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  1. #1
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    Tandem(s) for family of 4

    The short of it is that we (me, wife, twin girls who are 3.5 now) are considering buying tandems for our bike rides. Right now we carry them in a Co-Pilot seat on our racks but they will be heavy enough that we can't really use them next season and old enough at 4+ where they can help pedal (wishful thinking). Would love some thoughts from everyone on which direction to go.

    Me: Used to ride citizen's class races 20 years ago, have taken 3 unsupported tours of 2+ weeks (one self-contained the other credit card), regularly ride my Cannondale T700 touring bike. Haven't had the road bike out for 10 years, it now sits on a trainer.

    Wife: Not a regular rider, has been on two credit card tours, has to spin up hills otherwise there are knee problems. Doesn't like to sit rear seat as she wants the control. Rides a Trek mountain bike but wants to move to drops (more hand positions).

    Kids: 3.5 years, love bikes, ride their own (with training wheels), happy when in their seats behind us. Currently 40" tall and weigh about 36 lbs.

    Criteria:
    • Bikes that can grow with the girls from stoker kits through using standard cranks.
    • Capable of credit card touring for 2-3 weeks and some light self-contained for <1 week.
    • We've toured Europe and would like to do so again (once the girls get a little older) so S&S couplers might be required.
    • Good components but don't need to be top of the line.
    • While we are not over the top when it comes to keeping the total bike weight down, less is better than more.
    • Don't let budget hold you back but let's not consider $10k+ custom bikes.


    Concern:
    Biggest is that my wife won't be able to pedal the weight of a girl on back plus touring equipment. Is it reasonably possible to tour with a triplet and will I be able to manage 80-100 lbs. of kids plus bike weight plus touring equipment when they don't pedal much (especially on the hills)? Also, should we consider DaVincis for the ICS with the kids on the back?

    Thanks for taking the time to provide feedback.

    John

  2. #2
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    A pair of Co-Motion Periscopes... They'll take you and the kids through the next decade with ease.

    Triplet + single would be OK, but not as flexible as a pair of tandems with single bikes UNLESS one of you will find yourselves with the kids where a triplet would be the right answer.

    European trip... unless you're going to do it often, it would be far cheaper to just skip the couplers and pay the shipping on two well-packed tandems.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 08-13-10 at 06:41 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member WebsterBikeMan's Avatar
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    There is a family currently somewhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh with triplets on their tandem and triplet. Dad captains the triplet with two of the kids; mom captains the tandem with the other one. Kids rotate positions. They have a journal on crazyguyonabike. If you are unfamiliar with cgoab, go to the home page, then select journals then by category then tandem. That'll give you a list of journals in order from most recently to least recently edited. They'll be on the first page near the top. So yes, it is possible to tour with a triplet.

    I would also vote for the periscopes.

    As long as your wife can keep up with you when she's captaining with only a stoker and no gear, and you have all the gear, you can make it work. At the one extreme is you with panniers and a trailer. At the other extreme is both bikes equally loaded. Somewhere between there is the point where neither one is working hard to keep up with the other (just working hard).

    As far as the DaVinci drive is concerned, my thinking is that you're likely better off with them on a standard drive, with their feet clipped in (toe clips or clipless pedals). That way they don't get too accustomed to just coasting. But that's just an opinion.

    The one reason I might be swayed in favour of DaVinci in your case is the wide gear range. For those hills you mentioned.

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the thoughts. Any worries about touring with the periscopes, particularly with the geometry of the frame? I know we won't get much flex to begin with since the girls won't be doing much work but worry about it down the line.

    Regarding coasting, my biggest concern is that they'll provide 'negative work' if the drive train is coupled. I suppose that's just a learning curve for them.

    Finally, being in SW CT any suggested dealers? Tandems East is about 2.5-3 hours. Closer would be nice.

    John

  5. #5
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueueCT View Post
    Finally, being in SW CT any suggested dealers? Tandems East is about 2.5-3 hours. Closer would be nice.
    According to Co-Motion's Dealer Locator, Belmont Wheelworks near Boston is a bit closer at ~ 157 miles vs. 185 miles for Tandems East and after that it's 285 miles to Gear-to-Go up in Saranac Lake, NY. But you'd want to call both to check on inventory to make it worth your while before making the journey in either direction.

