Custom Tandems: A Primer

© 2004 by Mark Livingood

Jumping into a first tandem with a custom frame can be a tricky proposition since many teams really won't have enough practical experience riding tandems to know what they like, don't like, or feel comfortable with. Therefore, unless a team has some unique frame size requirements, a standard-sized new or used tandem is usually the right choice for a first tandem. However, after riding for several hundred miles or perhaps a few seasons most teams will have a good sense of what has worked well for them, and what has not.

It is not all that uncommon for teams to decide they want or even need to have a custom tandem made for any one of a number of reasons: special sizing; tailored frame; a roomier stoker compartment; racing or touring-specific designs; or just to have something special. If you think a custom tandem might be the right choice for your team here are some tips that may help smooth out some of the potential bumps in the road as you search for your perfect, long-term tandem.

The basics are pretty straightforward but are highly dependent on how well you can:

  1. describe how you want your tandem to perform,
  2. make sure you have accurate sizing information which he'll ask for (NOTE: If you've never had one done before, now would be a good time to have a professional bike fitting done for both you and your riding partner),
  3. be prepared to be candid regarding your biases for design features or components,
  4. be clear about how much you're willing to spend,
  5. be clear about any required delivery dates, particularly if you need it for a special tour, event or as a surprise gift,
  6. put everything in writing, and
  7. be willing to trust the builder you select to come up with the right design and deliver on what he or she said they would. After all, when you have a custom tandem made you're paying for the builder's experience, skill and advice so why not take advantage of it.

As you might suspect from my last comments, selecting the right builder is perhaps the most important part of the process. Depending on how long you've been riding tandems, you might be thinking there aren't all that many choices so it should be relatively easy to select you builder by focusing on the most popular brands. Well, perhaps. However, it has been my experience that a familiar name may or may not be as important as a builder's ability create the perfect tandem for your team. With that in mind, and given the long-term relationship you'll likely have with a custom tandem, it may be worth while do some research to make sure you've evaluated all your options. Interestingly enough, when it comes to custom tandem builders there are perhaps more options than you realize. The following is a list of just some of the builders who you could include in your search:

Angle Tech (Recumbent)
Barcroft Cycles (Recumbent)
Bilenky Cycle Works (PA)
Bob Brown Cycles (MN)
Bohemian Cycles (AZ)
Bothwork (IA)
Brew (NC)
Bruni (MD)
Bushnell (WA)
Calfee Designs (CA)
Co-Motion Cycles (OR)
Composite Arts and Science (CAS) (CA)
Concept Technology (CA)
Davidson Handbuilt (WA)
da Vinci Designs (CO)
Erickson Cycles, (WA)
Griffen (CA)
Holland Cycles (CA)
Huber Bikes (HI)
Hujsak Bicycles (TX)
Kelly (CA)
Landshark (OR)
Litespeed Talani (TN)
Longbike (CO)
Lynskey Performance (TN)
Mikkleson Frames
Organic Engines (Recumbent)
Pederson Bikes (Hammock-saddle tandems)
Poulsen Cycles (CA)
Rans (Recumbent)
Ravello Tandems (CA)
Rex Cycles (CA)
Rideable Replicas (Retro, Comfort, Trike & Antique Replicas)
Rodriquez (WA)
Ryan Recumbents (Now owned by Longbike)
Rosenthal Tandems (MN)
Sano Cycle Works (AL)
Santana Inc (CA)
Seven Cycles
Serotta (NY)
SyCip Designs (CA)
Talisman Metal Craft (WA)
T.E.T. Cycles (IA)
Ted Wojcik Custom Bicycles (NH)
Ti Cycles (WA)
Tinker's Barn (WI)
VentanaMountainBikes USA Full-Suspension Off-Road Tandems

 As I look through this list I can't think of any of the builders listed who wouldn't be capable of producing a first class product. That's not to suggest in any way that all the builders listed are ones that I'd recommend since my personal experience is -- unfortunately -- constrained by the realities of economics. But, based on my personal experience I would ask you to keep in mind that a builder with a familiar name may or may not be as important as what past customers may have to say.

Some might ask, "Which tandem builder is the easiest to deal with." It would be hard to rank builders as being the easiest to deal with since each of their past clients and/or potential clients impressions are skewed by their expectations and perhaps good or bad chemistry. It's almost like asking a builder to rank his customers in terms of which ones are "easiest" to deal with. They all want to provide you with a great tandem and a great buying/ownership experience and everyone on this list who has had a good experience AND who likes their tandem will quickly endorse their respective builder. If they had a bad experience for any reason it may or may not be indicative of everyone's experience: keep an open mind and don't be too quick to dismiss any one builder unless you find a pattern of dissatisfaction with both the builder and his tandems. Remember, what you're after is a great tandem that fits your needs and expectations. If your personalities click, that's a bonus.

Well, that's it. Those are the basics. If you think a custom tandem might be the right choice for you start working through "the basics" so you'll have your requirements thought out before you start talking to your candidate builders. After that, surf the Web to get those phone numbers and enjoy the journey -- you'll learn a lot about the builders, tandems and maybe even yourself along the way.

Oh, and even though you'll be certain that you've gotten a commitment on a delivery date, don't be surprised if your builder misses the date... sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. It's unfortunately the nature of the custom bicycle business.


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