- The rear seat had to go low enough for a 5 year old.
- It had to be easily transportable.
In retrospect, the transportable aspect has been less of an issue than I expected because most of the family bike rides we do are from home anyway. My research has turned up a number of very interesting options:
- Bike Friday. A maker of folding and travel bikes that has several tandem models.
- Brown Cycles. I particularly like the "child in front" bikes they make, a feature I'm sure my kids would want if they knew it existed.
- Co-Motion's PeriScope line. In particular, the PeriScope Trident Convertible is something I wish I had sometimes, but it's a serious investment.
- Circe Helios. It looks like a great bike, but they are in the UK, so getting one in the US would probably require expensive shipping.
- Build your own. If I had the welding equipment and expertise, I would totally build one of these.
Of all these options, Bike Friday's tandems end up being one of the least expensive, starting at $1500. That's still a lot, so I started looking at used ones. Having watched several Bike Friday tandems auctioned on eBay, I have concluded that any opportunity to buy one of these for under $1000 is a good deal. I ended up paying somewhere between $1200 and $1300 for a bike that originally retailed for around $1800, but shipping costs brought it close to $1500.
My bike came with SRAM's DualDrive system, which pairs an internally geared 3-speed hub with a 7-speed derailleur (newer models are 8 speed, but my bike is over 10 years old). For tandems, this makes it possible to put the drive chain and timing chain on the same side of the bike.
This gearing system actually makes it possible to use a less expensive solution for short cranks, which I hadn't considered at the time I bought the crank shorteners. BMX products maker Sinz makes a crankset for square taper bottom brackets that comes in a huge range of sizes from 125 to 180 mm. They retail for around $60, but I've sometimes seen them available for less. They have a 110 mm bolt circle diameter, which fits a large range of road chainrings these days, including the ones on this bike, and they allow for the installation of two chainrings. I've read that the spacing of the chainrings on Sinz cranks will put them too far apart to work properly with front derailleurs, but this is not a problem for the DualDrive system.
Had I bought the bike directly from Bike Friday, they would have customized the size to fit me exactly. By buying used, I had to figure out how to make it fit. One problem that became clear after a couple of rides that the handlebars were too low and too close. I found this stem which seems to fit me well, and is adjustable, making it fairly easy to modify the setup to suit another rider.
At one point I decided to get a pump and a traingle cargo pack for tools for this bike. As it turns out, neither fit without modifications. The Park frame pump, which is adjustable to a wide range of frame sizes, was a quarter inch tool long at its shortest setting for the pump peg on this frame (I hope newer versions of this bike have fixed that). I eventually was able to modify the pump to fit. Likewise, the triangle pack was a little too tall for the frame, so it took some modification on a sewing machine to take the lowest 1 inch off.
Below is the bike in its current setup. Note that my kids have got taller in the last 2 years, so the rear seat is higher. I have moved the rear water bottle cage to the handlebar. My kids found it was a long reach down to the top tube of the frame, especially with the horizontal orientation of the bottle. I've also added the luggage rack and bar ends. Even for a 10 mile ride (most of our rides with the kids are in the 10-20 mile range), I need to be able to change hand positions. I may eventually try to install a drop handlebar, which is what I would have got if I had ordered a new one of these custom.
As noted in my last entry about the tandem trailer, I think I should have bought one of these earlier and never bothered with the tandem trailer. This is a much more significant investment, so it's not for everyone, but if you want to do bike rides as a family, I think the Bike Friday tandems are an ideal solution for kids who aren't yet big enough to keep up on long rides. This is also a good option for larger families because you could theoretically pull a child trailer behind one of these (up to 3 children per parent!). I do have a friend who has pulled a child trailer behind a tandem trailer, but I've been soured on tandem trailers enough that I don't think I'd recommend that to anyone.