Reviving the Lead Sled: our Cannondale Tandem

Due to unforeseen circumstances (to be discussed in another post), our Co-Motion tandem will not be around for a while. In the meantime, Felkerino and I still want to tandem together so we decided to put our original brevet tandem, a Cannondale mountain frame, back into service for some summer rides and any upcoming fall brevets we do. Because of its industrial dark gray hue and bulky aluminum tubing, Felkerino nicknamed it the “lead sled.”

Cannondale tandem, back in service

Felkerino invested some serious time this past week to make the Cannondale rando ready. He put on new tires, transitioned our saddles and handlebars over from the Co-Motion, and measured and remeasured to mimic our Co-Motion measurements as much as possible.

This weekend we took the lead sled out for a 73-mile shakedown ride to see how it- and we- would fare. While it’s quite a switch to go from riding a steel tandem that’s been made especially for you to a stock Large-in-front, Medium-in-back aluminum-frame tandem with 26-inch wheels, our ride went better than I expected.

There is no doubt that the Cannondale has served us well. We rode it through our first two seasons of randonneuring together, and we put it through its paces on the Cascade 1200K in 2006. Since Co-Motion built our tandem, though, the Cannondale has not seen much use.

Having grown so accustomed to the fit and feel of the Co-Motion, I was apprehensive about reviving the Cannondale. I was also bummed that riding the Co-Motion was not an option.

I love tandeming with Felkerino so I had to get over being bummed out and get my bum in the stoker zone. Once we dialed in each of our fits as best we could and made it out on the open road, I have to say I enjoyed riding the bike again. It was like rekindling a relationship with an old frenemy. I mean, an old friend. We’ll have to see how we all get along on longer rides, but for 73 miles the Cannondale felt good, albeit distinct from the Co-Motion.

Cannondale tandem, i.e., the lead sled

  • Stiffness. The Cannondale is a much stiffer ride than the Co-Motion. It’s hard to explain, but when we stood up on the pedals for some standing climbing I felt the stiffness of the Cannondale radiate from the balls of my feet. The Co-Motion, in comparison, has a little more give to it and does not feel so rigid when we climb.
  • Tire Size. Being a mountain tandem, the Cannondale is ideally suited for 26-inch wheels (unlike our Co-Motion which takes 700Cs). For this go-round with the lead sled, we decided to use wider tires than we did in the past, as we found the ride rather unforgiving. This time, we’re riding 26 x 1.5-inch tires and it has made the ride smoother. Bumps don’t cause as much of a jolt as they did with 32s. The slightly smaller and wider tires add some rolling resistance, which is noticeable on the downhills as we give up one or two miles an hour, but the added comfort is worth it.
  • Handlebar Reach. The Cannondale is over two inches shorter in the stoker zone, making the fit somewhat of a compromise. The space in the stoker zone of the Co-Motion is ideal; it’s like having my own studio apartment. I can ride easily on the top of the bars as well as the hoods. When riding the Cannondale, I much prefer to spend my time on the hoods so that I can get a little more stretch. The handlebar reach will never be perfect on this bike, but it works alright for now.
  • Setback. I found the setback on both bikes to be comparable thus far, thanks to the Velo Orange Grand Cru seatpost I’m using on the Cannondale. I did not find myself pushing back on the saddle this weekend, as I had during previous rides on this bike. We’ll see how it goes on longer rides. Knowing that the overall stoker zone is a couple inches shorter than the Co-Motion, I’m a little apprehensive about how the reach and setback will be on rides of 100 miles or longer.
  • General Size. As I mentioned, the Co-Motion is one large bike, with a much higher top tube than the Cannondale. Felkerino said that the Co-Motion practically requires him to be a Rockette to step over it. I actually do not recall the standover height of the Co-Motion and since it is in the bike hospital, I cannot take any measurements. In contrast, the Cannondale top tube is much lower. That also means that the fistful (in this case, four inches) of seatpost that is visible on the Co-Motion is 7 inches of visible seatpost on the Cannondale. When on the Cannondale, I’m looking way down at the top tube on that bike. It will take time to readjust to the feeling of a slightly smaller and shorter frame.

Felkerino and the Cannondale tandem. See what I mean about the top tube?

Thankfully, the Cannondale felt pretty good for the duration of our ride. There are kinks to be ironed out, as to be expected with any bike that has not been ridden for a while and that you want to put back into service for more rigorous riding.

This weekend our 40-spoke rear wheel popped a spoke at the head and now needs to be rethreaded. Great. (Better now than in the middle of nowhere, right?) We need to install fenders. The 26-inch tire stash needs to be inventoried and reviewed. Felkerino and I will tinker with our positioning until it feels as optimal as we can get it.

I’m heartened. After almost a month off of the tandem, we’re back at it. We’re not on the tandem I expected, but given that the Co-Motion is unrideable I feel fortunate to have a reserve tandem that’s performed solidly for us in the past. We are determined to make the Cannondale a solid touring and randonneuring bike that will once again meet our tandeming needs.

7 responses to “Reviving the Lead Sled: our Cannondale Tandem

  1. We like ours, especially for touring. I didn’t realize you had the mountain frame, although it doesn’t look that much different. We have 700 tires. It’s a very stiff frame, and my stoker appreciates the Cane Creek Thudbuster seat post, particularly on dirt roads. I believe the newer Cannodale tandems have a larger rear frame area. Anyway, it looks great and so nice to have a “spare.” The tubes always look huge, but I wonder if it’s lighter than you Co-Motion.

    • Barry, I am not sure if it’s lighter, but it definitely is no heavier. AND I know the Cannondale will be better for touring, as the Co-Motion could not take too much weight without getting noodly. It’s proving to be a good climber, too, though the Co-Motion is my true love for overall ride feel.

  2. Maybe you already covered this in your intro-to-tandem post, but how does standing out of the saddle work on a tandem? I would assume this is an Advanced Black Belt tandem skill.

    Coincidentally, right after I read your post on your love for your Co-Motion (which I hope recovers quickly from whatever misfortune fell upon it), I then saw this post about a dad who built up his custom Co-Motion so he could ride with his two girls:

    http://www.indoorcycleinstructor.com/icipro-community/indoor-cycling-news/cycling-dad-of-the-year/

    • Thanks for the link! Re the standing… I’m not sure if I would call it Advanced Black Belt tandem skill, but definitely beyond novice. When Felkerino and I first started standing, the bike would pitch to one side… and then the other side. With practice, though, we figured out how to coordinate our standing while maintaining a straight line. I think the trick is knowing: which gear to pick that won’t spin you out or have you griding a gear that is too big for either person, how to balance your weights on the bars while you climb, and how to move your bodies together while standing.

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