Tandem wheels for road cycling
I am having a custom road tandem built. I am wondering which wheels are best of breed. I am going to use mechanical avid disc brakes on the rear wheel and side pull brakes on the front (carbon Wound Up tandem fork).
How are you planning to use the bike?
If your goal is to go-fast, I'd look at the Bontrager low spoke count wheels.
If you are planning to tour, I'd want a wheelset that's more readily repairable. I'm also a believer in the same number of spokes front and rear so, if you trash a rear rim, you can use the front rim for a donor and get a replacement front wheel to get you home.
Best road wheels
As you probably know, it depends on spoke count, and whether you are going with 145 or 160. For 145, low spoke count options are Rolf and Bontrager. Topolino has a great looking wheel, but it is not available with a rear disc brake. For 160 rear, Shimano Sweet Sixteen is your only option.
I have heard from numerous sources that Chris King makes the best hubs and are the most expensive as far as I know .Velocity makes a great wheel.
Who is making your tandem?
What's the wheel size; 26" or 700c?
Originally Posted by adamlaw
What's the rear spacing; 135mm, 145mm or 160mm?
What's your total team weight?
How to you plan to use the tandem, i.e., social riding, loaded touring, racing?
What spoke count and brand/model of rim & hubs do you have on your current tandem?
What size tires are you running on those rims?
How pleased are you with the reliability and performance of those wheels and tires
What's your budget for wheels?
How many miles a year will you put on these wheels?
What did your tandem builder recommend?
Last edited by TandemGeek; 02-10-07 at 01:18 PM.
Could disc brakes modify any options? I don't think so, but wanted to ask.
Exactly what TG said. Our custom bike should arrive by the end of the month. We asked the same questions and settled on 36 spoke Velocity Dyad rims on Phil Wood hubs.
Originally Posted by TandemGeek
This combo, or any part of it, might not be the right choice for you or anyone else who posts here but it made the most sense for us based on how we ride now and what we want to ride in the near future. If we aren't sure about them right away, we'll be able to put on our Bontsqueakers and evaluate the pluses and minuses between the two.
These are great questions and to the point!
Originally Posted by TandemGeek
290 lbs (it really adds up!)
Probably social riding with my wife and racing with my 14 year old son
No current tandem - at 50 years I felt I would start with something special
Budget - Function is important to me. Clearly, if there is no difference in function between a $500 pair and, say a $2,000 pair then I would get the cheaper pair. However, if it makes a large difference, then I would consider paying more.
Mileage - I think this depends upon the supply of stokers! I would like to ride more than 100 miles per week
I haven't discussed this with Bob Brown (the builder) yet - largely because we are still discussing the frame. I was hoping to become more informed before our discussion. He clearly has his thoughts about this - he suggested using 700C wheels. He may choose to build the wheels himself. If so, I would like know something about tandem wheels.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
Originally Posted by counselguy
Bob Brown is making my tandem. He has been really terrific to work with. He makes beautiful lugged steel frames.
I think the rear spacing is 130 mm (if that is the same as the rear hub width).
Originally Posted by Retro Grouch
I appreciate your reply. I am having this built for my 50th birthday gift from my famiily. The idea is to ride with my wife occasionally (she is an equestrian and is difficult to persuade to change an Andalusian for a tandem!), my 14 year old (132 lbs) who is persuading me to enter triathlons with me and in return I will interest him in some tandem racing (I hope), and my daughters 12 years and 9 years. So, a variety of uses. Perhaps this is typical of tandem riders! I would be worried about fancy lacing styles if one of the spokes broke as I was cycling around, say, one of our local Fingerlakes in Upstate New York.
130mm, which is single-bike rear spacing, is pretty narrow for a tandem and usually spec'd only for tandems used on the track, in time trials or other speed events so that they can use non-tandem specific disc or aero wheels also used by the owner on their single bike.
I could be wrong, but my guess is Bob will probably use something wider, most likely 145mm rear spacing. I'd really suggest you go ahead and discuss your wheels with Bob and go with his recommendation. Bob's been riding and building road and off-road tandems for many years and has a good handle on what's available to meet a variety of different requirements.
