TG’s Anti-Climatic Backwards Review
Unlike most reviews that don’t summarize or score the subject of their review until the last paragraph, in this one you get the summary and specifications right up front… Diving into the details is optional.
Cutting To The Chase:
As mentioned at the outset of my Introduction & Background to this review, Santana could have easily called its flagship tandem’s frameset the Beyond Sublime, Beyond Description or any other variation on the theme just to eliminate any doubt as to what “Beyond” implies.
- Would we buy a Beyond? If we had the resources, it would definitely be on a very short list: cost is definitely the independent variable. Cost as no object, oh yeah… I’d want one of these in the stable.
- Would we trade our Calfee for it, even-up? Hmmm. That’s a tough call. Fortunately, it’s an absurd proposition (run the numbers), but the mere fact we’d consider the swap in and of itself says a lot about how much we enjoyed riding the Beyond. From a practical standpoint, we’d really need to start from a clean sheet of paper to build up a Beyond that would suit us as well as the Calfee does and to manage cost. Like I said, interesting question, but no real practical answer beyond, Hmmm.
How about some of the special features on this particular Beyond? OK, let’s do a quick run down using a 1-5 Star rating scale based on how well the systems performed, and ignoring my preferences and set-up errors for a moment:
- Shimano Di2 Shifting: I give it a solid 4 Stars. Make it available on a triple and you’d get all 5 Stars.
- Spinergy XAero Lite 20 Spoke Wheels: First impressions earn it 4 Stars with an asterisk (See detailed review).
- Gates CarbonDrive Sync Drive: I give it 4 Stars with an asterisk (See detailed Review).
- Bengal Disc Caliper & 250mm Rotor: I give it 3 Stars (See detailed review)
So, as a total package, how’d we like it? We liked it a lot and I think we now understand why a lot of tandem enthusiasts with the resources who can appreciate how a tandem like the Beyond allows them to finish rides feeling a bit less beat-up and fresher than their previous tandems made the decision to trade-up.
- Special Features: Di2 shifting worked well and shows great promise for tandems if and when a triple becomes available, 2×10 shifting is probably OK for teams who don’t need short gears for big climbs, the Spinergy wheels were invisible (that’s a good thing), and the belt was also invisible except on steep climbs, at which point either it or the sync drive side pulleys/cranks had a tendency to squeak.
- Ride Quality & Handling: Rock solid handling at most speeds, but hard to track stand and I needed to modify my cornering technique to be less aggressive than what I’m used to: just a little more set up with a wider entry and exit through the apex and more attention to countersteering to initiate and arrest turns. Lateral stiffness was excellent and borrowing a phrase from Jan Heine’s bike feel lexicon, it “planed” well when we sprinted or climbed out of saddle. Vertical compliance was a bit disconcerting at first as we felt like we were on a springboard going over shallow dips and bumps on the Riverwalk. However, as we spent more time on the tandem the springboard feeling vanished (as did most of the bigger jolts from bumps in the road). That added compliance seemed to come at the expense of a bit less responsiveness during out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs compared to our Calfee.
- Rider Comfort: My neck and shoulders were noticeably less “tight” after riding the Santana vs. our Calfee. This may have also been a result of the shorter distances we rode with long breaks between ride segments. Hmmm. I may install a spare Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork with 55mm of rake on the Calfee for GTR to evaluate this a little bit further. [Edit: This difference ultimately ended up being tied to the slightly higher bar height relative to saddle height on the Santana vs. our Calfee. See my May 23rd blog entry on Tweaking Bike Fit for additional information.]
