I'm 6'4", my wife is 5'8". I'd like to buy a tandem for self-supported touring - perhaps a cross country trip. I have a BOB trailer and would consider pulling it, especially to prevent broken spokes, but would prefer panniers.
I would like any advice you could give me: brands, sizing, wheel/spoke/hub recommendations, brakes, etc.
Durability would be first priority, comfort second, hill-climbing capability third. Speed not a concern.
Any modern Tandem would be fine - They are all built to accomodate a taller captain and shorter stoker.
Santana, KHS, Co-Motion, Burley, Cannondale, or Trek- Brand new or second hand.
You need to think about the type of riding you will do with regards to 700c vs 26" wheels. 26" will allow for non paved trails. If you purchase a brand name Tandem, you will get tandem specific components and spoke/hubs combinations should be fine.
I have toured with Panniers but it can make for a heavy bike. A trailer with panniers on the rear of the bike will give you plenty of room without being too heavy.
Take your time looking and do the research.
For us, we loved our first Tandem so much we purchased a second with S&S. We had no idea we would enjoy riding as much as we did and certainly did not know about/consider S&S at our first Tandem purchase. What I am trying to say is learning about riding Tandems through Tandem ownership may teach you about what you like and don't like. A quality second hand Tandem may be a good segway into the sport without being too expensive.
Like vehicles, everyone here has their favorate manufacturer so focus on how you use the bike and then look at what is available.
I am 6'4" and my wife is 5'6". We own a XL Santana sovering and it fits us fine. There is enough room on the stoker's seat post for my wife to use a pivot plus suspension seat and to mount a saddle bag. Unless your wife has very short legs she should not have any problem.
We have not done any loaded touring but we also own a Santana Cabrio triple and the team + bike + gear is about 500 lbs. We use 48 spoke 700 wheels and can use from 28 to 32 widths. We have had zero problems with this system.
Klein roadie, carbon proto mtn bike, burley tandem
Couple of thoughts:
Are you sure that you will like tandeming? Many would-be stokers are not comfortable with the seeming total loss of control as a stoker. It may take several hundred miles of tandem riding to find this out. Maybe you’ve already done this and can proceed with confidence.
Any of the modern, 21st century tandems are worthy, but if you go with an aluminum frame, I would advise getting one with a carbon fork – especially for long-distance touring. The comfort factor is very noticeable.
Finding your best tandem and fit may very well be a nationwide search. Check out Tandemgeek’s web site for a directory of tandem-specific dealers and spend the time to call many bike shops. One local shop here in Holland (Velo City) has (or had) three used tandems hanging in their basement, waiting for a good home.
I base my comments that both you and your wife are experienced cyclists (otherwise you would not consider cross country touring) and want to try tandems with the goal of going self-contained across country pulling a trailer.
+1 to Cornucopia72. They are a good proxy for your size. I am 6 feet and my wife is 5 feet 5 inches and we ride a large Santana. On our old steel Santana, we rode self-contained in Mexico through the mountains with front and back panniers and we road down the coast of California sagged.
The primary question is does your wife want to stoke for days at end (cross country riding) looking at your back without any control of the bike? Your question about which bike will climb the best is more about how strong you and your wife are and how well do you work together as a team both mentally and physically. Do you both spin at the same speed when riding road bikes for a given situation? Do you both enjoy hill climbing?
With respect to bikes, our experience has been with Santana with no problems with either our old or new bike. However, I think all major manufactures provide a good value propositions and offer a lot of customer choice. Tandems are a limited production specialty item made by small boutique companies. As such, local bike shops may push whichever tandem brand offers them the best margin and rebate (no surprise) and may be driven by inventory that has not sold. You should do your own due diligence which means riding different bikes as long as possible before buying one and talking with people you trust that own tandems. Also, call manufacturers directly and ask them tough questions and get their recommendations.
With respect to material and wheel selection, there are countless threads in this forum on this matter and everyone has an opinion and operational experience but there is little, if any, test or engineering data available to the general public. My conclusion is that all materials can be made to ride comfortably and safely if designed properly by a reputable manufacturer and tire pressure can influence ride significantly. If we were heavier and planned to load up the tandem with gear, I would prefer a welded solution versus fiber/glued or other solution. I think the most conservative choice for loaded application is steel or titanium. Our new bike is aluminum with a carbon fork and the ride is excellent (otherwise we would not have bought it). But if the goal is heavy loads, the additional weight saving of aluminum or other solutions will not make much of a difference. With respect to wheels, we had no problems with our old Santana with the stock wheels when riding with loaded panniers. The trend for less spokes continues in cycling as evidence by Santana’s Sweet Sixteen wheels and Co-motion’s Macchiato featuring Rolf’s 14 spokes per wheel (Feisty Fourteen??? ). Our Sweet Sixteen wheels are fast and light, look amazing and work great but require attention to spoke tension which is something I would not want to deal with on a long loaded trip. For loaded self contained cross country travel, I would go with the traditional wheels supplied by the manufacturer or you can read some of the threads in this forum to see how various parties have built up custom wheels. However, more spokes and larger tires are the order of the day for loaded cross country ventures.
As for brakes, on our old Santana we had rim brakes and a drum brake on the rear. Our new set up is front rim brakes with Santana’s Winzip 10 inch disc brake on the rear. Both of the solutions have worked well for us. However, in the mountains, you need a brake that can take the heat build up as you descend to control speed to keep from blowing up your tires. This is especially true for heavier teams with loads.
We have toured with panniers on a Trek T100 hybrid tandem, but have been considering a BOB trailer. Our trips have been short yet we have been close to the limit on the carrying capacity of panniers for two people. Tossing everything in a trailer is an attractive proposition, with the added benefit of taking weight off your rear wheel. Maybe I would keep the front panniers though, just to distribute some weight, and to have some carrying capacity for shopping when the trailer has been left behind. Note the team on the link above went to the trouble of building their own racks because of the dificulty of using both racks and disk brakes.
An important consideration in tandem fit is the space between the riders. Given your sizes, the best choice in a production tandem might be the J/L Cannondale, with the 24.5" and 29.1" front and rear top tube lengths. You could do better with a longer custom tandem.
We also have an XL santana. I'm 6'4, stoker is 5'9+
My toptube is great - seems quite a bit longer than the longest available from other manufacturers. My stoker sometimes feels slightly cramped, but she's comparing it to her racing bike and she prefers an aero position. I would think an typical 5'8 person would like the spacing.
A sturdy set of touring wheels for riding X-country rather than Sweet 16s or Rolfs or other low-count spoke setups.
48 or 40 spoke rims/hubs are still available and easily fixable if you have problems in the back country. Suggest carrying a couple of correct size/length spokes for emergency fixes. On some trips we've been several hundred miles away from the nearest bike shop, so it pays to have some repair knowledge/capabilities.
As stated before, there are many brands/price ranges than can handle a team of your size.