Looking at the options
(Tandem Dreams part 2)
As we have started looking seriously at the Hase Pino tandem I thought I should go back over the ideas and fact-finding that got us here.
It all started in 1984 when Isobel and I met. I was helping my friends Rob and Jane of Bicycle Beanos with their first commercial camping/cycling holiday in the Welsh Borders. In those days she could take on long touring rides with little difficulty and we did a lot of cycling together. During the next few years the pressures of self employment (for both of us), having a child and a gradual onset of arthritis in Isobel’s left hip meant that, although I continued to cycle as much as I could, Isobel was very restricted and it was no longer possible for us to do any serious cycling together, a disappointment for both of us. At one point I also nearly stopped cycling, partly because we lived in hilly places where the bike is not too good for daily transport, but gradually got back into it during the 1990s. Isobel rode her bike occasionally but was not able to cover very great distances or make fast progress.
Things changed, at least in principle, three years ago when Isobel had a hip replacement. This transformed her life, no more constant pain and able to walk freely. Our son was growing up, retirement was getting closer and we thought more about our future lives together. Clearly cycling was a problem as long as there was a big difference in our fitness and Isobel was not getting the chance for regular riding to build up her strength. She still has some joint problems which make her nervous about having to put weight suddenly on her knees and hips, always likely on normal roads where traffic forces unplanned stops. But at some point the penny dropped that a tandem could be the answer.
Because of my passion for the Brompton folding bike and belief that a bike must be easy to transport by car or especially public transport, I started to look at folding tandems. Bike Friday make some excellent products and we became very interested although there was still a nagging problem that neither of us are happy with conventional saddles and Isobel has problems with her wrists and hands, getting very numb hands after quite short rides. Against that background I came across a photo of Kirk and Trudie Newell on their Bike Friday Doubleday recumbent folding tandem. Here it is:
(this photo is from the Kirks Bike Shop website, I’ve made a copy here as I’m not sure how permanent the site is)
I was very taken with this so I printed it off and showed it Isobel. She doesn’t get too excited about my techie enthusiasms, and this was quite an extreme proposition so I was very struck that she took one look and said “that looks very comfortable.” We talked about it and it was clear that this picture said something to both of us. We could see ourselves right there in it.
Sadly, although the Doubleday seems to be a great bike, and they change hands for a lot of money if you can find somebody willing to sell you theirs, Bike Friday have stopped making them, they were just too complicated to build economically. So I started to look around for alternatives.
The obvious one is the Rans Screamer, probably the most successful recumbent tandem with lots of encouraging testimonials on the web. There’s one on Kirk and Trudie’s website and here’s a recent photo from the Rans website.
The Screamer can be fitted with frame couplings that allow it to come apart for transport so although it’s bigger than the Doubleday it’s definitely a contender, one of the best developed and highly regarded products available. The seating position is high enough to see and be seen, slightly higher than most car drivers, and the Rans seats are said to be the most comfortable available.
There are some other recumbent two wheel tandems in the USA but most of them are very long with the front wheel ahead of the pilot’s feet, which doesn’t look promising for a transportable bike in a crowded country. However I came across a very promising possibility in the Barcroft Columbia, something like a Screamer packed into the minumum possible length
This was attractive, a very compact package that packs down small, made by a quality custom bike builder using Rans components. Again it has very good reviews. my only slight concern was whether the stoker’s position over the small rear wheel might be rather harsh, unlike the front wheel it has no suspension and there was a hint of a problem in some comments I had read.
Finally, looking at US bikes, we found that Rans also make what they describe as “crank forward” bikes, weird looking but apparently a very good compromise between the comfort of a recumbent and the convenience of an upright, especially as the riding position makes it very easy to put your foot on the ground, one of Isobel’s big needs. Here’s the Rans Dynamik Duo:
So that seemed to be all the American options, and the USA does seem to be the home of the two-wheeled recumbent tandem. Unfortunately there is no easy way of getting one in the UK, certainly no opportunity to test ride. I found a very promising US dealer, Bikes@Vienna who are convenient for Washington DC airport, have all three of our possible bikes available to test, hire out bikes for the day with your money back if you buy one and have good access to cycle trails. So at least if we decided to go to the USA we could get the job done in a short trip.
Meanwhile in Britain the only tandems available seemed to be recumbent trikes, which are fast and stable but big and only inches off the ground, hardly a bike-around-town, and the strange Hase Pino, which is recumbent for only one person, the pilot still has to suffer a conventional saddle. European manufacturers made some possible two wheeled tandems but they all seemed less well developed than the Rans and Barcroft bikes, for example using square section tube that made it difficult to fit frame couplings, so splitting apart for transport was not possible. We pretty well resigned ourselves to wait till we could find time for a trip to the USA, very difficult with both of us having very busy jobs and and other pressures.
But I kept looking and found somebody who owned a Rans Screamer in Britain, Basil Fairston, and he kindly invited us to come and have a look. He is a member of a gliding club so we had a whole airfield to try it out, rather than going on the public roads straight away. Our first sight of the Screamer was on the roof of Basil’s car, my reaction was, “what a beast!” It needed a purpose built rack, more like a crane, that allowed you to get the bike down in easy stages. It was big and very impressive but clearly not something you could sling around or keep in the garden shed.
Basil first took Isobel and I each for a ride in the stoker’s seat which confirmed our enthusiasm for the idea, very comfortable and easy. After that he set me up in the pilot’s seat and I rode it up and down with him as stoker, Finally I rode it solo with Basil to steady the bike as I took off. With a single rider it was easy enough once I got rolling but very heavy and awkward to turn. I think I managed to do a U-turn on one occasion but generally I had to stop and manoeuvre round and then, embarrassingly, I could not get the monster started on my own. Basil felt that I needed some experience with a lighter solo recumbent to get into the quite different set of instincts needed before I started the tandem. He had a day of trying out different recumbents before he first rode the Screamer. My feeling was that I could manage it but I was not completely certain and the experience had knocked my confidence – first time ever I had found a bike I could not handle.
I looked around for a solo recumbent, kept looking at e-Bay, but they are expensive items and I didn’t really want to make a big investment at that point. We also thought a lot about hill climbing, starting one day on a hill in the Peak District where we had stopped our car to check the map. We realised that it would be impossible to start a recumbent tandem in that situation without a great deal more strength. Apart from the difficulty of getting up enough momentum to stay upright I don’t have long legs and the pilot has to start from a very awkward position with one leg dabbing down towards the ground to keep the bike upright. You can’t just stand there with one foot on the raised pedal ready to push down like a “real” bike.
So the tandem went into abeyance over the winter until quite recently I saw something on the web about the Hase Pino. I’m not sure where, but I noticed that there was new Pino available that split in two. That made me think it was at least a good bet for transportability. I also realised that having the pilot in the conventional bicycle position made it much easier to cope with standing starts and keeping the stoker comfortably upright when stopped, so I had a closer look.
I was already aware that Hase made good bikes, and there was a video on their website that conveyed a good feeling about the bikes, so I trawled the web for reviews, user’s comments and interesting photos, which showed that there were some people using it for ambitious touring as well as fun days out. I was still thinking about the seat problem but I’ve just bought a Brooks Imperial which promises to be a good solution to at least the numb willie problem, if Isobel and I were touring on a tandem the daily mileage would be lower than my usual so that will help too.
The main thing is that the Pino is available from UK dealers and JD cycles, 75 minutes away in my home town of Ilkley, have a demonstrator available and seemed very knowledgeable about the whole business. So yesterday we went for our first test ride.
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