Tandem questions

General cycling advice ( NOT technical ! )
AndyB
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Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 8:50am

We've decided to get a tandem, but it's only as I start looking into it that I realise how many difficult decisions there are to make! I'm hoping some of you can help. I've had a good look at the Thorn site and I'm trying to work out what to believe!

What we're after is something for myself and my son (who is a small 4 and a half year old), mainly for touring. We'll be camping (but in a lightweight way - we saw folk out on our last tour who had nearly as much each as we did for the three of us!), and will be going to mountainous areas (we're close to the Yorkshire Dales, and will head to Scotland, the Alps, Pyrenees, etc). A bit of rough stuff is not entirely out of the question (at a later date). I think we've basically settled on a double adult frame and going with kiddy cranks to start with; my wife and I are of a similar enough size that we should be able to get a tandem that we could both ride either front or back, and this seems like a more versatile long-term option. My main questions now are about gearing, braking, and couplings, which are unfortunately inter-related.

Gearing. Basically - Rohloff or derailleur. I'm happy enough with my derailleur bikes, but I can see the appeal of Rohloff, particularly being able to change when stationary and having a nice clean chainline. Is component wear a big problem on tandems, and will the Rohloff setup help? People talk about problems with the front shifting on tandems - how big an issue is this really? The downsides of Rohloff's seem to be cost, noise and lack of provision for a drum brake - are these an issue? Is there anything else I've not thought of?

Braking. The Arai drum brake seems to be the popular choice - is it still first choice? The Rohloff won't accept one, so it's discs for this - is this a sensible setup (with v-brakes or cantilevers front and rear)? One thing to consider is that, at the moment, my son and I together weigh less than 80kg, so we're not going to bee the heaviest bike in the world (but this is changing - him not me, thankfully!).

Couplings. S&S Couplings look good, and sensible. They will make it easy to fit the bike in the car, but I'm not sure how much difference they will make elsewhere. Would being able to split the frame just ahead of the pilot's seatpost make much difference to train or plane travel? I have a suspicion that check-in staff and the like would just get confused and refuse anyway! Obviously they add considerably to the cost, epecially if used with hydraulic discs, for which the coupling is nearly £300 (on top of the S&S joints)!

Any views on these questions, or any other pointers for buying a tandem, would be most appreciated!

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Deckie
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby Deckie » 28 Jul 2009, 10:12am

If you're near the Yorkshire Dales get yourself down to Ilkley & visit JD Cycles. They specialise in tandems and have a large selection you can try out before committing. We bought our Dawes Galaxy Twin from there & are very happy - they converted it from bar end shifters to STI for us aswell.
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srw
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby srw » 28 Jul 2009, 11:37am

Are you sure you want a tandem? At the age of four-and-a-half your son will grow quickly. Will you get enough use out of a tandem that fits him? Would a tag-along work better for the moment?

On the other questions:
I like my Rohloff, and would choose one for a solo commuting/touring bike, but there is a well-documented case on the web of a tandem having a Rohloff hub case failing catastrophically - twice. The noise issue isn't. The loudest sound as we're going along is of tyres on tarmac, followed by birdsong.

S&S couplings are fantastic. Bagged up, the tandem goes in trains that don't allow bikes as "large luggage". It also goes in the car (Focus C-Max) - and we can even get three people in with it.

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 11:59am

Deckie wrote:If you're near the Yorkshire Dales get yourself down to Ilkley & visit JD Cycles. They specialise in tandems and have a large selection you can try out before committing. We bought our Dawes Galaxy Twin from there & are very happy - they converted it from bar end shifters to STI for us aswell.

A good idea - thanks. A visit is on the cards, but I want to have a bit more knowledge before I go!

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 12:09pm

srw wrote:Are you sure you want a tandem? At the age of four-and-a-half your son will grow quickly. Will you get enough use out of a tandem that fits him? Would a tag-along work better for the moment?

