Back in May I mentioned I'd picked up a Reynolds Ouzo Pro Tandem fork on close-out with the intention of seeing how using the 55mm Reynolds on our Calfee might alter the handling vs. the 44mm True Temper Alpha Q X2 that it was originally fitted with.
For those who haven't followed my writings over the years, I've had a strong preference for tandems that are designed for use with the shorter rake since first making the shift from a '96 Santana to our first custom Erickson in '98. While I've jumped on different tandems with different rake forks over the years I've never had the opportunity to truly go back and revisit the 55mm rake spec to see if perhaps my preferences and riding style may have changed such that the longer rake & resultant shorter steering trail might not be attractive once again. I say once again only because it seemed like a good choice for a first tandem... but then again, perhaps even that was an illusion.
Anyway, I finally found got around to cutting the steerer, pressing on a base plate and setting the Reynolds Compression Plug into the steerer. In regard to the latter, I must say that the compression plug is pretty slick and a lot easier and faster to work with vs. the True Temper approach of using an insert that must be set in place with epoxy and then cure for 24 hours.
Anyway, as I said, getting the Reynolds from the box onto the tandem was a very quick and easy task. More importantly, now that the fork is all set with the base plate and compression plug in place swapping out with the Reynolds for back-to-back comparison rides is about a 5 minute task: 2-4mm stem bolts, 1-5mm fork pre-load bolt, and 1-5mm brake caliper fixing nut are what hold everything together.
On to the first ride impressions....
I was immediately surprised by how much trouble I had making the tight right turn and descending the driveway as we left the garage: I was basically over-steering the thing. Interestingly enough, I'd become so accustomed to the heavier slow-speed steering of the 44mm rake forks that the very light touch needed for the 55mm fork with it's shorter steering trail made me quickly realize that I would, in fact, need to be on my toes for this first time out on the different fork.
In general, the steering definitely felt finger-tip light at slow speeds and while climbing and stayed centered without much attention while cranking along on the straight and narrow. While this sounds like a good thing, I found it to be exactly what I grew to not like about our '96 Santana Arriva... in a word: a sluggish. Now, one man's sluggish is another man's easy to guide / low task-load so as always handling qualities remain very subjective. In fact, for those who time-trial on tandems I suspect the shorter steering trail would be a very good thing IF the qualities remained unchanged by the far-forward / weight over front wheel captain's TT posture.
As for steering it was a mixed bag. The Calfee handled the big sweeping turns at 40 mph with ease and lots of confidence, carving a lovely arc with almost no effort to initiate and complete or transition right to left through the turns. However, the very tight 90° and even tighter 110° turns that we take fairly hard were a wholly different experience in that instead of simply thinking "lean, carve and exit" as we negotiated the turns it was "LEAN, steer, steer, steer and exit" and even then the apex of our turns was well outside the norm and in one case we even found ourselves on the centerline of the road we were turning onto.
Interestingly enough, what I also found to be quite different was the lack of the very plush feel that I've always enjoyed on the Calfee. In fact, I felt like I was back on the Erickson as we crossed the usual rough patches at a couple bridges and some new road / old road transition points: lots of sharp road jolts and a buzzy feel were almost always present.
Finally, because the Reynolds fork has a somewhat normal crown to drop-out length of 395mm compared to the Alpha Q's 374mm, the tandem's attitude was a little more upright. Therefore, and since I didn't change any of our touch-point positions (i.e., set-back, reach, etc.) even though we retained our normal riding posture we were both technically riding a bit more upright on the Reynolds fork. I'm not sure how much that might influence how we felt on the ride so perhaps in the future I may include a test ride where I reset all of the touch points with the trusty old Fitstik so that we truly are in the exact same riding position on the Reynolds as we are on the shorter Alpha Q.
More to follow as we do log a few more miles on the Reynolds fork. However, at least for tomorrow's ride with friends over on the other side of town, the Alpha Q is back on so that we re-calibrate and compare what we experienced today with what should be a more 'normal' set-up on our Calfee.