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  1. #1
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    Building a new tandem

    Hi,

    I'm a newbie here and have enjoyed reading all the posts. My husband and I are getting ready to bite the bullet and build a new tandem. One of the frames we are considering seriously is a Bilenky. Does any one have any thoughts-- positive or negative to share?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChristineS View Post
    Hi,

    I'm a newbie here and have enjoyed reading all the posts. My husband and I are getting ready to bite the bullet and build a new tandem. One of the frames we are considering seriously is a Bilenky. Does any one have any thoughts-- positive or negative to share?
    I don't know anything about Bilenky, are you looking for a custom built frame?
    You could consider the more popular brands such as Comotion and Santana.
    Do you have a budget in mind and what kind of riding will you be doing?

  3. #3
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    I don't know much about Bilenky but that wouldn't/shouldn't be a negative factor for you. I looked at their website and they look on the surface to be a reputable company, they've been around since the 80's. Since they are located in PA I'm sure they are much better known in the NE. If you are looking for a good steel tandem they are definitely worth looking at.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  4. #4
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Bilenky's been around for a while; while not as well known as the 'big' builders you'll get personal attention . . . and that is important!
    We've always dealt with the non-mass market builders and have been extremely satisifed.

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    My friends who have owned Bilenky's have really liked their bikes. Remember though, he is a small builder and sometimes it can take a while to get a bike -- and we're not talking months. I think TandemsEast (in New Jersey) carries Bilenkys along with the large brands (except for Santanas) and you could compare a ride with a ride on these other tandems.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the feedback. We are looking for a custom made steel bike primarily for touring but also for just beating up the roads around home. Our LBS has already warned us that ordering a frame now means we might have it for summer riding. We aren't in a big hurry as we have an older bike to ride in the meantime. This tandem will be our last and we want it exactly to our liking. (No, really, it will be the last--- laugh.) We generally ride 30 to 60 miles at a time around home but also enjoy multiple day rides with higher mileage. I'm almost 5'2 and Mr is 6'2-- so there is a huge size difference.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChristineS View Post
    Thanks for the feedback. We are looking for a custom made steel bike primarily for touring but also for just beating up the roads around home. Our LBS has already warned us that ordering a frame now means we might have it for summer riding. We aren't in a big hurry as we have an older bike to ride in the meantime. This tandem will be our last and we want it exactly to our liking. (No, really, it will be the last--- laugh.) We generally ride 30 to 60 miles at a time around home but also enjoy multiple day rides with higher mileage. I'm almost 5'2 and Mr is 6'2-- so there is a huge size difference.
    Maybe another one to consider is Erickson. I don't much about them but there are some Erickson owners here.
    If you look at there web site the guy obviously has mastered building bikes out of steel tubes and has been building tandems for years.
    You could also consider a custom carbon fiber frame from Calfee, it may not cost that much more than a custom steel frame.
    The delivery time for a Calfee is about 3 months.

  8. #8
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChristineS View Post
    One of the frames we are considering seriously is a Bilenky. Does any one have any thoughts-- positive or negative to share?
    Bilenky's tandems are somewhat unique when compared to most others in that they are very much 'old school cool'. Truly hand-built-to-order, Bilenky's tandems use very conservative geometry with even less steering trail than Santana, which makes them ideal for use as a first tandem, touring, randonneuring, riding with kids-back and the like. They also offer the largest number of 'stock' sizes that I've ever seen from any tandem builder such that a custom really isn't needed except for the most disproportionate teams.

    In more recent years a lot of Bilenky's tandems have taken on a very retro-look including faux and real lugs on some examples. They're at the opposite end of the tandem world from the very performance oriented tandems with longish steering trail from Erickson, Co-Motion, Calfee, etc. You would have to ride a Bilenky back-to-back with something like a Co-Motion a couples times before you'd get a true feel for the difference.

    Anyway, there has been something of a renaissance for Bilenky's bikes over the last few years anchored by a cult-like following in the single-speed, track-rat, bicycle messenger and cross rider communities as well as just a general interest in hand-made, boutique-quality, one-of-a-kind bikes and tandems. Therefore, as someone has already noted, strong backlog + boutique hand-made bicycle frames equals a long waiting line, which is true for any of the in-demand brands: I think several years is the norm for a Richard Sachs frame. Price wise, Bilenky's are still good values if buyers don't go nuts with custom features like lugs, special paint and really high-end components.

    Bottom Line: Anyone who has ever owned a Stephen Bilenky-made Sterling or Bilenky-branded tandem has ever been disappointed so long as they did their homework and knew what they were looking for in a tandem.

    ------------- Other comments ---------------

    In general, you will want to figure out exactly what it is you liked and didn't like about any of your previous tandems and what you've seen in the way of other tandems that piqued your interest. Next, be honest about how you will really use the tandem, i.e., hammer-heads banging elbows with the racer boys on Tuesday nights, hitting Starbucks on the weekend, riding from Maine to Florida on a whim, etc. Finally, confess your biases to each other regarding materials, frame design, special features like couplers or provisions for loaded touring and even the amount of cache that you'd like to have in your 'new tandem' and most importantly, how much you'd be willing to spend.

