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secondsummertours.com

Lessons from a tandem crash …

After a nasty downhill crash at the Davis Double Century many years ago …

After our tire blew off at the Davis Double, I headed back to my Burley office in Eugene, Oregon to start a somewhat long process of trying to determine what happened. Part of our research at the time (some 15 years ago) included checking in with the rim manufacturer (Sun). We did learn a couple of important lessons from that incident.

Interestingly enough, Lon Haldeman (who used the same rims at the time for various cycling endeavors) had found issues with a rim’s diameter at end of a run-life cycle (becoming ‘smaller’). I imagine in the past decade that quality control issues have improved but all of us have read plenty of wheel QC issues the past few years with various companies.

I’m pretty sure that in our case the downhill scenario (and brake-rim heat) contributed to the failure … good tandem disc brakes were just starting to hit the drawing board, and we were using standard side-pulls. But we did find that the ‘sloppy’ (loose) tire/rim fit was probably the biggest cause of the tire being able to blow off. Over the years, I found the same thing with my single bike – I had a couple of situations where the tire blew off the rim for no good reason (no pinched tube, defective tire, etc.), and could trace it to a bad tire/rim combo. I’ve never had an issue with a tight fitting tire/rim combo blowing off – remember that the next time you’re cussing while trying to get a tire onto the rim. I’m pretty picky about making sure that I haven’t pinched the tube when re-inserting – even double checking everything – but about once every 5 years I miss it, and sure enough … Boom! If you’re lucky, you’ll get a ‘thump-thump’ feel in the tire before it blows – giving you a precious few seconds to slow down and check it out.

Some of you may remember when Specialized promoted their easier-fitting tires about 10 or 15 years ago because so many cyclists were having problems with getting their tires on the rim. The product/program didn’t last very long.

The other thing we learned from the crash is that ‘coke can shims’ aren’t a good idea … especially on a tandem. Scott had wanted a different stoker stem installed the night before the ride, but all he had for spares required a coke can shim to secure (wrong diameter). When we were crashing, Scott was holding on tightly to the stoker cow-horn bars (as you might imagine), and the bars moved to the side so that Scott’s shoulder took the brunt of the pavement hit (not the handlebars).

By the way, Scott Marin (my tandem partner for the Davis D.C.) and I are still good friends, and wrote a funny piece about the crash in Bicycling Magazine (see our website article archive section). He rode our Maui Triple Challenge a few years back (and wrote about the challenge for Road Bike Rider).

2009 Vegas Interbike

“Hey Rob”, the voice behind me in the crowd was asking, “how are you doing”? As anyone that has worked a major trade show knows, this would be a greeting asked many, many times over the course of the event as once-a-year friends attempt to reconnect. Business on the run as all of us try our best to catch up on a year’s worth of history in a few minutes of face-to-face conversation.

After shaking hands, my friend warns me to wash my hands as he’s fighting a nasty cold. Thanks a lot. I make a mental note to keep my hands away from my face until I get a chance to use the hand sanitizer that’s now standard pocket gear – especially after the recent flu outbreaks. At least I got a warning this time.

Welcome to Las Vegas and Interbike – one of the world’s largest trade shows covering all things two wheels … and the wrong place to be if you’ve got worries about catching a cold. I’ve learned to tone down my Howard Hughes-Howie Mandel germ phobias for a few days as it’s difficult to cover a bike show this size without shaking hands and talking. A lot.

It’s not like I need any extra incentives to be my usual grumpy old man self. Vegas has a way of slapping you in the face if you’re not a smoker, heavy drinker, gambler, or think that exercise is getting up from the table for another round at the $9.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. The only gambling I do in Vegas is riding my bike on the car-choked strip.

A few weeks before the show began I started to contemplate the merits of a more sedentary Vegas lifestyle: after some 650,000 miles of cycling during the past 40 years with no major ills, my body’s version of a ‘check the engine’ red light came on in the form of a nagging pain in my right knee. Turns out I had a torn something or another (does it really matter?) that would require simple arthroscopic surgery. I delayed surgery until I would return back from Vegas – just so I could make my annual journey to Sin City to keep all of you informed of the latest industry happenings (well, o.k., that’s not the full story but as we all know, whatever happens in Vegas ….).

While some of the big names in the cycling industry, like Trek, have attempted a bit of a pre-emptive strike with their own 2010 product roll-out months earlier at invitation-only open houses – hoping to give their key dealers a reason not to go to Vegas (and check out the competition of a thousand-plus product brands). Still, over 20,000 industry personnel were in attendance (close to last year’s numbers), representing 4,000 IBD’s.

Another several thousand will weasel their way through the doors of the show even though security is tight to keep out the non-industry riff-raff; including a motley crew of bike-shop rug-rats looking for schwag and other deals, consumers that had leaned on their favorite shop for a pass (“I’m one of your best customers, pleeeeeeeeeeease”), and, of course, the omnipresent hordes of free-loading media types like myself. The Interbike show folks have kicked around the idea for years of opening the show for a day or two to consumers but one figures that isn’t going to happen in the near future if the vendors have any say in the matter.

After two days of outdoor “demo” fun Monday and Tuesday in the hot and windy desert – miles removed from the glamour of the strip – the real industry wheeling and dealing (no pun intended) began in earnest on Wednesday as the Sands Convention Center opened its doors in the heart of the strip.

My show game-plan was to focus mostly on the vendors that are of interest to the tandem crowd but the true bike geek in me couldn’t prevent wanting to check out the whole show – bad knee or not. Well, most of the show that is; there are a few aisles I don’t venture down for good reasons.

I don’t have any body piercing, tattoos, or a punk haircut (I’m lucky to hold on to what hair I have left). I’m not hip. So the BMX zone, popular with the industry’s ‘alternative’ crowd, is quickly crossed off my list of must-visit sections. Next on my ‘no-fly’ zone is the Taiwan pavilion, mostly because the area is always covered in a thick haze of tobacco smoke. Maybe the no smoking rules were lost in translation somewhere while crossing the Pacific Ocean. If I wanted to get lung cancer from second hand smoke I could just hang out in the Vegas casinos for three nights.

I was surprised to find that many of the usual tandem suspects were missing in action at this year’s show: Calfee (no bamboo tandems to check out like last year), Ventana, Seven; and a tandem no-show in the booths of Cannondale and KHS. It appeared that the Co-Motion booth was a bit smaller this year (Dwan correctly noted that the “Interbike show attendance has been decreasing in recent years, (and) we decided to try a smaller booth – Interbike has never offered to adjust their cost per customer!”); while Santana and DaVinci booths maintained their same floor presence as last year.

Since there weren’t any ‘wow’, must-have products to check out – unlike last year’s electronic shifting by Shimano – and the tandem category in particular was underwhelming in any new huge developments for 2010, I’ve included some of the more interesting mainstream stuff in this coverage. While some of these products aren’t tandem-specific, they still might enhance your two-wheel outings … tandem or otherwise.

