OK, so here’s my take on the tandems that were on display at the 2015 NAHBS…. and a note of thanks to the folks at places like Bike Rumor, VeloNews, NAHBS, and private individuals who have posted photos to the net, a few of which I’ve poached for this blog entry. I never take enough photos to support everything I’d like to mention. I’m really good a seeing things and remembering, just not taking photos along the way.
NAHBS & Tandems In General: Just some miscellaneous ramblings to start off.
Bottom Line: Tandems are not hot. No doubt, there were certainly some nice tandems on display at NAHBS, but they weren’t show stoppers. In fact, the tandems that caught my attention were the Calfee Dragonfly because of its paint job and the Black Sheep ICS family / travel tandem that garnered recognition for Best Tandem at the show.
Interestingly enough, the Black Sheep tandem that took home the best tandem award (photo above) shared a few design cues with the two travel tandems that Bikenky brought to last year’s show (two smaller photos below), e.g., the non-linear, free-flowing tubes and use of different coupling systems on large and small diameter tubes. This is not to take anything away from the Black Sheep tandem, it really is a spectacular machine. But the hours of design, fabrication and finish work that went into the Ti Bikenky for last year’s show was certainly worthy of best tandem ITGHO. Hey, I love Co-Motion, but the Bosch concept tandem (photo below the Bikenky’s) did not rock my world the way Bilenky’s amazing Ti travel tandem did and was more or less a concept bike, not something that was built for a client and headed “out into the field” where it would deliver the cycling joy, pleasure and memories for couples like no other bike.
2015 NAHBS & Tandems: OK, now that I’ve aired my beef with last year’s award selections, let’s get back to what we saw this year and my related thoughts and/or inspirations.
Probably the best measure of what tripped our trigger was the tandem lust factor, i.e., if I was looking to drop a wad of money into a new tandem who would have gotten that check. Well, there really wasn’t a tandem at the show that we would have taken home — although the Calfee Dragonfly came close and there was something about that brown Co-Motion Robusta that caught my eye — it was really a toss-up between commissioning a titanium tandem from Eriksen, Black Sheep or DEAN.
- Kent Eriksen has a pair of tandems at the show with some amazing welds and workmanship. In fact, Eriksen took away the award for best TIG welds on an unfinished Ti frame that was worked on by Brad Bingham.
- Black Sheep, as already mentioned, took away the honors for Best Tandem for a travel tandem that was designed for a parent / child team built around the daVinci Independent Pedaling System (ICS) and that incorporated S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCS) as well as some other non-S&S frame joint systems to allow it to break down for travel.
- DEAN, well… I don’t know if John Siegrist has ever made a tandem with a DEAN head badge, but I’d bet Ari Leon would be willing to give it shot! After all, I already have a DEAN Castanza road bike and a DEAN Scout mountain bike, so a one-off DEAN Ti tandem would really complete the set quite nicely if Ari could pull it off. Gotta say, the welds on my DEANs will give any others a run for their money and there’s just not anything about these bikes that I don’t like!
Of course, at the end of the day, I think we’re more interested in an early retirement that will allow to spend more timing riding the tandems we already have so for the near term I suspect we’ll remain enthusiastic followers of all the great tandem builders who will look for any opportunity to take examples of their wares for an extended series of test rides. After all, test riding a tandem is like going on a date; you really won’t know what you’ve got until you get to spend a lot more time together when you’re both not trying to be on your best behavior.
With all that said, here’s what we saw while ‘speed dating’ at NAHBS
The UnaTandem by Raymond Bicycle Co.
The first tandem I saw was perhaps the most unusual of the bunch; the Raymond Bicycle Company’s Una Tandem. As the enthusiastic designer and builder Shawn Raymond described the various features it struck me that what I was looking at was the love child of a Green Gear (aka, Bike Friday) Family Tandem and a Buddy Bike. For those unfamiliar with these two tandems, the Green Gear Family Tandem (left) is perhaps the most recognizable of the compact 20” wheeled tandem bicycles on the market. The Buddy Bike (right), which was originally introduced as the Love Bike, is an “adaptable” tandem designed for a parent or caretaker to use with a second, less able rider.
