It’s been a little over 2 years since we took home our Bike Friday Tandem Traveller XL. It’s 20″ wheeled travel tandem that packs into a suitcase and a half for travel or storage. This is our first tandem bicycle so our opinions are based on lots of Bike Friday riding, but near zero “normal” tandem rides.
I’m going to tackle 3 issues that were of concern when I was doing my pre-purchase research for this bike and discuss them now that we have some time under our tandem belts. If you want to read my previous tandem posts just click here and my tandem Flickr photos are here.
When I asked around in tandem forums about Bike Friday tandems I had several people tell me they required tons of maintenance to stay functional. That the shifting and braking would go out of whack and the frame needed to be checked and adjusted frequently. I’m lazy and I wasn’t super excited to spend a ton of time working on this bike. Since it’s a tandem it often sits all week and then gets pulled out last minute on the weekend when we decide to do something in town. Not having a reliable bike we can just jump on would curtail a lot of our tandem riding.
I’m happy to report that the tandem has been utterly reliable for us. I built it up following Bike Friday’s owner’s manual. It was my first Bike Friday build as my other Fridays came professionally assembled from the factory. So this bike was built up just like anyone who landed at a touring destination would build up their new tandem. The only maintenance I’ve done to it so far was adjusting the tension of the timing chain last week before the Victoria Populaire. That took 2mins and I took care of it outside a coffee shop while Sharon procured some java.
I was prepared for a significant learning curve when I got the tandem. I didn’t want to crash and kill Sharon’s tandem stoke. So I had a bunch of Sunday empty parking lot training sessions planned to ease into it. Our enthusiasm got the better of us and we ended up spending 3-4hrs on our first ride going into downtown to run errands. Perhaps it was my years of cargo bike experience, but the tandem was a no brainer to ride. We mixed it up with heavy car traffic that first ride with total confidence.
This spring we dusted off the tandem after a 3 month layoff and the first few pedal strokes were tentative, but after 30 seconds we felt right at home and started bombing around at full tilt. That gives us a lot of confidence when starting off a 100 person group ride in the middle of the pack where holding your line and reacting to other riders’ goofiness is a requirement.
Having owned a number of small wheeled recumbents and folding bikes I know that small wheels don’t equal slow, but that said they don’t automatically equal fast either. Combine that with the unknown performance just due to the fact it’s a tandem and I had some concerns we wouldn’t be satisfied with the bike’s performance for demanding rides.
As it turns out our speed over a significant distance [50-100kms] is a respectable 20kph which includes traffic lights and stop signs, etc… That’s with no training and we definitely have some extra power we could generate by syncing our pedal strokes better. During groups rides we end up right where we should be in terms of the riders and bikes we finish with. For a fully equipped touring bike powered by some middle age recreational cyclists our Bike Friday tandem isn’t letting us down.
For comparison my solo high performance rando bike average speed is ~25kph for longer rides.
I have no doubt that we could design and build a performance oriented tandem that would be faster, but for our current needs the ease of storage and touring capabilities of our Bike Friday are a better fit than a tandem designed to ride faster. We could also do more targeted training to get faster, but we prefer to blame any lack of speed on the bike, hills and/or wind!
Sharon has been through a number of stoker bar options on the tandem. She couldn’t adapt to drop bars and she tried some flat bars with better results, but not total satisfaction. So we are now using some Thorn comfort bars with Ergon Grips that have built in bar ends. So far Sharon’s been happy with them and I think we’ll be sticking with this setup for the foreseeable future.