The Highs and Lows of New Bike Day

One year ago, fate and desire intersected to create an opportunity for Felkerino and me to purchase a custom steel tandem. Prior to this tandem, our main brevet bike has been a custom-sized Co-Motion Java that has served us well and I’m not going to say one bad thing about it.

Except one thing. We found it slightly overbuilt for randonneuring rides where the need to carry extra gear was limited. The Java’s feel is solid, but sometimes a bit dogged. But as I say, the Co-Motion Java is a wonderful bike that fits well and takes us wherever we want to go. So if you’re reading this, Co-Motion Java, please take heart.

Spectrum tandem

When we discussed building Future Bike, we agreed we wanted it to have the following characteristics:

  • disc brakes, and not hydraulics, because we’re luddites like that;
  • bar end shifters and not Di2, because we’re luddites like that;
  • fit like our Java, in terms of a more upright touring position;
  • be suited to light touring or randonneuring. While we did not plan to use it with panniers or big bags, we still wanted the bike to easily handle a front bag and a mid-sized Carradice in the back;
  • have a speedier feel, including better handling on downhills;
  • be lighter in weight compared to our Co-Motion Java;
  • take at least 32mm tires, and easily accommodate  fenders; and
  • no couplers, since we see most of our airplane travel with a bike serving the purpose of self-guided bike touring.

In a nutshell, we wanted a custom-fit, zippier feeling tandem that would take fenders, and be our main randonneuring steed. It was an excessive purchase, but we knew we would put big miles on this bike, and I will add that due to my height of 5′ 8″, it is basically impossible to find a stock tandem that will fit us.

Because of the distances we ride, a custom fit and comfortable ride are essential. This level of custom was definitely more than we truly needed, but the opportunity for such a unique bike excited us.

We waited months and months for our bike to be built, and in November we finally picked it up. We then took it to the shop we use for all our tandem-specific needs, College Park Bicycles, and had them build it for us.

Spectrum Tandem

After taking it home as a full bike, I imagined Felkerino and I falling in love with our tandem and riding off into the sunset on it. New Bike Day, what’s not to love. In truth, it’s been a more tumultuous courtship than I imagined.

The bike has an awesome fit. We are both comfortable on this bike and now that we have ridden multiple century-plus distances on it, including a 300K as well as a 230-mile flèche, we can attest to its sizing in full confidence.

Other aspects of the bike have required a little more adjustment. This is partly due to the bike’s uniqueness and the rigors of dialing in a bike in general.

Spectrum tandem

For example, the internal cabling is probably not our first choice in terms of being able to make a roadside fix, and the cable stops instead of downtubes on the front of the bike are stylish, but a bit impractical, especially since we are using a front bag. Our shop rigged up V-brake noodles to route the cables, and that resolved our issue of the cables protruding too far, at least for now.

Our new bike climbs much more lightly and readily than the Java. Zip zip zip up the hill, that’s the feel at least. It’s a little twitchier than the Java, but because it’s made of lighter steel tubing, I am not surprised.

As I say, the feel of our new Spectrum tandem is flexier than the Java, but I’m not bothered by that, at least not from the stoker position.

IMG_20151219_133432

The bike still has a lateral tube, and feels sufficiently stiff to me, especially since we’re not going to be adding a bunch of bags and weight to it.

We continue to learn its feel, but overall the steering is light. The Spectrum swoops into turns more lithely than the Java does, and carries good momentum over the ups and downs. We initially did not have our headset secured like it should have been, but hey… New Bike Day. And we all lived to tell the tale.

Aesthetically, I love the look of this bike. It took negotiation to mutually agree on a color. I prefer cream paints, Felkerino likes pearls. I’m not into a lot of lug detailing.

We eventually decided on a pearl Sovereign blue with cream contrast on the headtube and the Spectrum decals. I continue to be impressed with the bold blue. It’s so pretty. I feel guilty when my sinuses run and I end up dripping on the top tube. Sorry bike!

Spectrum tandem-01

After a front-row seat to how custom bikes are made, I see how complicated they are. They’re hard to make, and there are a lot of expectations riding on a bike when you decide to invest your money and go custom, at least if you’re me.

Tandems are tricky. You want them to fit well for both people, and be just stiff enough without being noodly or whippy. We want our bike to work for double-centuries and longer.

The builder behind a custom bike has their ideas of what works best for a bike, and you have yours. The builder has his aesthetic, and you as the customer have yours. Add into the fact that there are two people to consider for a tandem, and you have a lot of middle ground to reach.

So far, I’m pretty happy with our new Spectrum tandem. It’s taken a lot of dialing in over the last few months, but I love how it fits and how it rides. I can see it becoming our main brevet bike and in reality, it is already that now.

I’m hoping our new Spectrum tandem proves itself a durable steed that takes us on many incredible rides in the coming years, and I look forward to when everything on this bike is just so. We’re getting there. It takes time and miles, and  I’m more than happy to do my part.

