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  1. #1
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    Niobium tandem frames

    Looking to upgrade our old tandem, my wife and I recently borrowed a Santana Niobium. Handled well and felt VERY comfortable, though this may have been the carbon fork or the low-spoke count wheels as much as the frame. I don't know much about this material and wondered if it is strong enough for touring? Is it more susceptible to dents than other steel frame material. (We are pretty much sold on steel for the comfort.) We are planning to buy a tandem with S&S couplings and were interested to see that Santana uses the same frame material for their S&S and non-coupled steel tandems while Co-Motion uses different material on the S&S and the non-coupled Speedster. Hence my concern that the very thin and light Niobium tubing would hold up with S&S couplings.

    The Santana Niobium comes with Shimano Sweet 16 wheels on Shimano hubs, 160mm in the rear of course as it's a Santana. Has anyone had experience with these? Do they break more than conventional wheels? Do they get out of true more easily and more often?

    Finally, I am considering the optional Reynolds Carbon fork and DuraAce dual pivot brakes on this Santana Niobium. Is this fork as good as the Santana V-brake carbon fork which comes as standard on the Niobium? I'm not a fan of V-brakes and much prefer side-pull. Combined weight of me & my wife is 26igh 265 - 270 pounds.

    Thanks,
    JayB

  2. #2
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Based on a discussion with Bill McCready regarding the Noventa's change to Niobium as well as their new Easton Scandium-Aluminum frames back before they were announced, I would have to say Niobium would be a very good material for either a rigid or a coupled tandem in that it has the same desireable ride and durability characteristics of the Columbus' Nivacrom used on previous Noventa tandems but weighs a bit less. It's a pretty good trade-off and, not that it matters, but Serotta has adopted the Niobium tubeset for it's high-end steel bikes... it's simply the latest and greatest from Columbus.

    As for why Santana can use Columbus Spirit-Niobium to build their travel tandems whereas Co-Motion opts to use its Reynolds heat treated tubeset vs. the air hardened tubeset on travel tandems, it has the correct welding properties and I must assume that Santana either specs all of its Niobium tubing with the correct butting for S&S coupler installation or uses a different Niobium tubeset specifically for the travel tandems: probably have to ask Bill to confirm which it is. Regardless, Co-Motion opts to use a travel tandem-specific heat treated chromoly tubeset (the tubeset currently used on the Primera and previously used on Speedster before air the change to air hardened) for all of its S&S equipped bikes that is drawn to ensure the thicker (butted) sections of tubing extend to the braze-joints for the couplers and for its conventional welding properties that are better suited to coupler installation.

    As for wheelsets, let me confess right up front that I'm not a fan of the paired spoke wheels for every-day riding or touring, regardless of how strong they may be. This has nothing to do with their basic strength or reliability but pragmatism. If I'm in some remote part of the US or world on tour and something happens to one of my 36h wheels, chances are I can get it fixed at any bikeshop, to include replacing a damaged rim, hub, or spokes: I'm not sure I can do that with a one of the other wheels. Thus, I'm looking for a spare wheel and must deal with the damaged one until I can get it shipped home. Closer to home, conventional tandem wheelsets built with the better hubs are expensive enough to begin with and the component wheels are about 50% more expensive. However, both types of wheels are subject to the same potential for wear and tear and, with the exception of improved performance / lower drag, there is no other advantage to the higher cost paired spoke wheel aside from the bling factor. So, at least for me, if I could only have one wheelset for my tandem I'd want a conventional wheelset for the long-haul. I can opt to change rims and spokes at each rebuild using the lastest and greatest while keeping the most expensive part... the hub ... and can get it fixed anywhere. If I happened to have some extra $$ laying around and wanted a "special wheelset" for racing or running with the big dogs at a rally, I wouldn't hesistate to pick up a set of paired spoke wheels. After all, if I train on the 36 spoke conventional wheels I actually end up getting a better workout than with the more aerodynamic paired spoke wheels. Thus, when that special day comes I can slap on the aero wheels and get that "turbo boost" when it counts the most while also stretching out the service life of those special wheels. As for more problems with truing, so long as you don't break a spoke the Sweet 16 wheelsets do seem to be holding up pretty well. The only complaint we'ver heard of involved somes hubs that ended up with a grease that was too viscous and caused some pawl engagement issues, but we're talking 1/500 wheels. When spokes break the wheels seem to hold up well enough to get the riders home.

