whether rolled onto a train or mounted to the back of your car. It’s also narrower than front-bucket designs from European companies like Urban Arrow and Carqon, allowing you to maneuver more easily through tight spaces.

Much like its smaller-but-no-less-capable sibling, the HSD, the Tern GSD is a workhorse e-bike with a bevy of made-to-impress components that help make biking feel seamless. It’s a mid-tail cargo bike, meaning it’s big enough to fit two kids on the rear rack while also being compatible with a hitch bike rack. It has a longer wheelbase than most traditional bikes, but is still considered shorter than a longtail cargo bike. The Tern GSD can carry up to 440 pounds including the bike, rider, cargo, and accessories.

The GSD is easy to store thanks to Tern’s commitment to bringing some element of its folding bike technology to most models in its e-bike lineup. The GSD’s handlebars can fold down, and the entire bike can be stored vertically thanks to the bumpers on the rear rack. That said, it’s still a cargo bike, so you’ll need to take into account the size of the bike and its storage. 

One of the things I admire in Tern’s lineup is the flexibility

One of the things I admire in Tern’s lineup is the flexibility. The low-step frame combined with the handlebars and seat post that can be raised and lowered without any tools, as well as a custom SunTour front suspension fork, help make this a bike that can easily be passed around among family members or friends. Riders of all shapes and sizes will feel at ease on the GSD. I’m six-foot-one, and while I usually appreciate a larger sized bike frame, the GSD’s one-size-fits-all frame did not put me off in the slightest. The riding style is more upright than your typical racing or road bike, which can take some getting used to. 

The GSD is a Class 1 electric bike in the US, meaning it’s pedal-assist with no throttle and a top speed of 20mph. There were times when I missed the twist throttle, especially when getting started from a standstill on a steep incline with a kid and extra cargo on the rear rack. The Shimano 10-speed gearing system certainly helps. But I also understand why some manufacturers avoid the throttle — and honestly believe that throttles will eventually run into regulatory issues in the future — so I try not to begrudge any bike for its exclusion.

The Cargo Line motor is one of Bosch’s most powerful systems, designed specifically for e-bikes that carry lots of weight. It’s also a step up from the Bosch Performance line motors in the earlier models. The S10 LX comes with either a 500Wh or a 1,000Wh system with a motor that provides 85 Newton-meters of torque and up to 400 percent pedal assistance in its highest setting. 

Yes, I realize the Storm Shield is installed backward. So what?
Yes, I realize the Storm Shield is installed backward. So what?

Performance-wise, I wasn’t that impressed with the 500Wh battery pack, and if I had the money, I would definitely invest in the second battery. While Tern claims the GSD has a range of 32-62 miles (52-105km), I found myself needing to recharge the battery after as little as 20 miles of riding in the highest assist level on mostly flat surfaces with a few steep hills mixed in. The motor lacked some of the torque that you would find in a smaller, more nimble e-bike. And while the top speed is listed as 20mph, I was only able to hit that while going downhill. With a low center of gravity, the stability was great and it handled well as I biked through my suburban small town.  

GSD stands for “get stuff done”

GSD stands for “get stuff done”; that’s exactly what I did while I had it: took the kids to school, went grocery shopping, used it for all the little, ticky-tacky errands for which I might normally have used the car. All told, during a month of testing, I probably put 150-200 miles on it. I’m not trying to sound like a broken record, but e-bikes are car replacements, full stop. They get a lot of shit from the cycling community because they take a lot of the effort out of cycling, but that’s exactly the point. 

The Tern GSD exemplifies their potential. If you live in the US, you’ve been conditioned into believing you need a car for daily life. And you probably do, because your community has been built to exclude most other forms of transportation in the interest of making driving as frictionless as possible. E-bikes, especially cargo ones like the GSD, can help smash through that conditioning and invite you to live in a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable world. 

This all-weather bike makes biking year-round more pleasurable.
This all-weather bike makes biking year-round more pleasurable.

Let’s get down off the soapbox and talk about accessories, because that’s what really turned me on to the GSD. 

In addition to loaning me the GSD, Tern also provided a bevy of cool add-ons, including two 52-liter panniers and three other accessories called the Clubhouse, Storm Box, and Storm Shield. 

The Clubhouse is essentially a seat pad with a backrest for the rack and rail that surrounds the whole thing to prevent passengers from falling off. The Storm Box provides a waterproof covering for their legs, while the Storm Shield is a waterproof nylon canopy that fits over the rack, with side panels that roll up or down depending on the weather. 

Altogether, Tern calls it the Clubhouse Fort, and my kids definitely treated it like their own private funhouse. Every morning, they couldn’t wait to hop on board for the 3.5-mile ride to their school. At the end of my testing period, I found all manner of gummy snacks and Goldfish crackers at the bottom of the Storm Box. I didn’t mind it. 

To be sure, it’s not cheap to outfit your bike with all these accessories

To be sure, it’s not cheap to outfit your bike with all these accessories. The panniers ($250 for two), Clubhouse ($240), Storm Box ($220), and Storm Shield ($220) are all pretty expensive, especially in aggregate. And when added to the price tag for the GSD — $5,499 for single battery configuration, $6,299 for the dual-battery — you’re looking at an overall price tag of over $7,000, which is just stunning. 

Pricier than your average 10-speed, sure, but think about it in comparison to the costs of car ownership. For vehicles driven 15,000 miles a year, average car ownership costs were $9,561 a year, or $797 a month, in 2020, according to AAA. That figure includes depreciation, loan interest, fuel, insurance, maintenance and fees. In other words, the highest-spec Tern cargo bike, complete with all the fixin’s, is the equivalent of about nine months of car ownership in the US. Not a bad tradeoff. 

Sure, I wish Tern were a bit cheaper — and you can certainly find cargo bikes with a similar array of accessories for less money — but I also know that the company puts a lot of effort into building some of the best e-bikes on the market today. They’re versatile, reliable, and powerful. But they also can help liberate you from the constraints of car ownership. To me, that’s worth the price alone.