11 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows of New Bike Day

  1. First, cool bike! Second, I will never, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would actually prefer bar-end shifters over brifters. Had you, of course, chosen the integrated shifters (it’s not too late), specifically Shimano 105 or better, your front end would have been clean… for your front bag. The cables in the newer brifter lines run under the bar tape.

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    1. I actually prefer bar ends to brifters, but I have hand/wrist issues and I’ve always assumed that has played a role. No matter how many times I build a bike with brifters, inevitably bar ends replace them (or in rarer cases, twist or click mtb shifters). I appreciate the functionality of brifters, but they just don’t work for me.

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      1. I never would have imagined that as perfectly integrated as the brifters are… I absolutely love the fact I don’t have to move my hands to shift. You do prove an excellent point though… it takes all kinds.

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  2. awesome– psyched to finally get the skinny on the spectrum! i’m sure you guys get ‘er dialed sooner than later– it always DOES seem to take SO long to get it just right, especially on a bike you log a lot of miles on… looks great– many happy miles on that schwank ride!

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  3. Love the lugs. I’ve not ridden a tandem enough to know much about them, except to know my wife and I would kill each other on one….too different in our riding styles.

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    1. It’s all about communication and a bit of compromise. My wife and I purchased a new tandem in September, as as we ride, I’m constantly asking her to make choices between two gears while pedaling. A, so I learn what she prefers, and B, so I keep my stoker happy. I’m a spinner, and she’s a bit more of a gear masher, but she’s learned to appreciate spinning more on the uphills and I’ve learned to adapt to a slightly slower cadence on the flats.

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  4. I have always wanted to experiment with a tandem, but, like Dan above, I often wonder if my partner and I would strangle each other. I also suspect sizing would be an issue for us and unless we were able to find an old small ladies Schwinn, we’d have to build something custom. I believe having two small riders is nearly as challenging as having two taller riders… though I do occasionally spot a tandem second hand that I think we might be able to test out.

    Anyway, Love the look of your new tandem, and I hope that you are both able to get everything to your liking. New bikes seem to come with that time of fiddling, changing and adjusting, but if you can get it just right, it can be a beautiful thing.

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  5. Sorry for all the questions… as a potential future tandem owner I’m curious though 🙂

    1. You mentioned a stoker at 5’8″ being an odd fit, but I think every couple I know with a tandem has a height difference – was going custom the only way to find something that fit?

    2. It took me a few years to understand wider tires, but now I don’t go smaller than 32mm on road bikes, and prefer my 650bx38 even more. For a tandem, was there a reason not to go 650×42? I’d think the added weight on 2 tires would mean supple but wide would be best.

    3. Does a tandem require straight forks? I’d think a curved fork would help offer a little more give on the front end, especially if you hit a hole or debris.

    I hope you enjoy the new bike! Looks gorgeous

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    1. Andy — there is no reason not to go 650b now that there are good rims for that size are there. We’ve had good luck with 700×32 Pasela TG tires and if we have a wheel go bad on us far from home, it’s likely a shop would have a decent 700C rim. Same with a 700c tire.

      I think you’re seeing mostly straight forks on tandems to accommodate disk brakes and for stiffness. We like having a stiff fork that will track predictably on downhill curves. It’s up to you and your builder if they can make a curved fork that meets your needs.

      Sizing — the issue with a taller stoker is getting them enough reach with drop bars. Most stock tandems don’t have a long enough rear top tube for a taller stoker who wants their bars level with the saddle and wants to lean forward.

      Finally — shifters. I prefer Shimano bar ends for reliability, ease of cable replacement on the road, and the ability to shift many gears in one action. I also found STI and Ergopower were tough on my hands on really long rides, 200+ miles — always on the hoods for shifting. We’ve seen a number of riders stuck because their cable broke inside their STI shifter.

      If you look at the photo above, our shop routed the shifter housings under the bar tape all the way to near the stem and then used the noodles to guide them into the head tube adjuster stops.

      I would not have had the frame built this way had I known we’d need this fix — and we’d have needed it regardless of shifter type. Plus they have little adjustment range, mostly ornamental.

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  6. Felkerino is right! Brifters on the tandem have not held up in my experience, 25 years of tandeming! So, for reliability, and that does mean alot to me I tried out Micro-Shift’s bar end shifters. They have worked flawlessly for a year now, are indexed, but one can go friction with them. Also, they are cheaper but appear better made than Shimano’s Durace bar-end shifters. Shimano has dropped the ball on their bar-ends in the past few years. Have a great ride!

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  7. I was told many years ago that a tandem is the fastest way to divorce! Then a tandem rider corrected me. He told me it accelerates the relationship in whatever direction it was already going! Communication, I think, is key. Hmmm. Just like relationships! What a concept!

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