What I’m Riding: Cannondale RT1000 Tandem

What I’m Riding: Cannondale RT1000 Tandem

Because my work is writing about bicycles, the separation between my professional riding and my personal riding tends to be clear only when I’m on a bike I own. In every other way, the division between professional and personal has blurred for me. I don’t mind. I took what Lao Tzu would have called the left path and have been trying to make it middle ever since, but the upshot is that I’ve been all-in since before I knew what that term meant.

Since the birth of the Deuce, RKP has taken a turn toward more personal material, at least for me. This was both unintentional and unavoidable. What surprised me was that while I’ve long strived to find those universal elements within cycling to make my subject—the path still followed by Robot, August and Irene—turning inward and writing about my experience as a parent allowed me to tap into something equally universal. I’m sure Lao Tzu would have had something profound to say about this irony.

Now that the sharing has begun, I’ve little recourse other than to continue.

Recently, thanks largely to social media, I’ve shared some photos from my rides with Mini-Shred on our tandem. Whenever possible, I’ll pick him up from his preschool by riding the tandem over and then we ride the six miles back together, stopping on the way to get a snack. Those photos have gotten a huge response and I’ve received more than a few questions about just what we’re riding.

The tandem dates from the late 1990s. I began riding tandems in ’96, first with a borrowed partner, then with my then-girlfriend. I love the way sharing a ride by tandem differs from riding on two singles. It’s a different experience; it’s intimate in a way that two singles is not explaining the difference is nearly impossible until you go for a ride on a tandem. I kept riding the tandem with a later partner, but my wife has even less interest in riding a tandem than I have in watching American Idol. I nearly sold it two years ago.

It was while I was on a Santana Tandem Rally on the Danube River that I mentioned to Santana’s CEO Bill McCready that I was looking forward to Mini-Shred growing big enough for me to purchase a trail-a-bike. Bill is a man of strong convictions and he didn’t hesitate to tell me not to do it. He told me to get a child stoker kit. He then rattled off the various reasons why the tandem was better than the trail-a-bike. First, he pointed out, the stoker kit forces the child to keep pedaling. It won’t permit them to coast through a four-mile ride. Second, it teaches them about cadence and a smooth, consistent pedal stroke. Third, the child is closer to you and easier for drivers to see. Fourth, kids can be erratic in their riding and being on the back of the tandem makes it harder for them to steer the bike by leaning left or right. Fifth, their wattage will mean more because they’ll never be spun out. There may have been other reasons Bill mentioned—there surely must have been—but these are the ones that I’ve verified for myself through our rides.

Which is to say that after returning from that rally, I purchased a child stoker kit from Santana and installed it on my Cannondale. A child stoker kit is a curious device. It’s got just a handful of components. The heart of the kit is the clamp that mounts to the stoker’s seat tube which contains the bottom bracket for the tiny cranks (in this case 160mm from Miche). Next, there’s a chainring that you bolt to the stoker’s left-side crank with the aid of longer chainring bolts; it goes inboard of the timing chainring. Then there’s the chain (the bike’s fourth if you count how the timing chain requires one long chain made from two standard ones) running between the stoker’s left crank and the child’s left crank. That’s everything in the kit; from there I added some platform pedals and after a few weeks I added toe clips and straps to them.

IMG_3049

Over the years, I’ve made some upgrades to this bike. It was originally equipped with 8-speed bar-cons, but I added Ultegra 9-speed shifters and a 12-27 cassette; this allowed me to continue to use the third ring on hills. The tires that were on it when I got it were these 38mm tires suitable for monster cross and little else. I spent a number of years running Specialized Armadillo tires on it. They offered the benefit of being as flat-proof as solid rubber, not to mention a commensurate ride quality. More recently, I installed some 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S tires and was stunned at just how much they improved the ride feel and even cornering behavior. It’s amazing what we can forget.

I also added a cow horn bar turned backward for Mini-Shred. It’s a longish reach, even with the telescoping stem fully extended. He’s grown an inch since I set the bike up and between his increase in height and experience, he’s comfortable on the bike.

In fitting the tandem for him I began by lowering the saddle as much as possible. I even swapped out the seatpost to one that would go a bit lower than the previous edition. Next, I established what his saddle height should be and then cut the chain to length. Because the BB clamp simply bolts on, adjusting chain tension is just as easy as with a fixed gear. I also did him the solid of changing the women’s saddle out for a skinnier, men’s model and slid it all the way forward on the rails. As the BB sits forward of the seat tube, this isn’t a bad idea, but it may be that if I drop a plumb bob from his knee what I’d find is a need to turn a 20mm setback post around backward to achieve proper saddle position. It’s not a big deal just yet.

