Well, the wife and I purchased our first tandem over the weekend, a brand new 2004 Cannondale Road Tandem (they only make one model this year). Before I get the hard core Santana and Co-Motion fans going on me, I'll give my reasons, which I hope will help other newbees as well.
First off, I ride regularly about 5 times a week, currently average 20-25 miles per ride. My wife currently rides once or twice a month but wants to ride more for her health. If she could keep up with me she would ride more as well, thus the decision to add a tandem to the stable of his and hers mtb and my road bike. The decision for a tandem was made to allow us to ride together, enjoying each others company and exercise at the same time.
We test road a Santana Arriva SE, Trek T-2000, Rans Screamer, Longbikes Duplex and the Cannondale. We also looked at a used 1984 Santana Soverign and a 1991 Burley Duet, the only two used tandems we could find within a few hours drive of home. New Burleys and Co-Motions we examined but not ridden because our size was not available. We looked at everything we could first, then asked questions on this forum - thanks to everyone who provided comments on my previous two threads.
Our team is heavy for a tandem team, almost 500lbs, hence the need to exercise, and the need for a strong tandem. The steel tandems seemed very wobbly where the back end was going from side to side. The alum tandems didn't do that. The Trek tandem was the ZR9000 which in other threads was listed as not being very strong and the low spoke count wheels concerned us.
Also, being our first tandem and being married for almost 15 years, the uncertainty of communicating on a tandem (uh, I'm shifting now and (bump) there was a bump) along with how much use will it really get made us think hard on how much we really wanted to spend.
The recumbents were nice but very pricy. Since we are both accustomed to riding normal bikes, we decided being new to tandems and working as a team, it was too much to also learn how to ride a new style bike.
So we chose the Cannondale with the following reasoning:
Strength - the Cannondale didn't wobble when we rode it. The alum on the Cannondale, we were told, was thicker tubing and stronger, but heavier than the ZR9000. We're concerned with strenght - not weight. The Cannondale also had 40 spoke count Mavic wheels.
Price - the cannnondale at just over $2k was double what the used tandems were going for and 2/3'rds of the Trek and Arriva and less than 1/2 of the recumbents and decent Santana's / Co-Motions. We had to weigh the cost vs the use - we didn't know how much we were going to use it.
Components - The cannondale, while not top end components, does have a decent setup: Avid disc brakes, XT rear, 105 front, ultegra shifters - more than good enough for beginners. Other questionable components can be upgraded later if needed or perhaps some day get a better tandem.
We've taken two rides so far, one 6 miles and the second 15 miles. Both rides were fun, the second longer one was even better as we learn to ride together and communicate better. We're still working on the shifting - I don't always communicate when I am going to shift which isn't good because she doesn't let off and that leads to rough shifting. (I'm used to smooth shifting on my full ultegra road bike) But all in all, we're very happy with our new bike and look forward to many miles of peddling ahead of us.
Mark & Laura