    Finally to forks and brakes. I love calipers and would rather put up with fender fitment issues than deal with a V-brake. In fact, I'd opt to have a custom frame built to accommodate a Shimano R-600 long reach caliper if I needed lots of tire clearance before settling on a v-brake equipped standard model. So, if you don't plan to use mud guards or large diameter tires, there's just no reason not to spec. a nice DA dual pivot or Campy differential brake for a tandem.

  3. #3
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    JayB,
    We're also looking to upgrade, and have pretty much narrowed it down to Santana, or Co Motion. One reason for the interest in the Santana is the 160mm spacing. We want the faster wheels. (while I understand Tandem Geek's valid point, we want to use the bike for faster rides, and not touring away from home). Along the lines of you post, I wonder whether the 160 mm spacing really does make for a stronger low spoke count wheel (as compared to the ROlf tandem wheels you can get on a Co Motion).
    From other's reports, Co Motion tends to make a faster handling more responsive bike than Santana, which we would prefer. Thus the question becomes more aggressive handling of the Co Motion vs. stronger wheels (potentially) on the Santana. If there really is an advantage to the 160 spacing, I'm inclined to go with the Santana, If not the Co Motion becomes more attractive. (Unless we stretch to the Beyond)

  4. #4
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    If 160 spacing were clearly better everyone would use it, like the stock spacing of road racing bikes. 145 wheels are available that are very quick; I have a set of the Bontragers and they are a great wheel.

  5. #5
    Banned. galen_52657's Avatar
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    If you are a light team, I don't think the 160 spacing would come into play. But, if you are a heavier pair it might come into play (not going to offer a 'heavier' cut-off weight!!!).

    Shimano only sells the sweet 16 tandem wheelset in 160 spacing. Santana may have some proprietary arrangement with Shimano that prohibits them from offering the sweet 16's in 145 but who knows? Or, Shimano has done the research and found 160 spacing to be superior for their wheel design.

    From what I have seen on single bikes, I would not use any brand of paired-spoke wheels for my everyday wheels on my tandem. We are too heavy. My unscientific observation shows Rolf's and Bontrager's single-bike paired spoke wheels breaking spokes at a rate much higher than Mavic Ksyriums.

    Now if only Mavic would make a tandem offering based on the Ksyrium.....

  6. #6
    Cycle for life... woodcycl's Avatar
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    Now if only Mavic would make a tandem offering based on the Ksyrium.....
    I wholeheartedly agree!! I LOVE my Ksyrium Elite's on my single road bike! When I asked my LBS about those rims on the tandem ... he just laughed and said NO ... they won't work. And, as you mentioned, all I see are the Bontrager and Rolf tandem wheelsets available for tandems.
    -\Brian
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  7. #7
    Banned. galen_52657's Avatar
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    I am guessing Mavic does not think the market is big enough to re-design the hub to support more strait-pull spokes.

  8. #8
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    My interest in the Sweet 16s was not so much in terms of race winning potential as comfort and ease of spoke replacement. Comfort because the Niobium my wife and I rode was outstandingly comfortable and felt light "on the front". By light on the front, I think I mean that the low mass of the light wheels and carbon spokes made it a dream to guide. On the ride comfort side, it may be that the superior feel was due to the Niobium frame material and carbon forks, not so much due to the Sweet 16 wheels. As far as spoke replacement, on conventional wheels it can be very difficult to get at a broken with a Arai hub brake (which I favor) on one side and 10 sprockets on the other side. With the Sweet 16s, I figured, if I did break a spoke, I could more easily replace it. Does this make sense? Not sure if I am the only one, but I always carry a couple of spare spokes carefully secured with a strong, light nylon cord inside one of the seat tubes. Presumably this would be even more important if touring with Sweet 16s as replacement spokes might be hard to find. The shop where I tried the Niobium reports that they have seen many fewer spoke breakages with the Sweet 16s than with normal wheels. We are a fairly light team at 265 pounds max but often tour with up to 35 pounds of luggage. I am tempted to give the Sweet 16s a try as they are standard on the Santana Niobium anyway, thus breaking out of my Luddite tradition of always opting for the tried, tested . . . and frequently out of date.

