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  1. #1
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    Specific questions to ask when used tandem shopping

    Have been doing quite a bit of research for over a year on the process of buying a tandem and plan on buying a good quality (Trek, Cannondale, Santanta etc) used bike for our first one. Have already done a test ride on a late 1980s Santana just to see if it is something my wife and I would enjoy and I believe we will - so I continue my search.

    In the meantime, I'd like to hear what specific questions I should be asking sellers (especially if they are not local to my area where I can actually see the bike) as I evaluate the bike they are selling. If there is a collection of these somewhere on the forum or elsewhere on the web, feel free to shoot me over to them!

    For instance, I imagine replacing the chains on a tandem isn't the cheapest thing. So is there a way of telling how much life the chains on a used tandem may still have in them? I know that on some (all?) tandems the timing chain is adjusted via an eccentric bottom bracket, so it would seem logical that there may be a way of telling how much adjusting has already been done and how much further one could adjust before a new chain is needed?

    What other tandem "parts" should I keep an eye on when evaluating used tandems?

  2. #2
    Senior Member stokessd's Avatar
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    Chains are cheap, most parts are cheap. I'd ask about the frame:

    Any crashes?
    Any dents?
    Paint chips?
    Rust?
    Any frame damage at all?

    Then ask about the wheels (the next most expensive part):

    Running true?
    Any damage to the rims?
    Any bearing play?

    Then you can worry about the easily replaced stuff.

    Sheldon

  3. #3
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    Thanks Sheldon - ironically I'm just down the road from you in Indy...

  4. #4
    Senior Member stokessd's Avatar
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    My wife takes glass blowing classes at the art center down there. We are down there a lot. I was having trouble finding a used one for my wife and I (I'm 6'2" and she is 5'2"), which is a big height delta. We settled on the Cannondale road tandem new to check out what tandeming would be like. I almost bought a demo model co-motion instead, but I couldn't justify the added price as a test to see if we liked tandeming. Besides when we get a tandem like the co-mo, we will get s&s couplers and the cases so we can take it places with us easily.

    Sheldon

  5. #5
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    In the event you didn't stumble across this already:
    http://www.thetandemlink.com/usedhome.html

    In general, there isn't anything unique about a tandem aside from the fact that they put greater demands on the drive train components, i.e., rear wheel and all of it's constituent parts, cassette, drive chain, and chain rings. A frozen or damaged eccentric is about the only thing that comes to mind that would be 100% unique to a tandem. Therefore, use a basic checklist as you would for any other bike or, make your own by modifying one published for motorcycles, such as the AMA's, as below. For long-distance transactions, just frame questions that address each area of concern on your checklist.

    --------------------
    Get a serial number from the owner.
    The serial number should be there somewhere and the owner should know where it is. Serial numbers are valuable because, #1 -- it's good to know that it hasn't been ground off which would be indicative of being stolen. It can also be used to verify the model year via contact with the manufacturer who should also be able to tell you which components would have originally been specified for the frame and, again, allow you ask them if there is anything unusual about that year / model bike you should be attentive to.

    How Old is Too Old?
    Bicycle technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 25 years: rear cogsets have gone from 5 sprockets to 6, 7, 8, 9 and now 10 and along the way the threaded cogset and hub has been replaced by the splined cassette and cassette carrier. SunTour went the way of the Dodo bird, Sachs is now SRAM, and Shimano lead the way in the development of highly integrated, proprietary component groups that aren't necessarily compatible with Campagnolo's somewhat less integrated component groups and often times struggle to work well with boutique brand components. Rear wheel spacing has grown from from 130mm to 145mm or 160mm, with 135mm, 140mm and 150mm showing up now and again. Therefore, before you decide to snap up that great deal on that late 80's classic, or one of the early Cannondales (noting that C'dale was all over the map with their specs during their first several years of building tandems), make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Even the best Santana from the days of their marathon frames pales in comparison to the performance of an early 2000 model year entry level Burley or even a KHS Milano, never mind finding parts should you need them. Moreover, unless you can do all of the work yourself and enjoy searching for great values at bicycle flea markets, Ebay, and the like, upgrading an older bike to contemporary components is an expensive proposition. Just something to consider.

