Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Getting Dropped: A Long-Awaited Tandem Conversion

In the world of bikey stuff, I'm a pretty open-minded fella. I like trying all sorts of different bike types, pedals, bar configurations, saddles, you name it. But one thing that I keep coming back to time and time again is those curvy handlebars like what the dopers use in that Tour Day France thing.

The tandem I share with Dear Spouse, however, came with the non-curvy bars like what we used to use back in the day for biking on mountains. And from Day 1, I obsessed over the thought of switching the front end over to drop bars (the rear is subject to the whims of said spouse, who has other preferences -- plus, there isn't a drop bar alive that can clear my ample posterior). Since the tandem was designed as one of those mountain-riding bicycles, this conversion posed a few gotchas:
  • V-brakes: When we bought the tandem, there was but one lever for drop bars that pulled enough cable for Vs, the Dia Compe 287V. I'd tried them on other (single) bikes and was slightly less than whelmed. The thought of trusting a big bike and precious cargo to them didn't seem prudent.
  • Reach: The captain's compartment on the twofer is (at least on paper) pretty long. Having arms of the T-rex variety, I questioned whether I'd even be able to get my scaly claws out to the brake hoods.
  • Shifting: I'd need bar-end shifters to make it work. Not a big deal, but not an expense that seemed worth it when the other pieces weren't falling into place.

With these hurdles in mind, I put the conversion idea away and learned to deal with the flat bars... but then Dear Spouse dropped a bunch of pounds and turned into a stoking Quadzilla to my T-rex captain. Rides times started stretching well beyond what I could comfortably do on flat bars (or in non-cycling shorts, for that matter). I tried everything: bar ends, swept-back bars, Ergon grips, different gloves, but my numb hands kept telling me that a more drastic operation was needed. Thus, I started collecting the parts that would eventually lead to this Frankenbike creation: the stealth black, drop-bar, 26"-wheeled, touring tandem tank!

The bars are a spare set of 45cm Nitto 115s that were cluttering my parts box. Levers are Tektro's answer to the 287V, the RL520 -- which had been thoroughly tested and found more than satisfactory on my Swift folder commuter. Stem is a short, upjutting Salsa on a stem riser to address the reach issues. And finally, the shifters are Dura Ace 9-speed bar ends I got via barter (which required a cassette/chain upgrade from the stock 8-speed, but barterers can't be choosers). Here's what it looks like from the driver's seat:

Normally, this is the type of project that I dive into with zero planning, which means I end up making a frantic run to the bike shop mid-project for a cable or chain or bar tape. However, with all the tandeming we've been doing this summer, I knew downtime had to be minimized, so I was very OCD about getting every duck in a row before wrench touched bike. The results were worth it -- everything came together in just a couple hours with no panic, no mistakes, and no do-overs. I even remembered to do the Cannondale Cable Crossover (where the right shifter cable makes a smoother path to the left downtube stop and vice versa, only to cross back over each other under the downtube to reach the appropriate cable guides at the bottom bracket). It was a mechanical masterpiece, if I do say so myself.

The new setup has only been out on a maiden shakedown cruise, but I'm already excited about getting my favorite hand position back, not to mention getting back feeling in said hands. It has, however, exposed an interesting handling trait of this bike. At very slow speeds, the thing is still as razor precise as I remember it with flat bars. We went to the farmers' market, and I was able to pick through pedestrians and parked cars in a way that shouldn't be possible on a bike as long as a Buick. High-speed handling was also just as I remembered it -- not scary at all, despite being at the front end of a whole lot of momentum. There's a handling no-man's-land in the slow-to-moderate speed range, however, where things get a little wobbly. Not scary-wobbly, just a "glad I'm an experienced captain with a predictable stoker" feeling. I'm not going to pass judgment until we put in a few more long rides, though.

1 comment:

Steve Fuller said...

Between the drop bars and the lovely Ms. Quadzilla, you guys are going to be a force to reckoned with soon. :)