Readers who subscribe to Jan Heine’s Bicycle Quarterly (BQ) may be surprised to learn the 650B randoneer tandem built by Bilenky Cycle Works (BCW) and reviewed in the Winter 2010 BQ edition to test and review is up for sale by BCW. You can find it listed at the Bilenky Marketplace for an attractive $5,900, which is about right for a cited cost of $6,950 demo/test bike that was used for a 400k brevet near Seattle, WA. Size-wise, it’s  what Stephen Bilenky describes as “a fairly large frame with a 59.5cm CTT pilot’s seat tube and randonneur-friendly geometry, 41mm tires, full mud guards and racks. It tips the scales at around 42lbs, which ain’t bad given the size, racks, big meaty tires, SON generator and lights, and brooks saddles.
For readers who don’t subscribe to BQ but who follow the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), you may recall this very same tandem was recognized for having the “Best Road Frame” at the 2010 NAHBS. Just going from the photos, this is a stunning homage to the classic, 1930’s – 1940’s era French 650B Alex Singer and Rene Herse tandems, right down to the graphics, geometry and other details… but updated with current technology and components. The temptation to snag this one for ourselves was quite strong; however, the tandem is far too large for us.
I reading Jan Heine’s review of the Bilenky, the observations and comments all seemed to be pretty fair and with just a little tinge of Jan’s subjectivity thrown-in. As perhaps one of the leading randonneur-journalists, technical editors and students of classic 650B European bicycles, I must assume his critiques of the rack design, mounting and fender mountings as well the stoker stem, Shimano brakes and wiring technique were carefully considered and appropriate. To elaborate for those who haven’t read the BQ review, while the racks were well-made and beautifully finished, some of the design aspects of triangulation and mounting methods were less than ideal. Likewise, the R-clamps used on the mud-guards were not the best choice vs. the Hondo fender mounting hardware. I was also not enamored with the stoker stem design, but stoker stems are a very personal thing and if I were to have a tandem of this finish and quality made I’d have specified a bit of a different design approach as well. Not sure what to say about the brakes, as braking performance on a tandem will always feel as though it was lacking, particularly if you haven’t ridden a tandem in a while. So, without knowing when Jan rode a tandem with a ~170 lb stoker last, it’s hard to say if the brakes were truly sub-par for a tandem, or just lacking compared to a single-bike’s brake performance. The front light wiring was pretty straight forward: the wiring was originally installed with very little slack and the wires eventually pulled loose from the light fixture.
Frankly, I’m probably on-board with most of Jan’s comments on the racks: classic French tandems and single touring bikes used less ornate and more practical rack designs so perhaps BCW over-reached a bit with the show-bike’s racks.
However, looking past all of the detailed-design critiques, Jan summed up the most important aspects of the Bilenky review when he closed with some very high praise for the 650B, “Specified carefully, a Bilenky probably is the best tandem you can buy today. – JH”
Now, to put that high praise into context, the most important part of the BQ review was, of course, the commentary on how the 650B tandem performed during the 305 miles of test distance riding that was logged, including the 275mi (400k) brevet. In this regard, the 650B Bilenky was well-positioned to receive a favorable review as it embodied some of the key characteristics that Jan favors in all bicycles, as well as tandems: 650B wheelsize, wide tires (41mm @ 75psi), and very short steering trail (29mm). In fact, Jan notes that he was very pleased to find the steering geometry was nearly the same as the restored, 1948 Rene Herse tandem that Jan and Jaye Hayworth rode for the 1,200km (746mi) 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris, and that clearly pleased Jan. His only real complaint on the performance, other than the brakes, was the bar-end shifters vs. downtube, noting that bar-end cables pose issues for derailleur cable routing as well as the ergonomic issues for anyone who is not predisposed to be comfortable using bar-end shifters: I count myself among the latter and would likely fit even a new randonneur bike or tandem with Campy Ergo shifters.