Having missed breakfast when the show doors opened up Wednesday, I take a page from my fellow media compatriots who know how to stretch a limited meal budget like no other seasoned road warrior can …
and head straight for the free samples of energy bars, gels, and sports drinks offered up by scores of vendors. It’s all here for the tasting: soy, organic, diabetic, all-carb, no carb, drinks for pre-ride, energy mixtures for on-the-bike, post-ride recovery drinks, bars for women, “natural” concoctions, soft, chewy, hard, energy gummy ‘bears’, sports jelly beans …

For years, my traditional first visit of the show has been Co-Motion; this year would be no different, other than a slight detour for the energy bar research. I finished up a handful of Clif Shot Roks, a new protein food that, with a crunchy outer and soft chewy center, was sort’a like a healthy version of M&M’s (offered in peanut butter, chocolate, and chocolate chip cookie dough flavors); just in time to meet the man behind Co-Motion.

“We fill niches missed by the big brands,” Co-Motion chief Dwan Shepard explained as I rinsed down breakfast with a packet of Gu. It’s a mission statement of sorts that Dwan will explain more than once or twice during the show. None-the-less, it about sums up the business plan of this Eugene biz noted primarily for their high-performance, American-made tandems. You won’t find a lot of showbiz marketing hype here … not with Dwan’s down-to-earth personality No exotic frame materials like bamboo in their booth.

That’s not to say that Dwan hasn’t been willing to gamble with some novel and innovative product spec: last year it was the Gates Carbon Drive ‘chain’, and this year many were drawn to Topolino’s tandem wheels that were displayed on their high-end Macchiato model. I was a little surprised to see Topolino wheels (optional $500 upgrade from the stock Rolf wheels offered) because they offer a bit more high-zoot flash than the usual understated elegance and style of their tandem line. Tandems are notorious for being rough on equipment, so these hoops – like any boutique wheelset – aren’t going to be the first choice for everyday needs for many of us.

For 2010, the Mocha, Speedster and Roadster tandems will come standard with dual Avid BB7 Mechanical disc brakes.
The popular PeriScope tandem series (great option for families, hard-to-fit, and rental shops) features changes for the “Scout” (dual discs with a $3025 price tag) and “Hammerhead” (Dwan describes it as the “poor man’s Macchiato, at $1,900 less”).

Co-Motion probably has a broader range of color choices than just about any bike company, and the range has been revamped for 2010, replacing 12 of the 30 “standard” colors. Tandems also featured a pretty cool, optional, nickel-plated headbadge that comes at a $20 up-charge cost.

Since a particular passion of mine – when I’m not riding tandems – is adventure travel, I can’t pass on mentioning Co-Motion’s newest hard-core riding option for singles: the Americano Rohloff, featuring a 14-speed hub from Germany’s industry icon. (Disclosure: I own a Co-Motion S&S Nor’Wester). With Reynold’s large-diameter 725 tubes (fitted for racks/fenders), you’re going to have a difficult time wearing this bike out in your travels. A twist grip and internal hub keep the maintenance and learning curve reasonable, especially for new(er) riders to the sport. The Co-Motion website was updated after the show so you can now check out the many unique design features of this bike; and Dwan explained to me post-show that this bike was “designed from the ground up for the Rohloff hub”. Drop bar is optional and the bike will set you back close to $5K. I was a bit confused (nothing new for me) by a Gates belt version of the Americano Rohloff at the Gates booth but Dwan clarified the situation, saying that “the Gates Belt is going to be an option some day (for this bike), but until Gates and Rohloff work out the details, we can’t offer the system yet, so we still have no pricing or ETA”.

The folks at da Vinci, famous for their independent drive technology – invented and designed by industry wizard Todd Shusterman – had a big development for their biz moving into 2010. Todd told me that they are now producing in-house carbon fiber frames (they’ll also continue to work with Calfee on their ‘original’ carbon fiber tandem). The chainstays and bottom tube (keel tube) are 7005 aluminum (or they can use steel or titanium). Todd says that this will allow ‘em to put the disc tab on the chainstay where “we have always liked to put it for better rack clearance and it is a more robust location for less disc brake squeal/chatter”. Da Vinci, always big on clearance for larger tires, says their carbon fiber frame will maintain this philosophy.

Being a smaller builder allows for a more personal interaction when making a substantial purchase like a tandem … and, as Todd notes, gives them “ability to delivery a steel or aluminum bike in about 2-4 weeks; and a carbon fiber frame in about 6-8 weeks”.

When Easton quit making tandem tubes it shut down da Vinci’s aluminum frame production for a couple years; it also forced ‘em to do “what we have always wanted and that is to design our own 7005 aluminum tubes like we have with the steel frames. The Easton top tube has always been too easily dented and now that our lat-less frame design has been proven, we designed a set of tubes around the open frame”. This allowed da Vinci to increase the wall thickness and dent resistance without a weight penalty. Custom aluminum frames can also be built/delivered faster than in the past now that they can post-weld age (heat treat) the frames in-house. Todd says that they “built a ‘CNC’ oven to cure the carbon fiber frames, age the aluminum and even oven cure painted frames”.

They also increased their already wide crank length options; making cranks in the following lengths 180, 175, 172.5, 170, 167.5, 165, 160, 150, and a three hole 130-150-170mm. According to Todd, “crank length is still the best way to get two riders with varying cadence to work together comfortably and efficiently”.

Other goodies include a new jersey, padded crank bags for travel and a padded drivetrain cover. They are expanding the options of their modified Sram X.9 rear derailleur. They have been modifying the derailleur to shift a Shimano 9sp cassette with a Campy 10 speed Ergo shifter. Da Vinci is adding a Shimano 10 speed STI shifter to Shimano 9 speed cassette option and working on Campy 10 to Shimano 10 speed derailleur as well as a Campy 11 to Shimano 9 and a Campy 11 to Shimano 10s cassette. Todd feels that “derailleurs for the Shimano 10 speed cassettes will be more useful as wide range 10 speed cassettes become more common”.

I can always count on Bill McCready, an icon in the tandem community for his 30 years of popularizing tandems while running Santana and Bud’s Bike Shop, to have something of interest to display each year at Vegas. This year was no different. Here was my same-day coverage posted to the Tandem @ Hobbes tandem forum during the show:

Santana was showing a tandem with Shimano’s electronic shifting. HOWEVER, this set-up wasn’t approved by the Big S; and actually sent the folks at Shimano into a bit of a tizzy over the display. Bill (and one of their engineers) told me that they had tested the shifting and set-up, and had no issues with the performance. The tandem Bill showed wasn’t using a Dura-Ace chain or cog set (probably another concern for Shimano’s boys in blue); but I was told it shifts as well as the electronic stuff does on a single. Interestingly enough, Shimano announced at their tech seminar today that they were now going to be looking at electronic shifting for tandems (officially) in the near future … and this ‘project’ was high on their 2010-2011 short list. Shimano, understandably, is pretty picky about how their components perform under any given application.

