2018 NAHBS: Best Tandem

2018 NAHBS: Best Tandem

The tandem category was unfortunately thin this year. Santana brought an amazing carbon monocoque tandem, a truly fascinating bike and one that has no commercial peer. Unfortunately, it was made in a contractor’s facility, and while it was certainly handmade, and made here in the U.S., it wasn’t eligible because the construction wasn’t performed by actual Santana employees. We don’t have many rules for the awards, but that is one.

Our finalists ended up bikes from Co-Motion and Chapman Cycles. The Co-Motion was interesting because it was a surprisingly light tandem, thanks to aluminum tubing and no direct lateral tube in the middle of the frame, despite the style of riding it is suited for. The bike has a surprising amount of tire clearance and runs discs, so when I looked down at the wheels I was excited to see 45mm WTB Riddler tires. A gravel tandem.

One rule I did add a few years back was a judges’ exception, if you will. I stipulated that any time we don’t have at least three bikes for a given category we can elect not to present an award, while we did have enough bikes to judge the category even after striking the Santana, we ended up with only two finalists. I don’t want to give awards like participation trophies; it’s not enough just to show up.

The question we put to ourselves was whether or not the bikes presented would be likely to be competitive against bikes submitted in other years. In this case, the Co-Motion was a resounding yes. Having just recently ridden Old Caz on a tandem, and being only one of three tandems there, and knowing that there are any number of people who race Dirty Kanza on tandems, I see this as an emerging category for tandems. And honestly, if ever there was a bike that would benefit from the comfort offered by bigger tires, a tandem is it.

There’s more to being a great tandem than big tires, though. With Co-Motion, every single piece of the tandem frame is produced in-house, save for the tubing, but the tubing is produced by a supplier to their specs. The yoke that the chainstays are welded to is impressive and helped give the rear tire adequate clearance. Turnaround time on Co-Motions tends to be reasonably quick, too. A tandem is a pretty big object so it’s important to make it interesting to look at; Co-Motion chose to leave the bulk of the tandem black but do their logo in an amazing blue-green metal flake fade. That’s one way to get people to remember your logo.

There were some great parts choices on the bike as well. Going with the TRP Spyre mechanical discs means that anyone uneasy with quick descents off road can drag brakes all they want and not boil the hydraulic fluid; it also keeps the cost of the bike down and simplifies maintenance. The Gates belt drive is another terrific choice. They are quiet, incredibly strong and light.

The Chapman tandem featured a trailer to carry gear in because it’s meant to be a touring tandem. Builder Brian Chapman made it for his wife and him to ride. The frame and fork are fillet brazed and the bike hews to Chapman’s rando-esque style.

Even with the addition of the trailer, Chapman built a full set of racks for the bike. About the only thing he can’t carry is the national debt. He used a generator hub and the headlight is mounted on the left side of the front rack. The 650B wheel/tire combination is another way to make sure the bike is comfortable for the long haul.

The stem on this bike wasn’t meant to be any sort of centerpiece, but it’s a great example of both Chapman’s imagination as well as his sense of blending style with utility. From the front of the stem, it looks like an old quill model without a removable faceplate. That’s just for looks; the stem still clamps the steerer like a modern threadless system. In addition to polishing the thing until it shined like a chrome bumper (remember those?), he integrated a bell. His last step was the knurled knob on top which switches the headlight from solid beam to blinking, depending on his need.

The trailer uses a headset for steering a fork dropouts to clamp to the rear triangle. That he chose to go with barcons, non-aero brake levers, and clips and straps really reinforces his aesthetic. My one knock against this bike was that it was a single color front to back, and that light sea-foam green didn’t do much for me. However, it’s his bike and the job of the judges isn’t to thumbs up his color choice. The amount of workmanship that went into the tandem was remarkable, and that it offered an internally consistent purpose and aesthetic made it a very deserving winner.


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  1. 32x20

    Is there a drum or disc brake on the rear of the Chapman? Cantis with two riders and a load in the trailer would make for ‘exciting’ downhills. Beautiful bike, though.

    1. Author

      Yes, there’s an old Phil Wood disc brake on it, which I failed to mention. We were as amazed that he found one (in seemingly new condition) as his decision to use it.

  2. Roman

    Wow! pleasantly surprised that there were enough entrants to field a tandem category. Looking forward to seeing the “best unicyle” post!

    1. Tominalbany

      Ohhh. That would be sweet!!!! It had better come with a built in ‘juggling balls’ storage device though…

  3. Brian Ledford

    does having s&s couplers or the equivalent get considered, awardwise? I don’t know that I have a strong philosophical opinion either way.

    1. Author

      S&S Couplers are like any other detail of a bike. It’s just a feature until they figure into some more significant rationale that shows real forethought and planning by the builder. In other words, a travel bike is cool, but what other decisions did the builder make to create a bike that is easier to travel with?

  4. Dave

    As a happy Co Motion owner, any bike that could be compared to one of theirs (Chapman) has to be considered an excellent machine. Co Mo make fine solo frames and bikes, but their focus on tandems is more complete than any other company I can think of. Way to go, Dean and co!

  5. Jeff

    Thanks for taking the time to update Tandems, we are often overlooked. I thought Calfee had a tandem at the show, wish they would enter. No tandem from Bilenky this year.

    The Chapman was a looker. Wish we had the time/lifestyle to make full use of a bike like that.

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