We've thought quite a lot about this. This is the reason for getting an adult size with kiddy cranks, rather than a childback tandem. It should fit us until he's at least in his middle teens (even as an adult unless he's taller than both of us), so he's more likely to want to move to his own bike than be too big for it. I'd expect a good 6 to 10 years use, which (given the type of touring we do) is enough to justify the expense for us. After my wife and I will be able to ride it together (if she's willing!).

srw wrote:On the other questions:
I like my Rohloff, and would choose one for a solo commuting/touring bike, but there is a well-documented case on the web of a tandem having a Rohloff hub case failing catastrophically - twice. The noise issue isn't. The loudest sound as we're going along is of tyres on tarmac, followed by birdsong.

I've heard of this case, but no others, so I'm willing to assume it's a one-off. The two of us are pretty light at least! It's reassuring to know that noise isn't a big issue. I take it that your tandem is derailleur equipped? If so, do you have any problems keeping it shifting smoothly, and what is the wear rate like?

srw wrote:S&S couplings are fantastic. Bagged up, the tandem goes in trains that don't allow bikes as "large luggage". It also goes in the car (Focus C-Max) - and we can even get three people in with it.

How is yours coupled? Most seem to just have the front section coming off, leaving the rear about the same size as a solo bike, but I have seen some which have 5 or 6 couplings allowing the whole thing to go in a large suitcase sized box.

stewartpratt
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby stewartpratt » 28 Jul 2009, 1:57pm

I'll qualify my responses: we've owned a Thorn Rohloff tandem for some time, but haven't owned a conventional one (though did hire one before buying); my wife's a lot smaller than me and our son is still some years away from even the stoker seat :)

The Rohloff is a real boon on the tandem. I wouldn't ever have one on a solo but on the tandem it makes a world of sense. Finding yourself trying to set off in top gear with a fully loaded tandem wouldn't be fun, and you don't really have the option of just lifting the back end whilst flicking the pedals round with your feet and shifting with your other hand. Also it means using bog standard cranks, which makes life simpler and cheaper, and it means less stress on the BBs (both the bearings and the crank tapers). And you can shift under load whereas I imagine co-ordinating two people backing off the pressure to change down on a climb would be a pain.

It's noisy, yes. You perceive it as being inefficient compared to a derailleur setup - whether it is, or by how much it is, I wouldn't like to say, but it feels more wasteful. And of course it's ludicrously expensive. But if you can afford it, it really is worth it for a tandem.

As for brakes, ours simply has a pair of V-brakes (XTR front, Deore rear) with old cantilever brake levers (Dia Compe PC-5n) which provide extra leverage. We have ceramic D521/721 rims, which give great braking even in rain and mud. I alone weigh considerably more than you plus your son, and we've toured with four panniers and a bar bag (an all-up weight of at least 170kg not including the bike itself) and have happily whooshed downhill at 40-45mph with confidence. I'd caveat that with the fact that we've not done alpine hills and that for extended descents I would add a third brake just in case (though discs don't like being used as drag brakes) - worst comes to the worst, you just stop to enjoy the view while the rims cool a bit.

If you want to use S&S couplings you might consider the Avid BB7 disc brake. It's a cable brake that's in a class of its own - a good choice for most applications and especially so this one.

As a side note I'll add that Thorn's latest generation of frames, such as the Rohloff tandems, are wonderfully well-built - without doubt some of the highest-quality build work I've seen on any bike. Aesthetically they make my eyes bleed, but if you can ignore the revolting graphics and just look at the welds and the construction quality, they're a joy.

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 2:44pm

Thanks Stewart. I gather that mechanical disc brakes cause problems with fitting racks (although I'm sure somewhere, maybe On-One, I saw a frame designed to mount the calipers between the seat stays and chain stays, which would presumably avoid that problem).

I'm afraid I'm not impressed by the look of the Thorn bikes either, and I doubt the welds will be up to the standard of the fillet brazing on my Dave Yates tourer! You can't argue about their value though...