Santana had done what many in the tandem crowd had wondered about (and a few had achieved on their own with home-brewed Di2 tandem set-ups). Bill correctly notes that “thanks to the computerized auto trim, stokers will no longer be subjected to the noise of a rubbing front derailleur—or the need to report this aggravating problem to their captain”. The other obvious advantage comes from “using electronic impulses instead of cables … shifts are uniformly fast and accurate”.

At Interbike, Santana introduced three upgraded frames that combine carbon seatstays with Exogrid down- and bottom-tubes. Bill told me that “although ‘lighter’, ‘stiffer’ and ‘faster’ are over-used clichés, a tandem frame built with Exogrid tubing lives up to the hype”; with a “magical ability to cancel fatigue-inducing vibration and buzz”.

The Team Niobium ExoGrid uses what Bill terms an “ultra-resilient steel alloy” with a “resulting frame (that) mimics the sweet feel of titanium, and is lighter than most frames built from aluminum”. The Team Scandium ExoGrid uses Easton’s proprietary super-aluminum—and has a “lighter frame than most titanium tandems”. Team Titanium ExoGrid is “ultra durable, and has a lighter frame than most carbon tandems”. S&S couplers are an option on all three new models.

Bill was also touting Rolf Prima’s new 20/20 tandem wheels that are spec for 2010, saying “each pair of wheels includes a hidden spare rear rim that is built into the front wheel. After you borrow or buy a standard 100-spaced front wheel (say, in an emergency situation while on tour), any shop can have you back on the road within two hours by using the front rim to make your 20-spoke rear wheel as good as new”. As I noted with Co-Motion, there is a trade-off with durability/strength with any boutique wheelset versus a standard spoked wheelset (break a spoke on a high-tension, low count wheelset and you’re going to have a very wobbly wheel to get home on). My regular tandem partner, Pete Penseyres, and I will use standard spoked wheels for everyday training/riding since you can break a spoke on a conventional “high count” wheelset and still complete the ride with a stable wheel. O.K., I’ll get off the soapbox now.

Admit it. There are times when you come across a product that has so much style, quality workmanship, and unique features that you just have to go out and buy it – even if you already own something that pretty much does the same task. Think iPhone or iPod.
After stumbling across the Lezyne booth at Vegas, I have another name to add to my (bike) lust list. Who would have figured that bike tools and accessories could be machined into works of functional jewelry?

One man that did have that vision, after having some time on his hands when he sold his component biz Truvativ, was Micki Kozuscheck; building a major line of ‘engineered design’ bike accessories over the past three years in San Luis Obispo, California. They offer a full line of innovative pumps (from mini to floor), multi-tools, bottle cages, cycling ‘wallets’, and other cycling eye candy. This isn’t the kind of stuff you’re going to hang on a Walmart bike.

I had an opportunity to test-drive a couple of their on-the-bike pumps: the Micro Floor Drive HPG (190gr) and the Carbon Road Drive (small=76gr); as well as a couple of their cycling pouches/wallets. The “Floor” model claims to bring floor pump power “to an on-the-bike package” while the “Road Drive” uses a cool ‘hidden’ hose inside the pump barrel that is removed and attached to one end of the pump to work. I almost couldn’t wait for an on-road opportunity to put ‘em to use. Really ….

It won’t be a challenge to get your tires to full pressure with the Lezyne pumps – unlike a lot of mini-pumps that are lucky to last a season or give your arms a serious workout when you least need it: repairing a flat tire in the middle of your favorite century ride. A nice bonus is the style points you’ll get from your riding partners when they see the gear in action.
Lezyne has even been able to make multi-tools and something as basic as tire irons sexy with their ‘next level’ machined-polish finish. The ultra compact SV-10 multi-tool is a good example of the company’s attention to design and function; the lightweight package (101gr) starts with CNC machined 7075 aluminum side plates and a center pivot that assures smooth action.
Maybe the folks at Lezyne took a page from Campagnolo’s business model. Many years ago I heard a tale of how Tullio Campagnolo, founder of ‘Campy’, answered a question from a reporter touring the Italian factory. The reporter asked several questions about their stylish road gruppo but wondered why they polished the inside of their wheel hubs – especially since no one was ever going to see this meticulous attention to detail. “But God will see” came the famous reply.
While Shimano’s electronic shifting was the big hit of the show last year, it was also one of the more expensive upgrades as well. (Probably the reason for the long lines at the Shimano booth this year as they were offering some sweet industry courtesy pricing deals on the grouppo and other components). Though maybe not on the same game-changing level of Shimano’s gruppo, the MetriGear Vector Power Meter, introduced at Vegas this year was, none-the-less, an intriguing alternative to current power meter offerings. Some of my industry peers went as far as to tag their booth a top-ten ‘must-see’.

In the past 5 years, power meters have become one of the hottest training accessories for the high-performance crowd. While the $1,000 MSRP isn’t particularly ground-breaking news as far as a price point is concerned, the design was. The coolest aspect of MetriGear’s version to measuring watts is having the whole package squeezed into the hollow axle of a Speedplay pedal. Being built into a pedal is probably one of the bigger selling points: easy transferability. The price tag even includes the nice bonus of a pair of Speedplay pedals. Those of us that have used Shimano and Campagnolo pedals exclusively over the years are out of luck – for now, at least. Bummer.

The complicated hardware needed to make all this work fits compactly in the hollow axle, weighs less than 50 grams, and has outstanding accuracy to match the conventional systems now on the market. A tiny rechargeable external battery transmits data to a head unit (the price doesn’t include software or the head mount display but does use wireless ANT protocol so those that have the Garmin 705, PowerTap, etc. won’t have to buy any extra accessories). There are some interesting tandem possibilities for the techie addicts that haven’t been able to get their watts fix when riding paired … maybe we can get Bill McCready to put something together to show on a tandem for next year?

Fellow journalist Ed Pavelka (Road Bike Rider) gave me a lead for my final day’s breakfast: the Chocolate #9 energy gel. Price, packaging, and taste of this gel is about on par with the other gels on the market but it has one outstanding feature that will appeal to diabetic cyclists: the ingredients (coca and organic agave – a sweetener) give it a glycemic index that won’t impair athletic performance. I liked the taste, and it seemed like this product might be a good alternative when you want to have a more uniform hit of energy from your gel.

For those tandem riders that have wondered whether their stoker is really pedaling, Pedeco Electric had an, umm, interesting solution: an electric powered tandem. This is the first time I’ve come across an electric tandem at the show – but that’s not to say the idea hasn’t been floated once or twice before. Look to pay in the low to mid-$2K range for the right to say I know my stoker isn’t pedaling but I don’t care.

Charlie Buchalter, the engineer behind Atoc Inc (the umbrella for Topper Racks and Draft Master), has been a friend of the tandem community for years with his innovative carrier systems for large and cumbersome bikes – especially tandems and recumbents. Tandem rack carriers aren’t particularly ‘sexy’ purchase items for most of us but you really need to take a look at Charlie’s 2010 line-up when it comes time to make a purchase for transporting your tandem(s) safely and easily.