    As for the travel time, for us our 150 mile drive over to Tandems Limited in Birmingham, AL some 13-years ago ended up being time very well-spent. We left the house early on a Saturday morning, arrived when then opened at 9am and with the exception of an hour-long lunch break, we were there until 4pm when we left with our new Santana Arriva tandem. We had considered spending the night at a local hotel if need be as part of our original plan noting that our plan was to NOT buy a tandem on that trip. But after test riding 4 tandems and looking at another 8 different new and used models on the floor, we had learned enough to make an informed decision. We started riding the next day (Sunday) and haven't stopped since.

    I don't think that would have been possible at a bicycle shop with just one or two tandems sitting around. At last check, I think Tandems East has about 60+ assembled tandems sitting in inventory at any one time, including triplets, quads and travel tandems from several different builders. Belmont probably has a couple tandems and I believe they're almost exclusively Co-Motions, with perhaps a Trek T900.

    Now, there was one lesson learned from our tandem buying experience that I will share, and that was: do you take delivery at the dealer or have them ship it? In hindsight, I should have taken a deep breath and had Tandems East ship our tandem so that we could have avoided the 9% Alabama sales tax.... yes, 9% or about an extra $320 on top of the bike's cost. Shipping would have been about $80. Thankfully, the first ride at home the day after buying the tandem was "priceless" since our enthusiasm hadn't waned one iota from the previous day's adventure. Had a week or so gone by before a box arrived with the tandem, some of that excitement could have been dampened by any one of a number of things. Again, just something to consider given the $$ involved, sales tax rates, and of course tempted by your mechanical abilities associated with assembling and prepping a tandem for use. I've been working on my own bikes since I was a teen, so there's nothing I can't screw up and the fix without missing a beat.

    As for frame flex, they're pretty stout frames because of their geometry... think compact frame design. There are quite a few full-size adults who ride them as their primary bike, including the Machiatto-like Periscope Torpedo 700 race bike. However, as always, a test-ride with your spouse stoking / captaining would be needed to see how YOU perceive the frame stability since that's the only opinion that really matters.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 08-14-10 at 06:06 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member WebsterBikeMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueueCT View Post
    Thanks for the thoughts. Any worries about touring with the periscopes, particularly with the geometry of the frame? I know we won't get much flex to begin with since the girls won't be doing much work but worry about it down the line.

    Regarding coasting, my biggest concern is that they'll provide 'negative work' if the drive train is coupled. I suppose that's just a learning curve for them.

    Finally, being in SW CT any suggested dealers? Tandems East is about 2.5-3 hours. Closer would be nice.

    John
    Gear to go has a decent inventory, but I don't recall seeing any periscopes there.

    We were there for the Saranac Lake Tandem Rally late June.

    As far as coasting is concerned, yes, the negative work is part of the learning for them. There's an article in the current Adventure Cycling written by a mother who is half of a couple that has two kids who tour on two tandems. The never pedalling back or stopping hard was something that was trained early on. Fun article.

  7. #7
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    The suggestion to go with Periscopes is a good one, but there are other options you might consider. Trying to plan too far into the future might compromise your ability to make the right choice for the present, which could prevent you from really getting off to a good start. We have some friends with twin daughters, and they chose to buy a pair of Bike Friday Family Tandem Travelers with the dual drive 24 spd shifters (see http://community.bikefriday.com/node/1584) which like the Periscope work well for small stokers, pack like an S&S bike, and cost under $2k each. While the bike may not be the one you use 10 years out, that might be true for more expensive bikes too. Our family of four already had one full size tandem (used Santana) before we realized we would be able to ride with our kids. Since our kids are five years apart, we also had a train phase with a tag along and a trailer, but that may not make sense with twins. Eventually we did the simplest solution, and bought a second tandem for my wife to ride with our second kid (new Cannondale RT). We actually tried one of the early Periscopes, but found that it could not fit my wife in the captain position well. This was not obvious from the paper specs, and we used Gear To Go Tandems to learn from test riding that the small Cannodale fit her better. In the end, for us having his and hers tandems to captain was great for each of us going with a kid, but still frustrating for riding as a family of 4. Kids were unhappy about who was ahead, and we had trouble riding together, as we would not naturally ride at the same pace. After a couple years of thinking, joking, and looking at the used market, we finally ordered a quad, which really lets us ride as a family. We still use the tandems, but for a full family outing the quad works better for us. One downside is that we cannot carry as much gear as you can with two tandems unless you pull a trailer. One plus is that the kids enjoy all the attention that the quad draws. Our quad has no couplers, but we are still able to ship it (with DHL) at prices comparable to a mid priced airline ticket to most of our destinations. We have it with us in Denmark now. I agree with most of the advice others have given you as well.

