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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 02-19-13, 03:07 PM   #1
Chris_W
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Fully-Loaded Tandem Tour of New Zealand: Photo Blog

We've posted a full report of our recent 5-week-long tour of New Zealand on our photo blog. There are about 100 photos in total, split up into six albums of 15-20 photos each. The captions are pretty extensive, plus there's a map showing the route and the photo locations. Here are links to the six albums:

North Island


Picton to Akaroa


Dunedin & Otago Peninsula


Taeri Gorge to Mavora Lakes


Milford Sound


Glenorchy to Oamaru


We did 2500 km in one month, with about 25 days on the bike and 6 rest days. This included about 400 km of dirt roads, at least 20 river crossings (only 3 of which we weren't able to ride through), and about 20 officially-marked passes, but many other unmarked climbs. We spent one week getting a flavour of the North Island before jumping over to the South Island to spend most of our time there. We were camping in a tent more than half the nights, but we also stayed in youth hostels, motels, and campground cabins along the way.

The photo albums give a good general summary of the trip, but here I'll share a little more about the tandem touring experience.

Flight times to and from Europe were about 30 hours including two brief stopovers (Dubai and Sydney). We flew with Emirates airlines, and maxed out their luggage allowance of 30 kg of checked baggage plus 7 kg of carry-on per person. The bike (a Co-Motion Speedster Co-Pilot) was in one S&S suitcase, the wheels in a cardboard box, and the panniers in a giant hockey bag. None of this was touched by airport security (I'm sure they would have opened half of it if we'd flown via the US, but fortunately we went around the other way). We flew out of a different city than where we landed, so we shipped the S&S suitcase with the cardboard box, hockey bag, and all the packaging stuffed inside it from the first night's hotel to the last night's (where they stored it until we arrived), which worked out very well. We took several other forms of transport during the trip, the ferries and trains were straightforward, but we could have never taken the coaches or a small charter plane if we didn't have the S&S couplers.

We had very few mechanical problems with the bike. Exceptions included the 700x34mm Schwalbe Marathon front tire being trashed by the first 200 km of dirt roads plus 800 km of asphalt (the tread had large splits down to the protective layer in many places, and the rubber generally looked very roughed up, but fortunately it had not allowed anything to pierce the tube), we upgraded this to the far tougher Marathon Plus 700x32mm, which looked almost unused after a further 200km of dirt and 1300 km of asphalt - I learnt that the Marathon and Marathon Plus are TOTALLY different tires. We had one rear pinch flat when I let the bike run a bit too freely on a bumpy downhill and we hit a bump that was slightly bigger than expected. Later on, we had a slew of rear punctures on the rim side of the tube (about five in 150 km across 3 days), I couldn't find an exact cause, but beefing up the rim strip with the electrical tape that we were carrying fixed the problem until we found a shop with some tougher rim strip. The other main bike problem was caused by a kea bird (a crafty mountain parrot) pecking away some of the stoker's handlebar tape during the night, which was also fixed with the electrical tape. Never go on tour without a roll of electrical tape! Oh, and also, the rear V-brake was not springing back smoothly by the end of the tour (regardless of how much spring tension I applied), so we had to disconnect it except when doing the big descents; once home, I pried open the pivot, cleaned and re-greased everything and it is now much better. Oh, and the front dynamo light got water inside during the one day of riding in heavy rain and never worked again - it's currently back at the manufacturer's, and will hopefully come back with a new circuit board under warranty.

