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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.