Like most of the media attending Interbike, I was inundated with pre-show e-mails from marketing types hyping 2010 introductions with fancy press releases … and obligatory ‘bribes’ of free beverages (the kind from a keg) and food at the booth as an encouragement to stop by. Like that kind of incentive would succeed in swaying editorial content by hard-working, ethical media types.

As I was finishing up my complimentary beer and pizza on the second day of the show, the Camelbak folks were happy to show me their new innovations in drinking bottles. If you don’t mind spending $10 to $20 to keep your next water bottle chilled during a hot ride – and you do want to keep your tandem partner happy, don’t you? – check out the new generations of the Podium and Chill Jacket models. As part of my investigative work, I did find that the bottles do a great job of keeping beer cold while schmoozing after hours in the aisles of the show.

Another approach to maintaining proper hydration on your next tandem (or single) ride might be the SipStream Hydration system. The aerodynamic and lightweight configuration uses the bike (versus the rider’s back) as the carrier/storage mechanism. The system, which consists of a specially designed water bottle and bottle cage, allows a hands-free drinking experience and will set you back close to $80.

Detours isn’t a ‘tandem’ biz per se but a lot of their ideas for bike gear is based on the tandem adventures of the owner Sam Guntram and his wife. How could you not buy from a biz that uses brochure shots that feature the owner and wife prominently on tandem rides in the scenic Northwest?

Guntram comes across as the kind of person that would be fun to have along on a bicycle tour; easy-going and passionate about all things to do with cycling, including the workmanship of his bags. Several Detour products really lend themselves to tandem applications, and, in fact, were designed after some of the tandem trips that Guntram and his wife took; including top tube bags like the Goodie Bag line ($25 or $30 depending on model). They also bring a touch of color and style to their product line that your more sensitive partner on the tandem will appreciate, including the Digi and Mighty Midge. The smaller bags (great for a camera, phone, etc.) seem very well-suited to adapt to the many attachment locations found on tandems. Guntram correctly notes that most guys don’t care all that much about the look of the pack they stuff under their seat but that women in particular seem to appreciate color and style in their riding accessories (sound familiar with any of the tandem crowd?).

We first met the Buddy Bike biz at last year’s show, with a product that can be truly life-changing to those families with special needs children. We all know the benefits of exercising with one’s spouse or kids … but what can families with special needs children do to include their kids on outings? The Buddy Bike is one of those cycling products you really want to see succeed in the marketplace.

Their “alternative tandem bicycle” has a MSRP of $1,480 and allows the kids to be in front of you instead of behind – reminds me a little of some of the turn-of-the-century tandem designs. Their tandems are far safer than tag-alongs or child seats for those that need a bit more control and help with their special needs kids. The design of the tandem, especially the handlebar set-up, gives the feeling of empowerment and control to kids while the ‘stoker’ manages the ride. The total weight that the tandem will support is 380 lbs and front riders must have an inseam of 24” to pedal. There are optional foot pegs that will give smaller kids a place to rest their feet if they can’t pedal.

For most tandem teams that want a pair of fast, light and durable wheels for the their ‘go-fast’ tandem adventures, Rolf Prima wheels have been one of the more popular go-to brands to select from. Updated for 2010, the tandem wheel models now come standard with rear disc compatibility and a full disc set is also available; as well as ISO 6-bolt rear disc standard. The front wheel is available with rim brake or ISO 6-bolt disc. Heavier teams (you know who you are!) – or those that are hard on their equipment in competitive environments like the Co-Motion tandem stage race – will appreciate the steel freehub body and steel QR. Standard tandem weight configurations are: 1885 gm / 1970-gm disc with 20 spoke front / 24 rear. (Santana was promoting their Rolf 20/20 wheel set at the show, with a wider spacing configuration unique to their tandem design).

The Gates Carbon Drive system continues to make inroads into mainstream cycling applications – including many single speed bikes displayed at the show by major companies. The system is slowly winning converts in applications where the ‘chain’ doesn’t need to be ‘shifted’.

One of the more fun aspects of Interbike is the after-hours socializing at industry events, and catching up with friends for more than the few minutes afforded on the congested aisles of the show floor. Events like the world-class cross-country race on Wednesday (no Armstrong this year but still huge crowds) and the criterium in the Mandalay Bay parking lot Thursday night offered many opportunities for industry people-watching fun. The after-hour gatherings gave me a chance to finish up my informal, unscientific poll on crowd favorites seen at this year’s show, and a couple products that made all of us shake our heads and ask ‘why’:

Many of my peers were impressed by the works of art disguised as bikes; which probably dates me a bit as most of the younger crowd seems more interested in go-fast, high-tech wow factor, and gram weight than artistic craftsmanship. Bell (Giro) always has an interesting helmet or two to display in their booth – usually it’s the helmet worn by the most recent tour winner. This year, Bell combined the techno-new and the old-school classic, with a one-off faux leather helmet … at least I got the impression it was a one-of-a-kind deal not for retail.

The Shimano tech clinics, in particular, were very popular with the bike shop wrenches – little wonder with new technology like electronic shifting and internal hubs requiring mechanical skills that rival what used to be the sole domain of auto repair shops. Various travel bikes by Dahon, Ritchey, and S&S coupled-designs were big hits; no doubt helped by airline luggage fees that are approaching $100 each way when traveling with a conventional bike in a standard box.

In the no-man’s land, between good ideas and bad, was the just plain weird category. Winners this year included the Dahon folding helmet and Clif Shot Roks (a friend disagreed with my opinion that they were like M&M’s; saying, rather, the protein balls that won’t melt or freeze were chewy like gum).

Making the bottom of the whacky list, products that many of us just didn’t ‘get’ – included the inflatable ‘v’ shaped bicycle seat, a bulky/heavy LED sign you wear that blinks “SEE ME” and wholesales for $119, and Topeak’s folding bike that had all the disadvantages of a little wheeled bike without being able to fold up to a reasonably small size. These products tried to improve on what’s already available in the marketplace and, frankly, just didn’t get it right in our opinion.

Leaving Vegas on Saturday it was easy to appreciate the extreme contrast of the stark, desolate desert with the never-sleep, maniac pace of the adult Disneyland that was now quickly fading in my rearview mirror … my profound philosophical insight occasionally interrupted as I checked the horizon for CHP black ‘n whites looking for an easy speeding ticket. Yep, holding a bike show in Vegas is a bit strange but … my thought interrupted by a sneeze. Damn, I think I’m catching a cold.

Ride safe out there … from T@H tread (Texas Tandem couple killed by driver)

(T@H thread regarding the Texas couple killed by driver / hit from behind on road shoulder)

After the recent thread on the couple that was killed in Texas while cycling, and all the follow-up discussion, I decided to put a few thoughts down on paper. And I hope that this doesn’t appear to be someone climbing on a soapbox since most of you are pretty savvy types when it comes to being safe on the road.