    History & Maintenance
    From whom did the seller acquire the bike? Did they buy it new or used? Do they know how many miles are on the bike? Do they have any maintenance records or can they give you a verbal account as to what service has been performed or what parts have already been replaced? Chain wear should be checked with either a chain checker tool or a 12" ruler to ensure that there isn't excessive wear (see Sheldon Brown's website for how to check for chain wear). A worn-out chain -- drive side or timing side -- could mean you'll also need to replace the cassette, chainrings, and timing rings. A $25 drive chain isn't a bid deal, but a $25 chain + $85 cassette + $100 in chainrings can be. A timing chain requires the use of 2 boxed chains (note: you can usually get two timing chains out of 3 new chains). If the timing rings are worn, but haven't been "flipped", you can by-pass the expense of buying new ones by simply moving the front timing ring to the back of the bike and the one from the back to the front.

    Examine the wheels and tires for wear
    Good wheels for tandems aren't cheap. Ask the seller if the wheels are the originals or if they are replacements. If they are replacements, find out how many spokes they have and what brand and model of hubs they use. Conventional tandem wheels are typically 40h or 48h, with 36h wheels showing up now and again and not all rear hubs are suitable for tandems: verify that the hub is tandem rated back on a list like this or via a tandem speciality dealer. If the bike has an integrated wheelset, make sure they are approved by the manufacturer for use on tandems and find out if there have been any warranty repairs. After establishing the pedigree of the wheels, make sure they are true & round, verify that the rim's sidewalls are in good shape and not overly worn, and inspect the spoke holes for signs of fatigue cracks. The wheels should spin freely and not have any excessive side-to-side bearing play. While the wheels are mounted to the bike and spinning let your index finger bounch off the spokes on each side of the front and back wheel: the spokes should all have relatively equal pitch. If you find a very high or very low pitch spoke and the wheels is somehow spinning true, it could be a sign that the bike has a bent rim: investigate further. If at all possible, remove the wheels and turn the axles with your fingers: they should rotate in a smooth back and forth motion without binding, catching, or a gritty feel. Tires are like hands: they indicate just how hard a bike has been used. Old tires are usually dried out and cracked. If they have a lot of tread, then the bike hasn't been used much. That's good and bad: good because nothing's been worn much, bad because the grease probably needs to be changed in all the bearings. Worn out tires aren't all that bad, but they are an added expense and tires aren't cheap: $18 - $50 depending on what and where you buy.

    Test for excessive bearing play in the headset
    The front fork and handlebars should be able to move through their entire range of motion without any binding or indexing. If test riding, be attentive to self-centering or indexed steering. Get on the bike and straddle the top tube with your hands on the bars, pull the brakes, and then try to rock the bike forward and backward: there shouldn't be any excessive play in the headset.

    Perform a visual once-over
    Look for any obvious mechanical issues—loose or missing fasteners, nicks, scratches, dents, cracks, paint flaws or indications that the bike may have been crashed, dropped, or otherwise damaged and/or repaired. Heavy scratching or scuffs on the brake hoods/levers are often a good indication that a bike has gone down. Ask the seller flat out: has this frame or fork ever been damaged? Don't limit your questions to "crash" as there are just too many other ways to damage a bike, e.g., being driven into an overhang or garage while attached to car with roof-top racks comes immediately to mind.

    Operate all controls
    Test the brakes, shift the gears even if only in a workstand or with the seller holding up the rear wheel and inspect the housing and exposed cables for wear and tear. Test ride if at all possible.

    Are extras included?
    Extras you want can make the deal sweeter. If the bike has aftermarket parts you don't want, see if the owner will take them off and lower the price. Ask for any stock equipment that was replaced with aftermarket parts.

    “Is this the bike WE want?”
    Often, what looks great in photographs and sounds great in website reviews, falls flat in person. Even if the bike itself is sound, if the model didn’t stand up to its lofty rep, go back to the drawing board. This is your last chance.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 07-12-07 at 10:09 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Others have the questions pretty well covered
    A serial number? Production tandems will usually have a serial number; however, four of the tandems we've owned were custom and had no serial number.
    So you'll have to trust the previous owner to some degree . . .
    As for mileage on a tandem, that's something buyers never asked us! The bike(s) fits, looks/rides great and it's the right color (usually a big point of discussion)!
    We've sold 3 of our custom tandems with over 50,000 on the odometer (one had 64,000) and not one buyer asked 'how many miles on this bike?' although some did ask what year it was built. We did volunteer the mileage information, and because of the condition/rideability/fit, the high mileage was never an issue.
    The frame is the heart of the bike . . . everything else is replaceable at some extra co$t, so keep that in mind.
    Best to go in prepared; even go as far as to have a written check list, so all your questions can be answered.
    Good luck!
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy nand Kay/zonatandem

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the great replies...much appreciated!

