We are Cyclists. We’re a pretty varied collection of personalities but we all share the fundamental belief that cycling is central to a healthy sustainable future. So although we use our bikes in different ways — weekend rides with our kids, triathlons, BMX competitions, or every day commuting to work — we all share the same love of cycling.
We are Diverse. In the age of the Internet and open borders, people and ideas are co-mingling with stunning speed. Our company is a reflection of this diverse new world, a richly chaotic crash of different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultural backgrounds, that ensures that our point of view is seasoned by many different kinds of eyes and our product, tested in all kinds of conditions. We have team members throughout the world, in offices in Taipei, Taiwan; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Humboldt, California; Bend, Oregon; London, England; Turku, Finland; Stuttgart, Germany; Shanghai, China; and Schaffhausen, Switzerland — just about every time zone. Twenty-four hours a day, in some part of the world, we are designing, testing, and riding our product.
We are Environmentally-minded. A commitment to sustainability is central to who we are. It starts with the product we make — bicycles — which are the ultimate high efficiency vehicle. It also extends to how we make our products — made from quality materials and designed to be serviceable rather than land-fillable. And we are constantly searching for ways to reduce our impact, like minimizing packaging, specifying recycled cardboard, and reducing use of harmful chemicals like chromium. It also extends to how we all get to work — 15% of us now get to work by bike or walking; 75% of us take bus, train or scooter; and only 10% of us drive to work. But we can still do a lot better, and that’s something we’ll be working on.
We are Committed to improving things. We will give at least 1% of our profits, every year, to environmental or social causes. We all want to live in a world with clean water, clean air, and safe food. But with things going the way they are, it’s getting harder and harder. We need to work to protect our planet and we need to support the individuals and groups that are bearing the brunt of that responsibility.
We are Tern.
A Bit of History, a Bit of Context
Faced with a difficult situation, one can choose the easy path or the hard one. The hard path may be less defined. It’s certainly riskier and will take more work, but one expects it to be the more rewarding and dignified choice. This is a story about taking the hard path.
First, a little background…
Entering the fall of 2010, we were an established team consisting of people who knew a thing or two about how to make bikes and move people. Unfortunately, circumstances impeded our ability to pursue directions harmonious with our shared beliefs. We saw an opportunity to remedy that by forming a new company and walking the hard path of starting anew. Once committed, the first step was finding the right name and identity for our fledgling brand.
It was after Interbike and what we really needed was a break, but time was short and we had to choose a name. There were about a dozen of us, brainstorming poolside, in the backyard of a Las Vegas rental. Our ideas were ranging far and wide, and we needed something to focus us. Our art director swung us back to a particularly inspiring quote of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, from the film 180° South:
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. The solution, may be, for a lot of the world’s problems is to turn around and take a forward step. You can’t just keep trying to make a flawed system work.”
The idea of turning around and moving forward to face the challenges head-on was compelling. It meant retracing some steps, but we would know where to expect the bumps in the road. More importantly, it would present fresh opportunities to make better choices.
The discussion kept coming back to the word, turn and all of its connotations, but the word itself lacked personality. With the beer and creativity flowing, a tangential discussion led us to names of migratory animals. After all, we wanted to change how people get around, so that category seemed a fitting source of inspiration. Serendipitously, an internet search found the world-champion of migratory animals to be the Arctic Tern.
Being a homophone was already a huge plus, but the nature of the bird is what helped solidify the choice. It’s a global traveler that covers amazing distances. It’s usually found in high-density communities. It’s highly invested in choosing good partners, since terns mate for life. All of which were traits well-suited to the company we envisioned.
It was settled a few days later when one of our creative team quietly posted an image of something he had been working on at home — an origami tern. And thus the Tern name and logo inspiration came to life.
What We Like About the Name
- It has innate character that resonates with us because it is an actual bird and not some made-up word.
- Outside of ornithology circles, it’s not a commonly seen word, giving us something just a little bit different.
- It sounds like turn, which, in our case, will always be tied to a company we admire and the paradox of working to solve problems by “turning around and taking a forward step.”
- Due to this shared sound we can replace turn in special cases to create something uniquely ours. When done well this creates fun and memorable associations.
- Turn is used in phrases with a wide variety of meanings. We can use these phrases as wordplay to hint at our brand name while communicating myriad ideas.
Why We Put a Bird On It
It turns out that the Arctic Tern has many qualities that are also important to bicycles and transportation. These are aspects that we aspire to with our brand, our company, and our products.
The Arctic Tern is a marvel.
- It is small and lightweight, both of which are good for transportation efficiency, and which we strive to emulate with our products.
- It flies an average of 71,000 km per annual migration, or nearly 2.5 million km in a lifetime: the longest distance travelled by any animal. Completing the same distance on a bicycle would require riding at an average commuter speed, every waking hour, everyday, all year long.
- It is relatively long-lived, having a lifespan of more than 30 years. For a company, we think that would be a pretty good start.
- It mates for life, which means the Arctic Tern values reliability and long-term relationships. These are values upon which we also place high import.
- It is a social animal that shows concern for its companions. We expect the same from all members of the Tern global family.
- Although not endangered, its global migratory habits make it susceptible to a range of climate issues. We are sensitive to the impact we have on the planet and believe bicycles can help stem the tide of climate change.