The UnaTandem combines the two to come up with a very short wheelbase tandem that accommodates two riders where, like the Love Bike, the rider in the rear controls the tandem. The bike incorporates a variety of adjustability features like the Family Tandem that allows it to fit a large ranger of riders. The exaggerated rake of the fork purportedly gives the tandem full-size wheeled bike handling characteristics.
The builder hopes to progress beyond the limited number of handmade prototypes and into production with the UnaTandem. I guess my question would be, is there a market for a compact ‘adaptable’ tandem? Perhaps, but I don’t believe it would be a large market targeted to folks who have such a need or interest who live in urban areas, use mass-transit or who have smaller vehicles / living spaces where a compact tandem would be a good fit. Institutions might also have an interest so long as the cost was kept low. Of course, the latter would require mass-production off-shore and that’s where the cost-model usually breaks, i.e., not enough demand to justify the volume needed to hit the price point.
Anyway, that’s my best shot at trying to be objective about the UnaTandem.
Erik Noren of Peacock Grove
Erik Noren, of Peacock Groove.Peacock Groove had a tandem at their “booth” but it really wasn’t on display… it was just there with a nice dried-on coat of mud and slush that I suspect was collected riding on the streets of Louisville which had just been blanketed with snow over the previous two days. It was a 29″ off-road tandem with full suspension built around a Ventana MFS swing arm, brake bridge, and rocker. Sadly, I took a photo of it sitting there at NAHBS but it wasn’t a great shot. So, after sleuthing around on the net I found one that Erik posted a while back.
While it wasn’t one of his signature deep custom bike finishes, it was a deep custom frame design. The unusual stoker compartment was designed to accommodate a 5′ tall stoker on a 29er with 5″ rear suspension travel and a 5’11” tall captain. I’d have gone with a more conventional frame design but what seems to set Erik and his Peacock Groove builds apart is the lack of any convention, other than no two are alike. Case in point, check out the gold & green Peacock Groove electric homage to a motorcycle that hides the battery for the Shimano STEPS electric assist system in a faux gas tank. pretty sure it’s also sporting a Maverick inverted fork under all that gold paint. Check out the video feature!
Very funky and a lot of detail. Oh yeah, and you can see the two saddles on the tandem sticking up behind the couch in the upper left corner of this photo. That’s Erik sitting at the table in the green tshirt. Check him out in this video short: “Deep Custom”.
Scott Quiring & Quiring Cycles
The next tandems we came across were at Scott Quiring’s booth. Steve brought along a Titanium 29+ with a nice “mid-size” 3″ tire that would have looked like a really large tire if it weren’t for the steel fat-tire tandem sitting next to it and sporting 26″ x 90mm Nextie composite rims with 4.0″ wide 45NRTH Hucker Du tires sitting right alongside.
Now, let me be completely transparent here and note that I’m so far down the learning curve on fat-tire bikes and tandems that I really can’t offer any meaningful commentary on component selection or design decisions. That said, what I did see and like about the Quiring tandems was a pretty straight forward, no non-sense approach to the frame construction and Scott was a really nice guy to talk with. The 29+ was a solid build using a fairly conventional frame design that I’ve seen on a lot of Scott’s tandems. The welds were excellent; just a great bike. However, the Fat Bike really was the attention whore with what I believe is 142mm front / 197mm rear spacing. 2X10 drive train using Middleburn cranks, a custom tandem fork built around Paragon drop-outs and a tapered steerer and a very nicely stepped top tube frame design that just looked right. I would love to go and play on one of these in the right terrain, as they look to be an absolutely blast. That said, if I had to pick between the two, the Ti-framed 29+ in the background was really sweet, and I think I’ve seen that same frame built-up with a Ventana rear suspension by Scott as well.
Don Walker, NAHBS Founder/Promoter & Bike Builder
Don Walker had an interesting booth in that you could hardly get near the bikes because they were selling NAHBS pint glasses for $5.00 and filling them with some type of craft beer for free (wink, wink). I heard someone say the beer tasted like Budweiser… but not having partaken I can’t offer an opinion. However, of most importance and sadly just about hidden from view by the pint glass sales and draught dispenser was the black and bright green steel 700c road tandem with dual discs, DuraAce, et al, that Don brought to the 2014 show. It was a really nicely done steel tandem with an eye-catching paint job. Once again, my photo was pretty sucky so I’ve pirated someone elses that does a better job of showing off the NAHBS and Kentucky native’s handiwork. Not a fan of the wrap-around paint scheme that I’ve seen showing up on bikes and tandems over the past few years, but it works better in these colors than some others I’ve seen.
