Triplets and Quads and Quints, Oh My!

A List of FAQs For Those Considering The Purchase Of A Tandem With Three Or More Seats

Copyright ©2003 by Mark P. Livingood & Paul Meixner

Left to right: Paul Meixner with Silvija (age 3.5), Nora, and Amanda (age 5.5) on Co-Motion Triplet


*From the Editor: The original article that inspired this Web page was composed by Paul Meixner for the readers of Tandem@Hobbes, an internet based Listserver discussion group for tandem enthusiasts. Yours truly (Mark) expanded Paul's original article to provide some additional details & images; however, due credit must go to Paul for the time, thought, and effort that went into the excellent original article that I have merely built upon.


Tech Talk: A Tandem is any bicycle with two or more seats where the riders sit in-line, as opposed to side-by (a Sociable) or in any other arrangement. Thus, even a bike with six seats is still by definition a tandem if all of the riders sit one-behind-the-other. However, to tandem enthusiasts the more commonly seen seating configurations are called:

 Tandem = 2 Seats

Team Livingood on Tandem by Erickson Cycles
   

 Triplet = 3 Seats

Team Tovani on Custom Triplet by Bushnell Cycles
   

 Quad = 4 Seats

Team Russell on Cabrio 4 w/S&S couplings by Santana
   

 Quint = 5 Seats

Team Johnson's Custom Quint w/S&S couplings by Meridian
   

 Hex = 6 Seats

Custom Duplex Quad-Hex w/S&S couplings by Longbikes

(Extremely Rare)
 

 

OK, it should be Sextuplet, but you could really turn some heads and get strange looks referring to the "Sex-Bike" that you and your family ride.


 Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Multi-Seat Tandems

1. How Come You Don't See Many Triplets, Quads or Quints?

2. Why Not Buy A Second Tandem?

3. What Are Some of the Logistical Issues?

4. Who Builds Tandems With 3 or More Seats?

5. Do I Need To Go Through A Tandem Dealer?

6. How Do You Determine The Right Number of Seats?

7. What's the Best Material For A Multi-Seat Tandem Frame?

8. How Do You Size The Rider Compartments?

9. How Does The Captain Control The Bike?

10. Do They Require A Special Fork?

11. Do They Require Special Wheels?

12. Do Triplets, Quads and Quints Require Special Brakes?

13. What About Gearing & Crank Phase?

14. What About Frame Couplers & Convertible Tandems?

15. Any Special Recommendations Regarding Paint & Finish?

16. Are There Any Special Accessories That Are Unique To Multi-Seat Tandems?

17. How Much Money Are We Talking About And What About Re-Sale?

18. Are Multi-Seat Tandems More Difficult or Expensive To Maintain?

19. Do You Find That You Attract A Lot Of Attention On A Multi-Seater?

20. How Do We Know If A Multi-Seater Will Be Right For Us?

Short Attention Span Version Is HERE.


1. How Come You Don't See Many Triplets, Quads, Quints or Hexs'?

Tandems with 3 or more seats are often times considered a luxury and/or a novelty item for all but the most dedicated cycling families or families with special needs. As a result, relatively few multi-seat tandems are built and sold each year and many are used only a few times per year, such as for charity rides and special events. Return To The Index

2. Why Not Buy A Second Tandem?

For cycling with family members, often times it is more cost effective and logistically easier to purchase a second tandem instead of a Triplet or a Quad. However, using two tandems may not be an option in all cases unless your spouse or partner is willing and able to captain a tandem. Also, when using two tandems, you reintroduce the entire issue of rider or, in this case, team parity, i.e., being able to comfortably ride at the same performance level. Therefore, while a second tandem is certainly a possibility, the long bike may be your best bet for a true family cycling experience. Return To The Index

3. What Are Some of the Logistical Issues?

Two major considerations that a prospective multi-seat tandem buyer should consider before getting too far down the road on specifications and builders are where to store and how to transport a Triplet, Quad, Quint, or Hex. Obviously, as the tandems get longer these two issues become proportionately larger. So, perhaps it would be best to quantify just how large multi-seat tandems are.

While individual bike weights and lengths will vary -- dependent on the frame material, extra-long or short stoker compartments, use of S&S couplers, and maximum gross load capacity -- on average and with wheels on the following are the approximate weights and lengths for the different configurations (+/- 10%):

Therefore, while car-topping and storing a 6' long, 40lb tandem bike might seem to be a bit of a challenge for some folks, you can easily see that you'll need to have a plan for storing and transporting a multi-seat tandem before you bring it home. Also, if you plan to travel to events or take the multi-seat tandem on vacations, you'll really need to do some homework with regard to how you'll get it to your destinations and where you'll store it there as well.