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gaz
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby gaz » 28 Jul 2009, 2:47pm

I'll qualify my answers by saying I own a double gents Galaxy Twin with kiddycranks fitted. It's used for shortish local runs, say a maximum of 30 miles but usually less. My son's been on it for a year since about the age of 6 and a half. I have no experience of mountainous touring except a few trips around mid-Wales on a solo. The Kentish Downs don't really compare.

He's been on a trailer bike since the age of 4 which also still sees use, particularly for car assisted journeys.

The tandem is by far the superior option for stability, handling and weight, hence I prefer it. However mini-me is obliged to pedal, hence he prefers the trailer bike. Freewheeling kiddycrank units used to be available, I have about half the parts needed to assemble one. Fitting them would involving sawing off the ordinary stoker crank arms to avoid out of phase problems.

If you're considering kiddicranks are you happy that your child will keep pedalling for as long as you'd like?

There is a secondary issue as well which I'll refer to as the "Daisy" effect. On an early ride he was laughed at by some older boys, he is worried he'll be laughed at again although it's not happened yet. One day someone will call him "Daisy", I doubt that I'll get him on it again after that.

Mini-me is speed averse. Typically he likes to stay below 20mph on a downhill stretch, this is improving, I got away with 24mph last weekend and we reached 30mph the weekend before. Keeping the speed down for a prolonged period is much easier with an Arai drag brake then standard lever operated cantis.
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hamster
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby hamster » 28 Jul 2009, 3:09pm

We have two Dawes Kickback Two MTB tandems, and have recently done the Devon C2C with the kids. The bikes are around 15 years old.

Depending on how tall you are, you may get a small sized adult tandem (not childback) to fit. A Dawes 17/15 fitted my son at 5, although he is relatively tall. Fitting shorter cranks (120mm, re-machined by Highpath Engineering) permitted him to sit with the seatpost as low as possible. No2 son (age 4) uses an identical size frame and kiddy cranks, as his legs are too short. At the same time, my wife who is 5'4" is also comfortable, so it should last until they are teenagers.

I can't comment on the Rohloff, but I don't have trouble with the derailleur gearing - you just need LOW gears (24T front, 30 or 32 back). With a 24/34/44 we get on fine, and 44/12 allows us to hit 30 downhill. We still use 7 speed and thumbshifters or gripshift. Occasionally you hear the front mech dragging a little but both these shifters trim easily.

I strongly recommend Magura hydraulic rim brakes, they work flawlessly and don't tire your hands, even when descending 1:4 Devon lanes fully loaded in the rain. V's work OK, conventional cantis were finicky to set up, hard work and horribly vague on the rear. You may not need a drum brake as a tandem with child on the back will weight 20-50kg less than one with an adult.

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 3:10pm

gaz wrote:The tandem is by far the superior option for stability, handling and weight, hence I prefer it. However mini-me is obliged to pedal, hence he prefers the trailer bike. Freewheeling kiddycrank units used to be available, I have about half the parts needed to assemble one. Fitting them would involving sawing off the ordinary stoker crank arms to avoid out of phase problems.

If you're considering kiddicranks are you happy that your child will keep pedalling for as long as you'd like?

There is a secondary issue as well which I'll refer to as the "Daisy" effect. On an early ride he was laughed at by some older boys, he is worried he'll be laughed at again although it's not happened yet. One day someone will call him "Daisy", I doubt that I'll get him on it again after that.

Mini-me is speed averse. Typically he likes to stay below 20mph on a downhill stretch, this is improving, I got away with 24mph last weekend and we reached 30mph the weekend before. Keeping the speed down for a prolonged period is much easier with an Arai drag brake then standard lever operated cantis.