- Frame: Santana Beyond with IsoGrid / Titanium tubeset and “Stowaway” option
- Fork: Santana V-Max carbon fork with cantilever bosses and 1.25″ steerer
- Headset: Chris King
- Seat Posts: Tamer Carbon Pro, rigid
- Saddles: Stock Terry Fly/Butterfly (very nice, but swapped out for our own)
- Pilot’s Stem: FSA OS-120 31.8 w/ 6° reversible rise
- Pilot’s Bars: Santana “Hardcore” 31.8 carbon ergo/wing bar (nice)
- Stoker’s Stem: Control Tech Adjustable
- Stoker’s Bars: MIT 47cm bullhorn stoker bars
- Bar Tape: CarbonGrip Padded
- Cranks: Santana “Hardcore” two-piece carbon crank arms w/alloy spiders
- Chain Rings: Shimano 50/34
- Sync Drive: Gates CarbonDrive 2000 x 8mm tandem sync belt with 74t sprockets
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano Octalink 129mm
- Shifters: Shimano Dura Ace Di2
- Derailleurs: Shimano Dura Ace Di2
- Cassette: Shimano XT CS-M771-10, 11×32
- Drive Chain: KMC X-10SL
- Front Brake: Avid Single Digit-7
- Rear Brake: Bengal MB700T single piston caliper w/250mm rotor
- Wheels: Developmental 20-spoke Spinergy XAero Lite wheelset (Production models use 24 spokes)
- Tires: Continental 4-Season Grand Prix 700x25c
Price as equipped:
To quote J.P. Morgan, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”. To be honest, I didn’t ask. But, I can do the math and based on MSRP pricing, I’m guessing around $17,000. $11,395 for a basic Beyond, $2,800 for the Stowaway option (aka, couplers), $2,000 for Di2, and then an up-charge for the Gates Drive & Spinergy XAero wheelset. Base model Beyond frame & fork retail for $8,395 + $2,800 for couplers. For comparison purposes, a Calfee Dragonfly tandem frame w/fork is in the same price range and is not available with couplers. The Calfee Tetra tandem frame w/fork is about $6,100 + $2,500 for couplers.
Sorry folks, I neglected to pack my scale. Meant to, but ended up running a bit late and forgot to throw it in. However, based on how it felt to pick-up compared to our Calfee, I’d put it at about 28 lbs without pedals and water bottle cages or other accessories, or about a pound lighter than our Calfee in the same configuration, noting our Calfee is 2″ longer and uses a chain drive vs. the belt. Of course, Debbie’s drop bars with dummy levers are a bit heavier than the bull horns sans dummy levers on the Santana so that also tips the scales a bit. Moreover, the weight difference of the chain vs. belt alone would account for nearly 300 grams in favor of the Santana. Now, bear in mind both tandems are fitted with wheelsets that only weigh about 1,560 grams, about 3/4 of a lb lighter than Rolfs, and a full pound lighter than most conventionally spoked wheels or Santana’s Sweet 16′s.
————- WARNING – YOU’RE ENTERING THE GEEK ZONE ————-
A brief look at tandem design philosophy….
Let me start off by paraphrasing a few things that Santana writes about its tandems tied to its design philosophy that I tend to agree with based on our 3 days of riding the Santana Beyond, as well as past experience riding our ’95/96 Arriva and a few other Santana tandems over the years:
- Compared to some other “performance” tandems, Santana’s tandems use a bit more fork rake.
- Increased rake acts to dampen stoker-induced steering—allowing a captain to experience a greater degree of steering control with far less effort.
- Santana uses a bottom bracket height that’s a few mm lower than other manufacturers to further improve the bike’s stability with a slightly lower center of gravity.
- Tandems with a touch less bottom bracket height and a bit more fork rake increase straight line stability and reduce the captain’s need to concentrate on steering, most noticeable when climbing
- On longer rides, a tandem that’s easier to control reduces pilot fatigue which can translate into feeling fresher and/or improved performance toward the end of the ride.
- Santana builds all of its frames using large-diameter, thin-walled, double-butted tubes to provide an unparalleled level of comfort without sacrificing stiffness where it matters the most.
So, if all of this is true and all of this is goodness for tandem teams, why do some builders and consumers seem to have a preference for a little less rake, a little more steering trail and some inherent, increased need for a heavier hand on the handlebars and the associated added mental focus and physical effort needed to guide a tandem in a straight line under a variety of different conditions? IMHO, it’s pretty basic: because it makes a tandem feel more like the bikes we ride when we’re not riding the tandem. Call it familiarity, call it more lively, call it anything you want, but it is what it is. Hey, we’re humans who suffer from vanity, the need for excitement and a bunch of other mental & emotional needs that make us like and want things that may not always be the most logical choice: familiarity is perhaps one of the most compelling. Moreover, liking something that appeals to us can be a self-fulfilling (albeit sometimes short-lived) prophecy: we’ll like it until we find a reason not to like it. And liking something can provide the motivation that makes us step-up our game to achieve the desired outcome even if it isn’t completely logical. Think low-profile tires on street cars, motorcycles marketed to consumers that make noise for the sake of making noise, large trucks and SUVs that are never used to their intended purposes and that trade-off panache and sex appeal against logic that would suggest alternative choices.