A. Storing Multi-Seat Tandems: If you are fortunate enough to own a home with either a garage or walk-out basement, you may be able to easily find enough linear storage space either on the floor or up on a wall where even up to a 16' long Quint can be racked or hung from wall-mounted hooks. If you have a garage with high ceilings you may also find that a Triplet or perhaps even a Quad can be hung vertically from the ceiling by, or be propped up in a corner on its rear wheel with the front wheel removed. It may also be possible to install heavy-duty J hooks in ceiling rafters that would allow you to hang one of these long bikes upside down from its wheels and some handy long bike owners have devised pulley systems to hoist their tandems up to the ceiling. The point is, you'll need to make sure you have a plan before you bring one of these very long tandems home, even if it is only to make sure you can get it through the front door of your home so that it can be learned up against the hallway or living room wall. Of course, just getting it home could also prove to be a challenge. Return To The Index

B. Transporting Multi-Seat Tandems: Transporting a multi-seat tandem in or on personal, public or commercial vehicles, trains, vessels and aircraft demands lots of forethought. After all, it is quite possible that some of your ride plans may have you starting a point that does not originate at your front doorstep or the end of your driveway. Therefore, if the vehicle(s) you presently own isn't suitable for carrying your new tandem you could find the added expense associated with finding a way to transport it could cause you to reconsider the purchase. Therefore, you should think through the following transportation options and considerations before putting down that deposit on your dream tandem:

(1). Transportation by personal vehicle: The following are the preferred and/or most common methods used by folks for transporting multi-seat tandems:

a. Inside the back of a full-size SUV or Van, and some mini-vans such as the Daimler-Chrysler Grand Caravan or Honda's Odyssey with interior seats configured to provide at least one full-length isle set aside for the tandem with one or both wheels removed. With both wheels removed, it is usually best to either load the bike upside down so that it rests on its handlebars and seats or to attach it upright to a home-built stand. As an added benefit, this mode of transportation keeps your very expensive tandem out of the weather and secure during transit and at your destination ­ a rolling garage if you will.

NOTE: If you are concerned about getting drive train grease and grime on the interior of your car there are several products available to include Pygmy Product's drive train cover (http://www.pygmypack.com) and wheel bags, available from various sources including Performance, Campagnolo, Mavic and Shimano.

b. In the back of a long-bed pick-up truck bed, with or without a camper shell and with the tailgate down.
c. On the roof of a full-size SUV or larger passenger vehicle's roof using one of ATOC's special Triplet or Quad length tandem mounting systems.
d. Tied-down on or inside tow-behind sports, cargo or utility trailers.
e. If you have S&S couplings (See FAQ #14, below), you can easily break the tandem in half for transportation in the back of a pick-up, van, SUV or mini-van.

(2). Air, train, boat, and ground freight transportation: A full-sized multi-seat tandem is basically freight even with minimal package protection. Arrangements should be made in advanced with each and every carrier -- including rental car agencies, shuttle bus operators, and taxi dispatchers -- to ensure they will be able to safely and securely transport your very long and heavy tandem. If you are flying to a small city or island, it is quite possible that even a regular tandem would not fit on the smaller commuter-type aircraft that are used for short hops so a bike that's even longer can really become a problem. Therefore, you'll want to be very clear about how large your tandem is when talking with travel agency, airline, Amtrak, or cruise line agents. Be sure to obtain confirmation that they will be able to accommodate your multi-seat tandem on all legs of your trip and get firm quotes on how much it will cost. You'll also want to write down the name(s) of everyone you talk to and get the name(s) and phone number(s) of key baggage handling managers for your carrier(s) at each departure point on your trip who you can contact in the event you encounter any type of problem.

It suffices to say, if you expect to do much traveling with a multi-seat tandem having it equipped with S&S couplers as described in FAQ #14, below, is highly recommended. Even the longest multi-seat tandems can be reduced to two or three pieces of regulation side luggage with S&S couplers. Return To The Index

4. Who Builds Tandems With 3 or More Seats?

Name recognition, builder reputation and owner recommendations are the three most important factors to keep in the forefront -- along with your budget -- as you begin your search for a tandem with 3 or more seats. That said, there are actually quite a few builders who have fabricated tandems with more than two seats over the years, including several current and recognizable production builders, many custom tandem builders, and some home-builders. As a potential buyer, you'll want to talk with as many owners as you can and look at the various examples of multi-seat tandems to narrow your search down to 3 or 4 builders who you believe can best meet your needs, with perhaps a "wild-card" builder thrown in just to keep it interesting.

As you do your research, keep in mind that every builder has their own design philosophy and quirks when it comes to tandem frame design and fabrication. If you are considering a "stock" model (noting that few Triples, Quads, Quints and Hexes are really stock), their two-place tandems and tandems with more than 3 seats will most likely be similar with regard to their look, features and components. In most cases, builders will be eager to satisfy your needs if only because they enjoy the challenge associated with designing and building something unique vs. the run of the mill, two-place tandems.

Here is a partial list of US tandem builders who have experience in building multi-seat models:

Less well known for their Triplets and Quads are a myriad of builders which include new players such as Calfee Design with their all-carbon line of tandems, European builders like Thorn have offered both value-priced / off-shore produced stock triplets (the Trident) and may also do custom builds. You'll also find existing examples from classic bike builders like Rodney Moseman, Alpine, Gitane, Rodriquez, and Schwinn as well as a few multi-seaters built by Longbikes and Merdian. Longbikes (CO), who seems to be spending most of their time in the recumbent market, may still be willing and able to produce a custom multi-seater. Meridian (OR) is no longer a going concern. They made some very nice multi-seaters while they were in business, some of which may be available in the second hand market.

