Does anyone out there own and ride a Bilenky Tinker Travel Tandem (or for that matter a non-travel Bilenky Tandem? if so do you like it? would you recommend purchasing one? Any info and insight on this bike would be great.
Steve Bilenky, dba. Bilenky Cycles near Philadelphia, PA, builds some great bikes and tandems and has been doing so for a very long time. Prior to 1997 he sold tandems under the name "Sterling". Apparently another builder owned the rights to the name Sterling and decided to begin enforcing his rights. Cest la vie, a rose by any other rose is still a rose.
Anyway, Steve was the first tandem builder to use Steve Smilanik's S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCs) on a tandem. After making several "travel tandems" he realized a center section could be added between the front and back sections of a travel tandem to create a triplet and created the "Triplicator". Thus, Steve was also the first tandem builder to create a BTC (aka. S&S coupling) equipped triplet AND the first to create a convertable tandem/triplet.
The workmanship on all Bilenky's is first class. His bikes have some of the nicest fillet brazing you'll see and the TIG welding that comes out of his shop are some of the best. The only thing I'm not personally fond of is his stock geometry. He uses forks with lots of rake that results in very short steering trail (1.64" - 1.8"). However, this is a personal preference issue -- keeping in mind that even Santana's 1.89" of steering trail is way too short for my preferences. Of course, I also like tandems with really long stoker compartments. Steve's stock geometry is longer than Burley and in the same range as Santana, Cannondale, et al. so, again, not to my personal liking but spot-on with the competition / accepted standards.
Bottom Line: An excellent tandem. However, like all tandems, the key is taking one out for a test ride. I would say that at least 75% of the tandem buyers would probably find Bilenky's stock steering geometry and overall handling to be excellent; great low-speed stability and rock solid even with a less than perfect captain or stoker. Not a racer, but then again, Steve could certainly build a custom bike/fork with just about whatever steering geometry you want.