That said, and because it's cold and I'm up early, let me digress into what I'll call my own personal primer on tandem wheels:
In general, for tandem wheels most teams will be best-served by going with the lowest common denominator. In other words, if you plan to race the tandem but racing will only constitute 5% of its use, you really don’t want to go with racing wheels. Similarly, if you have no idea who will be your “regular stoker” and they range in weight from 90lbs to 150lbs, use the heaviest rider’s current weight or, in the case of your 14-year old, what his weight will be the year before he decides it’s no longer cool to be seen riding the tandem with dad.
With that in mind, what you've outlined as your current requirements could be met by a nice set of 36h or 40h conventional wheels with a moderate to deep section rim. If you and your son really do decide to get into racing I'd wait until you see how that goes using your general purpose wheels until you feel you need something lighter and more aerodynamic to be competitive. Once you know that racing is something y’all really enjoy and will be doing a lot, at that point you’ll want to go ahead and pick up a set "performance wheels" to use on race-days, still using your general purpose wheels for training and all other types of riding. After all, if you train on the lightest and most aerodynamic equipment you have you’ll simply be reducing the intensity of your training and giving up that special “boost” that comes on race prep days and the actual race day when you switch over to your race gear.
As for tandem wheel design and wheel building in general, tandem hubs just need to have wider rear spacing for better bracing angles to deal with the increased total rider weight, as well as stronger bearing systems and more robust axles that resist bending under drive train loads that are up to twice as high as what the average single bike hub will experience. Spoke tension is also increased for tandem wheels vs. how you might build a set of wheels for a single bike and it has been my experience that double-butted spokes produce the most long-lasting, problem-free wheels vs. straight gauge or even the triple-butted spokes.
Mid-height and High flanges are desirable for tandems because they will support 4x and 5x lacing on 36h, 40h, and 48h wheelsets which are desireable for teams that do loaded touring, heavier teams, and teams looking for a more "cushy" ride. Moreover, when used in conjunction with a deep-section rim like a Velocity Deep-V, they also allow a wheel builder to use 3x lacing with a somewhat shorter than average length spoke that yields a significantly stronger wheel vs. a low-flange hub with a simple aero or box section rim. This high flange/deep rim also allows the builder to use fewer spokes. Low-flange tandem hubs are fine, but again I'd mate them with a deep section rim.
While the "best hubs" are clearly the very expensive Chris King and Phil Wood hubs, that distinction has as much to do with their durability as it does for the quality and cost of the US domestic labor that goes into their fabrication, tight tolerances and superior aesthetics when compared to other less expensive hubs. Both of these hubs are user-serviceable (to a point and with the right skills and knowledge). However, a hub like the Chris King uses a very different type of engagement system that produces a very distinct "buzz" when coasting at speed that takes some getting used to. Phil Wood's are not without their nuances. Conversely, a hub like the Shimano HF08 tandem hub while not "sexy" or expensive has incredibly durable guts that will also give owners a long-lasting, reliable wheel. Falling in between these two ends of the hub spectrum are White Industries tandems hubs (light, durable, attractive and moderately priced), Hadley Racing Hubs, long-used by Santana and also quite durable, etc..., and then the redesigned DT-Swiss tandem that Co-Motion helped to develop and now use as their OEM hubset on their base-model performance tandems. Most all of these hubs are now offered in disc and non-disc models -- either bolt-on or via a thread-on adapter -- as well as in most of the popular rear drop-out spacing. White Ind. even offers a titanium carrier option on their hubs for the weight weenies looking to shave every excess gram from their tandem. Although you didn't mention a drag brake it's worthwhile to note that you will find several of these hubs come in a configuration with threading on the left side of the hub. These threads were originally put there to allow for the installation of the Arai drum brake, used primarily as a drag brake for loaded touring, multi-seat (triplet, quad, quint) tandems, or any one who didn't want to bomb down a hill. These threads will also accept a thread-on disc rotor adapter to make them compatible with disc brake systems. I believe Chris King may be the only tandem hub maker that does not offer a left-hand threaded / Arai drum compatible hub.