One last item to address and/or to take into consideration in the selection of your builder is turn around time for delivery. If you have a hard and fast need date for your multi-seat tandem, be sure to discuss that up front. No sense in spending an hour talking about design details when you need your tandem in two months and the builder's backlog is four. Some of the very large volume builders and dealers stock unpainted Triplets in generic sizes which, if needed, can often times can be finished in just a few weeks. Return To The Index

5. Do I Need To Go Through A Tandem Dealer?

Not necessarily, but I'd strongly recommended you carefully consider how a dealer might make your buying experience more successful and perhaps less stressful.

If you are up to speed on bicycle fitting, product availability, maintenance, repair and have at least some experience riding and working on two-place tandems you may be able to work directly with a builder and end up with a great result. Of course, that is IF you know what you want and can clearly articulate your requirements and expectations. It is knowing what you want, require and expect that will make the difference between a good buying experience and one that leaves some scars. Therefore, even for the savvy cyclist, a good and knowledgeable tandem-specialty dealer may be your best friend in the world during your quest for a multi-seat tandem. In some cases, you may not necessarily have a "local" tandem dealer so working long-distance with a builder may be preferable to you and/or the builder. Again, this is yet another decision point in your quest for the perfect multi-seat tandem.

Ultimately, choosing the right tandem dealer is at least as important if not more important than a builder for many of the folks who are interested in buying a multi-seat tandem. After all, as you read through the rest of this article you'll realize just how many important decisions you'll need to make. Also, where else can you go and put your hands on and test ride real tandems made by different manufacturers to get a feel for how they look and handle. Moreover, if you're not well networked with other tandem riders, a tandem dealer will be a wealth of knowledge and experience who can answer your questions about differences between builder X and builder Y, customer feedback, recently introduced features and so forth.

Who are the good and knowledgeable tandem dealers who are also multi-seat specialists? Three tandem dealers in the US have earned a reputation as Triplet and Quad specialists that are listed below. However, this short list is not intended to be fully inclusive nor exclusive ­ it's just a starting point that acknowledges which dealers who ride and sell a large number of multi-seat tandems. However, if you have a tandem-specialty dealer within driving distance to your home, that's the first place you'll want to go. If your local tandem specialist can meet your needs and make you feel comfortable with their level of knowledge, service and support you'll be hard pressed to justify the need to work with another dealer long-distance. That is, unless the other dealer and you have really good chemistry, there is an economic inducement, or they are an exclusive dealer for the brand of tandem that you decide is the right one for you.

You can find a comprehensive list of tandem specialty dealers, that is dealers where a large portion of their business includes tandems or is dedicated exclusively to tandems at the following Web site: http://home.att.net/~thetandemlink/tandems.html#anchor1145193. Additionally, if you have already decided on a brand of tandem you can contact the builder to find out who they would recommend as your best bet for a dealer. Return To The Index

6. How Do You Determine The Right Number of Seats?

It's important to figure out the number of riders you can reasonably expect to have on the bike on a regular basis before buying a rigid multi-seat tandem. However, as discussed at FAQ #14 , tandems can be fabricated using S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCs) that allow them to be reconfigured to seat 2, 3 and 4 or more riders if your needs dictate some degree of flexibility. However, back to the basic question, if you are planning on riding with your spouse and children, consider the possibility that they may not be as enthusiastic about the "long-bike" as you are. Therefore, a serious family discussion regarding the proposed purchase and number of seats may be appropriate. After all, if you built a Quint and then learn that your two oldest children quickly find riding with mom & dad isn't cool, could you still ride the Quint with just your spouse and youngest child? Therefore, perhaps a Triplet would be best. Also factor in some flexibility if your family is still growing, has the potential to grow unexpectedly, or you are considering adoption. If you are buying for use with other adults, be sure to consider if you're more likely to invite temporarily captain-less or stoker-less riding partners, a parent, relative or couples. Again, if you built it for four, how likely are you to always have a full-house?

Along with number of seats, it is also important to establish the maximum payload (riders, accessories & luggage) you will expect your tandem to support. The load-bearing requirements are critical when it comes to the builder being able to determine what type(s) of frame material can be used, the tubing thickness, frame geometry and specifications for the fork and wheels as discussed in FAQ #10 and #11, below. For example, a Bike Friday Triplet is designed to support 400lbs of riders and equipment and the first prototype Santana Cabrio 4 pictured at the top of this page was designed for a maximum payload of 550lbs. While these weight restrictions may easily accommodate two adults and one or two small children, three or four adults could easily exceed the design limits for both of these bikes. Therefore, the builder will need to have a clear understanding of how many riders the tandem will need to seat and the maximum payload weight to ensure the bike is designed and built to support the intended use. Return To The Index

7. What's the Best Material For A Multi-Seat Tandem Frame?

Steel and aluminum are the most common materials used for multi-seat tandems; however, titanium has been used successfully and Calfee Design has built a carbon Triplet. The same pros and cons for each of the building materials that apply to two seat tandems also apply to the longer multi-seaters. However, tandems with 3 or more seats have a multiplying effect on those pros and cons. More specifically, steel Triplets, Quads, Quints and Hexes can become quite heavy or flex too much for some teams which is why aluminum has become a popular building material, given its strength to weight ratio and stiffness. However, the more exotic materials are significantly more expensive to buy and work with, thus, aluminum, titanium and carbon long-bikes can become quite expensive compared to the steel models.

