Let me confess that I really do enjoy getting comments when I post things. Some of them come from friends who subscribe to our blog and stay in touch by sharing a compliment or an anecdote when something I’ve written inspires a reply and those are, well… awesome. Others come from readers who have good follow-up questions or who just have something on their minds that they’d like to ask about, sometimes unrelated to what they are replying to. That’s also pretty awesome, since that’s very much like the real world where at, say a tandem rally, a collection of folks are standing around talking about tandems and cycling and someone introduces a new topic. Bottom Line: I’m a tandem cycling junkie, so all of this just feeds my passions for tandems, cycling and sharing observations and learning…. and it’s always a two-way street when it comes to learning. I learn something from just about every interaction I have, even if it’s just what tandem enthusiasts have on their mind.
I recently received one of those questions that was unrelated to the blog entry that provided the impetus to comment and it was a good one. Jonathan asked,
“Just curious, have you written a review/primer on safety concerns (weight tolerances) of carbon forks on tandems…..specifically the Enve 2.0 that clearly states it is not Tandem approved? … Rodriquez Cycles posted an article in January of 2014 voicing some concern”
I replied to Jonathan with my own comment, but after penning it I thought that it might be worthy of its own blog entry, so here is what I shared:
I’ve read most everything that Dan at R&E has written over the years and I have a deep appreciation for his insights and observations. R&E under Dan’s watch has always had the customer’s interests at the forefront and they don’t like to dabble at the ‘bleeding edge’ of bicycle or bicycle component design and engineering. Vanity ain’t worth a trip to the hospital. However, I had not read the new article on carbon forks, so thanks for sharing that. I would love to have R&E nearby as my local shop!
Anyway, I have lots of thoughts about lots of things and the one constant is that there are very few bicycle components designed for use on tandems. Therefore, unless a tandem enthusiast happens to have the right education or experience in engineering or materials development, they must look to the people who design and build tandems for insight into what works well and offers teams sufficient safety margins when it comes to tandem frame design and component selection.
So, when it comes to carbon forks there are only a few builders who have taken the time to work with composite component designers and manufacturing companies to develop or evaluate forks that MAY be suitable (within limits) for use on a tandem: it’s a short list. I’ve also spent some time talking with the engineers who developed some of the tandem-approved forks over the years and, clearly, there are ways to test forks to determine their limits and tweak designs to support the loads a tandem can generate, but within limits.
Therein lies the challenge and Dan does a good job of pointing out just how comprehensive the design requirements and testing needs to be when dealing with the loads a tandem can generate. So, as I said, there are a few tandem builders who have taken the time and made the investment to have composite forks proposed for use on tandems tested and/or worked with composite manufacturing companies to develop and produce composite forks that are suitable for their tandems (within limits).
You can probably do a little checking around and break the code on which companies these are and which forks have been deemed “suitable” (within limits), e.g., Santana worked with Reynolds early on to develop the very robust Ouzo Pro Tandem fork: we have one of those on our triplet… but then again, even riding three-up our triplet teams come in under 400lbs. Santana has also developed some house-branded forks made by 3rd parties that are very robust. Co-Motion used the tandem-rated True Temper Alpha Q X2 Tandem forks on their tandems until True Temper got out of the bicycle fork business. Co-Motion recently developed their own house-branded composite forks after doing some pretty extensive product testing and, oh… by the way, worked with Advanced Composites many years ago to develop the very robust and aesthetically-unique Wound-Up composite forks.
We’ve been riding Alpha Q’s since 2002 on three different tandems. They’re not nearly as robust as the Reynolds, but adequate for lightweight teams, whereas heavier teams will give up some handling. One thing that Dan hits on that also bears some attention is his observation that composite forks are more life-limited than a good steel fork: I tend to agree here. However, as to how long that service life may be will vary based on a lot of factors. Therefore, teams who have composite forks would do well to inspect them at least once a year, or more often if they ride a lot, and always after any type of impact that isn’t in line with the design use of a bicycle fork.
Your tandem builder — Calfee Design — knows composites about as well as anyone in the business: really. But, at the same time, Calfee is also all-about “lighter is better”. So, you’ll notice that they have always offered up a range of different forks for use on tandems. Unlike Co-Motion and Santana where the vast majority of their tandems are designed to work with a very wide range of riders (i.e., they tend to be very robust and built to a specification), most of Calfee’s tandems are built to order for a given team’s weight and riding needs. Therefore, having a range of fork offerings allows them to tailor recommendations to their clients.