The other detail worth mentioning about these rides is that I do what I can to minimize the Captain Lycra look. I’ve been wearing Giro’s New Road apparel and a couple of casual pieces from Panache that will show up in a coming review. We both wear helmets and on my way there I hang his helmet from his bar.

We get a lot of oohs and waves, and have even had people drive slowly next to us and take pictures or shoot video. I’ve no doubt in my mind that drivers are giving us a wider berth, which is a relief, but it’s also upsetting because it has shown me that when someone does pass me on my road bike with 12 inches to spare, it’s all the more likely that was entirely intentional. Or maybe it’s just harder to be clueless in the presence of a bike eight feet long.

I’m not sure that Mini-Shred appreciates the shared experience angle of riding a tandem, though I don’t want to sell him short; he’s produced some surprising insights for someone too short for most of the rides at a carnival. I’m not bothered by that. And while I thought what I would appreciate most is riding with him and teaching him about bicycles and riding on open streets, I’ve found that my happiness and satisfaction comes from a much simpler place. That he’s happy, that he’s having fun and that I’m with him as he’s enjoying himself … it turns out, that’s enough. More than enough.

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22 comments

  1. Quentin

    Thanks for posting this. I never thought I’d become a tandem rider, but we started hauling the kids around in a trailer and now 10 years later we have 2 tandems, which we use for family rides. When our oldest first got too big for the trailer, we used a trailer bike for a while. At one point I crashed while pulling the trailer bike, and I concluded they aren’t safe. I concur with Bill McCready: don’t bother with the trailer bike; get a real tandem. I went with the super short frame approach rather than the child stoker kit, but both work reasonably well.

    I also agree that riding with kids on a tandem sometimes isn’t so much about the bike any more. I don’t know if my daughter will ever be a serious cyclist, but she loves riding the tandems because she loves being outside. Also, I’ve learned that riding with a kid on the back of a tandem is a lot of work. My kids are big enough that I can feel their contributions when they really try, but they don’t have the endurance to contribute for the entirety of a 30 mile ride. At the end of one long ride last summer, our 9 year old fell asleep.

  2. Lobo

    We’ve been riding one of these http://co-motion.com/index.php/tandems/periscope_scout to kindergarten and on weekend adventures this year. If you can find a test ride event (Co-Motion does them at various dealers), I recommend checking one out. They’re quite a good deal for a nice Eugene-built frame and serviceable components too. I think Co-Motion may be pricing it as kind of a gateway drug for tandeming.

  3. Kimball

    Cool post! Totally agree that its not so much what you’re doing, but rather that you’re sharing an experience.
    A couple times while passing a parent pulling a trail-a-bike I’ve had to warn the parent that they were about to lose their kid, who was coasting and starting to doze off. With the tandem the compulsory pedaling might help keep them awake (to a point). Score another point for the tandem!

  4. emanuel

    That’s nice. As A tandem rider, it’s something very special to share what you love with who you love.

    as a bike geek.
    The cranks look a little long for the little man.

    Funn makes cranks down to 140mm, in 5mm increments.
    If not there’s some solid steel ones as short as 120mm.
    or you can drill and tap your own, easy enough.

    Tandems are great, every family should have one.

  5. Rod

    I a just finishing a “family bike” to tow my two kids along (3 and almost 1)… now I want a tandem!

    Nice rig!

  6. Full Monte

    It’s been a tough day. For some reason, the full impact of putting my dog down a couple weeks ago hit full force (not that it hasn’t already, just triggered again by seeing a picture of the old girl this morning).

    Then I saw this post and these pictures, and I just had to smile. So much awesomeness. Cute meter pegged!

    Shred’s got an awful long reach to his bidon cage, though ; ) Juice. Box. So. Far. Down….

    Made my day, Padraig.

  7. Girl

    There’s a family I’ve seen on GOBA (Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure) on a 4-man bike. Matching kits, too. They turn heads, to be sure. I love seeing the parents and kids enjoying the cycling experience.