If at all possible, it would be beneficial to beg, borrow or steal a ride on at least a tandem made of any material you are considering but have not yet test ridden. Ideally, you'd want to test ride a Triplet, Quad, Quint, or Hex fabricated from your candidate materials but that can be really hard (if not impossible) to accomplish at all but a few tandem dealers who have become multi-seat tandem specialists (See FAQ #5, above, for a partial listing). Return To The Index

8. How Do You Size The Rider Compartments?

A. Captain's Position: First and foremost, a tandem with 3 or more seats must be properly fitted for the captain. Piloting multi-seat tandems is significantly more physically demanding and fatiguing than piloting a conventional, two-seat tandem due to the demands associated with maneuvering the long bikes and with countering the movements of multiple riders. Consider if you will that having multiple riders on the back of the tandem doesn't merely raise the "wiggle" or "stoker lag" factor by 2x or 3x, it raises it exponentially since each rider is as likely to move in sync with another rider as they are independently, making it all that much more demanding for the captain. Therefore, a proper fit is essential to ensure the captain can bring his or her arms, shoulders and back to bear on the handlebars, while still maintaining an efficient riding position. In regard to the efficient riding position, one only needs to consider how much of a workout the captain could conceivable get if he or she was piloting two children on a Triplet, e.g., 60lbs of tandem + 100lbs of stoker weight ­ noting the stokers may or may not be providing enough power to propel their own body weight and may even be providing resistance as their legs tire or as they lose interest in pedaling.

B. Stoker Positions: As for stoker positions, the first consideration must be if and where any child stokers (aka, Stoker-kids or Stokids for short) will sit. The alternatives with Triplets are to either put Stokids in the middle position, with adults fore and aft, or in the "rear gunner's" seat behind both adults or the adult and a second child. The benefit of a Stokid in the middle position is obvious in that an adult in the third seat can keep an eye on and more easily hear and converse with the Stokid. However, placing the Stokid in the third seat is often times a necessary evil when internal support tubes prevent the installation of "kiddie cranks" on the center seat tube. Another advantage of using the rear gunner's position for a stokid is the ability to have the tandem built such that it is the shortest seat post on the tandem which will allow you to move away from the kiddie-cranks months if not years earlier. Additionally, if you are sizing a multi-seat tandem with your children in mind, you should take into consideration how you will accommodate their growth over time. Keep in mind, while a longer than average stoker compartment may seem inappropriate for a child today, the smaller riders can easily be accommodated through the use of an extra-long stem boom and the appropriate style of handlebar, e.g., up-turned drop bars, cow horns, Scott aero bars, etc. This may pay dividends if your children are still riding with you 5 or 10 years after you acquire your multi-seat tandem.

C. Quads, Quints and Hexes: Multi-seat tandems with more than three seats present additional and unique issues with regard to seating and weight distribution. While you may prefer to have all the Stokids in back, you may need to have an adult seated further aft to ensure there is enough weight on the rear wheel to maintain proper balance and for supervision of the brood. Again, your expectation with regard to where you want each rider to sit is something that must be discussed and agreed upon with your builder during the design phase of your multi-seat tandem. Return To The Index

9. How Does The Captain Control The Bike?

Like all other tandems, the Captain controls the balance, steering, gear selection and primary brakes on a tandem with 3 or more seats. All four of the critical functions are carried out on the handlebars which are available in two configurations: upright or drop bars. Upright bars are what you find on mountain and comfort bikes whereas drop bars are what you find on road racing or touring bicycles.

A. Upright Bars: Upright bars are wider and, as a result, offer somewhat better steering leverage which can be a tremendous benefit when it comes to steering a multi-seat tandem. However, upright bars only offer one hand position which, on a long ride, can become a source of discomfort for the long bike pilot. As for shifting controls, upright bars offer two basic options: thumb and forefinger controlled trigger shifters that can be integrated or non-integrated with the bike's brake levers (aka, STI) or twist-grip / grip-shift controls with non-integrated brake levers. There is no "best" system; some folks just prefer trigger shifters over grip shifters and visa versa. A lever for the operation of a supplemental "drag brake" as discussed in FAQ #12, below, is also a control that needs to find its way onto the bars of a multi-seat tandem. For upright bars, an older friction or indexed thumb shifter is usually the preferred control lever and it can be placed inboard of the captain's left or right brake levers. However, it's worthwhile to note that when placed on the captain's bars it is competing for precious bar space that may also be needed for cyclo-computers, heart rate monitors, lights or other bar-mounted accessories. Therefore, as another option, a thumb shifter or even a single mountain bike brake lever can also be fitted to the stoker's bars if a team decides to let the stoker handle drag brake control duties.

Burley Rock & Roll with Upright (flat) Bars

B. Drop Bars: Even the widest drop bars tend to a bit more narrow than upright bars and, therefore, do not provide as much leverage. However, most long bike pilots do not find that to be an issue and, based on my observations, I'd have to say that the majority of multi-seat tandems are outfitted with drop bars. On the plus side, drop bars offer a variety of different hand positions which can be a source of relief for fatigued hands and arms if riding plans will include routes with moderate to long distances. As far as shifting and brake controls, like all other tandems, integrated Shimano STI or Campagnolo Ergo brake/shifters can be used. However, you'll also hear and read a good many recommendations for using non-integrated shifting and brake systems, i.e., dedicated brake levers and bar-end controlled shifters (aka, barcons).

