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  1. #1
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    tandem frame stiffness vs. comfort / new tandem rider(s)

    Hi there. Been lurking for a bit, but not posting...so here goes...

    My wife and I are interested in getting a tandem, but I know nothing about tandem frames other than we rented a Cannondale recently in Hawaii and loved it. To me, it felt a little flexy, but...we had a lot of fun which is what really matters. Wheels were comfy, 36 spoke alu rims with 28c Conti's on 'em, I guessed and put the pressure at 100psi. Seemed to work fine. The disc brakes were pretty impressive, definitely stopped fast if needed with very little fade. Shifting was fine (it had an Ultegra kit), not super crisp (and it occasionally jumped gears) but good enough for the most part, since as a rental bike I'm sure it gets worked over pretty hard. Presume that's a function of tinkering/adjusting, and on one's personal tandem everything works just as it should, no? Do regular shifters work just fine even though cable lengths are much longer?

    I'm an experienced road rider, with some tandem experience many years ago (as stoker) and can captain the thing with confidence for how we ride. It's a very different sensation, especially knowing you're directly responsible for another person's life (!), but that's half the fun--getting to know how the dynamics work. I enjoyed it a lot, and by day 2 we were spinning out on some downwhill stretches (I might have had too much faith in the disc brakes...) and carving some good turns. We both had a terrific time, and my wife, who doesn't ride at all but is in good shape, was having a grand ol' time.

    Anyway, what's the consensus on defining "comfort" vs. "stiffness" in a tandem frame? Can something that big really be stiff? And can a stiff, efficient frame be reasonably offset by smart wheel/tire pressure combos? From what I've looked at so far, I'm assuming whatever we get will be in the 30 pound range, which seems fine for us.

    I'm somewhat indifferent for frame material, but for cost/weight considerations, it's looking like we'll probably get something in aluminum.

    Thanks for any additional tips.

    p.s. here's a pic of our adventure!


  2. #2
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    1. When I owned my bike shop I used to keep 3 tandems in stock: an entry level KHS or Uinvega, a mid priced Burley, and a Santana. It was interesting to ride one immediately after another. The entry level bike, after getting off of the Santana, felt "scary" flexy. I think that most of the difference in tandem ride quality is in the frame.

    2. A tandem captain enjoys all of the vertical compliance that the long frame produces. The stoker sits almost directly over the rear wheel and can't see the bumps coming. That's why lots of tandems come equipped with suspenser stoker seatposts and considerate captains announce the bumps.

    3. I suspect the rental tandem you rode was in need of a little tuneing. A dialed in tandem, even with longer cables, will shift crisply and not jump out of gear.

  3. #3
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    If you thought the Cdale you rode was flexy, I doubt you're going to be happy with a most steel frames that would be more flexible.

    We really like our Co-Motion Robusta which is oversized aluminum tubing. Light, stiff, reasonably comfortable, and fast.


    Carbon fiber frame potentially could be all that and more comfortable, but at a price.
    You could fall off a cliff and die.
    You could get lost and die.
    You could hit a tree and die.
    OR YOU COULD STAY HOME AND FALL OFF THE COUCH AND DIE.

  4. #4
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    i'm talking with the guy who built my last 2 road frames about making a tandem, so i'll be asking him plenty of questions about geometry, stiffness, etc. the material he uses most is 7005 aluminum.

    the tough part will be taking the key measurements of my wife. the idea is to surprise her with this bike for the summer. she can read me like a book when i'm up to something....especially bike-related...

  5. #5
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JSNYC View Post
    i'm talking with the guy who built my last 2 road frames about making a tandem, so i'll be asking him plenty of questions about geometry, stiffness, etc. the material he uses most is 7005 aluminum.
    How many tandems has he built and does he have jigs, alignment tables and a heat-treating oven that are big enough for a tandem frame?

    Frankly, if you liked the C'dale and it fit pretty well strongly consider getting one as your 'first tandem', with an eye towards using it to learn more about what you like and don't like about it, components fit, etc.. over the first six-months or so. At the same time, and if you get plugged into a local tandem group, attend a tandem rally, or just lurk on the tandem discussion boards you'll learn a lot more about what's available, what works well for some teams, and what doesn't. At that point you'll be in a much better position to make a more informed set of decisions about what you'd like to have for your next, longer-term tandem. The C'dale can then be sold to help defray the cost of the new tandem.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 04-10-10 at 07:29 AM.

  6. #6
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    no worries, that's a very good question and one i've definitely considered. he's built quite a few, for racing & touring--i'm comfortable with his ability.

    i was really inclined to just get a new cannondale road tandem (the white one is sharp), given that it worked, for all intents & purposes, just fine for what we did and what we'd use it for in the future, and it's a great deal for what you get straight outta the box...but i'm a sucker for the handbuilt experience and believe in supporting individual framebuilders if i'm getting a frame/bike.

    plus, i like tinkering and learning about new bike products and processes. keeps me outta trouble....sort of!