    I will say that road tandems can be a little tippy, due to the rake of the fork. Being a stoker really teaches riding “still” so that you don’t upset the balance. The captain can lose it if you simply reach for your water bottle without giving fair warning. So, while the kids are little, I imagine it’s not a big deal, but as they get older and their weight is a factor, good communication is key.

  8. Michael

    My daughter has seizures and riding a tandem together has led to many adventures for us. She loves riding, and even enjoys leaving the steering and shifting to me. When she has a seizure, I can feel when she stops pedaling and I call out. If there is no response, I stop. Her seizures leave me about 10 seconds to get the bike stopped before her initial “freezing” goes slack. We went on a tour in southern AZ in March. At one point, after a day on dirt with lots of climbing and rough roads and no complaints from her, we came to a great paved downhill. At one point, at what was probably too high a speed to be riding with her, I saw her shadow – arms out like a bird – and she was singing. I had to order her to put her hands on the bars, but I was secretly thrilled she had been flying.

    1. SusanJane

      Tears. Me. Too. I remember “flying” as a kid on my bikes — not up, but across and out through the tract housing and onto the roads by the golf course.. You don’t fly like that in cars, you kind of do on a motorcycle, but you definitely do on a bike.

  9. Mike in FLA

    Father of many who also enjoys tandem riding with his kids.
    Mine enjoy the speed we can attain when they contribute.
    There is usually a Frisbee bungie corded to the rack for a little off saddle fun.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. John in Miami

    The most important line in your entire post was the last sentence. Its the most important thing us parents could ever hope for. “he’s happy, that he’s having fun and that I’m with him as he’s enjoying himself”.

    On another note, I was one of your readers that completed the survey, I am also one of these riders who isn’t really in tune with how to repair my bike solo and in my growing years (just turned 50) have gotten less interested in the technical aspects of cycling and more about the human interest. Hammering during a ride or pushing my limits no longer interests me as it use to. I’d rather ride slow and look and enjoy my riding than anything else. The turn you mention about RKP’s focus is something that I really enjoy. I enjoy Robot’s short posts about how or why we enjoy the specific theme he is writing about. I enjoy your posts because it makes me think and they just don’t tell me the marketing side of bike retailers or that I need this or that. RKP is just right I say, good mix of bikes and real world.

    All the best,
    John

  11. Pat O'Brien

    My favorite Tao te Ching translation is by Stephen Mitchell. From chapter 8, “In work do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” It’s special to do both at the same time and in balance. Thank you for sharing it with us, and deftly including some useful information on a nifty component at the same time. Chapeau! Maybe you should change the RKP masthead to “THE HEART AND SOUL OF CYCLING.”

  12. harris

    Great day in the morning, this is awesome! Do I need a new ride for myself ? A resounding “no.” Do I need a tandem for me and my 5 year old and 4 year old boys? An emphatic “YES!”

  13. Andreas

    Anyone of you heard from hase pino from germany? I can really give you advice to search for it, lot’s of fun with my kids and nice communication on track.

    Andi

  14. John Kopp

    In about 1980 I rode RAGBRI with several friends including Ed and Charlie. They did it on a tandem and Charlie was four or five. The set up was like yours, but I think the kiddie cranks were custom made. Charlie rode the whole distance including a 100 mile day.

    I also have a Schwinn tandem that was set up with kiddie cranks. It required a custom bracket because of the curve of the rear seat tube. The previous owner made it for me. I only used it a couple of times, but a great way to cycle with a kid. I hardly ride the tandem anymore. It doesn’t work well with me and the wife. She prefers her own bike.

    Thanks for showing this Padraig, its a great way to share biking with a child.

    John


  15. Author
    Padraig

    Everyone, thanks for your kind words. It’s gratifying to see how it resonated with you. I’m always amazed by the way we sometimes connect, even when it’s a post that seems kind of a throwaway.

    Lobo: I’ve got my eye on a Periscope. How can you not?

    Michael: Thanks for sharing that.

    Les: Dustin is right; I was just talking about this model.

  16. RonS

    Padraig, I am a long time tandemnista with my kids. The cranks are too long. Check out Tandems East for bolt on crank shorteners. They allow for different crank lengths as the kids grow. For East Coasters, also check out Family Cycling Tours. We need some new blood to keep low cost family cycling rolling along. Tandems not required but most have them. I added a Burley trailer bike to the tandem so I could take both kids at once but there are always triples :-)

  17. Pingback: Friday Group Ride #217 | RKP

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