However, to really appreciate Don’s skills you sometimes need to look to his more creative side; case in point this a replica of a track bike used during Stayer events. Stayer racing involved the use of motorcycles pacing the track riders up to speeds of 60 mph as they raced other Stayer teams around a velodrome. Yeah, pretty intense stuff. You can learn more about the history of Stayer racing at this link: http://www.bikehugger.com/post/view/stayer-bikes. The more you read from good sources the more you know!
Selle An Atomica
As regular readers are aware, Miss Debbie switched over to theSelle An Atomica Titanico saddles a couple of years back for use on the road tandem and triplet and couldn’t be happier. We had a little bump in the road when we purchased a replacement saddle last year only to discover that Selle An Atomica had changed the seat rail design on their saddle frames. Thankfully we found a new old stock saddle with the original, longer rails and have since learned and confirmed at this near’s NAHBS show that they’ve once again tweaked the frame design to add-back some of the rail length that had been lost. Now, if they could just come up with a way of making their slotted saddle so that the cover didn’t stretch so darn fast.. or perhaps not at all. Low and behold, a composite saddle!
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. In the foreground is a composite saddle cover modeled after theSelle An Atomica standard saddle and bonded to a composite leaf spring foundation with a set of aluminum rails. The second saddle uses a composite cover attached to their standard steel frame. The composite covers were every bit as compliant as a properly tensioned leather cover, which was quite intriguing. Obviously, the steel frame doesn’t really take advantage of the weight saving properties of composites as a leather cover isn’t all that much heavier. However, if the composite leaf spring and aluminum rail element can be developed and made durable enough to meet consumer needs, that would be pretty cool. There are also some issues with regard to how the composite edges need to be finished to make sure they don’t chaff or cut the riders shorts or flesh in the event of a crash scenario; composites become quite nasty when the edges fray.
So, here’s some real-time additional info on a composite saddle project that Selle An Atomica is looking to develop. Selle just launched a Crowd Funding effort on 23 March whereby they hope to secure 150 backers at $199 a pop within the next 30 days. The $199 investment will net a backer a limited edition of the ultra lightweight saddle with leaf spring damping later this year. For an extra $100, backers can also snag a new leather saddle on top of the promise of the composite model, assuming the project succeeds. When we signed-on at 10:00pm tonight we were the 39th backer, so I’m thinking they’ll hit their goal in far less than 30 days.
To say that we’re big fans of Calfee’s composite frames would be a gross understatement. Regular readers will recall that we documented the first year of Calfee ownership in an extensive series of articles written during 2008 that may still be linked off of the Calfee site; not sure about that as I haven’t checked. Needless to say, we’re still as happy as can be with our Calfee tandem some 7+ years & 25,000+ miles later. So, now that I’ve shared my bias, let me say that we finally saw a Calfee tandem that looked better than our nude frame at this year’s NAHBS. In fact, it gave me goose bumps when I saw it for the first time… which was apparently a reaction that a lot of folks at Calfee had when it came out of paint. So, without further a du, here ’tis:
Perhaps it’s just the subtle affinity I once again have developed for the color blue, noting that the blue faux lugs on the Dragonfly are nearly the same color as our sapphire blue Road King. Who knows, but dang, that was an amazing-looking tandem / paint scheme on that tandem. You couldn’t have pulled it off with any other frame, as the size of the lugs, the color of the blues and the translucent application that allowed the textures and shade variations of the composite tubeset and lug wrappings to show through really did dazzle in the show lights. I can only image what the bike looked like in broad daylight.
One of the other things that just “looked right” on the Calfee was the Co-Motion designed,T-390 composite disc fork and FSA SL-K crossover crankset. This was actually the first time I’d seen the T-390 fork and it’s a beast of a thing that requires a really oversized head tube to “work” from a visual / aesthetics standpoint. In fact, about the only thing that has always looked undersized, but more so now with the massive fork are the rear seat stays. Now, I will also have to note that this particular Calfee Dragonfly tandem shares a frame design that is very reminiscent of our own custom Calfee, and that’s the steeply sloping top tube and shallow angle of the seat stays that pays homage to Glenn Erickson’s compact tandem frame design concept. Where it’s most evident is in how tight-in the rear tire is to the seat tube cluster, noting that unlike our rakish Calfee, this one doesn’t even have a brake bridge.