    I had already run across the price estimating tool and the bike that I'm considering falls well within the parameters that come up when I use the tool to evaluate it, which I take as a good first sign...

    The list of considerations that you guys provided will give me a great start as I look into it further...will keep you posted!

    Sheldon - I live right up the Monon Trail from the Art Center...small world!

  8. #8
    BudLight
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    Everyone wants to get in this game, or try this game, for as little as possible. Understandable. It’s a risk. Like the guy who drags home a $300 tent camper so the fam can enjoy camping together, only to find that he soon has a $300 leaky, bent camper to sell that nobody wants.

    My personal theory is that you cannot really get into and enjoy this sport for less than the neighborhood of $2000. Some very lucky souls have been able to, but not many. And, aside from a very expensive parts game, I doubt if those lucky souls factored in the value of their time screwing around with the machine or lusting after those new machines at the tandem rallies.

    Do you want to try this game or get into this game? If you just want to try it out to see if it’s something you and the wife can truly enjoy, then get a used bike that is good to go with no more than fine tuning and maybe a very few new critical parts. Ride the beast for what it is – a great way to enjoy doing something with your wife. Then decide if the sport is for you. If it is, great. Sell it and get a decent, new millenium ride for $2000 - $10,000 with all the current technology because you’re gonna get into that lower range in a heartbeat by hanging new technology on an old frame. And that would be like dressing an old ***** in new clothing – at some point you’re gonna wonder why in the hell did I do that – I could have had a much younger beauty for the same money. Be prepared for a $200 -$300 hit for a nice try -- $0 if you’re very lucky.

    If it isn’t your game, fine, sell it. No harm / no foul. Alternatively, offer an LBS or private party $300 to rent that tandem gathering dust in their inventory for a month, with the option of applying that money towards its purchase.

    Good luck guy, whatever you do.

  9. #9
    Senior Member stokessd's Avatar
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    Don't forget that newer isn't necessarily better. I'm still riding custom steel frames form the 80's. Our new C'dale road tandem is crappier in many ways than the tandems made 20 years ago. Sure, hyperglide is an improvement, but indexing derailleurs aren't necessarily so. I like the disc brakes now, but a good set of 20 year old brakes can stop you every bit as well. In fact I would take a 5 year old custom steel tandem over the brand new C'dale any day.

    Quality is quality and it never goes out of style. You don't want something crappy, but there is a lot of stuff out in bikes today that isn't any sort of improvement over what came before it.

    Sheldon

  10. #10
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    All good advice. I won't add anything on quality, I'm not an expert. But I will reinforce what TandemGeek said:
    “Is this the bike WE want?”

    After all your checklist is done, how do you feel about the purchase? Will you feel good riding the tandem (mentally). Do you believe you will look out in your garage and be happy with your purchase? (Even paint color if you are unwilling to go to the effort of getting it painted...)

    For some people that means a Kent from Walmart. For some people, they won't be satisfied with anything less than a carbon fiber bike with all the most state of the art components.

    So, if your friend tells you that you NEED to get the latest Cann-Co-Tana, but you feel Trek, get a Trek. Get all the advice you can then make up your own mind. It is going to be YOUR bike, so buy what YOU want.
    NewbieIATandem
    Big Team on Trek T900

  11. #11
    BudLight
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    Quote Originally Posted by stokessd
    Our new C'dale road tandem is crappier in many ways than the tandems made 20 years ago. Sure, hyperglide is an improvement, but indexing derailleurs aren't necessarily so.
    Sooo…. out of curiosity, why did you buy a “crappier” C-dale tandem?

