Sunday, December 20, 2015

X-Peria 5200 Tandem

It's now been over 5 years since I bought the Bike Friday Family Tandem. I have no regrets about it, but I'm ready for something new. I eventually gave up on the conversion to drop handlebars, because even with the various tweaks I made, shifting never worked quite as well as the original shifters did, so I put the original flat handlebars back earlier this year. The telescoping seatpost was important when my kids were shorter, but now the kids are tall enough to fit some full size tandem frames. I also found the Bike Friday to be fairly heavy (around 50 pounds) and I felt that the frame lacked stiffness, a feature that can be partly attributed to its geometry.

My requirements for a new tandem were:
  • Full size frame that's a reasonable weight.
  • $1500 or less. I don't know how long my kids are going to be interested in riding with me on the tandem, so I want to avoid putting too much money into something that might not be used much.
  • Fit a tall rider (me) in front and a shorter rider in the rear.
The Cannondale Road Tandem 2 comes in over $3000, and newer used ones routinely sell on eBay for nearly 70-80% of that. One other option is the KHS Milano, which has a list price of $2000 for an aluminum road tandem with disc brakes and Shimano Tiagra. The only way to get a good road tandem for less than that is to buy used. The problem with most older used tandems (with the notable exception of Cannondales) is that most 1990s and early 2000s tandems had level top tubes that work great for two riders of similar size but would be much to tall in the back for me. Sloping top tubes that can accommodate a larger height differential have become much more common on tandems in the last 10 years, but many of those newer tandems are usually out of my price range. There is a steady stream of used tandems on eBay, but the number of older used road tandems of the appropriate size and price range turns out to be relatively small, and the number of those sellers willing to ship a tandem (a necessity when you live in west Texas) is smaller still.

After searching eBay for some time, I eventually stumbled onto a listing for the X-Peria 5200 tandem frame, which was being offered new for somewhere around $500 by the French online bike shop CR2V. The frame is offered in two sizes, the larger of which is pretty close to the correct measurements for me. At this price I decided I could build my own for something close to my target price. CR2V has a number of eBay listings for frames that they offer to ship internationally, but there are more options available directly on their web site, which is how I eventually ordered my frame. The site is completely in French, so I had to navigate it with the help of Google translate at times. It turns out the $500 price tag included the eccentric bottom bracket but did not include a fork, however they do offer a package with BB, fork and headset for about $90 more. Shipping to the USA is not available as part of the normal checkout process on their site, but after some emails back and forth with them, they offered to ship to the USA for an additional 100 EUR. Total cost was just over 700 USD including shipping. When I placed the order, they had just run out of stock, so there was some delay while a new frame was ordered from the manufacturer, which took nearly 3 weeks. After the frame was finally shipped, it was only a little more than a week until the frame arrived.

At first glance, the frame has a lot in common with a Cannondale, but a closer inspection shows that the welds don't look nearly as clean as can be expected on a Cannondale. I would compare it to the quality of frame one typically sees on lower end aluminum road bikes in a local bike shop. While X-Peria is clearly a French company, it's not clear to me whether the frames are made in France or somewhere in Asia. Regardless, as long as the frame holds up, it suits my purposes just fine. The combined weight of frame, fork, headset and eccentric bottom bracket is about 9 pounds.

The specifications on X-Peria's web site do not specify whether the fork is aluminum or steel, but I believe it is steel because the fork blades look too small to be aluminum, and the junction of the steerer tube (which is clearly aluminum) and fork crown suggests an interface between two different metals rather than a single continuous piece of metal.

The frame has post mounts for 180 mm brake discs front and rear. I used 203 mm brake discs with 180-203 Shimano adapters and Shimano BR-R317 cable-actuated brakes.

The rear dropout spacing is 135 mm, so it's compatible with 29er MTB wheels. Nearly all higher end 29ers now use through axles, so most quick-release 29er disc brake wheels are targeted at less expensive bikes, which gave me a number of good options at a reasonable price, particularly since cost and durability were higher priorities for me than weight. I ended up with these 32-spoke WTB SX19 wheels. 36 and 40 spoke wheels are common on tandems, but it's difficult to find pre-built wheels with more than 32, and I think these will be sufficient for me. The tires shown here are 37 mm Continental Contact, though their actual width appears to be a bit less than 37 mm. Both wheels fit in the frame easily. The fork could easily fit 40 mm tires or bigger, but the rear doesn't have much extra space.

For the drivetrain, I bought used Shimano Ultegra 6603 shifters (3x10 speed) and a 9-speed Shimano Deore XT rear derailleur. (Shimano 10-speed road shifters will work with 9-speed MTB derailleurs but not 10-speed MTB derailleurs). I set it up with single-side drive, which means I'm only using 2 of the front shift positions, but I have the option to use a triple in the future. The reasons for single side drive were keeping cost down (I already had one of the cranks I needed) and size options. I am using a 180 mm front crank and 165 mm rear. When the kids get a bit taller, I will probably eventually go to 170 rear and 175 front with regular tandem cranks.

The rear crank is made by Origin8. It's inexpensive and also comes in even shorter lengths, an ideal option for someone setting up a single-side drive tandem for a short stoker. I used 39 tooth chainrings for the timing chain because I already had one in that size. The inner two rings pictured here are 48 and 32 tooth rings, which have been paired with a 11-32 10 speed cassette. This gives a gearing range just slightly lower than a 50/34 compact road crankset with similar cassette. The 1:1 ratio of the low gear should be enough for moderate climbs and the high end is more than enough for how I anticipate using the bike.

The finished bike comes in at 38 pounds as pictured, a full 12 pounds lighter than the Bike Friday. I don't have an exact cost total, but it came in somewhere between $1600 and $1700. It is probably possible to build one of these in a similar way with true tandem cranks (such as Sugino XD) for under $1800.

The frame has a few quirks that I didn't expect. None of them are serious flaws, but things that might have been helpful to know about in advance:
  • shift cables are routed for a top-pull front derailleur. As far as I know, this means most road derailleurs won't work.
  • only 2 water bottle cage mounts.
  • no guide for brake cables on the fork, as would be expected on a disc brake fork.
  • There are double threaded eyelets on the rear dropouts, but no rack eyelets at the top of the seatstays. There is, however, a threaded hole underneath the seatstay bridge and chainstay bridge, which is presumably for mounting a fender. I'm working on a custom bracket for attching a rack I have that uses this hole.