    Good luck,

    DMT
    Santana Arriva Tandem (S&S)
    Cannondale Road Tandem
    Santana Quad Tandem

  8. #8
    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    If you do wind up looking at daVinci as well just note that the kid stoker add-on is very simple since the captain and stoker are already driving separate freewheels. I would think the kid stoker could even have a different-sized chainring to compensate for differences in cadence; wouldn't recommend this for a full-size stoker, but a captain would hardly notice the change in phase and the "kid" chainring and pedals are well above the ground during turns.
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  9. #9
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    DMT: Yes, I've toyed with the idea of a quad for the same reason (differing abilities between the two of us) but my wife is not thrilled as a stoker, she much prefers the captain role. Given that we have a 12" height difference between the two of us, it's just not realistic for us to trade off roles on the quad. Plus the gear issue you mentioned and the additional strain on the bike creates more potential equipment failures. But, you never know, might be in our future.

    Rick: Yup, we thought of the DaVincis for two reasons, the ICS and the ease of using the stoker kit. On the other hand, the Periscopes will just need shorter cranks.

    Bottom line is that we'll head out to a dealer that specializes in tandems and ride a bunch of different ones. Does anyone have any ideas regarding when the best time to purchase is (to get the best discounts on prior year models)?

    John

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    I've been riding with my daughter on the back of a tandem since she was six, before that she was on a tag-along. I'm a fairly avid cyclist, usually put in about 5500 miles a year and about 1500 of that is with my daughter on the tandem including our first century together last year. We regularly do 50 mile rides with 2500-3500 ft of climbing.

    I give you that background to say it's going to be several years before your daughters can really provide a lot of effort, much less do much more than pull their own weight. It's only been this this summer that my daughter has gotten very strong. It's not that she doesn't work hard and hasn't worked hard the whole time she's ridden with me, it's just that physiologically she's just starting to put on some muscle mass as she grows up. Obviously flatter rides are less strenuous, but around where we live there are very few flat spots. I'd be very concerned about your wife, especially if she already has knee, issues being able to keep up on longer tours even if you had most of the gear on your tandem.

    I don't want to talk you out of getting the bikes...you definitely should. My daughter and I have had soooo much fun. She has such a great time, especially on organized rides like our club's Wednesday night social ride. But you should probably not even consider the idea of tours until they are a few years older, and your wife can work on building up her fitness. Just have fun doing some shorter rides for awhile!

  11. #11
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    I don't want to talk you out of getting the bikes...you definitely should. My daughter and I have had soooo much fun. She has such a great time, especially on organized rides like our club's Wednesday night social ride. But you should probably not even consider the idea of tours until they are a few years older, and your wife can work on building up her fitness. Just have fun doing some shorter rides for awhile!
    Thanks for the note about touring. We don't intend to go on any type of tour where we need power from the girls for a while. That said, I think we can do a reasonably flat 2 week tour in about three years (when they're 6.5). In the meantime, there's no reason we can't go for a 25 mile ride to the local state park and camp overnight next year even if we are carrying their weight for them. It's really about them having fun rather than piling on miles.

    Our touring tends to be about transportation to the next town where we can meet people and take in the sites, not hammering out 80-100 miles (though i've done that alone). And with the kids we need to make sure that they stay interested and excited when the novelty of being on the back of a tandem wears off. Heck, the 25 mile trip to the campground might take us 4 hours between climbing some hills, stopping for lunch (and ice cream), passing a playground that they have to play on, etc. Which, I believe, is exactly what you're saying so good advice!