For us, our personal preferences and sense of what we found attractive in a road tandem have caused us to search out tandems over the past 12 years that scratched the itch for that “more lively” ride and aggressive cornering capability that simply titillated us on fast rides with friend and frequent, curvy mountain descents. Because we’re both shorter and lighter than the average tandem team — me 5’8″ and Debbie 5’2″ with a combined team weight that has ranged from 270lbs to 290lbs over 13 years — and because Debbie is a very ‘clean riding’ stoker who I rarely can tell is on the tandem unless she grabs a water bottle, the ‘stoker steering‘ effect on our short rake / long trail tandems has been of minimal notice over the years. However, now that we’re both card-carrying members of AARP, comfort is becoming a higher priority (hence, the Calfee) and Debbie finds herself asking me to ‘slow down’ a lot more often on those curvy mountain descents. I also find my shoulders and neck now show signs of fatigue on hard rides of 30 miles or more, and as we ride I often ponder changes I might need to make in our lifestyle, training (or the lack thereof) and equipment to ensure we don’t unnecessarily give up any endurance or watts due to inefficiency. This ‘aging cyclist’ issue may have had a profound influence on why the Santana Beyond felt as comfortable as it did, given that in addition to have very similar vibration dampening characteristics to our Calfee, it also provided us with a little more compliance and me with a bit less of a task load with respect to guiding the tandem up hill in a straight line… and we did a lot of that at Chattanooga.
Bottom Line: Preferences are just that; things we like in the here and now that shape our decisions. As we look for ways to improve our tandem riding experience and performance, there are at lot of things we can and should do. Re-evaluating our equipment on a periodic basis is probably something we’ll need to do in addition to looking at nutrition, general fitness, and increasing the number of ‘quality’ miles we put on our tandem to make sure we never have to blame our age or aches and pains for causing us to lose our passion for tandem cycling.
Finally, The Detailed Review:
Bear in mind, the Beyond is not a new tandem by any stretch. Santana & Vyatek announced a licensing agreement and introduced the first prototype Beyond model with its IsoGrid tubeset at Interbike in October 2003 and we saw our first model in the flesh at the 2004 Southern Tandem Rally in Charlotte, North Carolina a year later. Since then, we’ve seen an awful lot of these very high-end tandems at rallies and can now understand why so many couples saw the value in the Beyond: it’s just so darn comfortable, but without any loss of performance and efficiency in other key aspects of the frame.
As for the technologies, I think that after 8 years it’s safe to say IsoGrid has proven to be as good or better than promised when it was first licensed by Santana. While you can’t see the Integral Monolithic Raised Ribs that run down the interior length of each tube without taking a Beyond Stowaway apart, working in combination with the butted ultra-thin layers of carbon that you can see, its clear the material works. Again, as noted, it was very hard to tell the difference between the vibration dampening effect that the Beyond’s IsoGrid & titanium frame provided from our Calfee, other than the lower audible ‘note’ that resonated in the Calfee’s frame when you encountered broken road surfaces. The lower note of the Calfee is likely caused buy its larger diameter and more dense composite construction vs. the more slender tube and thiner layers of composite skin used on the Beyond IsoGrid tubes. Readers who are interested can learn more about the IsoGrid and Bi-Fusion enabling technology for bicycle frame construction at Santana’s and Vyatec’s Websites.
Weight wise, I know from previous research and discussions with dealers that a neddik, small size Beyond frameset weights a scant 5.7 lbs, which is about the same as Calfee’s superlight Dragonfly frame. So, yes… these are light frames.