    With that list in hand you should be able to talk with the builders on your short list via the phone (don't try to do it by Email; it's just too hard and inefficient) to get a feel for how they would address your requirements, what their promise date for delivery would be and how much the final product would set you back. Try to have that discussion with at least three builders and then narrow the field. Then, if you pull the trigger on a custom tandem from a boutique builder just assume it will take longer than quoted and keep an open mind with regard to suggestions that will come from the builder as you work through the design. Get everything in writing that you are adamant about so that you have some recourse if the builder exercises 'executive design decisions' that diverge from your original stated spec. and that end up being unacceptable. After all, there are times when a builder will have a better idea.

    Let's see, what else. Erickson... I'm pretty sure that Glenn has stopped looking for new frame-building clients and now spends his time doing his tours and supporting previous customers with rework, repairs and piece-part work. Tandems East does still market Bilenky's Viewpoint; however, Bilenky got a bit cross-wise with Tandems East a bunch of years ago when they started to sell direct to tandem buyers in the Mid-Atlantic region who had previously been served exclusively by Tandems East (basically, Bilenky's #1 dealer). Biting the hand that feeds you is not always the best strategy in business... Tandems East is now one of Co-Motion's biggest volume dealers; cest la vie.

  9. #9
    Senior Member WebsterBikeMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChristineS View Post
    Hi,

    I'm a newbie here and have enjoyed reading all the posts. My husband and I are getting ready to bite the bullet and build a new tandem. One of the frames we are considering seriously is a Bilenky. Does any one have any thoughts-- positive or negative to share?
    Hey, neighbour!

    Well, practically. We rode through Rush on a two-day down to Letchworth and back last summer - on our custom Bilenky. It (remains) our intent that this is our last tandem. Our singles are now between 20 and 25 years of age, so there's a reasonable possibility that we will be able to make it last. You will find pictures if you search the archives.

    Bilenky has become famous lately for their art bikes. Yes there are some gorgeous bikes they've built. Our is more utilitarian, not cheap, but probably a couple of thousand less than what they can do. It is designed to handle a multi-month, self-contained tour. I'm 6'3, she's 5'4. So while you're shorter, the contrast is almost the same. We'd ride down to see you one of these days, but riding (from NE Webster) to the Public Market yesterday (via the open-winter-only outlet bridge) is about as far as we're going just now. But if you want to come up this way, good chance we could arrange something. Perhaps the weather will be good next weekend...

    As far as timeline. Last August ('08) we got measured by Chad at Geneva Bikes and by September had pretty much completed the order for the parts that would go on the frame. Bilenky designed and built the frame and then sent it to Geneva, where Chad finished it up. You can also have Bilenky do the whole bike. Anyhow, I was talking about timeline. Our original estimate was late December, early January. Then there was a delay in paint (had run out of the right decals - I would have substituted). It arrived in Geneva in February, and we picked it up the first of March. Needless to say it spent much of the first month on a trainer, rather than on the roads. So given that you'd be finalizing the order in the next month or two, I'd say you should expect to see it part way through the next riding season.

    At this point we've put about 3,200-3,600 km on it (the computer admits to 3,200 but in cold weather it doesn't always pick up). It's a nice frame. Does what we need. And it fits. But that's kind of what you expect when it's custom. The wheels were 'hand-built' by someone at Geneva Bikes. Were I to do it over I think I'd get Peter White to build me some wheels.

    Someone over at Tandem@Hobbes should have picked up their Bilenky Signature from Geneva Bikes recently - they're from Vermont - I haven't heard anything from them since they were in the ordering process.

    If you are going custom, you might want to think about and specify exactly which braze-ons you want. I wound up with an unwanted pump peg, as my preferred pump is not one that fits that way.

    I do like the fact that Bilenky is about the closest thing to local you'll find around here.

    Feel free to PM with specific questions, or to set up a chance to see one up close, in a size that can probably be adjusted to fit you two.

  10. #10
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    We have a custom Erickson (we call her "Kelp", has custom lugwork in shape of the seaweed), and love it. I know someone who got a new Erickson less than a year ago, so TGeek may be wrong about availability; don't assume the comment above is correct without checking for yourself. He also does an occasional Ti in addition to steel, and I have even seen at least one aluminum by him. Best to be thinking "Art" when you call, rather than simply "Value"...

  11. #11
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2frmMI View Post
    He also does an occasional Ti in addition to steel, and I have even seen at least one aluminum by him.
    FWIW: The Ti Erickson frame geometry is designed by Glenn and then the actual frames are engineered and fabricated by Kent Eriksen, founder and former co-owner of Moots. When I last spoke with Kent, he had built two of the Ti Erickson-branded tandems and several singles.

    As suggested by 2frmMI, you would need to drop an Email or call Glenn to find out what he's presently offering and/or if he's still taking on new projects. Contact info is via his ECycleTours webpage and your just as likely to reach Nancy as Glenn: http://www.ecycletours.com/contact_us.htm. It's been about 2 years since I corresponded directly with Glenn and I only keep up through some mutual friends who are on Facebook with Glenn's business partner and wife, Nancy. However, when we last did correspond there was a new wrinkle in his tandem frame fabrication process that complicated the business model he'd been using for as long as I've known him. I'm not sure how he finally resolved it since that prior arrangement is what provided him with access to the tandem-sized frame tables and frame building skills / experience needed for aluminum and even a couple scandium aluminum tandem frames in addition to the steel frames that so many of us coveted and cherish.

    We're down to just the one '98 Erickson tandem, as our second one -- the '02 travel tandem with S&S couplers -- was sold to help defray the cost of our Calfee travel tandem. I still have my '99 Erickson single, but the frame has been put in storage for posterity. It was just too nice to use as an every day bike.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 11-23-09 at 07:27 AM.

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