Oh yeah and if you draw your attention up from the seat stays to the stoker seat post it may not be something you’ve seen before. That there is a Cirrus Cycles Body Float suspension seat post. The folks at Calfee’s booth were pretty jazzed about the BodyFloat, but just looking at the numbers it would really have to be a lot better than the parallelogram Thudbuster style suspension posts to bridge the cost and weight gaps. Time will tell… but thankfully, Miss Debbie has never wanted or needed a suspension post on our road tandems, especially the Calfee!
Other “stuff” on the blue Calfee were Ultegra Di2 shifting, Gates carbon drive on the aforementioned FSA SL-K cranks, composite Rolf wheels (somewhat surprised that they weren’t ENVE) and I was somewhat surprised to see Shimano RS785 hydraulic disc calipers on the bike with what I seem to recall were Hope rotors: sure hope they don’t plan to descend Mount Ventoux! Then again, maybe I’m behind the times on disc technology. I see a lot of TRP mechanical and even the hydro/mechanical brakes showing up on tandems these days.
BTW, while watching the Calfee Manta walk-through tour by Mike Moore on NAHBS’ YouTube video channel I noticed that Debbie & I were caught in the background talking to Steve from Calfee (at least I think it was Steve; I’m so bad with names) about the Dragonfly Tandem. That would be Miss Debbie in the light blue Harley-Davidson sweatshirt and me in the black and orange Harley-Davidson pit crew shirt:
Anyway, looking past some of the component choices that didn’t tickle my fancy, and as much as I like nude composite and titanium frames, the paint job on this Calfee definitely earned my thumbs up for best tandem finish at NAHBS. Yeah, that’s saying a lot because the nude Ti frames from Black Sheep, Eriksen and even Quiring were pretty sweet-looking.
Kent Eriksen & Eriksen Cycles
What’s not to love about Eriksen Cycles? Kent and Katie are both world-class competitive cyclists who occasionally team up and ride on either their road or off-road titanium Eriksen tandems, and that’s really important as the best tandem builders are the ones who actually ride tandems!
Now, if you’re a long-time reader here at our blog you may recall that I did several entries back in 2010 about Eriksen Cycles as well as the man behind the company, Kent Eriksen; you can find them here:
As for what they brought to the show, they had two tandems in their booth. One was a fully-assembled tandem that looked to be a multi-purpose design suitable for the road, touring and perhaps even some light gravel grinding; perhaps another personal tandem made for Kent & Katie? It was fitted with couplers that split it down the middle, something Kent has advocated for folks who want the ability to reduce the length of the tandem for car transport, shipping or travel but not the full-blown “fits in a regulation suitcase” approach. It makes a lot of sense and also significantly reduces the cost of the frame, as couplers — particularly the titanium models needed for a Ti frame — aren’t cheap. Like all Eriksen’s the welds were lovely and clean. The build was a bit unusual in that I believe it used Shimano Ultegra Di2 for the rear derailleur shifting duties, but was set-up with a mechanical front derailleur for a triple crankset operated by the stoker and had what I believe were dual TRP mechanically-operated hydraulic disc brakes controlled by the captain and a rear-only rim brake operated by the stoker like a drag brake using a bar-end shifter. It’s this hybrid shifting and braking arrangement that makes me wonder if this wasn’t a new personal tandem for Kent & Katie, or perhaps a friend who liked the hybrid shifting braking arrangement they had on a 700c personal tandem that made appearances at several previous NAHBS shows. To round-out the bling, the build also included an ENVE carbon fork, FSA SL-K cranks and HED Belgium+ rims were a nice compliment to the raw titanium frame with black decals, saddles and bar tape. Definitely a tandem that was made to be ridden hard in a variety of different conditions.