Pete Penseyres and I (tandem content!) have discussed many times the following philosophy while out on the road (usually right after a car nearly cuts us off!). It doesn’t matter when you’re riding if you have the right away if you also don’t use a heavy dose of common sense to go along with your ‘rights’. I’ve read way too many accounts where a motorist will get a slap on wrist for hitting a cyclist, even if the driver is guilty of some sort of traffic infraction; or a drunk driver will kill or hit someone numerous times and keep driving.

The only people that are going to benefit if you are hit and killed by a motorist are your heirs – and only if the driver was insured or has money. And as much as I love my family and friends, I don’t want to give them an early inheritance at my expense. I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life not being able to enjoy the outdoors or riding.

I’m a cycling advocate, and, basically, a grumpy old man that can be as stubborn as anyone when it comes to demanding my share of the road when riding. But I also don’t want to be taken down by a case of road rage that’s going to put me in the hospital – no matter what the ‘payday’ might be!

I have been known to follow a car into a parking lot after they nearly killed me, and let them know they’re a bit of a bonehead for not paying attention (like driving while texting or on the phone); but I balance this with the environment I’m in for a given situation, and whether there is the potential for a dangerous escalation (or the driver is a gang member with a hidden gun, eh?!).

There are riding situations where I know I have the right away but in some of these situations I’ll take ‘plan B’ since I know the potential for an inattentive driver to hit me is just too high – I’m sure many of you have similar scenarios where it’s smarter not to put yourself in the middle of a dangerous situation even if you have the right away. The driver might be truly sorry that they hit you – or that you had the right away – but that’s not good enough for me.

I think many of the cycling organizations refer to this as defensive riding. Of course, when someone hits you from the rear while riding on the right hand shoulder – like in Texas – there isn’t much you can do.

O.K., I’ll get off the soapbox now …

RANS F5 Pro recumbent review for RTR Magazine

The beginnings to this particular recumbent review was a long – if a bit circuitous – journey that began with a much different form of transportation; one far removed from my passion all things two wheels. Ironically, I didn’t know much about bicycles or recumbents when my dad introduced me to the RANS name through his own particular love of flying many, many years ago.

But you didn’t come here to read about that other face of RANS that includes a full line of aviation products … probably a good thing since their recumbents won’t set you back six figures like the outlay needed to go airborne with one of their winged wonders.

RANS got their start in the recumbent genre in 1974 with a pedal-and-sail-powered three wheel recumbent (and having ridden through blustery Kansas weather many times in RAAM, I can attest to the advantages of having of a bicycle with a sail option!).

Their recumbent offerings have expanded dramatically in the ensuing years – with over-seat-steering (OSS) being the cornerstone of their short and long-wheel base (SWB/LWB) models. They’ve also developed a reputation for innovative – and comfortable – seat designs that have won over a huge following; impressive considering how outspoken recumbent riders are when it comes to the ‘best’ or most ‘comfortable’ seat.

Team RANS, the four-person recumbent bicycle team in this summer’s endurance cycling event Race Across America (RAAM), put these three decades of R&D efforts to the test – riding over 3000 miles in 6 days, 3 hours and 40 minutes, placing first among the four person teams. The team averaged nearly 21 miles per hour, with the next four-person team, riding upright bicycles, arriving about 7 hours later. Having suffered severe neck pains during my own RAAM solo adventures some 20 years ago (on a conventional time-trial bike); I can attest to the “neck” advantages of a recumbent design in long-distance events like RAAM!

As I’ve noted with previous reviews for RTR, I’m not your traditional recumbent ‘expert’ but I do feel like I have a lot of experience with cycling products in general; and was involved for a good many years with recumbents at Burley Design Cooperative. This was, of course, before they dropped the ‘cooperative’ part of their name and became a corporate entity that dropped all product lines except for the bread-and-butter trailer products. (Editor’s note: Rob has been involved in the cycling industry for over 30 years, including a stint with Burley Design Cooperative and Shimano; and a four time participant of RAAM – finishing second to Austrian Franz Spilleaur in his last race. He now is the owner/operator of Second Summer Tours, a bicycle touring business to exotic destinations).

I’ve also called upon the expertise of several recumbent specialty dealers to get their guidance and perspective on this review, figuring that a single person reviewing a product is generally somewhat limited in giving a full perspective of the pros and cons of a given model.

At last year’s Las Vegas Interbike show (you can see a RTR blog of this coverage at www.secondsummertours.com), I had an opportunity to check out the RANS booth and their outstanding ’09 lineup. While my mission at that particular show was tandems – not recumbents – I had my eye on a few of their top end recumbent ‘racers’. So you can imagine my surprise, and delight, when the ‘keys’ to a new RANS machine were handed to me by RTR editor Chuck Coyne. “Just put together a review of the loaner”, Chuck told me. Such a deal …

Some of you are probably already familiar with the F5 moniker, the popular Rans 650 wheel racer. The F5 and F5 Pro are nearly the exact same frame; with the Pro being set up with 700 wheels. Rick Steele of Gold Country Tandems told me that the “rest of the world will eventually follow Randy’s lead on the use of 700c wheels since 650c sources are drying up. So much more wheel and tire choices with 700c obviously”. Rick knows the fame of the RANS name, and added, “I have been selling Rans in NorCal probably longer than anyone”.

Another long-time fan of RANS, Kirk Newell of Kirk’s Bike Shop here in southern California, commented that “like other Rans models, it (F5 Pro) represents a solid value with good quality at an affordable price”. He did include one disclaimer that I would eventually have to concur with, “high racers are certainly not for everyone …”.

Most high racer fans will appreciate the oversized joint, constant chord rear stays, integrated idler mount, and tight boom length of this model. While all my personal bikes sport carbon fiber cores, there are still plenty of those that find ‘steel is real’ for their two wheel enjoyment. Of course, exotic materials come with a hefty price tag these days, so maybe financial and comfort issues still make this a good material of choice for the racing recumbent crowd.

The F5 Pro does come with a substantial increase in price over its 650 brother, with much of this difference coming from a more sophisticated component package – including a pair of really nice American Classic 350 Sprint wheels, Ultegra crank, and 105 road brakes.

If you have previous experience with 650c wheels, the 700c wheels are probably the first thing you’ll take note of with the ride of this recumbent. I like (prefer actually) the ride characteristics of a 700c wheel setup, and don’t have issues – like some – with getting the wheels up to speed (and I have spent a fair amount of time with 650c wheels to appreciate the differences and advantages between the two sizes). Most folks agreed with my initial observations that the braking does seem to improve with 700 wheels; as well as providing a less-harsh ride.

Most importantly, as Rick noted above, the selection of tires and tubes just can’t be beat – and having been stuck once or twice with my Bike Friday’s unique 20” tire/tube configuration, I know the hassles of tracking down replacements while away from the home shop. While it wasn’t an issue for me, some of you will find seat height isn’t going to work for you with the larger wheel configuration.