Thanks Gaz. I'm aware that our mileages will drop when moving from child seat to tandem, but I've no idea by how much (on our recent tour we rarely did more than 3 hours in a day). I suppose there is only one way to find out. Speed will be interesting too. I probably shouldn't admit it, but we've reached over 45mph on the bike, and I had no complaints (quite the opposite - he was complaining about the cars holding us up). I wouldn't be surprised if I'm more worried than he is - the seat around him gives me a false sense of security, and I'm a bit concerned about cycling along with him just sitting there, having to hold on.

The "Daisy effect"... I guess this is a worry too, but I hope that by starting at 4 or 5 he might be young enough not to worry too much (I can almost hear you all laughing at my optimism!). He's pretty keen on the idea at least - when I collected him from nursery yesterday (on the bike) one of his friends asked why he was on the bike. He told them it was because his Daddy likes cycling, but we put it in the car when we're going a long way, and when we get a tandem we'll have to fold it up to get it in the car!

Part of me thinks we should get a cheaper second-hand one and see how it goes, but I don't know. If all goes well, we have the hassle of selling it, and getting a new one; if it's not great, would it have been better with a better bike (particularly things like couplings, which could make a big difference about how much use it would get used, and would mean buying roofrack mounts)? Getting second hand ones isn't easy either, at least not without upgrading lots of kit.

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 3:18pm

hamster wrote:Depending on how tall you are, you may get a small sized adult tandem (not childback) to fit. A Dawes 17/15 fitted my son at 5, although he is relatively tall. Fitting shorter cranks (120mm, re-machined by Highpath Engineering) permitted him to sit with the seatpost as low as possible. No2 son (age 4) uses an identical size frame and kiddy cranks, as his legs are too short. At the same time, my wife who is 5'4" is also comfortable, so it should last until they are teenagers.

He's not tall! If you remember the little red book you get when they are born - I think my lad is bottom 10% for height.

hamster wrote:I can't comment on the Rohloff, but I don't have trouble with the derailleur gearing - you just need LOW gears (24T front, 30 or 32 back). With a 24/34/44 we get on fine, and 44/12 allows us to hit 30 downhill. We still use 7 speed and thumbshifters or gripshift. Occasionally you hear the front mech dragging a little but both these shifters trim easily.

I suspected they're not that bad, it's just a couple of reviews I've read talk about problems getting the front mech to shift. I like low gearing anyway, so was expecting that (24/34/44 and 13-30 on my tourer). I'm keen on drops though, which makes things more complicated.

hamster wrote:I strongly recommend Magura hydraulic rim brakes, they work flawlessly and don't tire your hands, even when descending 1:4 Devon lanes fully loaded in the rain. V's work OK, conventional cantis were finicky to set up, hard work and horribly vague on the rear. You may not need a drum brake as a tandem with child on the back will weight 20-50kg less than one with an adult.

Unfortunately, I complicate things by wanting drops. Perhaps I'll get over it. Thanks for the recommendations though.

Mr.Benton
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby Mr.Benton » 28 Jul 2009, 3:21pm

Hi
Having never been on a tandem we went to this place http://www.tandeming.co.uk/ and did a tandem experience day. They were really helpful in explaining how to ride a tandem and gave us confidence to go out for a days ride. It will give you a chance to have a go before you buy to see if it is suitable for you and your child's needs.

I would be interested in knowing what you decide as we are still trying to decide if a tandem is right for me and daughter.

At the moment we have a tag along which works for now but won't last much longer as she is getting heavy and unstable.

Neil.

stewartpratt
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby stewartpratt » 28 Jul 2009, 3:51pm

AndyB wrote:Thanks Stewart. I gather that mechanical disc brakes cause problems with fitting racks (although I'm sure somewhere, maybe On-One, I saw a frame designed to mount the calipers between the seat stays and chain stays, which would presumably avoid that problem).