The second tandem they brought to the show was also a do-it-all road/gravel/cross frame that had not yet been built-up. The frame was TIG welded by Brad Bingham of Eriksen Cycles and as mentioned earlier, was judged the frame with the The Best TIG Welds at the show:
Dwan Shepard & Co-Motion Cycles
Despite what you might think, the highlight of our trip to Louisville was NOT the bikes and tandems. It was, instead, the people who have made bicycle and tandem fabrication a central part of their lives. At each and every booth we were routinely met by pleasant, enthusiastic people who were clearly passionate about cycling, bikes and people who were interested in cycling and their bikes.
Right at the top of this list of the best people in the world who you’ll ever meet was a long-time friend who I’d never had the chance to meet. The latter isn’t all that unusual and is not really something created by the internet; pen pals have existed since man put quill to parchment. But, in this case, it was the Tandem@Hobbes listserver where I met and became friends with Dwan Shepard of Co-Motion Cycles. However, since first “chatting” with Dwan via what were essentially Emails-fed threads about tandems back in 1997 I’d never actually met with him face-to-face as he was in Eugene, Oregon and we were in Atlanta, Georgia and never did our paths cross…. until this year’s NAHBS! However, it was truly a pleasure to finally spend some time with Dwan and that, in and of itself, make the trip worthwhile. That’s not to say the opportunity to meet with a few other builders was any less enjoyable, but I’m not sure there’s been any other member of the tandem industry who I’ve spent more time corresponding with who I had not yet had a chance to meet.
As for the tandems and bikes that Dwan and his team brought to Louisville, I think Co-Motion did a great job of representing the upper end of the hand-built community as the quality of the workmanship and attention to detail on their “production models” was definitely on par with the one-off, smaller volume and boutique builders. As hard as I always look at a Co-Motion, it’s rare that I find any glaringly obvious flaws in their incredibly tight weld beads, paint or other finish details. With few exceptions, the builds are also rock solid and delivery ready parts vs. prototypes or customized configurations that can become a bit of a challenge to support “in the field”, something we’ve experienced with a few of our boutique tandems: nothing insurmountable, but not for the novice owner or shop to deal with.
Now, I will say, the one that did surprise me was how the full line of tandems at Co-Motion have gone to the open frame design. The internal first disappeared on their high-end racing tandem, the Macchiatto, when it was introduced as a custom order performance frame. The Primera and Mocha lost them next and up and until last year I believe the Speedster still had an internal. However, I noticed that it had done missing this year.
Most of the other recent changes in the Co-Motion tandems have occurred in prior years, such as the PressFit30 bottom brackets, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, tapered head-tube and the T390 disc compatible composite fork. All of their tandems come with dual mechanical discs. Nice stuff!
As I look at the Reynolds 631 steel-framed Supremo above and the ACMUltra7 aluminum-framed Robusta below I can vividly recall when these two models were originally introduced. To see have they have evolved over the years speaks a lot about how “being a great bike” just isn’t good enough to be appealing in today’s market; you have to keep it fresh. So, change has been and will continue to be a constant in the bicycle and tandem market.
Without a doubt, the one thing that really caught my attention from Co-Motion was the composite T390 composite, disc brake compatible fork that I believe they introduced last year. This is a follow to their internally developed Tandem Elite composite fork; an Elite fork on Steroids! Seriously, the fork is massive-looking from the oversized crown that integrates to the massively large lower inset tapered headset compatible head tube, to the gobs of tire clearance — enough to probably get Jan Heine excited — and then there’s the fork legs, disc brake mount and drop-outs: massive, massive, massive. Sadly, I’m pretty sure the fork would be a bat fit for our Calfee in that it’s not a single bike fork with short fork legs and narrow crown that’s been beefed up for tandems, it’s an honest-to-goodness tandem fork that probably makes tandems fitted with the for handle/steer like it’s on rails. Personally, I think it’s a better fit on tandem frames with larger diameter tubing and deep section rims, as it tends to look almost too big on frames that have standard diameter steel tubing and/or box rims. I’m also guessing a tandem also needs to have a tapered headset to work with the fork which limits backwards compatibility; I could be wrong about this as I did not investigate.
