Bikes to Like: Lowell and Cheri’s Santana Sovereign

Last year I watched as Lowell and Cheri completed a Super Randonneur series on their beautiful Santana tandem. It was pretty cool to see, as Cheri had recently started randonneuring, and not only completed an SR series, but went on to complete an R-12, too! Their Santana always looks so good, that I just had to ask Lowell to tell me more about it. Lowell responded:

Asking a randonneur about their bike is probably considered a tactical blunder, similar to asking grandparents about their grandkids– you’re going to get more information than you really needed, or wanted. So, with that in mind…

1. What kind of bike do you have?

We have a 1987 Santana Sovereign. It was purchased new at the Two Wheel Transit Authority bike shop in Huntington Beach, CA. There weren’t a lot of commercially available, quality tandems back in those days. Santana was really about it, unless you wanted custom.

We had test ridden several different brands and models and pretty much settled on the Santana Arriva. I was a battery commander at Twentynine Palms, CA at the time and we trooped down to the coast to test ride the Arriva one last time before making a decision.

When we returned from the test ride, the salesman had pulled out the Sovereign and we took the bait. Within a few blocks Cheri and I agreed that this was THE BIKE. We could feel the difference. Although we suffered “sticker shock”, we were the proud owners of a beautiful blue Sovereign, which has been a member of the family ever since.

The bike remained pretty much the same as bought through the years, until the fall of ’08, when Cheri decided that she would like to increase her “saddle time.” We hadn’t ridden the tandem much since moving to Virginia, and after the first couple of rides on the scenic roads around Warrenton it became glaringly apparent that we needed more… well, everything.

Equipment changes began incrementally, but when Cheri decided that she wanted to start doing brevets with a goal of the 2010 SR series the modifications began in earnest. Just about everything on the bike has been upgraded, with a focus on the demands of randonneuring.

But the heart of the tandem remains the artistic, fully butted, Columbus tubed, fillet brazed frame. Regardless of the accumulated “battle scars”, it is still a beautiful bike. At least we think so.

Lowell and Cheri on the 2009 Flatbread 200K (c) Jim and Chip

2. Where do you ride it?

We’ve come to the understanding that to truly enjoy and appreciate tandeming you have to get out on the open road. Riding around suburbia just isn’t fun.

We have several favorite centuries/brevets out of Frederick, Maryland, along with a couple of routes through the Virginia horse country. Of course, all these rides have a lunch destination.

3. What do you like about your bike?

Its adaptability. Over the years it has been configured and outfitted to meet our requirements at the time. Our first son, Geoffrey, was pulled along in a trailer. When Eric came along we bolted kid seat on the back and Geoff followed along on his own bike. Later, I was able to adjust the captain cockpit so that Cheri could Captain with Geoff as the Stoker and I pulled Eric in the trailer with my single bike.

It has also been rigged with full racks and panniers for loaded touring. While the bike itself is 24 years old, we were able to upgrade and modify it to make it into a very competent and comfortable brevet bike.

Just recently I modified the gearing and set it up to haul our B.O.B. trailer for a short tour to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. I think it’s safe to say we got our money’s worth.

Cheri, Lothar, Joel, and Lowell finishing the 2010 600K

4. If you had to describe your bike in one word, what would it be?

Smoooooth! It’s like riding in a luxury car. Make no mistake; this is a heavy bike, relative to most modern tandems. But it is so comfortable it is an absolute joy to ride.

5. Fenders or no fenders?

Fenders! Absolutely! Honjos with leather mud flaps. One of the cardinal rules of tandeming is to ensure the Stoker‘s backside stays as free from road spray as possible, thus avoiding the non-stylish “racing stripe” look.

Editor’s note: I approve of this rule!

Lowell, Cheri, and Cliff. Fall riding on the 2010 Cacapon 200K

6. What is one of your favorite memories of this bike?

Probably the North Carolina Bicycle for Life 400K in July 2010.

We had to do this ride as a makeup for DNF’ing the DC Randonneurs Frederick 400K when we blew the transmission in true randonneur fashion. Our free hub expired. We had 100k to go, it was midnight, in the rain, and we were at the top of the mountain 20 miles from anywhere. I have to put a plug in for Chuck and Crista who came to our rescue.

The post-ride Tandem Team debriefing was quickly concluded when the Co-Pilot/Chief Financial Officer (that would be Cheri) told the Pilot/Chief Mechanic (that would be Lowell), “I don’t care what it takes, just get us back on the road.”

Alrighty, then, that makes things easy. We built a new rear wheel around a Phil Wood hub, upgraded the rear derailleur, put on a new cassette, and we were back in business just in time for the DC Rand 600K.

Just a couple of weeks later we were in North Carolina, grinding up the mountain to the control at the appropriate named Little Switzerland. After a short stop, we continued climbing on the Blue Ridge Parkway for another 12 miles. By the time we pointed the bike downhill it had become very dark and we were beat. But the following 15 mile, curvy, high speed, nighttime decent was exhilarating. The tandem handled like it was on rails. We were rejuvenated, recovered and ready to push on to the finish. Flying down out of the mountains was awesome and memorable.

Hanging out before the Warrenton 200K

7. Does your bike have a name? If so, what is it?

Strangely enough, after all these years, it doesn’t. We have always just referred to it as “The Tandem”.

8. What is your favorite accessory on your bike and why?

It has to be the Cateye Dual Wireless computer for the Co-Pilot/Primary Navigator (that would be Cheri). We tried several wireless computers for the Co-Pilot and none worked consistently. The Cateye has performed like a champ for thousands of miles. No more excuses from the Navigator’s station.

9. If you bike could talk, what is the one thing it would say to you?

“Wash me!”

10. What did I forget to ask that you want to tell me about your bike?

That about covers it. We have truly enjoyed tandeming over the years. Whether it’s a 50 mile ride on the W&OD Trail or completing a 600km brevet, riding this bike never fails to bring enjoyment to the team.

Thanks, Lowell! You and Cheri have a great bike, and I look forward to seeing you both on the road sometime soon!

One comment

  1. Lowell, You and Cheri have inspired my wife/stoker/navigator/cookie lady/hydrator/cadence queen, Rhonda, to try more brevets than I could have. We even upgraded the fenders from black plastic! Thanks.


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