Co-Motion Supremo with Drop Bars

The recommendation for non-integrated systems is tied to two inherent features associated with the bar-end shifters:

(1). Shifting Precision: The long derailleur cable runs used on multi-seat tandems are prone to cable stretch which can create balky shifting on bikes equipped with the indexed STI and Ergo shifters. Even though most bar-end shifters are also indexed, they can be switched to friction mode which allows the captain to easily "trim" the derailleurs to compensate for any stretch that shows up during a ride. The counterpoint to this argument is that any cable stretch can also be "dialed-out" on bikes outfitted with STI and Ergo levers using the derailleur cable stop barrel adjusters mounted within reach of the captain on the tandem's down tube.

(2). Gear Position Indication: Not knowing what gear combination a 12' to 16' long tandem is in can cause mis-shifts or thrown chains when a captain guesses-wrong. Bar-end shifters provide the captain with a visual indicator of which chain ring and cassette cog they are in based on the attitude of the bar-end shifter's lever. The counterpoint to this argument is, with the introduction of in-line gear position indicators and the FlightDeck and Ergo Brain computers that also feature gear position indicators, captains do not need to give up the hands-on control and convenience of their STI and Ergo shifters to know what gear combinations they are using.

C. Operation of Drag Brakes: The last consideration that needs to be addressed if you are wrestling with integrated vs. non-integrated drop bar controls is how you will control the operation of the supplemental "drag brake" discussed in FAQ #12, below. For captains who use drop bars with bar-end controls, an older friction or indexed thumb shifter can be placed on top of the drop bar where, as with the upright bars, it is competing for precious bar space. There is an alternative way to control your rear drum brake that involves running both rim brakes off of a single drop-bar brake lever and the drum brake off of the second lever that is discussed a bit more in FAQ #12, below. For captains using drop bars with integrated STI or Ergo shifters, a bar-end control can be used to operate the drag brake which makes for a very tidy installation and easy use. Finally, as with upright bars, either of these two types of levers or a mountain bike brake lever can be placed on the stoker's handlebars if a team decides to let the stoker handle drag brake control duties. The use of a third, drop bar "aero" brake lever is not recommended for ergonomic reasons associated with the proximity of the captain and stoker and the lever's potential contact with the captain's leg. Return To The Index

10. Do They Require A Special Fork?

This is a question that needs to be discussed with your tandem dealer and/or builder when you are creating the specifications for the bike. The fork must be able to safely carry the maximum gross weight that a 3, 4, 5 or 6 seat tandem will be designed for and that could range anywhere from under 350lbs for a lightweight couple with a small child to weights well in excess of 800lbs for four adults or a family of six. Therefore, at the lightweight end, standard oversized steel or perhaps even a tandem-rated carbon fork (e.g., Santana's Reynolds Ouzo Pro) could be more than adequate. If you plan to ride on rugged terrain a heavy-duty suspension fork may be required and, depending on your expected maximum team weight, several tandem-rated suspension forks are available that can be modified to support your needs. However, as the gross weight requirements begin to exceed standard tandem design limits, custom forks fabricated from bicycle frame tubing may be required. Again, this is an area where your tandem builder's expertise will be essential and your ability to clearly state your intended use of the bike is critical. Return To The Index

11. Do They Require Special Wheels?

Again, and similar to the question regarding forks, the selection of the right wheelset should be addressed to your tandem dealer and/or builder when you are creating the specifications for the bike. The wheels must be able to safely carry the maximum gross weight that the tandem will be designed for and that should be your only concern: wheels are not a place to look for weight savings on a multi-seat tandem. Therefore, while Triplets and many Quads produced for families are designed around a 700c wheel size, 26-inch wheels are often the right choice for Quads, Quints and Hexes. All other things being equal, 26-inch wheels can be built to be stronger and more durable than 700c wheels due to their smaller diameter. Moreover, there is a very wide range of tire widths available in the 26-inch tire market which becomes increasingly important as the maximum gross weight of a tandem climbs above 600lbs.

A. Hubs: Any of the better-quality hubs spec'd for use on tandems that offer heavy-duty axles and wide flange spacing are suitable for tandems with 3 or more seats. Examples would include: Phil Wood FSC, Chris King, Shimano XT (Tandem), DT-Hugi (Tandem), etc.

B. Rims: Double-walled box or deep-section rims with reinforced eyelets and an INTERIOR bead width of 19mm or greater would be the starting point. Consider the more-sturdy Trekking, Touring, or 26-inch mountain bike rim models that have a history of providing reliable performance for current multi-seat tandem teams. Examples: Sun Rhyno-Lite, Mavic T520, Velocity Dyad, daVinci V-22, etc.