Thorn sell adapters for the rear end which allow you to fit a rear rack over a disc brake. Fairly sure I've got a pair at home but never used them as I didn't get round to buying a rotor for the hub and figuring out where best to up the third brake lever :)

AndyB wrote:I'm afraid I'm not impressed by the look of the Thorn bikes either, and I doubt the welds will be up to the standard of the fillet brazing on my Dave Yates tourer!


I'll bet good money the welds are every bit up to that standard. At close quarters I've only ever seen one other frame with welds this good. Plus the Thorn tandems have good oversized tubing which increases the weld area, they're built without breather holes (as I'd guess your Yates is) and IIRC come treated internally. As far as load bearing and durability are concerned there's no steel frame I'd have more confidence in that the Ravens - certainly not in the tandem market.

AndyB
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby AndyB » 28 Jul 2009, 4:21pm

stewartpratt wrote:Thorn sell adapters for the rear end which allow you to fit a rear rack over a disc brake. Fairly sure I've got a pair at home but never used them as I didn't get round to buying a rotor for the hub and figuring out where best to up the third brake lever :)

Interesting - thanks. I'll have a look at those.

stewartpratt wrote:
AndyB wrote:I'm afraid I'm not impressed by the look of the Thorn bikes either, and I doubt the welds will be up to the standard of the fillet brazing on my Dave Yates tourer!
I'll bet good money the welds are every bit up to that standard. At close quarters I've only ever seen one other frame with welds this good. Plus the Thorn tandems have good oversized tubing which increases the weld area, they're built without breather holes (as I'd guess your Yates is) and IIRC come treated internally. As far as load bearing and durability are concerned there's no steel frame I'd have more confidence in that the Ravens - certainly not in the tandem market.

Praise indeed!

swansonj
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Re: Tandem questions

Postby swansonj » 28 Jul 2009, 7:17pm

Some thoughts I offer from the experience of a Thorn Raven solo (Rohloff), a Chas Roberts 2xadult tandem and a Thorn Explorer childback tandem (both derailleur).

Tandems for cycling with children are so much better than tag-alongs - much more rigid, reliable and safer-feeling.

We used non-freewheeling kiddycranks on the Roberts tandem from when the children were first able to sit without falling off up to when their legs were long enough to reach short cranks fitted to the standard bottom bracket (when child was age 11 as it happened). I never had a problem with child's willingness to turn the cranks - they got saddle sore, they fell asleep, they got VERY cold sometimes, but their little legs kept turning with the cranks. Not that they ever contributed much effort mind you... but then that's not the point.

The Roberts tandem has an Arai drag brake, the Thorn doesn't. I really benefit from it when doing anything other than local pootles. First, going down hill, I know the theory that if you go fast enough, you don't need a drag brake because the wind burns off the energy. But sometimes I just don't feel it's safe to go that fast, particularly with a child on board. And checking your speed downhill with rim brakes guarantees heat build-up. And second, with an unpredictable child on the back, and a high CofG with kiddycranks on an adult tandem, stability and general control becomes more of an issue. I feel a lot more in control eg when approaching a junction even on the flat to be able to set the drag brake "on" (it's controlled from an old friction-only downtube gear lever mounted in the front stem) and have the speed taken off by that rather than having to brake hard with my hands whilst signalling, positioning, telling child what's happening, shouting at child when it wobbles, etc.

On my solo I swear by the Rohloff. If I got a new tandem I would like a Rohloff for the ability to change while stationary; the ability to access low gears uphill without slowing to a halt while you wait for the chain to fall off the middle chain ring (or engage the big sprocket); the completely sequential gear change; and the minimal maintenance. BUT I would be put off for two reasons. One is not being able to have a drag brake with a Rohloff. The other is the overall gear range. My solo has a 17" bottom and I'd want a tandem to have the same. But that means the top is not much over 80". Not a problem on a solo or with a child on the back of a tandem but a bit limiting sometimes on a tandem with two adults.

Hope this helps - I'm sure you'll enjoy whatever you do (except the bit where you get the cheque book out!).

John