ITGHO, you can’t go wrong with Co-Motion as a first time tandem buyer so long as you find a good dealer who knows tandems or is a pro shop that has a good reputation for delivering tandems that work well right out the door. And, to be honest, unless you find you have a passion for boutique tandems, you’ll probably ride that Co-Motion until you are finally lured-in by technology, design changes or other cool stuff that builders are constantly trying to identify to keep their products fresh. That’s one of the amazing things about bicycles when you consider that the basic safety bicycle design that we ride today was perfected 120 years ago. Everything that’s come since then has been a refinement and evolution, with very few revolutionary changes. Embrace the love!
John Bleakley & Black Sheep Bikes
Black Sheep Bikes has consistently turned-out some of the most eye-watering titanium frame designs year-after-year-after-year. I’m pretty sure I’ve commented on a few in previous post-NAHBS blog entries since that’s where I typically get to see what they brought to the show. Most of the eye candy is single bikes: speedster single speed, hard tail mountain bikes, 36″ wheeled ZEM concept development bike and the list goes on. They’ve also shown up with a pretty cool gravel grinder tandem (Jack’s Bike) in the past, a two-seat version of Jack C’s Black Sheep Luna Vista.
The man behind Black Sheep, James Bleakley, is like many bike builders in that their background and experiences speak to following their passion, not chasing the big bucks. While both career pursuits come with their sacrifices, you gotta love folks who truly do love what they do more so than the trappings of more conventional career pursuits. This is why we as enthusiasts are so passionate about the bikes these folks build; we buy their frames because they mean more than “woo hoo, I have a nice bike to go and ride.”
That all brings me back to the tandem that he brought to this year’s NAHBS, one that will allow an adult to ride with a child until they are an adult vis-a-via a sleeved, telescoping rear seat tube (similar to a Co-Motion Periscope) that will allow short as well as tall riders to have a good fit on the bike.
The frame also incorporated S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCs) on the boom and internal tube and four pair of custom chain stay – bolt together joints, similar to the ones that first began to show up as builders came up with different ways to break the drive-side chain stay to allow installation and removal of the Gates drive belts. It was also a bit unusual in that it was built around the daVinci Independent Coasting System (ICS), something you don’t often see on a non-daVinci tandem. It also had daVinci’s beautiful cranks and owing to the bikes flexible nature, the three pedal position kid cranks in back. It’s worth noting that James spent several years building titanium and other frames for daVinci as well as another builder near and dear to my heart, DEAN. Another obvious feature was the trademark Black Sheep truss fork. The dual discs and ENVE composite wheels also jumped out at you, but what really caught my eye was what appeared to be a hybrid Di2 shifting system that mated DuraAce Di2 levers with the XTR Di2 derailleurs. Now, to make that work the ICS has only two drive cogs vs. the four that you see on every other daVinci ICS, so it’s a 2×10 drive system vs. 4×10 standard system. I would have really liked to have had some time with John to investigate that a bit more closely as I’d love to know how that has worked. With all of the other high-end Ti bits and custom features I’m guessing this would be about an 18k machine, all said and done. I’ll leave you with a few photos and one last observation: each Black Sheep custom bike also has its own, unique head tube badge that speaks to something about the design. If you ever see a Black Sheep, check it out and see if you can break the code.
Yeah, it really was the best tandem at the show… no question about it this year. The workmanship, innovations, design and if all of that weren’t enough, John Bleakley is a native of Louisville, Kentucky who went west to Colorado for college. It’s nice when all of that can come together.
Steve Bilenky & Tom Faust of Bilenky Cycle Works
Another long-time-in-coming introduction happened at the Bilenky Cycle Works booth. Similar to my relationship with Dwan, Steve Bilenky is someone who I originally came to know via the Tandem@Hobbes listserver back in 1997. Steve and others at Bilenky would weigh-in on tandem technology and design subjects back when those topics were the norm at Hobbes. Steve and his small crew at Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia have always had a special place in my heart as they more than anyone else have always been cool, funky and built soul into their bikes and tandems. They were hipsters before there was any such thing as hipsters, sporting functional as well as ornamental facial hair, making music together after the put the torches down and building bikes the old school way in a small block building in the corner of a junk yard up against an active set of train tracks. What’s not to love about that?
I keep kicking myself for not snapping up a 650b tandem they built for a Vintage Bicycle Quarterly review by Jan Heine and took to the 2010 NAHBS show where it won Best Tandem. I feared that it was too big for us, but in fact, later learned that we may have been able to “make it fit”, albeit with the saddles buried in the seat tubes. You can read more about the bike in a December 2010 blog entry. There’s also a really nice article here that talks about the folks who were at Bilenky back in 2010 that ties in nicely with the 650B project.