    JayB
    JayB

  9. #9
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    I, too, have heard very good things about the Co-Motion but can find no shop within a few hundred miles of me which sells Co-Motions. Very reluctant to buy one sight unseen, especially as we liked the Santana Niobium so much.
    JayB

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by JayB
    Finally, I am considering the optional Reynolds Carbon fork and DuraAce dual pivot brakes on this Santana Niobium. Is this fork as good as the Santana V-brake carbon fork which comes as standard on the Niobium? I'm not a fan of V-brakes and much prefer side-pull. Combined weight of me & my wife is 26igh 265 - 270 pounds.

    Thanks,
    JayB
    What about the two different forks? Anyone have a view on this?

    Thanks.
    JayB

  11. #11
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Wheels: Sweet 16's are pretty awesome. My only issues with these, the Rolf and Bontrager wheels are Cost, Repairability, and Long-Term Benefit. Cost is pretty self-explanatory: they ain't cheap, although Bontrager's seem to show up on Ebay for $450 now and again. Repairability: If you trash a Sweet 16's rim while at a tandem rally or while touring what are the chances that you can get your hands on a replacement rim and/or find someone who has an extra 160mm rear spaced wheel that will work on your tandem... particularly if you also have one of Santana's proprietary rear disc brakes? Case in point: We're at STR and while on a second loop of Friday's ride backwards the tandem team we were drafting didn't see a pot hole in the shadows until the last minute which we nailed squarely with our rear rim... well, a somewhat oblique hit actually. In addition to a pinch flat, the rim was bent inwards about 5mm from the impact. OK for limping home and easily fixed back at the car with a couple of spanners, but something that will require a new rim down the road. However, if the impact had rendered the rim unusable, chances are I could have located a 36h rim at a local bike shop here and just about anywhere else our travels would take us. For the Sweet 16s, your best case scenario on a rear wheel field repair would be to find a spare front wheel so that you could cannibalize your Sweet 16 (or Rolf, Bontrager) front wheel for the rim and any spokes needed to get you going again. Just something to keep in mind. As for long-term benefit, if you want to get strong and faster the last thing you want to do is cut down aero drag on your every day bike used for training; resistance is a GOOD thing when training which allow the use of low drag components on race day (or at rally's) to give you that added boost in performance when it matters most. Best of both worlds: two sets of wheels. Your every day 36h wheels for training, social rides, and touring and the chi-chi wheels when you want to impress or get that added boost from low drag.

    Forks: Your tire requirements -- which are somewhat dictated by your wheel choices -- as well as your need for mud guards are what will ultimately determine which fork you need to use. If you want to run wide diameter tires (> 28mm) then calipers could prove to be a bit tight. Also, running 28mm tires with full-coverage mud guards could be a tough fit through a DuraAce or Campy Caliper (although 25mm + SKS + Campy Chorus & Centaur calipers are doable but a tight fit), thus you would need the V-brake/ canti-brake compatible fork with brake bosses on the fork blades. However, if you will be running 28mm or smaller and don't mind squeezing SKS full fenders into your brake caliper + doing a little trim work on the fender OR using SKS Race-Blade fenders, then you can easily use the Reynolds Ouzo Pro Tandem & a nice caliper brake.

    Last item: I think we drove 2.5 hours to visit our local tandem dealer when we went in search of our first tandem; it was well worth the trip. If you're not in a hurry you might check with your closest Co-Motion dealer to find out if they will be in your area to support any events or business matters in the near future to explore the possibility of meeting for a test ride. Just something to consider. Of course, if you're happy with the Santana, there's nothing wrong with that; they make great tandems. Handling is pretty subjective and regardless of what you buy, I firmly believe most owners adapt quite well to the full range of geometry and don't really suffer ill effects. If you found your current Santana or the model you test rode a bit stodgy in the handling department, then pursuing the Co-Motion would definitely be worthwhile. Or, if you wanted OEM dual discs on your new tandem, you might even want to wait until the '06 Co-Motions start to hit the streets!!!
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 10-02-05 at 06:12 PM.

  12. #12
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    TandemGeek,
    Thanks. As usual, quite a few points I hadn't considered, like rim repairs to the Sweet 16s. Have to spend some time thinking this through. I'm happy with 28mm wheels so think I will go with caliper brakes for the superior feel. Presumably, they will stop me just as well as it's still brake block to rim conact which is generating the friction whatever I use to apply the pressure.
    JayB

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