Sunday, January 13, 2013

Raleigh Tandem With Customizations

I wrote a couple of months ago about acquiring a second tandem. As I noted then, the Raleigh tandems look like a great option for riding with children because they are reasonably priced and can accommodate relatively short riders with just a few modifications.

Fit Customizations

The most important modifications are to get it to fit its riders. The goal was to be able to comfortably fit an 8-year-old on the back and a 5'4" rider on the front. It should be possible based on my measurements of the frame, but the suspension seatpost that came installed in the rear made it impossible to get the seat down as low as I needed. Furthermore, the oversized seat that came on the bike added some extra height of its own.

In the front, the seat went low enough, but the reach to the handlebars was a bit far for a shorter rider, so I wanted to reduce that by moving the front seat as far forward as possible and installing a shorter reach stem. The set back of the stock seatpost on the front limited how far forward the seat could move, so I moved that seatpost to the rear and installed a smaller saddle I happened to already have. The challenge, then, was to find a seatpost for the front with the right diameter and no set back that didn't cost a lot. The diameter turned out to be 29.2 mm, which appears to be common on tandems, but in general is a somewhat non-standard size.

This seatpost made by Origin8 comes in a huge variety of sizes, including the 29.2 mm that I needed. While it didn't matter in this case, it's also very long at 400 mm, so it would be easy to set up this tandem for a very tall rider using the same seatpost. The relatively relaxed seat tube angle of the frame means that putting the seat all the way forward like this will result in a position that will not feel unusual to a rider accustomed to typical road bikes.

The remaining fit-related customizations included the installation of this short reach stem. It's a Profile Design Boa with a 65mm extension and relatively steep angle (45 degrees if I recall correctly), which brought the handlebars in about 8 cm closer than the original stem did.

I also added Ride2 Crank Shorteners to the rear cranks. The pedals are currently installed in the outermost hole, which results in an equivalent crank length of 145 mm. These shorteners were transferred over from my other tandem.

With these customizations complete, the bike was basically ready to ride, but I wasn't done changing things yet.

Optional Customizations

The other customizations made to this bike were purely based on our preferences. I replaced the 26x1.95" tires with more touring-oriented 26x1.25" tires, which are better suited for the type of riding we do. I replaced the stock pedals in the front with different ones that would take toe clips. Heather and I are both used to road bikes with drop handlebars, so I also replicated that setup on this tandem. The existing drivetrain is a 24-speed Shimano setup, so I got a used pair of Shimano Sora 3x8 speed brake/shift levers, Tektro auxiliary brake levers, and a used road handlebar.

Because road and mountain bikes use different shaped cable ends inside the levers, I had to buy new cables as well. The extra cable lengths required for a tandem required that I do a lot of careful measuring before I bought anything so I could be sure everything was long enough. In the end, I concluded the least expensive option was a complete road cable kit plus an extra cable for the rear derailleur. I bought the Jagwire Racer XL kit, which had brake cables that turned out to be long enough for both front and rear brakes on this frame. The derailleur cables were not long enough, but the rear cable was long enough for the front derailleur on the tandem, and for the rear I bought a Jagwire stainless steel cable in a length of 3100 mm.

The linear-pull cantilever brakes (also known as V-brakes) that came on the bike require a longer cable pull than typical road brakes. In order to match the shorter pull of road brake levers with the longer pull required by the cantilevers, Problem Solvers makes this little pulley called the "Travel Agent". The cable wraps around the smaller disc and then jumps to the bigger disk, effectively doubling the distance traveled by the cable as it comes out. The second hole at the top is so that the effect can be reversed if someone wanted to use mountain-style brake levers with road-style caliper brakes. It works great. The Jagwire cables (except for the extra rear derailleur cable I bought) come with a black PTFE coating that makes them super slippery, and all of the braking and shifting on this bike is really solid.

The choice of red accents actually started with the water bottle cages. I was searching online for some inexpensive bottle cages to go on this bike and found something that came in black, gray, and red. We liked the idea of red and bought those, and subsequently got the cables and handlebar wrap in red. I think it looks great with the otherwise monochromatic black, white, and gray color scheme.

Completed Project

Here's the tandem with all of the customizations complete.

The tandem was bought for $200. The most expensive part of the fit customizations are the crank shorteners, which run around $90. Adding a seatpost, stem, and smaller saddle brought the size customizations to a total of around $150. The other customizations probably added more than $200 more, with the shifters being the most significant cost, even buying them secondhand, but the total cost of this tandem is still well below what I spent on my Bike Friday tandem, so I consider it money well spent.

Part Sources

We don't have many bike shops in Champaign, Illinois, and even a bigger city is unlikely to have a bike shop that stocks a lot of the items I've described here, so I do a lot of shopping online for parts. Given Shimano's constant gear inflation, finding shifters for older drivetrains is something that mostly has to be done on the second hand market, and eBay is an important source for that. For the other items, the one source that seems to consistently have almost everything I'm looking for, no matter how obscure, is Niagara Cycle Works, who I buy from through Amazon marketplace. They don't offer super fast shipping, but everything has always arrived by the date promised, the shipping charges are reasonable, and they usually have the lowest available price of the Amazon marketplace sellers, or are close enough to it not to bother buying from someone else.