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Co-Motion Tandem Bicycles… Quietly, Simply the Most Reliably Fantastic Bike I Own

When I bought my Specialized Venge, it took another $3,000, on top of the $3,100 sticker, to make it right (of course, I dropped 3 pounds off the bike in the process and made it spectacular). I upgraded every part that can be upgraded on that bike. My ’99 Trek 5200, about $2,000. Same thing; only the chainring bolts are original besides the frame and fork. My wife and I started talking about buying a tandem about four or five years ago, the owner of the local shop just happened to have a Co-Motion Periscope Scout, a flat bar hybrid tandem on display that caught our eye.

We loved the adjustability at the back end of the bike because it could fit a rider from 4’2″ to 6’2″ (127 cm to 188 cm). That meant we’d be able to fit our daughters on the back, as well as my wife… and all of the adjustments were astonishingly simple. We pulled the trigger on the bike under the condition it would be converted to a road bike. A few weeks later, once the changes were made, we brought it home. Since, I’ve taken the kids on the bike a grand total of three times. My wife and I, however, have taken to it for our Sunday rides and are in the process of trying to ride the wheels off it.

We had the bike fitted with fenders a couple years ago because we had a tendency to get caught out in wet weather on the bike… don’t ask me how it happens. It just does. Anyway, with the fenders, we can get caught in a storm and I won’t have to fully wash the bike after (a simple wipe down usually suffices). It’s amazing how clean the bike stays in a rain storm with the fenders on (and whichever friend gets to draft us is always appreciative).

This is the important part. With the exception of one set of new shift cables, and maintaining the drivetrain, the bike has been entirely maintenance-free since we brought it home. It amazes me how little tinkering that tandem requires. A tightening of the timing system here, a twist of a barrel adjuster there… maybe some attention to the seat post clamp bolts (ours loosened over the years, causing the seat posts to drop a bit)… but that’s it.

Now, if you look at the photos above, the first and third are shot at the front of the bike… did you notice the shifter levers? The owner of the shop could only get a 105 triple lever with a silver handle… he offered to shoot black, but I declined. I hoped the tandem would be in the family for a while and I kind of dig the uniqueness of the story. I had no idea my wife and I would take to it the way we have. In fact, it’s considerably more fun than I hoped.

What I’ve found with our Co-Motion, contrasted against other tandems, is that there’s nothing cheap or poorly thought out on our bike. The eccentric bottom bracket used to tighten the timing chain is ridiculously simple next to other systems. Loosen four easy-to-get at bolts and turn. Tighten bolts. Done. Every part is top-notch and well planned out. On lesser tandems, that eccentric bottom bracket uses a wedge system that is outrageously difficult to mess with and notoriously creaky. We ride that bike hard and it’s still silent and a joy to ride.

Riding tandem is not without its challenges, of course. First, ours a 42 pound bike (19 kg)… my wife and I are no lightweights, too, so we’re pretty slow uphill, even putting out max wattage. Second, there’s the whole tandem concept. A friend likes to say tandems are marriage makers or breakers. My wife and I are a great team off the bike, but on a bike took a few years, several arguments, and a lot of patience (on my wife’s part as much as mine) to get to where we work together and finish a ride happier than when we started. It was worth the effort, though. Once we got it right, we’ve had a blast.

Co-Motion tandems are hand-built in Eugene, Oregon. Co-Motion Cycles come in old school steel, like ours above, or high-grade aluminum. One thing to be aware of when considering a Co-Motion tandem, they are not cheap. That 42 pound beauty above was just shy of $4,000. If you want to get into the top-end bikes like the Carrera (steel – $7,300), Robusta (aluminum $8,300), Suprema (aluminum $8,800) or the big dog, the Macchiato (aluminum… starting at $9,900), be prepared to lay out some coin. Now, before you stomp off, claiming $10,000 is ridiculous for a tandem, you should know that fitted with the right groupset , the Macchiato comes in at an astonishing 24 pounds. That’s about what my gravel bike single weighs. It’s a drool-worthy bike, you just better know you want to ride a tandem because a Co-Motion is an investment.

