The trouble with tandems

Another tandem owner contacted me this week at the urging of my bike shop to ask whether he should get his Co-Motion tandem retrofitted with S&S couplers. He and his partner were charged something like $800 to ship their tandem during a trip when the airline would not accept their oversize case as luggage.

We discussed a few other tandem topics, and I came to think later about how Mary and I have evolved our approach over the years (17 and counting) that we’ve been tandeming together.

We traveled via air with a full-size tandem just once. The work involved — getting a big case to and from airports, pulling it through the terminal with our other cases, not to mention the extra fees — convinced me the hassle isn’t worth it.

At best, I’d ship a full-size tandem domestically via BikeFlights, but would worry too much about something going wrong.

I suggested he contact Co-Motion and ask whether they could add S&S couplers, which allow the frame to be disassembled into sections that fit in airline-size luggage cases. We have a coupled Co-Motion with 650b wheels we call the Green Apple that is our main road tandem these days and the travel convenience is the reason we’ll take it to Unbound Gravel in June.

The Green Apple in randonneur mode. For gravel setup the bike gets tubeless wheels, bigger tires with no fenders or racks.

We have a another 650b Co-Motion tandem in aluminum, named the Red Sled, that we use a lot for local gravel rides. It’s a fair bit lighter, but I don’t want to risk it in shipping.

There’s been a lot of thought going into our tandems these days as we work to complete our first super randonneur series since 2019 and prepare for Unbound. We’ll follow that up with a return to the Coulee Challenge 1200K randonnee in August in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

We’ve completed the 200K, 300K and 400K and have just the 600K to go to get our super randonneur medal this year. Mary has a compelling take on a chilly spring night ride on our 400K at her blog Chasing Mailboxes.

As usual, when we start putting in the hard miles riding brevets, problems come out into the open. We’ve been scrambling to resolve these before the D.C. Randonneurs 600K this coming weekend, May 14-15.

The Green Apple has had shifting problems — notably it resisted shifting to the inner chainring. My shop and I decided the best solution was to swap out the drivetrain from the TA Zephyr cranksets to a Sugino XD600 setup. That drivetrain has worked flawlessly on the Red Sled.

The main driver was that we really need wider Phil Wood bottom bracket spindles to space out the lovely Zephyr cranksets, but those aren’t available right now.

The Spectrum tandem is a beauty but did not end up fitting me the way I wanted.

The Sugino cranks came off our custom Spectrum road tandem, which itself is going to be put up for sale. On that tandem we installed a set of new old stock Shimano 105 8-speed tandem cranks that I’ve had in storage. These work great with a 10-speed chain and hopefully will be an incentive to a buyer to get unused components.

The good news: our mechanic Phil at College Park Bicycles called to say the new setup on the Green Apple shifts reliably. The bearings on two of the four Phil bottom brakets were rough, but he combined good bearings with the right bottom brackets and pulled it all together.

Separately, we’re awaiting our front generator wheel from service. The Schmidt SON hub on our wheel started making a loud buzzing noise when the headlight was turned on. Peter White Cycles rebuilt the wheel with a refurbished unit under warranty, but that one stopped working during our 400K brevet on April 30.

Our Exposure Lights Joystick helmet light got us to the finish without a problem during the brevet. I’m glad we took it along as a supplemental light. It was plenty bright, though I’d like to get back to generator lighting without concerns about battery life.

The wheel should be back in our hands in time for the upcoming brevet, but if not, we’ll use the Exposure with a Light & Motion Rando 500 primary light, which has long run time and decent throw, and can be recharged on the fly.

Looking ahead to Unbound Gravel

We’ll have two weekends off before Unbound Gravel on June 4, where we are riding the 200-mile version. I hope we can finish in 15 hours.

This event will be a long time in the making. After gaining entry in 2020, we deferred last year. The pandemic feels enough under control for us to feel safe, but we’ll still try to take some basic precautions around large groups before and after the ride.

I’m pretty stoked to be going to the big gravel event after a couple of years of local rides. We love riding in the Mid-Atlantic and surrounding areas, but a change of locale will do us good.

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