After getting comfortable with the wheels, my attention turned to the Hoagie seat – standard for either the 650 or 700c models. It’s a very comfortable, lightweight steel design which attaches with their new V-clamp system. I found the setup to be, as the company describes it, to be “tight in all the right places”. And having experienced firsthand the issue of problem seat clamps with our Burley bikes years ago, I can fully appreciate the seat-clamping performance of the ’09 Rans line.

The official company line on the design features of the F5 Pro follows this take: “The lightweight steel framed seat attaches to the bike with our new V-clamp system. The system features a highly criticized (by the competition, go figure!) quick release pins. The system is tight in all the right places. Look a little closer (and) you will see the system is precisely made to avoid such play. The fit of the attach angles is within a couple thousandths. Clamping performance has been trouble free. This is due to having two top crossing bolts, to maximize the clamping pressure for the given area. I am glad to see the B-Boys have adopted the same idea on their seat clamp. The convenience (of) keeping your seat location is well worth an extra bolt”. A really nice feature, I quickly found, is being able to remove the seat in seconds.

When I asked RANS rep, Carl Boldra, his perspective on the bike,
he stated, “What isn’t to like (with the F5 Pro)? Let’s start with the paint scheme … two tone which is a first (for us)”. And let’s face it, many of us want our bicycle to have a bit of wow factor and style. You’ll get that and more with the F5 Pro – it looks sharp and ‘racy’.

And like Carl, I also found the overall smooth lines – and 4130 chromemoly frame – contributed to a ride that “soaks up rough roads” but is still “nimble and response” when turning. Carl claims “either bike (650c or 700c) is a piece of highracer heaven”. Well, o.k., I did ask him for his opinion…

The stable and predictable handling is due, no doubt, to oversize bearings and the double idler that contributes to less drag. The component group, combined with a carbon fork (reverse brake adapter for better brake choice/handling) and Hoagie seat, has Carl claiming that “100 miles (will) seem like a scenic drive”

While I did find the machine well-suited for longer excursions, I have yet to find any bike that makes a fast 100 mile century a scenic drive!

So how does it ride? And how do my impressions relate to your own level of cycling interests?

This is a machine for what I would term ‘serious’ or ‘sport’ riders – those folks that want to go fast (or at least quicker than most ‘comfort’ recumbents designed for easy recreational/cruising applications). The ride is stable and smooth – I didn’t find any noticeable twitchiness to the handling of the bike on my faster group efforts; and once I got the F5 Pro up to speed, found it to roll along at a nice clip. I found getting the bike ‘dialed in’ (a term I learned years ago from cycling icon John Howard) to be easy and straightforward – a bit of a first for me with the recumbent genre!

I was pleasantly surprised with the total weight of this machine (especially for being steel); I think this contributed to that ‘fast’ feel I enjoyed when on the F5 Pro. I’m more used to heavier recumbents that are a real drag (no pun intended) to get up hills. No problem(s) here with the F5 Pro. Just picking up the F5 Pro to load in the car told me that this wasn’t going to my usual recumbent ride!

The F5 Pro is a fun bike to ride because, for me, it’s a recumbent that rides like my other ‘race’ (traditional) road bikes – it’s a complete, high-performance package that I can look forward to getting on for a day of fast pedaling. I realize that ‘fun’ isn’t a real technical term but most of us got into cycling because that’s what we were looking for in exercise/ride options.

I didn’t have any issues with the F5 Pro component package – not a surprise here as most parts here have been upgraded from the typical lower end stuff that hangs on most recumbents (causing poor shifting performance, among other negatives). I’m used to Dura-Ace stuff on my conventional bikes but, as was the case here, have found the less-expensive Shimano grouppos like Ulegra to be a great option in keeping overall costs reasonable while maintaining the ride qualities any serious biker is looking for.

As mentioned earlier, I like the ride of 700c wheels but your mileage – er, ride – might differ. And the sizing might be an issue for some of you. Which leads to one of the biggest complaints I hear from many riders wanting to see if a particular recumbent works for ‘em. Finding an IBD locally that specializes in recumbents can be a HUGE challenge for riders wanting to do a test ride. And this is one bike that you’ll want to ride beforehand to make sure you can get your own dialed-in fit.

One of the first things I learned from many years of selling and working with Burley’s recumbents, is that this is truly a niche market. Just as interesting to me during those Burley years, were the numbers of riders that always wanted to make just ‘one’ more change to any particular model we offered to make it ‘just right’. Many traditional IBD’s that we sold our product to related their frustrations with selling recumbents because of the high level of service required to get a bike out the door. O.k., I’ll get off the soapbox now.

But if you’re interested in a high racer, find yourself a dealer willing to stock a good selection of recumbents, and take a test ride of this sporty machine. I think you’ll come to same conclusion that I did that the F5 Pro is a lightweight package that delivers superb style while giving you the tools to go as fast as you want at your next event or group ride.

Actually, the more I think about it, airplanes and bicycles aren’t all that dissimilar … something that a couple of brothers with a bike biz in Kitty Hawk could attest to.

Just the facts: MSRP is $3,500, with a really cool silver/charcoal paint scheme. RANS lists the bike weight at 24.5 lbs but my machine weighed closer to 26 pounds (with the usual accessory ‘junk’ like a Garmin computer, etc.). Rider weight limit is 260 lbs. (whew … I won’t have to diet to ride this bike!).

Editor’s note: Rob encourages all of you to come out for his next Second Summer Tours trip with your new RANS machine, and let him know what you think about the ride (just don’t tell him that you have a suggestion for one small change to the bike to make it just right).

Our first monthly newsletter ….

Check out our first e-mail newsletter … each month we’ll offer an interesting article or two, as well as information about our upcoming tours and events. Sign-up for your own free subscription …

June issue of Second Summer Tours newsletter (Moab White Rim tandem adventure)

June issue of Second Summer Tours newsletter (Moab White Rim issue)

Leaving Vegas … Interbike 2008 coverage

  Interbike 2008

Every few years, the cycling industry heavy-hitters  debate moving  the annual Interbike show away from the Vegas strip.   The landmark Sands Convention Center  has hosted the two-wheel crowd for close to a decade but that hasn’t stopped talk of moving the show back to its former address, the Anaheim Convention Center – with the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ across the street being a big draw for some (aka, Disneyland for those of you without kids).     

When it comes to hype and marketing, both locations offer plenty of opportunities for those hawking the latest and greatest must-have products: showmanship is king in Vegas, and Anaheim/Disneyland has Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.   This year, showmanship won out with many of the Vegas Interbike vendors – as usual – doing their best to put a positive spin on their ‘09 offerings.

My simple assignment  this year, as always, was to search out tandem-related goodies that might be of interest to readers of RTR.     Unfortunately, I didn’t  find much in the way of ground-breaking technology or accessories to share this year.  Most booths were displaying product with only minor changes from previous year offerings.  

