Time for a New Tandem
Sometimes things just line up and it is nothing short of serendipity.
This past week, after twenty years and tens of thousands of miles of riding, Tracy and I bought a new tandem bicycle!
We bought our first tandem, a green Trek T-100 cross-bike with a 7-speed cassette, in 1994 so we could do longer family rides with our then 4-year-old daughter, Melissa, and later her sister Alex(andra). Tracy did her first century ride (100 miles) on this bike in the late 90’s, and we discovered we liked to ride “in tandem.”
In 2001, we bought our Santana Arrive road touring tandem (“Violet”). She had a 9-speed cassette (later upgraded to 10-speed), rim brakes and a drag brake for loaded touring, all top-notch components back then. With this “better” bike, we started putting on more and more miles as a couple. Our first fully loaded overnight trip was to Fond du Lac, WI from our home in Green Bay (65 miles) where we camped in my brother’s back yard then headed home the next day. We could do this touring thing!
We gradually increased our mileage and days out over the next thirteen years to the point where we were comfortable being on the road for up to three weeks at a time. It was at this point we started to wonder, “Could we ride across the country?” If we could string a bunch of three-week trips together, maybe we could make it!
On June 1, 2014, after months/years of training and planning, we departed Bellingham, WA on the Pacific Coast, where my mother lives, astride Violet with fifty-five pounds of gear. We arrived in Bar Harbor, ME on the Atlantic Coast, 4,362 miles and 72 days later. We did it, we had ridden coast to coast on a tandem. We followed this trip with a ride along the length of the Mississippi River in 2015 (3,052 miles, 50 days), and Historic Route 66 in 2016 (2,603 miles, 49 days).
We took 2017 off from cross-country touring to attend Melissa’s wedding, and to write our first book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem: Our Adventure Crossing the USA on a Bicycle Built for Two.”
In 2018, we were busy promoting our book and one of our stops was at Village Books in Fairhaven, WA, very near where my mother lives in Bellingham. Two of the attendees at that presentation were Mark and Chris Owings. They introduced themselves after our talk and Mark mentioned he owned a bicycle dealership called Tandem Diversity and that they were planning to bike around Lake Michigan in 2019. We were not in the market for a new tandem at that time but the four of us clearly had a lot in common and we offered the Owings any support they needed for their ride. Having biked thousands of miles around the world, Mark and Chris certainly didn’t need our assistance to ride around the lake, but we were able to meet with them for dinner one night during their ride, and we became even better friends.
We were back touring on Violet in 2019 and rode 1,500 miles through the Sierra and Cascade Mountain Ranges, stopping at several national parks. Our plan had been to bike 7,000 miles and knock off the remaining 20 states we hadn’t ridden in yet. Unfortunately, Tracy had been hit by a car while riding her single bicycle near our home in 2018 and was still suffering the effects of the crash. 1,500 miles was plenty for her.
Fast forward to last week. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had not seen my mother in Bellingham for almost two years, and it was time. Also, during the pandemic lockdown, I was finally able to convince Tracy that it might be time to start shopping for a new tandem, before we were too old to ride it. With Tandem Diversity located somewhere in Bellingham, I thought we could possibly kill two birds with one stone. A plan was hatched to visit mom and test ride bikes, dates were coordinated, and plane tickets were purchased.
We arrived in Bellingham on August 5th, 2021, and planned to meet with Mark and Chris at the Tandem Diversity showroom the next day. When I asked Mark where his shop was located, he replied, “Two blocks from your mom’s house.” What are the odds?
For the next several days we visited with family and test rode almost every tandem in Mark’s substantial stable, road racing tandems, touring tandems, 3X10 gearing with standard shifting (like Violet), 2X11 gearing with electronic shifting, and Rohloff 14 speed, internal gearing, hubs with belt drive (no chains) and several types of shifters. This was a dream come true. Tandems are fairly rare, in fact, we purchased Violet sight unseen from a bicycle shop on the east coast. Tandem diversity’s selection and Mark’s expertise allowed us to dial in just what we were looking for, even when we didn’t know it.
Not that the almost $12,000 Co-Motion Carrara “go-fast” tandem wasn’t fun to ride, but we were really looking for a reliable, strong, and stable bike, with updated technology, we could use for thousands more miles of training and loaded touring. Enter the Co-Motion Speedster.
The speedster was a very nice upgrade from Violet, yet with many of the same characteristics that had served us well for thousands of miles. After riding the Speedster with several types of gearing and shifting, we took a leap to lightspeed and decided on a Rohloff 14 speed hub with belt drive. This setup will be much more reliable than our current 3X10 gearing with chain drive and will mostly eliminate drivetrain maintenance. Since Tracy doesn’t do any of the shifting or braking on the bike, she said I could have whatever I wanted. Smart woman. She got to pick her own handlebars and shock-absorbing seat post though.
As luck would have it, Mark had exactly the bike we wanted in stock in Bellingham and we rode it several times, dialing it in more on each successive ride. We weren’t crazy about the color, but we could live with it. Then Mark dropped the bomb. He had the exact same bike, but with a custom paint job and head badge, which we liked better, and it was already in Wisconsin! Really? Can you say, no shipping.
As it turns out, Mark and Chris have family in Wisconsin, and they had taken “our new bike” with them on a visit to ride and left it there. The bike only has 110 miles on it and is in mint condition.
We will take delivery of our new bike on September 2 at the 40th Annual Midwest Tandem Rally in Racine, WI where we will be sharing a booth with Mark, Chris, and Tandem Diversity, showing, and talking about bikes and our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem.”
Some things are just meant to be.