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Family Tandem Traveler - 4
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Overall Experience Rating:
Date: May 13, 2003
Posted by: Lewis Marquis
Email: lewismarquis@yahoo.com
A very nice tandem indeed

The idea of being able to have a tandem with which one could travel appealed to me and we bought a Bike Friday Family Tandem. We'd had a Schwinn Paramount tandem for about 25 years and my wife had never really been comfortable on the back. I sent Bike Friday the dimensions of the road bike on which she felt more comfortable and they modified the rear of the tandem to fit her. I stored the old tandem from hooks on our barn's ceiling.

I still think of bikes with 20 inch wheels as "small" and as I lifted it up to it's storage spot, even I was surprised when I discovered that it's wheelbase was about 8 inches longer than the Paramount's. I never realized how short the Paramount's wheel base was or how little room there was on the back till I saw a couple on another Paramount on a ride last fall.

We received the tandem just as New England fall weather made riding uncomfortable. But we took it to NYC at Thanksgiving where we celebrated our 25th anniversary. We rode it on one of NY's monthly Critical Mass rides. Being NYC a lot of people on these rides are on folders, but the BF tandem was one of the most unusual bikes there and drew lots of attention.

Next we took it back to NYC and did their annual New Year's Eve ride which ends up in Central Park at midnight for fireworks. We did a few short rides on it as spring arrived, then we took it on our first major trip. We took it to Cuba. I also have a Bike Friday single and surprisingly the tandem is easier to pack than the single. Watching the video, made the packing easy. There's lots of room in the suitcases for a helmet and panniers. the airline had a 2 suitcase per person limit, and I thought we were going to be okay. But we were 22 kilos over the weight limit and were charged $110 Canadian (about $78 U.S.). I think this may have been because the flight was a charter, not a regularly scheduled flight.

Putting the bike back together was easy. I had to deflate both tires to get them into the suitcase and it was a little difficult with the hand pump to reach my normal pressures. And it drew lots of attention as I rolled it through the hotel. The longer wheelbase did make it more difficult, but not impossible to get into the elevator. Outside it drew the attention of the attendant of the hotel's bike rental stand and of one of the security men. I borrowed the foot pump from the bike stand and used it to get the higher pressures. The attendant seemed to be warning me that 80-90 pounds was too much. they asked how much it cost? I generally don't like to answer that question, because to a non cyclist, a decent bike seems to be prohibitively expensive, but I told him it was around $1,000. In Cuba this represents 8-9 years' income and his comment was that "He could buy a car for that much."

At home, I usually inflate my road tires to about 110 pounds. But several flats later I concluded that something closer to 65 pounds was more appropriate. The lower pressure also softened the ride. In the nearest town we had lunch in the patio of an Italian restaurant and while we ate the entire staff (host, waitress and chef) stood at the window admiring our bike.

On another day we rode 20 miles to the extremely non-touristy town of Cardenas. On the way to Cardenas, we were in a fierce headwind, but it never really slowed us down. We slowly caught up with a man riding a very utilitarian tricycle. He was thirsty and I shared my water bottle with him. As far as I could tell we were the only non-tourists in this town of 75,000. There are few cars, but lots of bicycles and horse drawn vehicles. Horse drawn wagons are the apparent mode of public transportation. We left the bike in a parking lot for bicycles, complete with attendant, as we strolled through a few shops. He asked if the bike was "muy rapido?" (Very fast?) On the way baack to our hotel, every Cuban cycling the other way greeted us with smiles and waves.

While we were waiting for the bus to take us back to the airport, a Canadian couple, that knew we had a tandem with us, kept asking "But where's the bike?" couldn't believe you could get a tandem into those two suitcases. And by the way, back at the airport a small bribe took care of the overweight charge back to Canada.

I really like the 3 speed hub. It makes it easy to grab the lowest gear. Tandems are somewhat more difficult to get going, and sometimes you find yourself at a red light in a gear that's too high. With the 3 speed hub, you can shift to a lower gear, while you're waiting for the light to change.

The only modification I've made to the bike has been to swap the cassette for one with a higher high gear and a lower low gear. Braking had been a concern of mine because the 20 inch wheels have less braking leverage than a 700c wheel. But with the V brakes, the stopping has been adequate, although I can see a disc brake in our future.

An advantage of the Bike Friday tandem is that it uses standard length cables with cable splitters...which disengage for travel. This means you don't have to carry a tandem length cable, but can use easily obtainable standard length cables...available at any bike shop. Bike Friday put on lots of braze-ons, for fenders, front and rear racks, and four water bottles. And after years of being an anti-kickstand snob, I love the kickstand.

To conclude, Bike Friday makes a very nice tandem. Plus it comes apart for travel. As I approach 60, I appreciate the step through frame design. The bike's only disadvantage is that since I'm tall it does make reaching down for the water bottle a little difficult. I appreciate that the combination of the push button shifters and the 3 speed hub means that I can push the same button for the hub or the derailleur and I will always be going up a gear or down a gear.

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