As far as Santana’s execution of the frame, the welds were on par for what I’ve seen more recently on Santana frames. They’re good, solid-looking welds, and much improved from some I’ve seen in the past. However, while they are smaller and more tidy welds than I’ve seen in the past, the joints still lack the artistic, tight and uniform weld pools you’ll find on frames from the high-end, premier titanium frame builders like Lynskey, Seven, Moots, Dean, and Eriksen. It’s a small detail, but one that I always look at on the better and premium quality frames. The bonds between the IsoGrid tubes and the titanium sleeves (Bi-Fusion technology) looked nice and clean, but a bit too much clear coat appeared to have been applied to the titanium frame elements that left some ‘milky-looking’ patches in a few places. Again, perhaps 1/100 people who might look at that same frame would even take notice, it’s that minor but, again… something that caught my attention while attaching pedals and water bottle cages.
As for alignment and other details, I didn’t bring any alignment tools but just eye-balling the frame and checking tire tracks coming out of wet sections of road, the alignment looked spot-on. Eccentric remained tight and quiet throughout the ride, and the V-Max fork was rock solid and proportion-wise, looked right on that bike. While we use dual-pivot calipers on our personal tandems, I must admit the Avid Single Digit 7 was a great brake with lots of stopping power and much improved lever feel vs. other V-brake equipped tandems I’ve ridden with the need for a Travel Agent eliminated by the newer DuraAce lever and their increased lever-pull.
Shimano Di2 Shifting:
The Shimano Digital Integrated Intelligence (aka, Di2) shifting was very interesting and I can easily see why it has become so popular. Ignoring cost, we give it a thumbs-up. If they can figure out how to integrate a 3rd chainring / triple front derailleur and drive down the cost by about 50% it would be perfect. Well, OK. That’s my objective assessment. My subjective nature still thinks mechanical shifting with our Campy Ergo works just fine. Shimano STI users… that’s a bit of a different story: Di2 solves all STI front shifting issues. OK, on to the details and our experience.
My biggest challenge was getting my head wrapped around the ergonomics of Shimano’s implementation of integrated shifting since I’m a dedicated Campy user. In their infinite wisdom, Campy & Shimano developed shifting movements and lever placements that are basically polar opposites, such that what causes a rear derailleur downshift on Campy Ergo initiates an up-shift on Shimano STI, to include the Di2 whose micro-switch buttons mimic the STI lever functions. The same is true for the front derailleur, where an up-shift on a Campy Ergo level causes a down-shift with STI. Therefore, I was at a slight disadvantage vs. what a current STI user would experience and my ability to come up the Di2 learning curve was a bit hampered. But, I persevered and by the 3rd day on the Beyond I had it pretty well figured out.
The second biggest ‘learning challenge’ I faced was timing shifts with the always spot-on Di2′s rear derailleur movements. On cable and lever operated Campy Ergo, I’ve gotten to the point where I was with friction shifters years ago: I know exactly how much English to use on the upshifts and downshifts to time the chain movement with the top of my pedal strokes, such that we get silky-smooth shifts. However, with Di2 you must once again relearn your shifting technique because there is no English. When you push the button to initiate a shift, bang: it shifts. In fact, when you mistakenly shift the front derailleur you don’t get a second chance to undue your mis-shift before the chain fully-engages and kills your momentum: if you push the button it’s gonna shift! Of course, the corrective action is also quick and shifting under load doesn’t degrade the shifting performance or accuracy. Pretty amazing.
The more I used the system the more I found it works best when you ride like a pro: staying on top of your gear with a high cadence and punching the button for a shift as you hit the top of the pedal stroke. Even then, my shifts were still about 50/50 for getting a silky smooth change vs. a leg-jarring “chaclunk“. However, as far as the precision and reliability of those shifts, it is, it’s darn-near perfect… so long as it’s set-up per the factory guidelines. In fact, set-up is so important that Shimano has now hosted-out an on-line playable tutorial with some 83 slides that I would call required reading for anyone who plans on installing the system. You can find it HERE.
Our test bike had 3 issues surface during our 4-days that probably would have been precluded by following these step-by-step instructions:
The first was getting the shifting dialed-in. I found that I had to play around with the trim adjustment several times over the 3-day ride when tell-tale chain-chatter surfaced in the mid-range gears and even with the compact front chain rings. Having now gone through the 83-page set-up instructions, it’s clear rigid adherence is just about essential to getting those perfect shifts on the first ride.