The gearing we used was a super-compact double on the front: 26- and 42-tooth rings mounted in the inner and middle positions of a road triple crank, plus an 11-34 10-speed cassette. We were therefore able to pedal at a reasonable cadence between 7 and 50 kph (4 and 30 mph). Our average speed for the whole trip was almost exactly 20 kph (13 mph), but on a flat road with no wind, we could comfortably cruise along at 24 kph (15 mph). The captain controlled the front V-brake and rear cable-disc brake (Avid BB7 with 220 mm Formula rotor), whilst the stoker controlled an extra rear V-brake, which certainly came in useful at times. We went through two pairs of disc brake pads and one pair of V-brake pads (the dirt roads and the day of riding in rain significantly accelerated the wear of the disc pads). We used a brand new Gates CenterTrack timing belt in the outer position of the triple cranks (single-side-drive so that we could use 165mm single-bike cranks). That performed flawlessly except that it did make some noise after getting dusty on the dirt roads - a long dowsing with a water bottle while turning the cranks backwards always solved that problem.

I had been worried about the ability of the wheels to stand up to the 210 kg (450 lbs) total weight going over roads of various qualities, with no suspension and high pressure tires (between 80 and 110 psi). The front wheel was a 36-spoke DT Swiss TK540 rim laced to a Shimano XT dynamo hub with 2.0/1.8/2.0 double-butted spokes. The rear was a 40-spoke Mavic A719 laced to a Shimano 145 mm OLD hub with the same spokes. Not upgrading to 48-spoke wheels front and rear was something that I thought I might regret, so we took several spare spokes and a mini cassette removal tool. However, I never took the spoke wrench out for the whole trip, and just turned a couple of nipples when I got the rear wheel on the repair stand when back home. I built these wheels myself, and must say that I'm pretty proud of my work.

New Zealand is a fantastic place to bike tour, we cannot recommend it highly enough. For the most part, the roads are scenic, quiet, and wide. The terrain is not too tough - the climbs are all pretty short compared to what we're used to in the European Alps, although the gradients are far less consistent. Tourism is a big part of the economy, so there are tourist services in almost every small town. The campgrounds are exceptional quality, with communal kitchens, TV rooms, cheap laundry facilities, etc. The people are all really open and laid back, and love chatting to people with an unusual bike. The main thing that we were surprised by was that we didn't meet more bike tourers, and the few that we did meet all said the same thing.

Last edited by Chris_W; 02-19-13 at 03:36 PM.
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Old 02-19-13, 03:55 PM   #2
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Fantastic! I like the creative use of frame bags to carry your extra gear. How did those work out for you?
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Old 02-19-13, 04:37 PM   #3
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Yep, the frame bags are pretty special. So special, that I even made a thread specifically about them: Custom frame bags for a touring tandem. In summary, they worked great.
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Old 02-20-13, 06:18 AM   #4
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Enjoyable reading. Thanks. We did NZ the easy way a few years back - by cruise ship. A lovely country and very friendly people. It reminded us of the UK 50+ years ago.
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Old 02-20-13, 07:42 PM   #5
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I am glad that you enjoyed our country. Very well photographed and documented as well. We would love to do something similar one day, but will have to wait until our younger children are a bit older. We even have a red, coupled, CoMo Speedster like yours waiting to carry us!
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Old 02-23-13, 06:58 PM   #6
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I am not surprised to see that your pictures do not show any actual New Zealanders because they have all moved to Western Australia (we're happy to have them!). This is a very good little writeup with great practical info and the snaps are very nice too. 2,500km in a month in a mountainous place is great going even on a half bike, let alone a tandem. Yes, I am envious!
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Old 02-24-13, 09:31 AM   #7
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You're right, I tend not to take many photos of people, and I don't really go places for culture, more for geography normally. However, there are a few true kiwis in the first album.

The population of NZ has actually increased by about half a million people (15%, see this graph) since I was last there 15 years ago, so the people emigrating to Oz are being more than made up for by the new immigrants.

I disagree with your comments implying that touring by tandem is any more of a challenge than touring on single bikes. I've done a lot of both, and I find the two methods to be similar in terms of energy needed; I'd say that my average speed is about the same, although my wife's might be a little higher on the tandem than when she's touring on her single, but not by much. When we had to do some riding into headwinds, we were very pleased to be on the tandem, it was definitely an advantage then, and there was no situations where it was really a disadvantage.

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