    John

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueueCT View Post
    Regarding coasting, my biggest concern is that they'll provide 'negative work' if the drive train is coupled. I suppose that's just a learning curve for them.
    This has not been my experience... My boys are in the higher percentiles in height. Both became old enough to ride stoker, with a high-mounted kid crank, at about four years of age. I don't get the "negative work" effect unless the 4-y/o tries to stand. The older boy is 7 now. It's quite noticeable when he decides to help. I think I can even feel a boost from the 4-y/o when he sees someone on the bike path that he thinks we should race...
    I don't even use the offensive term "Fred." -- Sheldon "All Cyclists Are My Friends" Brown (1944-2008)

  13. #13
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    You could also consider a set of Burley Piccolo trail-a-bikes. Not as good as tandems, but a lot cheaper and more flexible. They will also allow you to tour, as they have the capability to mount a rear rack on the Piccolo in addition to the Burley rack that attaches to your bike, allowing you to mount two sets of panniers.

    That being said, +1 for getting two Co-Mo Periscopes, with or without couplers. If cost isn't a big deal, you could even get a Periscope Trident Convertible that converts from a tandem to a triple, and also packs away into S&S cases. Combine that with another tandem and you have a lot of versatility: wife and you each ride a tandem with a child each, or wife/you rides the triplet with the two kids. For touring, add a trailer to your tandem and carry most of the weight, helping to equalize the abilities of you and your wife.

    For us, we got an S&S Santana Cabrio triplet and love it. Also have a Burley Piccolo that I occasionally use with my single. Our son will be six in November and started riding the triple last summer at 4.5 years old, using a stokid kit.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by briwasson View Post
    You could also consider a set of Burley Piccolo trail-a-bikes. Not as good as tandems, but a lot cheaper and more flexible. They will also allow you to tour, as they have the capability to mount a rear rack on the Piccolo in addition to the Burley rack that attaches to your bike, allowing you to mount two sets of panniers.
    Thought about the trail a bike approach. At 4 years old or so the girls won't be able to handle shifting and I'm afraid the one speeds will encourage them to coast rAther than pedal along with us when the one speed is geared too high or low for a given situation. If it comes down to budget, though, it's a possibility.

    John

  15. #15
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Two Periscopes should do the trick. Yes, have ridden Periscopes and they'd do fine for touring with kids/adults.
    If you are concerned with hauling touring stuff; get a Bob trailer for the tandem you captain; that way wife will not have that big of a load to haul uphills/mountains.
    If $$ are an issue the Bike Friday tandems could do, but are a bit more flexy. Yes, have ridden Bike Friday tandems.
    The least likely optioin would be trail-a-bikes.
    The youngest we've seen riding a full century on back of a tandem was a 4-year-old girl way back when in Ohio (1970s).
    If you plan to use planes several times a year then couplers would be usefull.
    Enjoy the ride TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem
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    We are in this exact (almost) situation. We have a periscope that I captain, with my 7 yo son on the back, and a cannondale that my wife captains, with my 5 yo daughter on the back with a child stoker kit. Both bikes are great to ride. The C-dale is a bit heavier with the child kit on the back. I LOVE riding the co-mo, and my wife and I do plan to tour on it (although we haven't ridden it together yet). We did get the couplers. Be sure to check and see if your kids fit on the back - we had to lower the seat slightly when my son was 6 so he could reach the pedals comfortably. We tried the Da Vinci, but my wife and I did a lot better with the timing chain. If your child (or spouse) pedals out of sync with any force, you can get a tremendous wobble and instability - try before you buy

    We started with the C-dale and a trail-a-bike, but found that the trail was too flexy and not much fun to haul with a single.

    This is one of the best investments we made - once you have figured out your budget, get yourself to the tandem dealer (specialist HIGHLY recommended) and have some fun! It has been a wonderful experience for our family.

    H

  17. #17
    Senior Member PedalPink's Avatar
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    I was recently a Warm Showers host to a family with boys ages 5, 7 and 9 on an 18 month tour of Canada, US and Mexico riding two Co-Motion Periscopes with a tag-along. They had the tandems custom made to their spec's and were very happy with them. There's a lot of information on their web site about the trip at http://www.twowheelview.org/news/index.htm

    For comparison, another family has three girls ages 3, 5 and 7 on a quint pulling a Burley tandem. They are traveling from Kentucky to Alaska. Their web site is www.pedouins.org.

    And at http://familyonbikes.org/ you'll find a family with twelve year old twins setting a new record (and many links and resources to bicycle touring with kids).

    Kids are amazing!

