Santana’s Noventa & Niobium: Good Value Then, Great Value Now?!

As mentioned in one of my other weekend updates (no pun intended), a new member of BikeForums.org signed-on to the tandem sub-forum with a question regarding the value of a new old stock (NOS) Santana Noventa from the early 2000’s compared to the model that replaced it; Santana’s Niobium.  The deal was, the NOS Noventa was being offered-up as a fresh-build using the same components found on the newer Niobium for what amounted to about an 8% discount off of a new Niobium.

Santana Team Niobium

A number of us looked at that “deal” and on face value, it didn’t appear to be much of a deal.  After all, even though it was a brand-new frame, the Noventa was a model that had essentially been replaced by a new model with a lighter steel tubeset so how could the old frame possibly be worth what a new one was: after all prices tend to rise over time, not fall…. or do they?

Quoting from my BF posting….

Well, I went back and looked at the numbers and I’d actually forgotten that Santana began holding the line on product cost in the late 90’s…. in some cases even reducing prices on a few models in the early 2000’s to help close the price gap with their primary competitor’s similar models. One parity was achieved, year-to-year increases were modest.

The net result is that… and this is kind of mind blowing: a 2002 NOS Noventa frame adjusted for inflation had a retail price that is $478 higher than a 2010 Niobium frame.

Here’s the pricing over a few years:

Noventa (NivaCrom frame)
2000: $3,495 frame & fork, or $5,495 full bike with alloy cranks, steel fork & conv. wheels
2002: $3,495 frame & CF fork, or $5,495 full bike with CF cranks, fork & conv. wheels
2004: $3,295 frame & CF fork, or $5,495 full bike with CF cranks, fork & conv. wheels

New Niobium (Spirit Niobium frame) Introduced
2006: $3,296 frame & CF fork, or $5,895 full bike with CF cranks, fork & Sweet 16 wheels
2008: $3,595 frame & CF fork, or $6,295 full bike with CF cranks, fork & Sweet 16 wheels
2010: $3,595 frame & CF fork, or $6,295 full bike with CF cranks, fork & Sweet 16 wheels

So, in retrospect, the question now becomes what was the ‘added value’ of switching from the NivaCrom 7/4/7 frameset that promised a classic, fillet-brazed finish with a frame that mimic’d the feel of Titanium. The Niobium 6/3/6 is best summed-up by metallurgist Conor Buescher of Vendetta Cycles as, “mechanically stronger than their Nivacrom counterparts and can be drawn to thinner gauges giving more performance (a lighter frameset).” Or, if you prefer, what Santana calls an “all new alloy that magically combines the weight savings of aluminum and the ride quality of titanium with the goodness of steel” that will give you “the planet’s lightest, strongest and fastest steel tandem.”

I think this takes us full circle to my initial reply: the TIG welded Niobium frame is about a pound lighter than the fillet-brazed Noventa. So, there are clearly some aesthetic differences — TIG vs fillet — as well as the weight difference — 454 grams or 16oz of water — and both frames should be about as durable as each other. Me? I’d go with the one that simply ‘feels’ better. Years back when we went shopping for our first tandem we rode everything and while I went in looking to buy a Raspberry Swirl Santana Sovereign (it was the hot ticket for wanna-go-fast tandem newbies who had to have a Santana), we ended up taking home a year-old Santana Arriva demo because it simply delivered a much more comfortable and confidence inspiring ride. And, at least for our first tandem, I saw those as being the key to making Debbie’s first experience as a true, adult road cycling enthusiast as positive as it could be. We had a great first experience on the Santana and we learned enough about tandems over the next 10 months to realize there’s only so many things you can upgrade on a tandem before you need to address the core foundation — the frame. We commissioned our first Erickson tandem in June 1998 and sold the Santana a week before our Erickson arrived in December 1998. We’ve had two other road tandems built around our ’98 Erickson frame design, a 2nd Erickson with couplers for travel that was sold to make room for a Calfee travel tandem. Nothing but fond memories from our Santana: a great product that performed very well backed up by a great company (albeit, with over-the-top marketing, at least within the context of the tandem industry).