As for rims, again I like the deep-section rims. For mid-weight to lightweight teams, that is those under 350lbs combined less the tandem, the 36h Velocity Deep-V remains my personal favorite for sport riding, racing, and most applications so long as a team doesn’t plan on using a tire that is wider than 28mm. Velocity’s 36h Deep-Vs also come in a wide range of colors, noting that I’m partial to what they call their Titanium Grey finish. Thankfully, Velocity now offers the Deep-V in 40 and I believe even a 48h version which allows their use by just about all teams of all weights and sizes. We previously used the Mavic CXP30 but it was discontinued back around 1999 or 2000. Velocity also makes a few other less deep-section rims that are well-suited for tandem use, including the lightweight Fusion for performance use, and then the slightly more robust Aerohead for sport/performance use and then the Dyad for all-around and trekking/touring use. Velocity also markets an Aerohead OC (Off-Center) rim designed for use with disc-brake equiped bikes, front and/or rear. Most tandems don't need the OC-type of rim for a rear disc, but they are adviseable for the front as they mitigate some of the asymetrical spoke bracing penalty you pay by having a disc rotor on a narrow front hub. MAVICs CXP33 and daVinci’s V-22 are moderately deep aero rims that work very well for sport/performance and all-around use. Finally, there are the MAVIC A719 (aka, T520 and before that T519 or T217) as well as the Sun CR-18 and Rhyno-Lite (even a Rhyno-Lite XL) raised box and box section rims for heavy-duty touring and trekking. Trivia time: years also MAVIC used the T to designate a “trekking” rim and now use the A for what they call “asphalt”.
So, armed with all of this information what is one to do? Well, before nailing down a hub you might also be tempted to look at the integrated racing wheelsets from Rolf, Bontrager, or if you have 160mm rear spacing the Shimano-Santana Sweet 16 featuring paired, low-spoke count hubs and rims that offer consumers a more aerodynamic package at a reasonably light weight when compared to standard OEM 40 and 48 hole tandem wheels. Are these types of wheels a viable option for most tandem teams? Yes and no. Yes, they're certainly durable but no, IMHO they're not ideal for traveling or touring unless you bring along your own spare spokes and know how to work on these wheels or can at least coach a competent bike shop mechanic through the spoke replacement process. Of course, when fixing one of these wheels you must bear in mind that at least with the Rolf and Shimano-Santana, you may void the warranty by having an unauthorized dealer work on the wheels. Bontrager/Trek don’t seem to be as hard over and any Trek dealer can work on their wheels as they are similar in design to just about every other “aero wheel” that Trek now sells on their full road bike line, down to the $500 models. No doubt, these types of wheels look great and fall in line with the popular marketing trend that single bike riders have been attracted to vs. component wheels -- myself included but as supplmental not primary wheelsets. Again, I look at my hubs as my major wheel investment and enjoy the idea that I can chose to completely change my wheel configuration via different rim selections down the line as my riding needs change. An integratrated wheelset, on the other hand, is what it is and always will be. If “forced to choose one” I’d probably give the nod to the Bontrager for 145mm spacing. For 160mm spaced tandems it’s a one-horse race; Shimano-Santana is the only game in town.
There you go. More than wanted to know. Personally, if were were shopping for a set of wheels for a Bob Brown tandem I’d probably go with something like the 36h White Industries / Velocity Deep-V for a moderately priced performance wheelset. If you go with a lugged tandem frame then by all means go with 40h Phil Wood with MAVIC A719/T520 to complement the “classic look” with some “classic wheels”. Phil Woods are the lightest hubs (actually, they’re the heaviest), but they look awesome and last forever. For the ultimate in bling, 36h Chris King with Deep-V, both color-keyed to your tandem noting that CKs hubs come in a wide range of colors and, as already mentioned, so do the Velocity 36h Deep-Vs.
Last edited by TandemGeek; 02-11-07 at 02:33 PM.
That was a comprehensive education in tandem wheel design and selection and I am glad to be the beneficiary of cold weather in GA (according to your profile). I hope this is linked so that others can read it as it should have a wider readership. I will follow your advice and discuss the wheels with Bob Brown and let him make the recommendations.
I hear there is a big tandem rally in GA - it would be good to get down there when we are no longer neophytes.
Re. Tandemgeek's excellent posting:
1) On the Bontrager wheels, the hub and rim design allows you to replace any broken spoke with a stock one as a temporary fix. Any bike shop should be able to do this. They are OK for touring as they are designed not to need a weight limit. Design is also very different to single bike wheels and are super-beefy. I bought them with my T2000 mainly for the bling but was very impressed by the tandem-specific design once I'd seen them close up. That said, the point of system wheels is to go faster through aero improvements / weight savings. There's therefore no point in using system wheels on a bike primarily for touring. Better to spend the extra cost on an airfare somewhere.
2) TG was too modest to mention his survey - take a look at the poll's wheel reliability results before taking the plunge.