    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    How many tandems has he built and does he have jigs, alignment tables and a heat-treating oven that are big enough for a tandem frame?

    Frankly, if you liked the C'dale and it fit pretty well strongly consider getting one as your 'first tandem', with an eye towards using it to learn more about what you like and don't like about it, components fit, etc.. over the first six-months or so. At the same time, and if you get plugged into a local tandem group, attend a tandem rally, or just lurk on the tandem discussion boards you'll learn a lot more about what's available, what works well for some teams, and what doesn't. At that point you'll be in a much better position to make a more informed set of decisions about what you'd like to have for your next, longer-term tandem. The C'dale can then be sold to help defray the cost of the new tandem.

  7. #7
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    "Quite a few" is rather ambigious . . . "a whole lot" might be better? And prolific builder is not necessarily a good builder.
    If you think the C'dale was flexy then you haven't ridden many tandems.
    We have ridden 30+ brands/models of tandems: steel alloy, alu, ti, carbon fiber.
    Have ridden cheap and pricey 2-seaters from a couple hundred bucks to over $13,000 a piece. All had good and bad points.
    Suggest that before you surprise your wife with a tandem she may/may not like, to get a C'dale and ride it for a year before considering a custom one, unless you have $$ to burn.
    After a year's worth of tandeming you'll have a much better idea of how a tandem handles + what you both need/like/want.
    It's like saying you can drive a car so it should not be any trouble handling a 16-wheeler . . .
    Just our input . . .
    Pedal on!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  8. #8
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    good points. while i didn't ask how many tandems he's built, honestly i'm not the least bit worried about his framebuilding pedigree. what he's built for me the past couple of years (two road bikes, each for a specific need) are nothing short of fantastic.

    after exchanging some messages today, he mentioned the boom he uses is 50mm w/a 2mm thickness, frame weight (painted) should be in the 7lb area, and the design is geared towards high performance with smooth riding characteristics.

    i'm excited about the process, and expect to be out of pocket close to what the cannondale would otherwise run me, so it's a no-brainer. plus, i like supporting the little guy.

  9. #9
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    Good Luck! A Calfee Dragonfly is one of the lightest carbon tandem frames and it's about 6.5 lbs. That would be an incredible aluminum frame.

  10. #10
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    We have no issues with 'supporting' the little guy . . . have done so for decades.
    Our first custom tandem was built in 1976 by Matt Assenmacher, a then relatively unknown builder in Michigan that had apprenticed in England. Ours was the 3rd tandem he built. Put 64,000 happy/great miles on it.
    Our second custom tandem was built by Colin Laing, a British ex-pat (and friend) who apprenticed under the Taylor brothers in England. At that time Colin had built over 800 tandems + thousands of singles including some TdeF greats and Olympians. Put 56,000 miles on that twicer before we sold it.
    Next custom was by Co-Motion, a then relatively small (3 guys in a garage) outfit in Eugene, OR. Put 57,000 miles on that great machine.
    Our current tandem is full carbon fiber built ZONA by another friend and customs-only builder Bob Davis (a retired aerospace engineer). Currently it has over 25,000 miles on the odo.
    It is great to talk face-to-face with your builder. No doubt he will have some suggestions/recommendations . . . pay attention!
    Pedal on!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  11. #11
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    thanks a bunch zonatandem. you two have put some SERIOUS tandem miles in together. wow!

    i hope you (and others) will indulge some of my my rookie questions as this process moves along....

    cheers.

    --jim

  12. #12
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    JSNYC:
    We were all rookies at one time or other!
    We are now ages 77/75 and still get in around 100 miles a week, weather permitting!
    Agree with RMAC that 7 lbs is very light for an alu frameset.
    Our carbon fiber Zona tandem frame (with internal lateral and eccentric and steel bottle cage bolts) hit the scales at 6.7 lbs. Our tandem has an very short wheelbase @ 63 1/2 inches compared to most tandems at 69+ inches.
    As to serious miles . . . that also included lotsa SMILES!
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem
    Attached Images Attached Images

  13. #13
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    JSNYC...congrats on deciding on a tandem and kudos to you for going with the builder that has done right by you in the past. Clearly you know what you like and have the ability to go after it on your own terms. No doubt you will have fun with your Tandem project, which is how it should be....Good luck.

    Bill J.

  14. #14
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    We ride an "07 C'dale and except for the color it looks a lot like the one in your picture. We just reach 1000 miles and we love it. A little more air in the tires and tuning of the cables and the bike rides great. I will say riding under pressure and not shifting soon enough into the granny gear up front you'll find yourself stuck in the second gear up front. Other than that it runs great.

    It is a great first tandem. The price is right and we like to ride for speed, so the +/- fit our needs and likes. Some day a bike built for us will be in order but for now it is more about the exercise and especially being able to do something together that we both enjoy and promotes great health.

    You can't go wrong with the C'dale and it wont stain your wallet as much.

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