    I’m a retro guy too at heart. But the “crap” sold 20 years ago is as bad, and arguably worse, than the “crap” sold today. SSDD. Other than some very fine custom built frames by guys that knew the craft and the design peculiarities of tandems, it could be argued that, in general, older production frames cannot stand up to today’s production frames. There has been a definite learning curve in tandem frame design and production. And it takes an experienced tandem team to know the differences. Unfortunately, newbies don't have that experience and when they do, they're shopping for a new tandem.

    Problems come in bunches when it’s time to replace old parts. That’s the inevitable fork in the road. My point is simply that one is going to spend a threshold amount of money in this sport – either by leaking it out in upgrades or replacements, or by ponying up at the beginning. It’s pay me now or pay me later and the only variable is how much one likes the sport. So the challenge for most newbies is to nail that enjoyment factor down for the least amount of money. It's no different than any other sport or hobby.

    As for indexed shifting, I agree with you wholeheartedly on the current front (Shimano) brifters. But as much rear shifting as we do, I couldn’t give up a rear brifter now.

  12. #12
    Junior Member Ehkzu's Avatar
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    Let me add one thing nobody else has mentioned: distance of stoker's nose from captain's backside. Everyone's talking about this purchase from the captain's POV, but trust me: if the stoker's unhappy YOU will be unhappy. And one of the key factors in stoker comfort is this measurement. Santana boasts about giving the stoker room to breathe something other than youir sweat, and my wife is certainly happy with our 6 year old Santana Visa.

    One other thing: stoker suspension seatpost. The stoker's over the rear wheel, while you're midway between axles. So a bump you barely feel will whack her hard. And you can't dodge or loft over bumps like you can in a solo. And even a cheapo suspension seatpost costs $80--the cost ones $140 and up. If the roads you ride are smoooth, you don't need this. If they're like what we have here in California (third world), this is a must.

  13. #13
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    We have never fit a 'normal' tandem properly. Pilot 5'7", stoker 4' 10 3/4".
    Whereby some production tandems can be a bit short for taller folks in the stoker compartment, they do fit many other stokers.
    We have the opposite problem: average stoker compartment way too l-o-n-g for stoker Kay.
    After starting on a production tandem (French Follis) in 1975, we learned the satisfation/comfort of proper fit for the stoker. Since then we've designed our own tandems and a proper fit makes a world of difference.
    Like having a pair of shoes that are too big (or too small) . . . yeah, you can walk in 'em, but for how long?
    A first ever-tandem is usually a bit of a compromise: brand, fit, $$, etc. By the time you get a second tandem you'll be a lot more knowledgeable on what you want/need.
    On stoker's suspension seatposts: Kay has in 32+ years as a stoker and we've never had one on our tandems.
    Like many other things, it boils down to personal preferences.
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ehkzu
    Let me add one thing nobody else has mentioned: distance of stoker's nose from captain's backside. Everyone's talking about this purchase from the captain's POV, but trust me: if the stoker's unhappy YOU will be unhappy. And one of the key factors in stoker comfort is this measurement. Santana boasts about giving the stoker room to breathe something other than youir sweat, and my wife is certainly happy with our 6 year old Santana Visa.

    I thought Santana's have a relatively short stoker top tube. Am I wrong about this?

  15. #15
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rmac
    I thought Santana's have a relatively short stoker top tube. Am I wrong about this?
    A hierarchy of approximate stoker compartment lengths on select 700c road bikes:

    >30" = Erickson / Bushnell / Rodriguez / Bohemian
    29.38" = Meridian (last year of production, R.I.P.)
    29.1" = J/L Cannondale
    28.5" - 28.8" = Trek
    28.5" = Co-Motion & Meridian (R.I.P.)
    28.4" = daVinci & Calfee
    28.1" = X/M Cannondale & XL/L Seven
    27.75" - 28.25" = Bilenky
    27.75" = Santana
    27.5" = Burley (R.I.P.)
    27.1" = M/S, L/S, X/S Cannondale & KHS
    26.5" - 27.75" = */S-*/M Seven

    Note that Burley, Santana, Co-Motion, Meridian, and Trek have all "grown" their stoker compartments over the last decade, whereas Cannondale shortened their three smallest size's stoker compartments in '99.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 07-14-07 at 06:23 PM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member stokessd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rjberner
    Sooo…. out of curiosity, why did you buy a “crappier” C-dale tandem?