Anyway, getting back to this year’s show, I finally got to shake hands and talk with both Steve Bilenky and his right hand Tom Faust at their always busy booth. Seriously, it was hard to find a time when they weren’t covered up with visitors chatting them up or looking closely at the various bikes they brought to the show, several of which were located in other displays around the NAHBS show floor.
Although it was mostly chit-chat about the tandem they brought back to this year’s show, getting passed over last year, his daughter Bina and their business in general, it was a pleasure to connect with Tom & Steve. Talk about nice guys who are all-in to their work.
The tandem they had on display was one of the two they brought last year. Of course, like anything Bilenky builds, there tends to be a backstory that sheds a lot of light and opens up your understanding of why a certain bike looks or is equipped in a certain way. The tandem pictured below was the 9th of 9 Bilenky bikes that Steve and his crew have made for a client couple in the Philly area. The client and their stoker are both accomplished cyclists and randonneurs who have completed the Paris-Brest-Paris, etc. What the clients wanted was a pleasure bike, along the lines of the classic 1950’s Schwinn Town & Country (see below), but with couplers so it could be downsized when needed.
Talk about a great modern interpretation on a classic and somewhat utilitarian design. Like several Schwinn tandems, including the handmade Paramounts, the Town & County used a curved rear seat tube to shorten the wheel base likely owning to conventional wisdom that a shorter wheelbase is somehow better. Hey, we ride a triplet… it corners like its on rails. Be that as it may, you have to appreciate how Bilenky picked up on the single, sexy curved seat post and applied that lovely bend to the top, internal and down tubes to give the bike an artistic flair that was missing from the original. The attention to detail is amazing in this build: custom guards for the sync & drive chains, retro stem-mounted single friction shift lever for the rear derailleur, faux lugs with gold pinstriping, color-matched mud & chain guards, color-matched front rack, and on and on.
In a word, fun! Sure, there are few things you could nit pick about, you could even be aghast that the bike was a little dirty from having been ridden. I like to think of that as a fine patina and evidence that this wasn’t a show bike, but someone’s pride and joy on loan to help out a friend headed to a show. Just amazing stuff.
And, I will say, I do find that I’ve become far more accepting and appreciative of mud guards and the ability to affix luggage to a tandem the less hard-core I become about cycling. Case in point, it was nice to be able to throw the Tubus rack on the Calfee and affix the Ortleib panniers today so that we could take extra clothing along with us on a ride with a mid-point stop. Of course, once the rack is on the bike the bike screams to have the mud guards put on so that it looks like a complete bicycle, not a racer’s bike…. as were certainly not racers. Yes, practicality is beginning to shift my sense of style in a big way! And, through it all, the folks at Bilenky have been there showing folks the way. Damn, I really wish I’d have snapped up that 650B!
Wow. That’s all I can say when I think back on our NAHBS experience. The sights and people who we were able to meet were well worth the $22/pp admission to ensure that the show continues to succeed. We even got to meet another friend from Hobbes who was just attending the show; Jay Hardcastle. That was really neat.
Here’s the deal, anyone who’s within spitting distance of the NAHBS and who really appreciates the hand-made bicycle movement will be in awe of what they see at the show. It’s one thing to see a great one-off custom bike now and again. At NAHBS, you actually get a point where you suddenly find yourself in pinch me mode; these are all one-off customs! No, not every one of the bikes will resonate with every bike they see. I certainly had my favorites and quite frankly, most of them were not tandems. Hey, I like tandems a lot and have spent a lot of time trying to get good information in the hands of consumers in the hope that more people will give tandems a shot and have a good first experience that keeps them in the niche. But, at the end of the day, I’m really a bike geek who likes just about anything with two wheels, even those fuel consuming, fire-breathing motorized two-wheel machines.
In closing, what NAHBS reminded me of is that what I’m really hooked on is talented people. Awesome bicycle frames and bicycle parts and accessories are all made possible by people with a passion for the sport who turned that passion into a business. If I won the lottery you can bet that I’d make sure a lot of these folks had a little more work on their hands, as they all have something exciting and amazing to offer.