One of the tricks to used tandems is having the patience (and cash on hand when the time comes) to snap up a good value. Having been asked many times about what constitutes a "good value" in a used tandem and how to determine if the asking price is reasonable prompted the creation of an Excel spreadsheet-based depreciation tool for tandems and a supporting narrative that is posted to our Web site. Like everything on our site, you get what you pay for: http://home.att.net/~thetandemlink/usedhome.html
Right now we are coming into one of the three best times of year to look for good values in new and used tandems, depending on what end of the market you're buying in. For the major bike brands like Trek, Cannondale, Raleigh, KHS, and Schwinn you may have non-tandem speciality dealers sitting on '04 (and perhaps even a few '03) inventory that they will want to move if they can before the '05 models are ordered if at all possible. As for tandem speciality dealers, you may be able to find demos and older models as well that they may be motivated to move, more so than they would earlier in the year. Finally, you'll have some private owners who have made the decision to upgrade to a new '05 model who will begin to start looking for buyers before it comes time to pay off the balance on the new tandem once it is delivered over the winter or in early spring.
For example, we have a friend who is co-owner of a tandem touring company who buys a new Co-Motion travel tandem every year. Last year's tandem is a White Large-size Co-Motion Speedster Co-Pilot (S&S equipped travel tandem) with cases that has only seen about 2,000 miles of use that he has up for sale with an asking price of $4,200. If you consider that the MSRP for this tandem with it cases & optional Flight Deck computer and new tires is about $5,700, that's a pretty good deal.
In fact, if you consider that Co-Motion is one of the only tandem builders who extends its lifetime warranty beyond the initial buyer, it's an exceptional deal as much of the value that is lost when a tandem is bought 2nd hand is related to the loss of the frame warranty. Now, there are companies like Calfee who will renew a warranty for a 2nd-hand buyer. However, the buyer must bring or ship the bike to Calfee at their own expense and pay a $75 inspection fee and pay for any return shipping. While that seems like a bit of an expensive hassle, if you're spending upwards of $6 - $11k on a 2nd hand Calfee Tetra Tetra / S&S travel tandem that originally sold for $9 - $13k, that's pretty cheap insurance.
So, if you're contemplating the purchase of a tandem or perhaps an upgrade, now would be a good time to watch the classified ad sites that feature tandems and Ebay. The next "surge" in used tandems seems to come when Spring fever hits, and the other is about 1/2 way through summer.
It seems you're right about this being the right time to buy. Now, I have a dilemma. I have the opportunity to buy either a Raleigh 2002 "AL Tandem" or a Cannondale 1998 "Los Dos" Tandem. Both are in the $650 range with the Raleigh only having a little over 100 miles on it. The Cannondale has been used a little more but both bikes are in great shape. Both tandems are the same size which will fit us perfectly. I'm 6'1', she's 5'. The type of riding we'll be doing is just on paved trails and don't see to many hills in the future. Need some advice as I'm getting ready to close a deal this weekend. Thanks.
I see you haven't got a reply yet. Without much knowledge of either bike, I would say buy the Cannondale. The Raleigh originally retails for $550-$800, and the Cannondale was probably close to $2000-plus. With that kind of price difference you get a better frame and better parts with the Cannondale. I'm not sure of either price range, but the Cannondale should be by far the more expensive bike.