The second issue was originally thought to be a dead battery as the pre-ride verbal instructions I received weren’t quite accurate. So, when the Di2 rear derailleur stopped shifting as we left the parking lot on Day 2 of our rally and a certain indicator light combination was observed, the prognosis was “dead battery”. Thankfully, we had a back-up tandem so the day’s ride was salvaged. Later that night we were provided with a charger and that added to the mystery, as after reading the battery charger instructions and playing around with a second Di2 battery we realized our battery had a full charge. Again, further investigation by yours truly decoded the battery level indicator light status and an inspection of the bike yielded the culprit: the rear derailleur’s signal wire had come loose. Once the cable was plugged back-in, we were back in business… at least for a while.
Issue number three occured on our 2nd day on the Santana Beyond, about 5 miles from the end of the ride when the rear derailleur once again stopped shifting. Yup: the cable had once again come loose. We stopped and I had it fixed in 15 seconds and we were on our way. After the ride my diagnosis was pretty straight forward: there wasn’t enough slack in the cable when the bike was assembled and the big-big combination would extend and rotate the rear derailleur to a point where the signal wire would be pulled taunt. Do that enough times and the cable comes loose.
2X10 Shifting: Compact cranks with 2 chain rings + 10 speed cassette
Reprint from Day 2 Technical Sidebar: The Shimano Di2 system is limited to a compact drive with just two chain rings: a 50/34 mated to an 11x32t cassette on the Beyond. Santana also offers a ‘race’ configuration with a 53/39. Our standard 50/34 configuration yielded a 28.7″ gear as the bike’s lowest climbing gear. Our Calfee, on the other hand, has a 52/44/30 triple chain ring with the same 11x32t cassette yielding a shorter 24.7″ climbing gear in the 30t small chain ring and 32t rear sprocket. For reference, our second lowest gear on the Calfee is the 30t small chain ring x 28t rear sprocket yielding a 28.3 inch gear which was still a bit shorter than the Beyond’s shortest 34t x 32t gear. As it turns out, we spent at least 15% – 20% of our time in Calfee’s 24.7″ climbing gear on the 4.5 mile climb up to Lookout Mountain and would have struggled to make it up without that one extra, shorter 24.7″ gear. I’m sure we could have made it, but not without stopping a few times or having to stand on the pedals on a few of those 15% and 16% “kicks” near the top of the mountain. Had the Santana had an 11x34t cassette it would have yielded a 27″ gear. With one of the new aftermarket, extra-long rear derailleur hangers to accommodate an 11x36t cassette, it would have yielded a 25.5″ gear, almost but not quite on par with our Calfee’s triple.
So, based on all of that, what do I think of 2×10 shifting? I think it will work for teams who don’t need the short climbing gears, but for anyone else who finds themselves using their smallest chain ring now and again, or spending a lot of time in a 42t or 44t middle ring, a triple crankset may still be the best bet.
We found ourselves making a lot of double shifts, made a lot easier by the Di2 system. In other words, whenever we’d need to go from the 50t to the 34t timing ring, a upshift or downshift of the rear cassette was also needed to compensate for the big change in gearing up front. With Di2, you just hit both upshift or downshift buttons at the same time and “bingo” you’re in the new gearing.
Spinergy XAeroLite 20 Spoke Wheels:
They were “invisible to me” throughout the weekend. In other words, they performed well and there was no hint they were giving up any lateral stiffness compared to a set of 36h conventional wheels. Weight wise, these wheels are also in the same 1,560 gram weight class as the Topolino wheels which is pretty darn light. Riding, I don’t think it makes a big difference, but when combined with a 28lb travel tandem, it makes the tandem very easy to carry around.. for whatever that’s worth. (Note: IMHO, gram counting for non-racing cyclists has gotten a bit out of hand)
For those not familiar with the Spinergy XAeroLite wheels, these have been around for several years as have the PBO spokes with their 30,000 strands of polyphenylene bensobisoxazole fiber encased in a chemical resistant, water / UV proof composite outer skin… white, in this case with one black spoke on each wheel. You can learn more about them HERE.
Now, I should point out this particular set of wheels is a development set with only 20 spokes front & rear. The wheels that Santana will be shipping to customers will have 24 spokes front & rear. Again, as a 290 lb team, these 20 spoke versions were indistinguishable from conventionally spoked wheels under all riding conditions.