C. Tires: The guidelines that apply to tandem tires are especially critical. As your tandem's maximum gross weight goes up, the tire size and air pressure needed continues to increase proportionately. While you'll often find lightweight teams with small children riding on tires as narrow as 700x25 (25mm), they are the exception and not the rule. In those instances what you'll find is that these are usually "go-fast" duos + smaller children who ride exclusively on well-maintained, smooth roads. For most other teams with 700c wheeled bikes, consider 700x28 the minimum width for lightweight teams and 700x32 for teams of average weight. The larger the team, the larger the tire and larger diameter tires are available in sizes that range up to 50mm (1.25-2.0 inches). 26-inch road tire availability is relatively consistent with 700c road tires. Tire construction, reliability and durability are also considerations. Consider only tires rated as acceptable for tandems, the ones recommended by your dealer/builder, and/or that receive good reports from teams who are riding similarly sized tandems with similar team weights to what you would be riding. Examples include: IRC Tandem, IRC Metro, Avocet FasGrip Duro K, Panaracer Pasela, Schwalbe, Avocet Cross, etc. Return To The Index

Tech Talk: Tires used on multi-seat tandems should normally be inflated 10 ­ 30psi higher than than what you would normally use for a similar size tire on a single bike to compensate for the increased weight of your team. As a general rule, a properly inflated tire will have a slight bulge under load and be resistant to pinch flats from all but the worst impacts. If a tire does not bulge under the team's weight, it is over-inflated and will provide a harsh ride. If it bulges too much, it is under-inflated and pinch flats become highly likely. Again, consult with your dealer, builder and/or experienced teams for specific recommendations as needs will vary depending on team weight and tire selection.

12. Do Triplets, Quads and Quints Require Special Brakes?

The short answer is no. Triplets, Quads and Quints are normally outfitted using the same linear pull or cantilever models of mountain and touring bike rim brakes that are fitted to tandems. However, the Magura HS-33 (upright bar) and HS-66 (drop bar) hydraulic rim brakes come highly recommended given their exceptional modulation and stopping power. Some folks will recall that the 1998 Cannondale RT3000s came with the HS-66 and the 1998 to 2001 MT3000s came with the HS-11 and Raceline D model hydraulic rim brakes. Unfortunately, drop bar users must use bar-end shifters with the HS-66 as its lever is brake-only and not compatible with Shimano's STI or Campagnolo's STI systems. Lightweight, boutique brakes and single-pivot brake arches are not suitable for multi-seat tandems. With regard to disc brakes, while the number of builders installing primary rear only and dual-disc brake systems on road tandems continues to increase, they are at best still an unproven product application for road-going multi-seat tandems despite being a regular fixture on off-road tandems for several years now. Therefore, anyone using single or dual disc brakes on a road tandem with 3 or more seats is most definitely doing "product development work" on behalf of the tandem community. Stay tuned; more to follow on discs in the coming months and years.

In addition to the primary rim brakes, multi-seat tandem buyers should consider an auxiliary "drag brake" an essential safety device. A drag brake, by definition, is a wheel brake applied with constant force for prolonged periods to slow a tandem's rate of descent on steep grades. Drag brakes are often times standard safety equipment for two-place tandem teams who do loaded touring, plan to encounter long, steep descents such as in the Alps, or who have relatively high team weights. They are usually operated by a friction / indexed thumb or bar-end shifter located on either the captain or stoker's handlebar at described at FAQ #9, above, that can be set in a fixed position. There is an alternative way to control your rear drum brake that involves running both rim brakes off of a single drop-bar brake lever and the drum brake off of the second lever. Personally, I would not recommend this approach. However, if someone convinces you that it's worth a try there are at least two ways to facilitate this type of a set up. The first is to use a set of DiaComp model 204T, non-aero brake levers and the second is by using a World Class Wishbone Cable splitter. Detailed instrutions come with both products and/or your tandem builder or dealer should know how to set them up. Again, I believe you are better off using the left and right hand levers to control the front & rear primary brakes and an auxiallary lever to control the drag brake.

At present, the only true drag brake available is the Arai drum brake pictured at right. The Arai is a very heat-tolerant, enclosed drum brake with external cooling fins that threads on to a left-side-threaded, drum-brake compatible hub. Although a few builders have fitted mechanical disc drag brakes to tandems, they are prone to brake-fade and overheating if used as a drag brake in the same manner as the Arai. Therefore, in practice, teams that have these disc drag brake equipped tandems tend to use the disc more as a supplemental primary brake as they approach critical speeds, turns or stops to ease the heat load that would otherwise be put on the rim by the using rim brakes alone. Return To The Index

13. What About Gearing & Crank Phase?

Given the higher average and potential total team + bike weight of tandems with 3 or more riders, it would be important to ensure you have gearing that is low enough. However, the low-end gearing can't be so low that it creates a problem by exceeding the front derailleur's chain ring capacity.

Tech Talk: Tandems typically come with gearing that ranges from 22 to 131 gear inches, with anything less than 40 gear inches being referred to as "Granny" or "Alpine" gearing. Gear inches refer to the distance a bicycle travels forward for each turn of the crank. For example, a 54t chainring in combination with an 11t cassette cog yields 131.4 gear inches. Whereas, a 28t chainring in combination with a 34t cassette cog yields only 22 gear inches. Granny or alpine gearing is favored by teams who aren't strong climbers or who are touring with a fully loaded tandem as it reduces the amount of energy and leg strength required to ascend steep grades. If you'd like to find out how many gear inches that are available on your current bike, Sheldon Brown has an excellent and easy to use Gear Inch Calculator on line at: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears/.