    I’m a retro guy too at heart. But the “crap” sold 20 years ago is as bad, and arguably worse, than the “crap” sold today. SSDD. Other than some very fine custom built frames by guys that knew the craft and the design peculiarities of tandems, it could be argued that, in general, older production frames cannot stand up to today’s production frames. There has been a definite learning curve in tandem frame design and production. And it takes an experienced tandem team to know the differences. Unfortunately, newbies don't have that experience and when they do, they're shopping for a new tandem.

    Problems come in bunches when it’s time to replace old parts. That’s the inevitable fork in the road. My point is simply that one is going to spend a threshold amount of money in this sport – either by leaking it out in upgrades or replacements, or by ponying up at the beginning. It’s pay me now or pay me later and the only variable is how much one likes the sport. So the challenge for most newbies is to nail that enjoyment factor down for the least amount of money. It's no different than any other sport or hobby.

    As for indexed shifting, I agree with you wholeheartedly on the current front (Shimano) brifters. But as much rear shifting as we do, I couldn’t give up a rear brifter now.

    I bought the new C/dale because I was being lazy and I didn't want to gamble big enough on a co-mo (which was another $1K at least) on our liking tandeming long term. And the c'dale fit both of us nicely.

    All my bikes are custom made from the 80's. I used to work wtih bike builders as a part time job before college. My frames are build to my specifications, and portions actually by me. The materials, braze-ons, and finish is all specified and some of it done by me. The thing I don't like about modern bikes, is the finish is much crappier than before. I don't just mean the paint. The attention to detail is just not there. In the cannondale frame, the front fork has the serial number laser "melted" into the back of the fork blade, rather than inside on the steerer. There is a big warning label under the clear coat. The frame saver decals are put on crooked and are peeling. The welds are quite nice, but the thought that went into the braze-ons is a bit lacking. For example the shifter cable braze on is under the tube and is a split cylinder type of affair, not allowing an adjuster to be added, and not allowing the cable to be seen. There's no option for other shifters than some bar mounted deal.

    The modern parts may work better in some respects, but are more fiddly and fragile than before. I can see indexing for a tandem where the actual drive components are miles behind you, but there is really no need for indexing on a single bike. I've got levers with tens of thousands of miles that shift like new. Nothing goes out of adjustment in a ride. The finish of moderns parts is also junk compared to older parts. I've got 4 deore XT rear derailleurs from the early 90's until now, and each version is a little more cheap looking. My Truvative cranks have casting and grinding marks under the plating that is clearly visible.

    The modern headset designs have reduce adjustability, instead of moving a stem up and down, it's now time to buy several to get that same adjustability.

    You may have a good point about tandem design, but given how older bikes sell for pennies, I'd bet I could find a nice used one. For us the cannondale is a nice compromise between cost and quality for a first tandem.

    Sheldon
    (retro grouch)

  17. #17
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    On our custom Zona tandem, measured c to c from pilot's to stoker's seatpost, is 24 1/2". Tip of stoker's saddle to her handlebars is just under 12". Wheelbase is 63 1/2".
    Through the decades, Americans have gotten bigger . . . not just in girth, but also in height, so there is a definite need/trend for tandems with longer wheelbase/stoker compartments.
    Most unusual tandem we've co-designed is one for pilot at 6'7", stoker 5'3".
    No such things as 'one size fits all!
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  18. #18
    Junior Member Ehkzu's Avatar
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    Another factor is frame geometry/execution. IMO the most important question to ask is "may my stoker and I ride it?" I know back when we were shopping for our first tandem we tried some downright squirelly tandems before getting our Schwinn Twinn. And then later, our Santana Visa was a revelation. Don't assume that your favorite halfbike maker knows how to do tandems. I love my Cannondale T2000 halfbike, but we got a Santana when we got a tandem--not because I thought other makes weren't designed right, but because I was sure Santanas were. And I also know from personal experience that their telephone support both pre- and post-sale is first rate. It seems reasonable to assume that it's harder to design a tandem that handles well and is light vs. a solo bike, all else being equal. Yet it's easy to forget this elementary fact when you're looking at all those features, from the gruppo to the wheels, saddles yada yada. But the frame's the thing. You can swap a crummy saddle, upgrade the wheels...but a second rate frame design/execution makes everything else irrelevant.

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