As for any added vibration dampening characteristics, I’m afraid they fall into the same black hole as the Topolino wheels fitted on our Calfee: the frames absorb so much road vibration that it’s hard to tell if the wheels are isolating anything other than the biggest bumps which, frankly, we successfully avoided: hey, it wasn’t our bike!
Now, here’s the wild card. Until enough tandem teams put some real world miles on these wheels and subject them to the daily wear and tear that tandem wheels must endure, all bets are off on how reliable they will be. I’d like to think that they’d be bomb-proof and never give anyone a lick of trouble, but my gut tells me otherwise. If history is any indicator, at some point we’ll have both very happy and very unhappy owners, because we always hear from the unhappy ones and then the happy ones offer rebuttal, or visa versa.
However, at least as far as first impressions go, they worked well for us and looked pretty good on the bike. But, do take note that the composite skin is a dirt magnet. The wind-swept face of the spokes on our test tandem had a nice coating of road grime after what was less than 100 miles, so clean-freaks rejoice: you’ll have something else to clean after every ride to keep your pride and joy sparkling!!
By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 700x25mm Continental Grand Prix 4 Season Tires fitted to the Beyond felt excellent. I ran them at their maximum recommended inflation of 120 psi. They were easily on par with our personal favorites over the past 13-years, the Vredestein Fortezza tires in both 700×23 and more recently for us, 700×25. I’d somewhat expected to find 700x28mm Continentals on the Beyond and was glad to see the 25mm tires, if only because it made the comparison with our Calfee a more level playing field, and that was important to me.
Gates CarbonDrive Sync Drive:
Similar to the Spinergy wheels, during our time on the Santana Beyond the Gates CarbonDrive timing / sync belt system with the 74t sprokets produced for Santana worked just fine. There was a little creaking or squeaking on steeper climbs, but I couldn’t say for sure that it was belt or perhaps the sprocket interface with the crank arms.
Overall, I’m still not a big fan of the belts for the same reason that some of the lightweight or low spoke count wheels are not high on my list of “must haves” for a basic tandem: the improvements they offer in performance are miniscule for the vast majority of consumers, with some marginal benefits for the very small number of tandem teams who truly can benefit from what these products offer. By all means, if you have the coin pick up the belt kit but keep your chain drive and timing rings in a box where you can find them if you ever need or want them. Same thing goes for go-fast wheels: we enjoy them and like they way they look and feel, but buy them as a second set of wheels and always have set of back up wheels in case you have a problem that could leave you without the ability to ride your tandem.
Getting back to the belt, IMHO they’re great for folks who live and ride in lousy weather because they replace a lot of chain maintenance with just a little bit of belt maintenance: belts and their sprockets need to be washed once in a while but the belts don’t stretch. For racers who find themselves on things like the climb up Mount Mitchell, California’s Everest Challenge or New Englands Mount Washington Hill climb, shaving off 3/4 lb of chain rotating chain weight is probably a good way to save a few watts when every watt saved matters.
However, long-term cost effectiveness vs. a chain and timing ring system is still a bit of a wild card. As mentioned in Gate’s Rohloff belt guide, the belts can actually outlast their sprockets and, frankly, when the tandem timing belts were introduced the buzz was the $85 belts would outlast 2-3 sets of chains. Given the cost of chains these days and noting that it takes 1.5 chains to make up a tandem sync chain (unless you buy chain in bulk or off the spool from your dealer), that can get pretty expensive. So, advantage belt. Not to be an alarmist, but no one mentioned the $350/pr Gates sprockets might also need to replaced at the same time as the belt, e.g., 10k – 12k miles is starting to look like the point where sprockets subjected to a lot of hard miles might need replacement. Advantage back to chain? Anway, that aspect of lifecycle cost is now sitting in the back of my mind when I look at these belts and ask myself, “So why is the belt & sprockets better than a chain and timing rings?” That’s right: cleaner, more quiet, less maintenance and less weight. Worth it? Maybe… to some.
