Tandems in Planes, Tandems in Trains, Tandems in Automobiles - Lack of Imagination Loire Valley - Tandem Tour - July 2021 - CycleBlaze

May 31, 2021

Tandems in Planes, Tandems in Trains, Tandems in Automobiles

It's all about the bike

We'll be doing this ride on our Bike Friday Tandem Traveler XL.  I thought it was worth describing this bike a bit, for others who might be interested in this type of approach to cycle touring.  Experienced cycle tourists can probably skip this entire journal entry.

First, you have to like riding a tandem.  This is a non-starter for many people because they have preconceived notions about how non-fun it's going to be.  But we constantly see bike riding couples where one person is far up the road while the other is struggling to keep up.  Neither one generally looks like they're happy.  What's fun about that?  For us, being together and working together makes it fun.  

We've been riding various tandems since about 1997.  We've had 2 Bike Friday (small wheel) tandems, and our latest acquisition, a Paketa full-size magnesium-framed tandem.   Here in the cycling paradise of Limoux, France, we do day rides about 1-2 times a week, depending on weather and other commitments.  So we come to tandem touring as a somewhat experienced (if very slow) tandem team.   

Touring on a tandem can be problematic in a way that touring on single bikes is not.  There's very little support for transporting tandems on planes, trains, buses, and taxis.  If there's any infrastructure at all, it's generally aimed at single bikes.  Tandems are too long and sometimes too heavy for almost anything that's built for a single bike.

The Tandem Traveler is an interesting tandem because it offers solutions to some of these kinds of problems.  But the first thing to note is that we enjoy riding this bike.  Without that, all of the adaptations for travel would be beside the point.

We like this bike for a number of reasons.  First of all, the step-over height is very low.  This makes the bike easy to get on and off, even when loaded with panniers.  Secondly, the small wheels (20 inch - 406) are very strong.  With nice wide Schwalbe Marathon tires, the bike can be ridden on anything from smooth tarmac to dirt and gravel paths.  It makes this bike a reliable, comfortable platform for the kind of cycle touring we like to do - poking around the French countryside.

Our bike was built in the late 90s.  We've modified this bike substantially since we bought it used in 2011.  We've switched out some of the parts to lighten the bike, and had new wheels built for the same reason.  We've also converted it to 1x11 shifting, replacing the heavy internal gear hub, and replaced the old drum drag brake with a disk brake.   We replaced the road bars with flat bars to reduce weight and make the bike easier to pack.

With these modifications, the bike weighs 18,2 kg (40 pounds) unloaded.   Not a lightweight bike, but definitely a great improvement over our previous touring bike, a 25kg (55 pound) Bike Friday Tandem Two'sDay.

Our touring tandem
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We use Ortlieb roll-top bags front and rear.  The front rack is generic, and the rear rack is a Bike Friday rack that has extenders that make it easy to attach to our bike.

Since we don't camp, the 4 panniers are sufficient for our needs.  Roughly speaking, Robin gets 1 big one, Rich gets the other big one, and the two smaller (front) panniers contain tools, jackets, picnic lunches, etc.  Each of us has a bar bag that supplements our pannier space.

The bike can be packed into a single suitcase for travel, but with the suitcase, it's just a bit too heavy for the limits imposed by most airlines (22kg).   So when we travel by air, we unload some heavy items into a duffel bag that can be checked along with the bike.

Since moving to France, we don't tend to fly with the bike much anymore.  All of the cycling we want to do is right on our doorstep.   Still, we like having a single-suitcase solution that doesn't exceed the airline's size restrictions.  "Stealth" bicycle transport makes for much less hassle at check-in!

Ready for checkin!
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Scott AndersonThat’s so amazing. It looks like the same standard-sized Samsonite suitcase we fit our one-seaters into.
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3 years ago

For taxi, bus, and some train travel, Robin has designed a bag to hold the partially-disassembled tandem (Bike Friday will also sell you one for their folding tandem).  This is useful when we need to take shuttles or taxis that aren't set up for bike transport, and also works for French TGVs, which don't allow un-bagged bikes. 

The "bike in a bag" solution is heavy - you don't want to walk far with it slung over your shoulder - but it works!  We just split the bike in half and put it in the bag with the wheels still on it.   Lifting it into a taxi trunk or shuttle bus is pretty easy - especially if we share the lifting.   We also use it in our own car when we have to drive multiple days to a starting point.  The black bag just disappears in the back of our station wagon.

Ready to be zipped up!
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Finally, as a pandemic project, we've tried to solve one more issue with tandems and public transport.  There are cases where bike transport is allowed, but tandems in particular are NOT allowed (at least officially).  Trains in Denmark, for instance (unless the stoker can prove he/she is blind).  And here in France, the local RER trains tend to have vertical hangers for bikes.  A tandem is usually too long for those hangers.

Sometimes a short or long train connection is the difference between a tour being possible or not possible.   For our upcoming tour, for example, we're going to take an RER train from Tours to Nevers.  We might be able to get the tandem on the train and might get away with it.  But it's so much less stressful when there's no question about the bike's suitability.

Our solution is based on the fact that the two "boom" tubes that join the front and back of our tandem are parallel, and use no special connectors.  By replacing the two boom tubes with very short aluminum tubes of matching dimensions, we have been able to create a bicyle that is completely unrideable but which will function well for transport where single bicycles are supported.

The bike's wheelbase in this shortened configuration is smaller than a  29er mountain bike.  And we can leave the racks and bags on the bike!  Great for wheeling the bike down the street to the train station.   This trip will be our first test for this new solution.

Weird looking but will hang from a train's bike hooks. The pink velcro is holding the cables down - keeps them from getting caught in the chain.
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Mike AylingGreat idea!
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3 years ago

This will be our sixth tandem tour since retiring to France in 2015.  We still have a lot to learn, but we feel like we're on track with this bike and the modifications we've been able to make to it.  We're looking forward to getting back on the road!

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Rachael AndersonWhat a creative solution for handling the tandem on trains!
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3 years ago