More Tech Talk: A front derailleur's capacity is the difference between the number of teeth on your largest and smallest chainrings. For example if you have a 39/53 chainring combo, (53 - 39 = 14), you will need a front derailleur with a capacity of 14 teeth or more. If you have a 30/40/50 chainring combo, (50 - 30 = 20), you will need a front derailleur with a 20 tooth or more capacity.

With regard to crank phasing

Even More Tech Talk: The position of the cranks is normally referred to as being either "Out of Phase" (OOP) or "In-Phase" (IP). In-Phase means the crank arms are parallel with each other. Out-Of-Phase (OOP) means the cranks are off-set by a predetermined number of degrees (e.g., 90°, 180°).

The primary advantage or benefit of riding a two-place tandem with cranks "Out of Phase" is that there is no 'dead spot' during a full rotation of the cranks, i.e., when the captain's cranks move through the 5 to 7 & 11 to 1 O'clock positions where power output is the lowest, the stoker's cranks are moving through the 1 to 5 & 11 to 7 O'clock positions where power output is the highest. In theory, and in practice for folks who adapt to it, it's a more efficient way of smoothly delivering max power to the drive train. The down side is, it's far more difficult to stand and sprint or climb out of the saddle since the captain and stoker's upper bodies will be moving "out of sync" as well. The captain also needs to be mindful of his or her pedal position if they intend to corner fast (leaned over) and when going over speed bumps / obstructions so as not to slam stoker feet into the ground/obstruction. Then again, some teams just find it helpful for the captain to run his or her cranks a few teeth out of phase and ahead of the stoker's cranks. which lets the captain begin the power stroke ahead of the stoker. Let me end this part of the discussion by noting, IP vs. OOP is one of the more hotly debated topics that you'll encounter among tandem enthusiasts. However, I would hazard a guess that less than 5% of tandem owners ride OOP which may have more to do with aesthetics than anything else.

However, on tandems which have 3 or more riders, the benefit of riding "out of phase" is far more noticeable since the potential magnitude of the power spikes that come from riding in phase are often time very pronounced and produce bike surging and excess wear and tear on the drive train. Therefore, staggering the crank positions by ~60-degrees on Triplets, ~45-degrees or two ea. at ~90-degrees on Quads, ~36-degrees on Quints and ~30-degrees on Hexes can go a long way towards smoothing-out the power input and reducing drive train tension if it is perceived to be a problem when riding the long-bike "in phase". Again, the down side is keeping in mind the need to manage pedal clearance when cornering or going over crests as the long wheel base and some serious challenges with regard to standing and riding out of the saddle as a team. Return To The Index

14. What About Frame Couplers & Convertible Tandems?

S&S Machine's Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCs or S&S Couplings for short) can be incorporated into the design of multi-seat tandems in such a way that the bikes can be configured for two, three, four or more riders. You can find out more about S&S couplings at S&S Machine's Web site: http://www.sandsmachine.com

Bilenky was the first bicycle frame fabricator to use S&S couplings on a tandem and their T3 Triplet. Bilenky also invented a special mid-section that could be added to existing tandems using S&S couplings dubbed the "Triplicator". As the name implies, the Triplicator could convert a tandem not originally designed for three riders into a Triplet. Santana has also adopted couplers for its tandems and, while two-place models are referred to as "Stowaways", the Triplet and Quad S&S equipped models are known as "Cabrios". The Cabrio 4 depicted at the top of this article just happens to be the first one made in response a request by the buyer, DR. Mark Russell of Tucson, AZ. S&S couplers are also used by Co-Motion, Bushnell, Erickson, Meridian, Ventana, Bilenky and about 46 other builders not listed in this article.

It's probably important for me to point out that S&S couplers do add a significant amount of cost to the price of tandems and the more you need, e.g., for convertibles, the higher the premium. However, most owners who have gone the convertible route find the flexibility to be more attractive than having multiple tandems to serve multiple needs. In other words, a convertible can be your regular tandem, your travel tandem or a Triplet/Quad/Quint when needed. S&S couplers can also be great if you intend to travel with your multi-seat tandem or just want the ability to "break it down" to fit inside of a smaller vehicle for transportation. Again, don't forget that in order weigh the advantages of the couplers, you'll need to factor in the added complexity and time needed to assemble, disassemble or reconfigure S&S equipped convertible & travel tandems. Return To The Index

15. Any Special Recommendations Regarding Paint & Finish?

Use your imagination! Be mild or wild and remember to have fun picking out the color(s). A nice solid color, either bright or subdued, will always look sharp and won't become a major issue in the event you later decide to resell the tandem. However, the up-charge for custom paint is quite small in comparison with the total cost of one of these bikes so throwing in a few extra bucks for a snazzy paint job could make you stokids pretty enthusiastic about "their bike". Given their length, using multiple colors or interesting paint schemes on multi-seat tandems can help reduce the "bigness" of the bike's overall appearance by breaking up the long lines of the frame tubes. Fades like the one used on the Co-Motion Triplet owned by Roger Strauss, Eve Kofsky and son Elliott depicted below are very popular and help to personalize your investment.