Bengal Disc Caliper & 250mm Rotor:
Our 2011 Santana Beyond was fitted with what appears to be a Bengal MB700T single piston caliper sporting Santana’s 250mm rotor. This is a new brake caliper for Santana that replaces the WinZip. Even though I asked Bill, “Why white?” I’m still not sure I fully understand why that was preferable to black. However, while still not as easy to adjust as the Avid BB7, it’s not all that hard either: a 5mm & 2mm allen key support all of the adjustments.
Stopping power for the caliper and 250mm rotor was as you’d expect: very good and initially with pretty good level modulation. However, I made the mistake of mentioning my notice that the WinZip brake had been replaced with what appeared to be a new brake while Bill had an allen key in his hand and he immediately set about to adjust the brake, even though I didn’t ask and it didn’t feel like it needed it. God love ‘em, it’s fun being around Bill! After that, there was almost zero brake lever travel so I had to stop and make a little adjustment: hey, I’ve got small hands and it makes a difference.
Anyway, my only real complaint with the Beyond’s rear disc is that the very large and thin rotor was incredibly noisy. Hit a bump, cha-ching. Riding on a rugged road, lots of ca-chings and sometimes a bit of ching-ching-ching-ching as we rolled along. I really don’t like noises coming from my bikes and tandems, so this was a bit of an annoyance to me as I’ve not had any similar noise issues with our Avid’s 203mm rotors on two different tandems that couldn’t be dialed-out in about 5 minutes and stay that way until you messed with the brake again. When I asked Bill about it, he immediately acknowledged that it does make some noise, but also said it didn’t bother him. Meh. Perhaps I’m a bit too sensitive, as there are a lot of the larger, 250mm rotors on the road and I don’t think I’ve seen any owners gritting their teeth. Cest la vie. But, aside from that, it’s a really good brake with lots of stopping power.
I should note, Bill McCready really went out of his way to put this tandem together for us to use at the Chattanooga Rally in a very short amount of time. I believe he may have also taken it along to the Southwest Tandem Rally en route to the Chattanooga Rally as someone mentioned they’d see it there. However, in the two weeks leading up to the rally Bill had to find a Di2 system to put on the bike, noting that Shimano nor anyone else had been prepared for a sudden increase in demand of the now widely praised Di2 system at the start of this year’s North American cycling season. So, we were and remain grateful for Bill’s generosity in making a very high-end tandem available to us for the rally. Code this, lifetime opportunity. Like I said, going to the Chattanooga rally became an offer we couldn’t refuse!!!
OK, so upon our arrival at the Delta Queen we were presented with our test bike. I’d somewhat expected it to be a small-size frame, but as it turned out we were able to make the Medium fit pretty darn close to what my riding position is, and just accepted the fact that Debbie would lose a little room in the stoker compartment and be a little closer to me given Debbie’s stoker compartment on the Calfee is 2″ longer than the Santana. We were able to get her within 2cm of having the same reach by slipping her saddle back the other .5cm, noting we had the Control Tech stem buried into the boom so there was no more forward movement unless I pulled out my saw… and that wasn’t happening either. Oh yeah, and I had to adapt to riding on 175mm cranks again, after converting to 170mm on all of our tandems back in 2002. Debbie’s were fine at 170mm as that’s what she prefers.
Aside from the Di2 derailleur signal wire being a bit too short and the system not being fully dialed in, there were only two other minor things I noted with the build-up of the Beyond. The first involved the Chris King headset which for some odd reason had the bearing cups installed upside down, i.e., the one that was pressed into the top of the steerer should have been pressed into the bottom and likewise for its mate. The only reason I notice the upside down lettering on the headset cups was because I had to flip the FSA stem to lower the handlebar rise to something closer to my normal 3cm drop.
The front brake was also in dire need of adjustment, as the brake pads weren’t quite parallel or flush with the rim brake track there was no toe-in, hence some really nasty brake squeal on my first fit check ride in the parking lot. And, I’m not sure if the cap on the left-front crank’s self-extracting bolts had been secured or Loctite’d in place as I noted it was missing when I took photos of the tandem on the last day of the rally. But, that was it. Everything else was in good shape and tight as a drum.
So, getting the bike ready to roll meant rolling the Beyond out to our truck in the valet area where pedals, saddles, computer mounts and water bottle cages from our Calfee and spare parts bag could be transferred to the Santana, and then getting the riding positions matched to our Calfee.
