Sunday, September 7, 2014

Habanero Tandem

Those select few who follow assiduously the goings-on at the Huffman Bicycle Club may recall my post from late last year about considering the purchase of a tandem. Well, after considerable back and forth with my favorite frame supplier, I finally gave the go-ahead this spring and took delivery of the tandem a few weeks back.

The process was certainly educational for me. There are a lot of considerations when designing a tandem that you don't need to worry about on a solo frame. Like trying to fit a 75" captain on the same bike as a 65" stoker. Thanks to Mark's excellent guidance, we ended up with a great looking frame. I had a few requirements:
  • Similar geometry up front to my 64cm Habanero
  • Support for disc brakes on the frame
  • As many water bottle braze-ons as possible
  • Ability to fit 700x35 tires
  • Priced around $5,000
  • Pump peg
This is what we settled on:

Mark just about hit the $5K mark on the nose. This strikes me as remarkable for a custom titanium tandem with solid components. When I looked around at other Titanium options it was tough to get anywhere near $10K.
Ready For Disk Brakes
All of Mark's tandem frames are custom orders from a supplier in China, so we knew it was going to take a while to make this beauty a reality; the main goal was to have it done in time for a trip to the San Juan Islands the first week in September.

Mark got the frame a couple months ago, and started assembling the bike. He did discover a problem right away; the rear brake bridge was a little too low to clear the tires we planned to use. We could have just gone with smaller tires, but I've really become a fan of larger tires, so I wanted to keep the option of using 700x35s.
Panaracer 700x35
Thankfully, Mark was able to grind away a bit of the brake bridge, solving the problem. On this frame the bridge isn't really structural, it's just there to let me mount a fender if desired. So that seemed like a reasonable option. The result looks great. You'd never know there was a problem.

Mark's brake bridge mod provides clearance for 700x35s.

Delivery And Assembly

Mark generously offered to meet me in St. George where I was crewing for Hoodoo. Ultimately though I gave up on the logistics of that and he shipped it to me in Oregon instead.


Ready To Ride!
Unfortunately the gorillas at UPS opted to prop the box up on the front end, meaning a very tall 40 pound bike was balanced on one of the front dropouts

One of these dropouts is no longer like the other
The left dropout was bent in, and wouldn't fit over an axle. I chatted with Mark on the phone, and he recommended that I try filing it out a bit. After a few swipes with the file, I realized that wasn't going to cut it (hah hah), so instead I just gently pried the dropout outward. I'll admit that I'm only 90% comfortable with this right now, but I'm sure as time goes on without failures I'll feel better about it.

The rest of the assembly went uneventfully. It's really only a 15 minute process or so to unpack and assemble a well packed bike. I was a little nervous about the carbon fiber fork, but ours is a tandem-specific Wound-Up, and it feels really beefy. Likewise I had Mark go with stout wheels, Velocity Dyad with 36H in front and 40H in back.
Wound-Up tandem fork

Still need pedals and another seat..
All I needed to provide was the seats, pedals, and bottle cages. I'm a sucker for gratuitous Titanium bits on my Titanium frames (witness the Chris King Ti crown race on my recent Habanero rebuild) so the Crank Brothers 11 Ti pedals were on the short list. However at ~$800 for two pairs (not to mention a rider weight limit that excludes clydesdales), I opted instead for the Nashbar special Eggbeater 3s. The stoker got a Terry Fly seat to match her single bike (I'm on the lookout for a sale on the Ti version), and thanks to a Jenson sale my 220 pound posterior will be resting on a 215 gram WTB Rocket V SLT, which titanium rails save a whopping 25 grams over the cheaper Ni-Cro version. I only have 3 King Cage Ti bottle cages left from my recent order, but for now that is plenty.

Poor-Man's Tandem Workstand
Official Weigh-in: 37 pounds, 15 ounces.
Completely assembled, the bike came in at 37 pounds, 15 ounces. Based on this thread, I'd call that moderate. Definitely not in the high 20s/low 30s of the super-lightweight tandems, but given the large frame size it's hardly porky either. I'm pretty sure I could drop 3-4 pounds by spending a bunch more on fly-weight wheels, Ultegra components, and lighter-weight what-nots. But that's not the goal of this build. Well not yet anyway ;)


With our trip to the San Juan Islands just a few days away, we needed to get a test-ride in. Neither I nor A__ have ever ridden a tandem. So really had no idea what to expect. I read a few tips online and then we loaded the bike in the truck and drove to a nearby school with a big parking lot and endless miles of low-traffic roads nearby.

75% of the HBC Titanium Fleet Represented Here.
Riding a tandem at slow speeds feels a bit like driving a bus. You're very aware of the length behind you, and you quickly realize that you can't just, you know, turn. You need to plan ahead, turn the bars, and the rest of the bike sort of follows. Of course at speed it's much different, and it starts to track like a regular road bike. But those first few trips around the parking lot were interesting.

After a short 5 mile loop we started to feel more comfortable. A few small downhills where we hit maybe 30MPH and a few tiny climbs passed uneventfully.

Riding Impressions

We've got about 50 miles on the tandem now, comprised of ~15 mile rides. Some of the early challenges revolved around cadence. A__ tends to apply power to the pedals for fewer radians than I but, at least on flats, we're now more synchronized there. Riding solo I have a cadence in the high 70s, which exaggerates the problem above. Switching to a higher cadence helped even out our pedaling, but when climbing even small hills we still get a bit out of sync.

After getting the wrinkles figured out, it's been quite enjoyable riding the tandem. On flats we cruise at about 19-20MPH, about the same as I'll do on a solo ride. Climbing is considerably slower, and we're not descending especially fast, so overall average is perhaps 17MPH. Faster than A__ alone, and slower than me alone, but that will get better with practice.

I really have nothing against which to compare the Habanero, but my impressions so far are positive. We did have an interesting experience with cross-winds on San Juan Island; a tandem has a larger area and a longer moment-arm than a solo so even a moderate breeze really made us wobble. I'm sure this will get better with practice, but I'd hate to imagine riding a tandem in a strong wind.

Component Thoughts

The triple chainring is well out of sight of the captain. Coupled with the additional abstraction from the drivetrain, it's tough to tell which ring you're in without peeking under your arm or asking the stoker. A tandem seems like an ideal application for a Shimano flight-deck, or better yet XTR Di2 synchro-shift.

I really hate v-brakes. They stop the bike just fine, but opening them up to take out a wheel is a real pain in the neck. The front brake has a little jagwire adjuster that helps a bit, but I've not yet succeeded in getting the back brake open.
Trying to get those brakes open is a real pain

I've ordered a set of Paul MiniMoto brakes which allegedly have a better quick-release mechanism. If I'm happy with those I'll probably order a couple more sets, for the fixie (which currently has V-brakes) and the rando habanero (which has cantis).

Paul MiniMoto quick release
As mentioned above I spec'ed Shimano 105 components to keep costs lower. My last experience with 105 was on a bike with Biopace chainrings and downtube levers (Max' Cannondale, since rebuilt with Ultegra brifters). I hope this doesn't sound elitist, but having now used 105, I do not like it. Compared to Ultegra, the levers feel like plastic picnic spoons. The shifting action is not as crisp as I'm accustomed to, though granted that may be due more to cable length than anything else. In hindsight I wish I'd just gone with Ultegra, but that's an easy swap down the road.