So, all that said we have to ask ourselves, just how many tandem teams with what is now a limited field of composite fork offerings have had systemic or catastrophic failures? Frankly, I’m thinking if Santana, Co-Motion or Calfee had customers doing face-plants after fork failures we’d all know it in a New York minute and you’d see composite forks disappearing from the options list over night. That just hasn’t happened, at least to my knowledge and I keep my ear pretty close to the ground.
This then brings us to your ENVE 2.0 fork. If you provided Calfee with the usual design inputs for a tandem build — your weight, your stoker’s weight, how much luggage/gear you’ll carry and the like — then I would expect they recommended a fork that they have enough confidence in to put their reputation behind. And, if it helps, I can tell you that ENVE’s 2.0 forks have been tested against similar standards to what True Temper used for the Alpha Q X2 tandem forks, so the design characteristics are known. Therefore, the only variable becomes quality control and consistency…. and as I said earlier, I’ve spoken with some of the composite fork engineers in the past and that gave me the confidence I needed before fitting a composite fork to the tandems that our fairly lightweight teams use.
Disclaimer: These are merely my observations, and should not be construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any product. You will need to figure out how you can establish a level of confidence in the builders and component makers who you choose to provide you with equipment. There’s a reason it takes decades to build brand-name recognition in the bicycle business.
Dan’s article on carbon forks on tandems is a good read that does offer up a lot of food for thought. As always, it’s up to the reader to make sure they recognize that when they stumble on a subject that they feel is important and that could have a personnel connection they should pursue additional information and facts that will help them become well-informed enough to draw their own conclusions.
As someone who writes about tandem cycling I personally try not to tell people how they should think or try to suggest that everything they need to know on a given subject has been baked into my thought process and is therefore embodied in my brilliant article. In fact, I usually try to stress the need to ask more questions and do more research so that readers will be able to make their own informed decisions vs. making too many conclusions based on a single data point or article. It’s analogous to getting multiple quotes on home improvement projects, medical opinions when facing a serious health decision or shopping for a new vehicle; more information is usually good: just try not to get into analysis paralysis.
Without a doubt, cycling at the enthusiast level is all about passion and draws in passionate people. Passion also has a habit of polarizing people with a common interest but different philosophies or biases. You’ll find these divisions with sports car enthusiasts, wine aficionados, motorcycling enthusiasts, film & literary critics and tandem enthusiasts. Want to start a passionate discussion at a tandem rally? Introduce a discussion about something that a certain tandem builder has recently written about tandem technology; yikes!
And so it goes with all aspects of tandem cycling. If you’re considering a large investment in a new tandem, or are shopping for a used tandem do your homework. Call up and talk to the builders, noting that with the exception of the mega brands like Trek & Dorel (who in turn owns Pacific who in turn owns Cannondale: yeah, there’s a message in that) where you may be hard-pressed to find the person who actually designed your tandem never mind talking to someone in the mega-size factory that mass-produced your tandem, builders like Co-Motion, Santana, Calfee, Rodriquez, Bilenky, Seven, daVinci and other recognizable and reputable brands are very small businesses where the folks who design and fabricate the frames are very easy to reach and tend to be very happy to talk to customers about their products.
That’s all I’ve ever done when I’ve had questions about a specific product, along with making inquiries with the more experienced tandem speciality dealers who are also a wealth of information. In fact, most of the dealers will help you sift through the fog of “facts vs. marketing spin” to arrive at a good decision on a tandem, tandem wheels or other components. After all, the folks who’ve been selling tandems for 20+ years are still doing it for a reason: they take care of their customers and give them good advise.
If you think you’re smarter than dealers or builders are about tandems, then don’t waste their time: just go with your gut and do your own beta testing with the latest equipment. Seriously, and that’s not a swipe. I tend to fall into that category at times as there are things I’ve had builders do with our tandem designs that were not standard offerings because of my own experience and preferences. There are also components or ways of rigging I’ve been able to learn and use on our tandems that are well outside the realm of conventional wisdom that work well for me, but not others. Other times, not so much and I have the parts sitting in a box to prove it. Thankfully, I’ve never found the bleeding edge, as I love my wife too much to put her at risk by putting a critical component on our tandems that I don’t have absolute faith in.
So, that’s what I think…. and I do a lot of thinking.