This has gone a bit longer than I originally envisioned, but when doesn’t something I write turn into a tome. Regardless, I think I’ve actually covered a lot of the key ride quality and handling topics so far. So, I will try to limit myself to the initial “transitional” observations I had when first hopping on the Santana.
Interestingly enough, I’ve always been able to push our longer-trail Ericksons and Calfee tandem through parking lots and crowds by using the rear saddle as my “steering tiller” the same as my single bikes. Push the saddle left, the tandem goes right, push it right it goes left and so on: the steering is very responsive to lean angle. Not so with the Santana, given its longer fork rake and shorter steering trail. Because of the front wheel’s short trail, I was pretty much unable to steer the Santana around by using Debbie’s saddle. Instead, I had to guide it by the stem and truly steer the front wheel by hand to make the bike go exactly where it wanted it to go. There are a number of reasons that it works this way, but it fully supports all of the observations put forward by the two different camps on tandem steering geometry.
Once we were on the Santana I was presented with a handlebar that felt like it had almost no resistance and found myself flopping the front wheel and handlebars side-to-side unable to use the front wheel’s trail to provide resistance for doing a track stand or momentary stall as I could on the Calfee. Now, the more we rode the Santana the less pronounced the feeling became at slow speeds. However, track standing was still a bit of challenge up and until the last day.
The pedal tread, or Q-factor if you will, wasn’t an issue much to my surprise. I could detect a slight increase in the tread, which turned out to be a net increase of about 10 mm… which ain’t bad considering I use a 108mm spindle on the Calfee with daVinci cranks (170mm Q-factor) and Santana uses 129mm spindles with their “Hardcore” carbon cranks (180mm Q-factor). The 175mm crank arms were a bit more noticable than the 170mm crank arms I’ve been riding since 2002 and perhaps that helped to mask the subtle change in Q-factor as well. But, all-in-all, it wasn’t too hard to adapt to the differences at the crank. However, over the course of the four days I could tell my pedal stroke and riding position had been tweaked a bit, but nothing that adversely affected our ability to develop and sustain power… just a slight hit to cadence and an elevated upper leg position at the top of each pedal circle. Debbie never mentioned anything about the change in crank tread, but that’s not unusual: she seems a bit more pliable and less sensitive to subtle changes than me.
As for cornering at speed, I initially found myself having to relearn cornering on the Santana. Just thinking “turn left” and having it happen wasn’t working. Instead, I had to consciously countersteer the handlebars to unsettle the tandem so it would want to turn left or right, and then carve the turn, punctuated by a second countersteer to arrest the turn and stand the tandem back up to travel in a straight line. Again, on the Calfee it was all intuitive by now so that was also a learning experience. However, by the 2nd day on the tandem I’d gotten most of my corners down by altering my line coming into and out of the apex trough a bigger and somewhat smoother arc. By day 3 on the tandem, we were bombing through some steep switchbacks on the ride back in from the city of Chickamauga and the steering now felt just fine.
As for stiffness, that added compliance and ability to plane nicely seemed to be off-set by the lack of the out-of-the-saddle, rocket-like acceleration that we experience on our Calfee in sprints and when climbing. Similar to the fast descent and aggressive cornering scenarios, the loss of this ‘performance’ related characteristic may or may not be as much of a big deal to us today as it was when we were doing a lot more fast rides and running with the A and B teams. This gets back to those preferences and trading off a little bit of performance for short-duration, infrequent demands vs. some added comfort and lower task load over the duration of a ride. It’s a tough call to say which is the better choice since there are some days and rides where you could care less who wins the county line sprint and are more interested in finishing a ride feeling a little less spent. This is why I mentioned early on that it would really be nice to add a Beyond to our stable, more so than replacing our Calfee. They’re different bikes that offer a slightly different riding experience, i.e., similar to the difference between a Cadillac CTS and CTS-V or any other two similar vehicles where one is optimized with stiffer springs, lower, wider profile tires and a bit more power vs. it’s somewhat more luxury-oriented sibling. Again, like the steering, we were easily able to adapt and appreciate the differences.
Bottom Line: Great tandem!!!