So, there you go… Perhaps there are enough things to like about the Noventa frame that makes it a better value at $6k with the same build kit that sends a Niobium out the door for $6,295. If so, perhaps there’s a deal to be had with some minor consideration for deeply discounted accessories, i.e., a bro deal on a Garmin for your stoker, el-freebo water bottle cages, etc… Again, I was actually quite surprised at how well Santana has held the line on their Noventa / Niobium frame over the years. Again, put your negotiator hat on. [Your dealer] has a lot of inventory, but he also knows that the key to negotiating the deal is a win-win. Frankly, the 1lb difference would be the least compelling reason I could imagine for wanting a Niobium over a Noventa if the ride qualities were similar.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
This entry was posted in Analysis, Technology & Equip., Whimsical Or Entertaining. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Santana’s Noventa & Niobium: Good Value Then, Great Value Now?!

  1. Wayne says:

    What are the actual specs of the Santana tubing? I have read that the 6/3/6 Niobium’s thin section is actually 3.6 rather than 3.0. Maybe that was just Santana bashing or could it have been that 3.0 is Santana’s rounding of 3.6?

    • TG says:

      Frankly, I don’t think it matters much.

      Someone once asked me what type of carbon was used in our Calfee; beats the heck out of me… I assume it was the ‘right type’ per Craig Calfee’s spec, since he’s the guy that designed our somewhat unusual custom Tetra. Regardless, the ride qualities are excellent, the tandem handles well, and it probably weighs what it should weigh given our requirements and Calfee’s tendency to overbuild rather than underbuild. So, material is only part of the equation.

      Looked at another way, great builders can do amazing things with straight gauge 4130 (our ’98 & ’02 Ericksons, for instance) and 6061-T6 (our ’98 & ’02 Ventanas), whereas even the best alloys and composites can be poorly executed and yield a lousy ride, handling or durability issues. So, I’ll trust Santana is using butted tubing that is pretty close & generally accepted to be to what they advertise. Now, the “magically combines” stuff is an entirely different area altogether, falling more into the realm of bovine scatology and other marketing spin.

  2. Wayne says:

    A quick check of a few custom builders on the internet reveals that a standard Columbus Spirit Niobium tube set is 5.0/3.8/5.0. Santana states their tubes are custom drawn to its specifications so the matter is still open. I can see using a 6.0 end to make construction easier and stronger joints, but I find it hard to see the thin section dropping much from the standard 3.8.

  3. Kate says:

    what is a santana noventa tandem, circa 1986, with all campagnolo components, excellent condition worth?

    • TG says:

      Pretty sure the Noventa model didn’t arrive on the scene until the 90’s. Perhaps it’s a Sovereign? A tandem of that vintage has to be priced based on perceived value to the buyer based on whatever it is about that tandem that makes it attractive. It’s certainly a “better” tandem in terms of quality than some brand new $500 – $800 tandems. But, as you get towards the $1000 mark you start to find much newer, good quality used tandems sold in the 90’s with new technology that will have similar quality with wider gearing ranges and more robust components. The point being, 1980’s tandems technology is very dated and there are certain things like the fork steerer that would need to be checked to see if it’s been reinforced and/or is showing any signs of fatigue per guidance from Santana on it’s older tandems with 1″ fork steerers. Of course, the other consideration is life cycle cost. A lot of folks buy an older tandem with great components with the idea that “it will be fine the way it is”. However, if they find they enjoy riding the tandem there’s sometimes a temptation to bring the bike up to more current specs, and that can get expensive in a hurry, undermining the low-cost entry point. Now, if someone is just looking for a 1980’s vintage tandem because they feel it’s collectable or otherwise desirable then it goes back to what’s that worth to the buyer.

      • Kate says:

        You’re right about the year. I just found out from Santana that it is a 1992 Noventa, fillet brazed steel frame, all Campy components.Like new condition & accessories included. Any idea now of it’s worth now?

      • TG says:

        Same guidance generally applies. It’s still a 30-year old tandem. If it was pristine, fair market would probably be somewhere around $1,200… tops. But, for $1,200 you could find other newer tandems with 9 speed gearing, etc. for other tandems. So, again… there needs to be a compelling reason (great deal, love the color, had one 30 years ago) to go for a 30-year old tandem.

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