With 20 years of hindsight at my disposal, I’ve come to a realization. Tandems are a bit like God. Either you believe in them, or you don’t. Either you appreciate the intimate experience from sharing a set of wheels and each turn with another rider, or you just don’t see the point; sometimes you even think it’s a really bad idea. Sure, I’ve met the fence-sitters, folks who think the pomp, circumstance and ceremony of mass is pretty cool, but they’ve never been baptized, so to speak.
And I’m comparing tandems as a category to God and not to religion because, as it turns out, each brand stands as something of a religion. Bill McCready of Santana has been the best public face of tandeming for more than 20 years. He’s single-handedly pushed more technological advancement in tandems than every other brand put together; he’s the man who first brought disc brakes to tandems, way back in 1999. If he’s not the pope, I don’t know who is. Co-Motion has carved a separate path and has been, as a brand, much less outspoken in its views, but among the go-fast types I know, their bikes have been renown for having the best handling among these school-bus-long bikes. Think of them as the Episcopals or Lutherans—soft-spoken and easy going. There’s a whole host of others, such as Davinci, which gives the captain and stoker the ability to pedal independently. For some, it makes perfect sense, but for many captains, the thought that you can’t make sure your stoker’s inside pedal is up as you enter a turn isn’t so much a recipe for disaster as a complete oven-ready meal.
In 1997 I found myself with a girlfriend who rode and an interest in climbing on the back of a big, long bike. How could I say no? A buddy worked an introduction to a shop with demo tandems and a friend who was an experienced stoker. We gave it a try one Saturday. The single clearest memory I have from that day is that as we and the group we were riding with (composed mostly of singles, which is tandem-speak for normal bikes), Natalie, my stoker, stood up, leaned over me, and she gave us a kick of acceleration that would have made Carroll Shelby smile.
Yep, I like this.
I ended up purchasing a tandem, a Cannondale that I probably put 10,000 miles on with an ex. On one occasion we managed to string out a popular training ride, going 32 into the wind. No one came by us until the sprint. So shattered was the group that people were still coming around us a full minute after we’d stopped pedaling. Good times.
But the ‘Dale started collecting dust when I met my wife. She likes bikes, but had no interest in sitting behind me on a bike, not as long as she had one of her own. You could say ours is a mixed marriage. It was following a conversation with the pope, er, McCready, when I mentioned looking forward to the day that I could pick up a trail-a-bike that he rounded on me told me not to. Bill does this. Trail-a-bikes are to Bill like birth control is to the real pope. That’s not how you do things. And then he made his case: The handling is compromised. The kid can coast full time and thereby lose the lesson of how going somewhere has a metabolic and psychic cost—you have to pedal. He talked about the lousy gearing on the trail-a-bikes that meant even if the kid wanted to pedal, they might be over- or under-geared.
The trail-a-bike was a sin against a child’s future as a cyclist.
Glad we settled that.
So I called his sales manager and ordered a child stoker kit. That tandem quickly became Mini-Shred’s favorite way to make the commute home from kindergarten. But I sold it ahead of our move to Sonoma County. I only did that because of the photos above. I struck a deal with the folks at Co-Motion for one of their Periscope tandems. What makes this an unusual tandem (and gives it its name) are the telescoping seat tubes. Each seat tube features a quick release clamp with a telescoping section of tubing followed by another quick release that secures the seatpost. It can accommodate riders from wee lad to NBA star. One bike will be able to accommodate either of my sons, in time.
Aside from the coming review, the Periscope will be a recurring feature in posts. Part of our purpose in tackling this project was to look at the challenge of spec’ing a tandem today. It’s not easy; triples are all but dead and most teams need low gears for the hills. More important, I think the Periscope has the potential to be a great tool for passing cycling on to your kids. I’ll venture to say that the Periscope is the single most important innovation in tandeming since the disc brake.
Keep your eye on this space. Even if you’re not a believer in tandems, maybe you can consider the coming posts as part of your survey of world religions.