Thanks to all of you that provided input on our purchase decision for a new tandem. We ended up deciding on a Santana Team Niobium. I’ll share our reasons below.
Briefly recapping earlier discussions, we wanted a tandem that would give us higher performance and less “noodly” frame than the steel Sovereign we’ve been riding. We also solicited lots of input from you on S&S couplers vs. a true folder like BikeFriday vs. maybe just getting a regular frame and shipping in a full sized case. We ended up with a Santana Team Niobium with S&S couplers on it, Avid rear disk brake, and extra braze-ons for a rear rack in case we want it. Ric and Marcia Becker at House of Tandems in Spring, TX were very helpful as we went through the selection process and we’d highly recommend paying them a visit if you are within striking distance of Houston. They had a nice inventory and we got to ride lots of bikes at their store.
The Team Niobium was the very first tandem we rode there and we (especially Kathy) loved the smoothness of the ride. It just ATE UP the road shocks (chip seal, etc.). It had a lively feel compared to our old Sovereign. Initially, while we loved the smoothness of the ride, we thought it was still more “noodly” than we were hoping for in our next tandem. However, after riding lots of bikes, we concluded that our initial goal of a bike that was stiff in terms of not whippy or “noodly” but still good at absorbing road shocks was not achievable. We had to compromise on one feature or the other. Since 99% of the time we are sitting in the saddle just cruisin’, we figured we’d rather have a bike that didn’t beat us up, and then just work harder on our technique for smoothness in sprints and climbs. (Marcia at House of Tandems already helped us on that by giving my stoker a tip: when I am torquing hard in a sprint, instead of easing off when she gets worried about bike whippiness, she needs to push harder in phase with me, and that will smooth out the bike. She tried it and it works, so that opened up options for us on whippier bikes). We also decided that since most of what we do is fast day rides, we’d go for performance and then for touring use a trailer if the frame was too noodly for loaded panniers. Compromises, but for now, I think a good decision. Who knows? Maybe if we someday become world travelers, then we can shift to something else! LOL
For what it’s worth, we tried the following and these were our impressions:
1. Santana Team Niobium – light, responsive, great shock absorption/comfort (my wife said it rode like “chocolate mousse”), noodly in sprints. The noodly nature improved when we swapped the Shimano Sweet 16’s for Rolf’s. Further improved by following Marcia’s tip (see above).
2. Santana Sovereign—we didn’t care for the “buzz” / high frequency road vibrations of the aluminum frame. Otherwise, OK. Reasonably stiff.
3. Santana Beyond – nice combination of stiffness and compliance. We actually liked this bike a lot, but still not as smooth a ride as the Team Niobium. We had some concerns about loaded touring on a bike with carbon fiber/Ti joints. And then there was the matter of cost…!
4. daVinci Global Venture—steel frame. Reasonably stiff (very large diameter tubing) yet reasonably comfortable. But “deader” feeling than the lighter Santanas. Great gearing range and touring features. My wife hated the asynchronous pedaling (but would probably get used to it; they say everyone who uses it for awhile loves it. Whatever). If we’d ordered the 26” wheels, we could have had the option to swap to MTB wheels/tires in case we rode dirt trails. But right now, that didn’t seem so important.
5. daVinci/Calfee carbon—couple of carbon frame with out-of-phase pedaling (still hard for my wife to sync up when we were riding daVinci systems) and you get one NOODLY bike when sprinting out-of-sync! My wife freaked out! Can’t get with S&S couplers anyway (though pure Calfee you can). Then the price…
6. Co-Motion Supremo—basically comparable to the Niobium in many ways, but with Co-Motion geometry. In comparing the two, I can definitely see the Co-Motion handling that everyone talks about. I liked the quicker handling when making sharp turns, but for normal riding it took more effort than the Santana, i.e., more frequent adjustments/constant attention by the captain. Nothing rocket science about that—fork rake/trail and frame angles do the same thing on solo bikes, and that is why touring bikes and racing bikes traditionally have differences in that department. To me the Santana felt more like a touring bike, and the Co-Motion more like a racing bike. For what we do, I felt the more relaxed handling of the Santana would be preferred. Especially when riding with a load or in a group of riders. However, great bike, and I can see why many people choose Co-Motions. I loved the Gates belt drive. It did have a bit of a squeak at times, but I assume that can be lubricated away. Generally it was very smooth and quiet.
7. Co-Motion Macchiato—we rode this one just for fun. What a blast! 23 lbs as we rode it. It was VERY stiff. I could stomp as hard as I wanted and that beefy rear end didn’t move. On the other hand, it was a pretty rigid ride too. After 30 miles your teeth will probably be knocking together! It is the sports car of tandems. Very fast acceleration, tight handling, and apply all the torque you want and feel great control. Wow! But no, I wouldn’t want to tour on it or even do centuries.