There will be less reason to replace your current ride this year but maybe that’s not a bad thing (as Jerry Seinfield might say) as we watch our 401k’s and retirement investments tank in the current economic meltdown.   If you’re willing to spend, however, in the admirable goal of helping to stimulate the economy (that is, if you’re one of the lucky few still to even have a job or excess cash to spend after the holidays), I did stumble across a few goodies that could have you asking for your own government bailout. interbike 2008 010

The full impact of the financial firestorm was still in its infancy when the show began in late September, and as I write this piece many months later, the financial markets are still searching for a bottom.    Ironically for the cycling crowd, the only bright spot for the pocketbooks of many Americans – dropping gas prices – might impede the trend of many recent converts to alternative transportation (like cycling) to fall off the green bandwagon and revert to former bad habits if gas prices stay low.  

I’ve taken the liberty of broadening the scope of this year’s ‘tandem’ coverage to include some developments that, while not necessarily tandem-specific, might be of interest when it comes to enhancing your own two wheel fun.

Getting Dirty in Vegas / September 22-23  

Interbike begins with the two day outdoor ‘Dirt Demo’, some 20 miles outside of Vegas in Bootleg Canyon (Boulder City).   The ’dirt’ designation is a bit of a misnomer because road bikes are as welcome as their off-road cousins at the outdoor setting that allows retailers to sample and ride much of the new stuff for ‘09 – 5,000 people and 200 brands contributed to making this the largest outdoor show in 13 years.  

The outdoor desert setting is more conducive to testing product than the more pristine conditions inside the Sands Convention Center later in the week.   If the indoor show is glitzy rock ‘n roll, the Dirt Demo is country western where you can let your hair down a bit and have some fun demo’ing all the cool new stuff.

Co-Motion and DaVinci were two of the better known tandem companies to display at both the Dirt Demo and Interbike.   The logistics of presenting at both venues is a challenge, and they deserve a lot of credit for making the effort to promote tandems to retailers.

The Schmoozing Moves Inside / September 24-26th

After two days of sun, wind, and dirt – along with a little riding – most of the crowds were ready to move indoors to the Sands.   The wide-open desert of the previous two days was replaced by the crowded aisles of the Sands Expo and Convention Center – over 20,000 exhibitors and attendees checked out the ‘09 industry offerings.   My traditional first stop when the doors open the first day, has been to visit the Co-Motion booth to see what’s new at their booth.   This year was no different.

When I was a partner of Burley Design Cooperative – back when they  still manufactured tandems and were a worker-owned cooperative – we had a friendly, long-running  rivalry with the Co-Motion folks down the street.   Along with other tandem-friendly manufacturers in the area, like Bike Friday and Rolf wheels, these Eugene, Oregon companies are unique to the American marketplace for  being able to keep jobs in the U.S.

Co-Motion owner Dwan Shepard would be the first to admit that his approach to marketing tandems is pretty conservative.  As he told Ed Pavelka of  Road Bike Rider, “We’re not hip so we’ve stopped trying to be”.     Co-Motion was displaying a really cool touring bike, which on a personal level, I found particularly intriguing since I enjoy nothing more than exploring strange new places around the globe.   But that’s  a story for another crowd.   The head-turning development that Dwan had to show me for ‘09 did include the one word everyone in the cycling industry seems to be using these days: carbon.

The Gates Carbon Drive system
Dwan explained that Co-Motion had an exclusive arrangement (at least for the foreseeable future with tandems) with Gates and their super strong polyurethane belt that goes by the moniker, Carbon Drive system.   In the case of tandems, Co-Motion found that replacing a standard drive-side chain with the Gates  belt made for a lighter, cleaner, and more responsive drive system.    

The ‘carbon’ drive-belt works for ‘linear’ applications like a single speed (as was the case with Trek’s single speed offering being displayed at the show) or the drive-side of a tandem where you‘re not shifting gears.  The ascetics might leave some traditionalists shaking their heads but, yes, it really does work – even if the plastic-looking set-up appears a bit out of place on a high-end tandem.  

Co-Motion tested the chain successfully in many environments (including the Co-Motion tandem stage race) before giving it the spec nod.   If you want an interesting first-person look at the drive system, someone that trained and raced with the chain, check out Henry’s blog on WebCyclery.com (he also raced the belt in the Co-Motion race, and is a single speed addict).

Pete Penseyres and I learned the hard way that there are huge differences in the stress levels for a drive-side chain on a tandem and the chain that drives the traditional gears on the other side of the frame – having no problem using a superlight/hollow-pin chain on the drive side but breaking the same model chain while making a shift during a San Diego to Yuma bike race years ago.

Santana
My next stop is usually Bill McCready’s Santana booth (as a matter of disclosure, Pete Penseyres and I were sponsored by Santana for a number of years back in the 80‘s).   The approach of these two industry icons (Bill and Dwan) to selling tandems is, to say the least, a night and day contrast in marketing philosophy. 

Santana had stacks of slick product catalogs to give away at their booth; with copy that came under the guise of being an actual tandem magazine, “Tandem and Tandeming”.   The catalog offers some good tandem buying tips and historical perspective, as well as including information about Bill’s tandem tours – all topics that Bill is more than happy to talk to me about when I visit at the show.    Like the catalog, Bill does a good job of promoting his tandems as the only choice that any sensible person could make after examining all the ‘facts’.

Since this is Vegas, and Bill is the consummate showman, the Santana booth has cobbled together a show-stopping 10 seater bike.  No, it hadn’t been ridden or tested before the show – but that doesn’t really matter since the bike serves it photo-op goal by showing up on the front cover of the ‘Show Daily’ magazine that Bicycle Retailer and News (BRAIN) puts out for the retailers during Interbike‘s run.   Of course, all the retailers also want to get their picture taken on the 10 seater as well, so Bill can smile when I make note of his effective show prop during our talk.

Bill is more than happy to take me aside on the first day of the show to discuss the merits of his high-zoot, exclusive tubing for their higher-end offerings – especially the ExoGrid tubing.   While there aren’t really a lot of major shakeups in the ‘09 Santana offerings, Bill has a way of making all of the ’09 lineup seem new and exciting anyway.  

No matter how you take Bill’s marketing spin on the ‘right’ tandem to own – which, not too surprisingly, generally leads one to the Santana line – few would argue the point that Bill McCready has done a substantial job of promoting tandems to the cycling marketplace over the past decades, and popularizing bikes ‘built-for-two’ to the masses.

DaVinci
One of the last ‘must visit’ booths for me every year is inventor Todd Shusterman’s crew at DaVinci tandems.  Todd is always ready to chat up the merits of his tandems -especially the value of independent drive on a tandem.

While independent coasting isn’t going to be a feature that all tandem teams must have, Todd has made enough converts to the concept to make DaVinci tandems a popular alternative to conventional drivetrain tandems – especially for those that want more gearing options , or want a cleaner and more compact drivetrain.   Todd has also put his design skills to good use over the years with many unique component modifications that you might find useful for your tandem needs (check out their website: www.davincitandems.com).