However, as you think about your paint scheme keep in mind that touch-up will most likely be required on the seat tubes if you'll be bolting-on "Kiddie Cranks" at one or more of the stoker positions for your Stokids. Roger & Elliott discovered that the Atlanta Thrasher's team colors complimented their tandem rather nicely and a Thrasher's decal now adorns Elliott's seat tube to cover where his kiddie cranks were once attached. Return To The Index

16. Are There Any Special Accessories That Are Unique To Multi-Seat Tandems?

There are two accessories that seem to be ideally suited for multi-seat tandems; gear position indicators and intercoms. Both provide the captain with valuable information regarding what's going on at the other end of the tandem which, if it's a Quint or a Hex, can be a very long way back.

A. Gear Position Indicators: There are several different gear position indicators available to tandem captains, ranging from the sublime to high-tech. I touched briefly on gear position indicators in FAQ #9, above, but will address them again here in a little more detail; they include:

B. Intercoms: The "Tandem Talk" is a small, lightweight intercom system designed expressly for use by couples and families who ride together on multi-seat tandems. The system uses a single transceiver device and hard-wired ear-piece/microphones headsets to tie-in all of the riders on a closed-loop intercom system. This allows everyone on the tandem to be heard but without having to yell or contend with ambient wind and road noise. Most folks who have tried the system on their Quads and Quints consider them one of the most important pieces of equipment on their tandems. You can learn more about the "TandemTalk" by visiting their Web site: http://www.TandemTalk.com

C. Other Accessories: Although not as essential to the basic operation of the tandem, there are some other accessories that multi-seat tandem owners may want to consider; they include:

17. How Much Money Are We Talking About And What About Re-Sale?

The least expensive triplet that I'm aware of is the Bike Friday Family Triplet Traveler with pricing that begins just under $2,000. The price for a new, no-frills chromoly steel Triplet that's ready-to-ride with "good" componentry will begin somewhere around $4,500. A similarly equipped aluminum Triplet will begin somewhere around $6,500. Assume about $1,500 - $2,000 for each additional rider's position. S&S equipped "convertible" multi-seat tandems are approximately an additional $2,000 - $3,000 depending on frame material and the number of couplers required. As you get into the very exotic materials like titanium and carbon the sky's the limit; $17,495 is the MSRP for Santana's Titanium Cabrio4. As expensive as these incredible machines are relative to the cost of other bicycles, they are for many families the only "recreational vehicle" that they own or need. There are many families who spend far more for boats, RVs, and other recreational equipment that don't see nearly as much use so it really comes down to understanding how to assign a reasonable "value" the discretionary income you investment in recreational equipment and what you get out of it.

As for resale, that's another way of asking two other questions which are: how much could I expect to pay for a second-hand multi-seater or how much could I sell ours for if and when it no longer fits into our family's recreational interests? In general, like most second hand cars, motorcycles and other "equipment", there is usually about a 15-20% hit for depreciation the minute you take delivery of a new tandem. For every year that goes by a few more percentage points drop off. Ultimately, the pool of buyers looking for a particular type, brand, model or size of tandem will determine the fair market value based upon new pricing and the availability of other second hand tandems that would also fit their needs. As a potential buyer, you are faced with nearly as much of a challenge as the would-be seller of a Triplet, Quad, Quint, or Hex since it's such a small market; however, if you can find a match you can certainly come out a winner if you're a buyer, or at least recoup some of your original investment if you're a seller. Return To The Index

18. Are Multi-Seat Tandems More Difficult or Expensive To Maintain?

A tandem is a tandem is a tandem. If you can master or at least get your arms around basic maintenance tasks for a two-seat tandem a multi-seat Triplet, Quad, Quint, or Hex isn't that much more technically different. With a multi-seat tandem you just have more cranks, bottom brackets, eccentrics, seats, bars and chains to deal with and some very long derailleur and brake cables. There are clearly some things that are easy to master but take more time such as cleaning and lubricating chains. After all, if it takes you 5 minutes to clean and lube one timing chain it's reasonable to expect that it would take 20 minutes to clean and lube the timing chains on a Quad. There are also some "tricks" that you will need to learn with regard to setting up and maintaining a multi-seater in top-notch condition but, nothing comes to mind that the average enthusiast (perhaps with the help of a very good bicycle mechanic) can't figure out or address with standard bicycle repair tools. As for the costs, it's an exponential math equation; the more riders you have the more it will cost to maintain the bike. Two timing chains cost less than three, and three are less than four and four are less than 5. Five cyclists will certainly put a lot more wear and tear on the drive chain, chain rings and cassette cogs and the brakes, tires and rims will wear out several times faster than they would with a conventional two-place tandem. Return To The Index

19. Do You Find That You Attract A Lot Of Attention On A Multi-Seater?

If you think a tandem attracts attention, just try to blend-in while riding a Triplet, Quad, Quint, or Hex. The more seats you have, the more attention you command. In fact, your kids will grow up with the false impression that cycling is just about the same thing as being in a parade as they'll find themselves constantly waving to passersby and being the center of attention no matter where you go. Return To The Index

20. How Do We Know If A Multi-Seater Will Be Right For Us?

That's the one question that you'll need to answer yourself. Return To The Index

 

Copyright © 2003 by Mark P. Livingood & Paul Meixner


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