We have had our Dawes Super Galaxy tandem for around 20 years, and it was second hand then. Of course in the intervening time, most of the components have had to be replaced due to wear or occasionally upgrades (see Trigger’s Broom, and Theseus’ Paradox). Indeed, as far as I can recall, the only original components that remain are the front seat pin, rear handlebar stem and the Arai drum brake. Also, two of the frame tubes were replaced after an incident when the front top tube had a bit of an accident involving a wooden gate post in Durness. The bike has served us well over the years – see the various accounts of cycle tours accessible via the menu above. For the past seven years it has been our main vehicle for commuting to work.
Recently, we’ve been getting a bit of an itch for a new tandem. Partly this has been caused by worry about the frame and problems I’ve had keeping everything working properly, and partly this is because I’ve finding the bike rather uncomfortable to ride for long periods. I guess this is down to two reasons – firstly this would be age-related, and secondly the frame is a little small for me (remember this was a second hand tandem), meaning my riding position is a little low.
We looked around at a variety of off the peg, semi-custom and custom build options, and rejected many as being unsuitable or too expensive. We also thought of making a change, and eventually decided to go for a Thorn tandem. This breaks with many years of bike purchases – not only will this bike have flat bars rather than drops, but it has a 14-speed Rohloff hub gear rather than derailleur gears, and 26″ wheels rather than 700c.
Frame: we went for a double marathon frame as something that ought to be robust enough for touring. We also went for the option to have S&S couplings, to allow the frame to be taken apart into two sections for transport inside the car (rather than on a roof rack). S&S couplings aren’t cheap, but we’d been thinking about them for some years, though retro-fitting them is a major issue.
Gearing: Thorn really push the Rohloff hubs. These are 14-speed behemoths, and not particularly cheap. This is a real departure for us, but after reading Thorn’s literature, we decided that there were several advantages over our current 3 x 9 derailleur setup, not least of which was easy access to evenly spread gear ratios (we rarely use the big ring at present anyway), and the ability to change gear when stationary. The hub offers a dishless wheel, with easily replaced spokes (no need to remove a cassette) if we were to suffer a broken spoke. It’s difficult to know how robust this rear wheel will be, but Thorn Cycles seem adamant that a 26″ wheel built on a 32 hole Rohloff hub will be fine for tandem touring.
Handlebars: I’ve been finding steering the current touring tandem with front and rear panniers leads to neck pain after a few hours, which is not great when on tour. I’ve plumped for a less aggressive position and flat handlebars. This is also partly because using the Rohloff gear shifter with drop bars seems to be a bit of a bodge. Anyway we’ll see how we get on with these.
26″ wheels: This will be my first bike with mountain bike sized wheels (mountain biking seems to me to be rather too muddy a prospect!). I’m hopeful that the smaller rim diameter will help with wheel strength and the rather fatter tyres will improve comfort for the stoker.
Braking: Unfortunately, Rohloff hubs are incompatible with Arai drag brakes. We have specced V-brakes front and rear, with a Hope disc brake at the rear. One problem we’ve had twice in recent years has been front tyre blowouts as a consequence of excessive braking down long and steep hills (and this with the Arai drum brake!). Maybe this also comes down to tyre choice, but anyway, the combination of brakes should be OK.
But what kind of technical problems have we suffered while touring? In a nutshell, only one was a tour-stopper when the 10mm allen key bolt that holds a Shimano freehub body to the hub shell fractured (see 2011 Tour). Punctures have been rare, though a front tyre blowout when descending Ben Lawers was a bit scary! We’ve had to remove broken chain links (possibly partly due to chain bending in a derailleur system), and bodge back together a broken freewheel which completely fell apart due to a broken pawl. Occasional broken spokes on the rear wheel are more of a nuisance. We’ve had unshipped chains due to gear change issues, and a problems in accessing bottom gears – when this happens, it’s invariably during very steep climbs. Hopefully the Rohloff should mean some of these are unlikely to occur with the new bike.
On the other hand, Rohloff hubs are new to me, and a worry must remain about what would one do with a malfunction while on tour (at least with a derailleur system one can usually bodge together a fix that leaves a few usable gears). Thorn again seem confident on the reliability of these devices. Another thing that Thorn assures one of in their brochure is that 32 spokes in a 26″ wheel, when built in an undished wheel are sufficient for a tandem. We’ll see, I guess. In their tandem brochure, Thorn do offer a 100 day guarantee:
Buy a Raven Twin, ride it for 100 days and, if not totally delighted, return it to us either in person or safely packaged in a Thorn bike box, we will refund you the purchase price of the bike including any or all items from the Raven Twin bike build menu. This offer does not include pedals or accessories. This offer applies to complete bikes and to EU customers only.
This seems a bit encouraging, though the brochure does read in a particularly didactic style. But actually, the arguments made do sound convincing to me.
So I placed an order a week ago: with delivery expected within 6 weeks of the order, we should take delivery well before the end of July.