KHS
KHS has found a solid niche with tandems in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, a market that once belonged to Burley  – before they discontinued all non-trailer production.  Many specialty tandem dealers – like  Tandem CycleWorks in Denver -  have replaced the  Burley offerings with the value-packed KHS models.

There really isn’t a lot of flash to the KHS line – or a Bill McCready to promote the ‘09 lineup – but no one will be embarrassed to show up on a club ride atop their $1,799 Milano road model (and take the savings  to go on several really nice tandem vacations!).   In today’s economy, if you want to get into tandems without spending over $2,000; check out their four models that run from just under a $1,000 to the Milano at the high end.

Draftmaster
Draftmaster is part of the Atoc family product line, which also includes (Tandem) Topper.  Owner Charlie Buchalter has been a long-time supporter of the tandem and recumbent market with his innovative car racks.   At any major tandem rally, many of the ‘serious’ tandem teams  can be seen sporting Charlie’s products atop their vehicles.  

Some of the more recent developments from  Atoc include a ‘Tadpole’ Trike carrier (rear mount), the ‘Hang Up’ wall-mount storage system for your Draftmaster car rack (no price was available at the show), and ‘Lite Beams’ a new series of light-mounts designed to put your bike lights where you want them (no price available at show) – utilizing either the qr skewer or the 5mm braze-on boss that some touring forks come with.      The Lite Beams are designed to resolve several common complaints with traditional mounting of headlights: handlebar mounted lights that are too high to cast easy-to-see long shadows, no room on handlebars for a light, and many carbon fiber forks and handlebars that aren’t compatible with light clamps.   Charlie also is said to be working on a high-beam option.

Shimano Ups The Component Ante
For this writer, the Shimano booth had one of the largest wow-factor offerings with their Di2 electric drivetrain.   There was always a constant line of  retailers waiting to get a chance to ride the demo bikes on wind trainers in the booth (the bike shop rug rats, on the other hand, were hanging out in the other portion of the booth waiting to get killer deals on custom-fitted Shimano cycling shoes).  

The new electric drivetrain, supposedly available in January (but I’m sure demand will make it a scarce item), is lighter than current ’08 Dura-Ace and only grams heavier than the ‘standard’ ‘09 Dura-Ace gruppo.   In a nutshell, the stuff works; and remedies all the issues that had been present with Mavic’s “Zap” version years ago.  Di2 consists of ‘STI‘-style shifters – but the shifting is activated by ‘buttons‘ on non-moving levers.   The system also includes derailleurs, wiring, 7.4-volt lithium-ion compact battery pack (600-mile range on full charge) and charger (1.5 hours to recharge).   There is even a ‘brain’ in the front derailleur that trims automatically as the rear derailleur shifts up and down the cog set!

Like most of Shimano’s offerings, they’ve engineered the new system to be dependable and allow, hopefully, for that rare contingency when something goes wrong (like the battery pack goes dead).   Needless to say, this will be THE component package to have on your bike in ‘09 if you want the cool factor with friends.

While Di2 was promised for early ‘09 release (January/February), it still wasn’t available as of this writing (February ‘09).   No word on tandem applications from Shimano at this point but just think of the possibilities …

interbike 2008 016interbike 2008 014

Campy
11 speeds and the usual Italian jewelry styling … need we say more about Campagnolo‘s ‘09 gruppo?   
Well, o.k., if you want a little history to go along with your next tandem or single bike purchase, check out “Campagnolo  75 Years of Cycling Passion” by Paolo Facchinetti and Guido Rubino; and distributed by VeloPress ($39.95).   VeloPress had one of the more popular booths at the show with a constant stream of celebrities autographing their latest books, and free copies of all the latest hot cycling magazines. 
While I’ve used Shimano components on most of my bikes over the past 30 years, I grew up with ‘Campy’ and the legend of the name.   The book, as VeloPress editors note, “is a celebration of this legacy that will be cherished by every cycling fan”.   With the superb photography, and historical accounts, this is a must-have coffee table book for all those that call themselves passionate about our sport – no matter what their favorite ‘gruppo’ might be.
Buddy Bike
This was the first year that I’ve seen Buddy Bike at the Vegas show with their innovative tandem for beginners and special needs children.   Roy Wallack has already done a great review of the tandem for RTR (Issue #23 / Review #140), so I won’t re-hash the details here.
Buddy Bike touts themselves as the “Alternative Tandem Bicycle”, with some very unique and special features – including a novel design that allows the ‘stoker’ to steer the bike while the ‘captain’ (child, or smaller person) pedals the front – not all unlike some of the tandems at the turn of the century that were designed to allow couples to ride together in a socially acceptable manner (ie. the man controlling the bike from the rear position).
Buddy Bike sees their target audience as being  “special needs families (including schools, camps, and organizations); and bike shops (rental operations)”.  The weight capacity of the two currently available models is 380 lbs.    If you’ve been searching for ways to include special-need kids in your outdoor activities, you can visit www.buddybike.com for more information about their programs and bikes.
Other tidbits from the Interbike show this year:
Tubeless rims/wheelsets continue to spark interest among the major component players (and retailers/consumers, of course) – leading to discussions at this year’s show to set industry standards.   From a tandem perspective, tubeless wheelsets might offer a solution to the problem of pinch flats that tend to be a bit more common on ‘bikes-built-for-two’.   At showtime, Mavic was  the only major player not committed to the technology but that could change in ‘09/’10.
If it weren’t for the presence of numerous companies hawking their energy bars and drinks at the show, bottom-feeding journalists  would starve since we’re too cheap to ante up for the $10 burgers and $5 cokes at the concession stands inside the Sands.   I have yet to meet a bar or drink in Vegas that I didn’t like (and keep me energized for pounding the aisles).  Thanks also has to go to the companies that sponsor courtesy espresso bars and, most importantly, to those that serve up tasty microbrews at each day’s end-of-show activities.     
By now, most of you are probably aware of the awkward Lance Armstrong press conference that ensued at Interbike when Greg Lemond showed up  to talk drug testing – while  Lance wanted to focus on his plans for a comeback and his ‘09 cancer-awareness program.   Maybe awkward is too mild of a description …
Electric bikes are making a comeback … or at least you might get that impression with all the models displayed at way too many booths.
Electra displayed a tandem version of the cruiser-style single bike.   Priced at $1,100; this is an easy-to-ride machine designed for the beach (duh) and rails-to-trails terrain.
Also in the running to take some of the former Burley tandem market: the $2,669 Cannondale Road Tandem 2.   This would be a good choice for those looking for tandem teams looking for a ’race’ light machine that transfers all your energy to the road (of course, there is a trade-off in a bit harsher ride with the super stiff frame).

Phil Keoghanof kicks off his cross-country ride for MS

Phil Keoghan (host of Amazing Race) begins his cross-country journey
If you’ve ever wanted to ride across America, check out the daily (almost) video posts that Phil is making:
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/video/?of=701200903