    I'd recommend a book - Pedal Pioneers: A Guide to Bicycle Travel with Kids - which is designed to help teachers and youth group leaders organize their own group youth tours for kids who can bicycle independently. In five sections, Pedal Pioneers walks leaders through each stage of organizing a trip for kids. The sections include: Trip Design and Development, Turning Kids into Cyclists, Resources and Logistics, Life on the Road, Coming Home, and an Appendix. The Guide covers many of the details that leaders need to know when considering or planning a bike tour with kids, with chapters on Partnerships, Participant Recruitment and Retention, Route Planning, Bicycle Safety and Riding Techniques, Equipment and Clothing, Hydration and Fuel, First Aid and Health, Overnight Accommodations, Group Dynamics, and more. You can find it at http://www.adventurecycling.org/outr...eers_guide.cfm

  18. #18
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    We are the family mentioned in PedalPink's post above - cycling Alaska to Argentina with our (now) 12-year-old twin boys. Right now, we travel with one tandem and two singles.

    When the boys were 8, we took off for a one-year ride around the USA and Mexico. At that time, we opted for a triple for hubby and the boys while I rode a single. It worked perfectly for us at the time. the main reason we went with that configuration was strength differences between me and my husband - neither kid wanted to ride with me on a tandem because I was so slow. With the the triple/single set up, we were pretty much evenly matched.

    John pulled a trailer on that trip, which made for a massive 14-foot machine. It was unwieldy, but he learned to control it well. At first, passing through cities was nervewracking, but at the end of the year we passed right through the middle of New York City in pouring rain and he did fine.

    I think the key is to really look at you and your wife and figure out what will work best for you - which you are obviously do right now. Good luck with your decision! It'll be a magical experience for all four of you however you do it!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  19. #19
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    Nancy--

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out from South America. I appreciate the advice from someone who has quite a bit of experience touring with kids (as do some of the PPs). I've been leaning in the triple/single direction since, in general, I'm the one who says "let's go for a ride" or "we're due for another bike trip." With a triple I can take the girls for a weekend ride and Jennifer can choose to come along or not. It's been a few years since our last tour and I've been bitten by the bug again. Just want to make sure that my enthusiasm is tempered by recognizing the changing capabilities of all the family members over the next few years.

    I already have some "tame" trips in the back of my mind, weekend camping trip here in CT and New England, Le P'tit Train du Nord for a longer weekend, GAP/C&O, Shannon to Paris or London, the South Island of New Zealand. A progression over a few years that hopefully will capture the imagination of the girls and introduce them to touring in a positive way. We can get more adventurous if their interest level remains high.

    We'll probably make a trip to Tandems East in the fall to take a few test rides . . . doing a lot of travel for work and some extended weekend trips for the family over the next 6 weeks so it's tough to carve out a day to go.

    John

  20. #20
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    That's basically how it went with us - John was the one who went out more than I did. We had a tandem, but he quickly decided he needed to add a tagalong to it for the other kid. Sometimes I went with them, sometimes I didn't, but it was nice that he had the option of taking both boys when I didn't want to go.

    Ponder all your options and you'll know what will work best for you and your family!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    We just bought an Adams tandem tag along style bike:

    http://www.trail-a-bike.com/products...folder-tandem/

    It looks like these were out of production for a long time - I've been looking for them for ages and it appears they must have done a production run on them recently.

    My eldest kids are 3 and 4. I had to make a few modifications as the kids are a bit short yet. I joined the two pedals together with a plank of wood so the pedals couldn't flip over, then screwed blocks to that piece of wood to raise the pedal height seperately for each kid.

    We did it this way because we didn't want blocks on both sides of the pedal which would have reduced our ground clearance.

    I've been towing this behind my mountain bike, so far have done two rides. One was 2hrs without the pedal modifications and it was tricky because the kids kept loosing the pedal on the down-stroke then they were "rocking the boat" a bit so whenever traffic was around I told them to stop pedalling.

    Today was heaps better with the pedal mod - kids had more fun and got to pedal the entire ride. Will give it a few weeks before we hook it up to the tandem. I'm pretty new to the tandem and my stroker is an inexpereinced cyclist (my mother) so I will get the kids and mum up to speed seperately before we consider combining the two.

    The tag along style bikes are way better than I expected - aside from bigger hills they really don't slow you down too much - and they don't effect the handling too badly on my mountain bike anyway. We passed a number of riders on "singles" on both our rides so far and there was some surprised people. We drafted a faster guy home for about 10km this afternoon and he was pretty surprised we could sit on him.

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