I can tell you, before we get close to retirement, when the girls are on their own, I’m going to be eyeing a Macchiato, Supremo, or maybe a Robusta. Or maybe we’ll just stick with our modified Periscope. There’s no question it’s a fantastic bike and the steel frame provides an unbelievably comfortable ride. And the price is definitely right! Paid in full.

As for that cool stem mounted bottle cage, don’t bother looking for one on the interwebz. That’s a custom piece built for us by the owner of our local shop. To my knowledge, that’s the only one in existence.

A tandem, however, is readily available at their website or through your local bike shop. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

What Kind of Road Bike Does One Need to Fit Their Skills and Needs? More Important, How Much is Too Much Bike?!

As one might imagine, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m going to enjoy writing this series.

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The amazing, fantastic, fast, sexy-in-a-Ferrari-kind-of-way, road bike. For those who want to get down the road as fast as is scientifically possible on their own power, the road bike is the most efficient machine on the planet to do that. Now, to be fair to the time trialists, a claim could very well be made that the time trial bike is indeed more efficient – and that is correct… until one adds a friend. When riding any more than solo, the TT bike is a death trap in all but the soberest, pro-est, of hands. For that reason, and the fact I’m a social cyclist and a little selfish (it’s my blog, baby!), I’m going to stick with the road bike.

Depending on what you want to do with your road bike, where you want to ride, and with whom you want to ride, your needs will change. With this post I hope to help new cyclists enter into an exceedingly expensive sport with a little knowledge that might help save some headache and money.

The Gravel Bike

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For an in-depth look at what you might want in a gravel bike, click (here). For the larger overview, if you can only have one road bike, the gravel bike is the way to go. With the right gravel bike and two sets of wheels (and tires – one for dirt, one for pavement), you can do anything. With the right setup and the proper level of gravel bike (and the fitness to move it), you’ll be able to keep up with any group you want – as long as you’re willing to put the work in.

The Used, Alloy or Steel Classic – Downtube Shifters, etc.

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Please forgive the log prop… I was a noob back then and didn’t know any better (as one would be able to tell from the saddle).

If you’re going to be rolling with the 10-mph to 16-mph crowd, a good old-fashioned classic will do just fine. You’ll have to work a little harder than everyone riding modern rigs on hills because shifting is awkward by comparison, but you’ll make up for any disadvantages with want to. If you’re “noob” enough to think this will be okay (obviously I was/did), accept that you’re probably wrong and you’ll be buying another bike shortly after you purchase this one. The real question will be, are you stubborn enough to stick with your choice? Because those old classics require a lot more fitness to keep up with others. I was not willing. I picked up a better bike less than six months later (see “The 10-20-year-old Classic with Modern Components” below). Five months to be exact. I know what you’re thinking; I’ll be able to make it on a classic. You’ll be right if you’re riding with the slower crowd. If you want to ride with the C, B, or A groups, you’re going to need a better bike… and even if you don’t need one, you’ll want one.

The Modern, Entry-level Alloy Road Bike with Modern Shifting Systems and Components

Spec.Allez

Many of us start out on a $1,000 road bike like the Specialized Allez (pronounced Ah-lay – it’s French, they shout it at the Tour de France, it means “come on”) because a $4,000 price tag on a bicycle seems outrageous. The Allez is a decent place to start, of course. Decent for the money. This will be good for the 12 to 20-mph average pace crowd. Any faster than that and a heavy entry-level bike will be too much work. From the terrible wheels, to the poor gearing choices, to the heavy overall weight of the bike, for the F through C groups, an entry-level bike will do. I’ve only seen one guy ride an Allez in a B Group setting. One. He’s since upgraded to a Specialized Venge. If you’re going to settle for entry-level, you’ll have to ask yourself, are you that person? If not, grade up.

The 10 to 20-year-old Carbon Fiber Classic, Modern Components

If you know how to look, you’ll find fantastic deals on used classic bikes. I picked the gem above up for a cool $750 from the local bike shop. Then I dropped $450 to have it painted, about $500 for some decent wheels and another $350 on other parts. I can ride that bike with anyone up to the 23-mph average crowd. The wheels do make it tough work, though – I could use a set of 38-50 mm carbon wheels on that bike because they allow you to keep the bike up to speed a little easier. On a bike like the one shown, with the right fitness and a decent set of deep dish wheels, you’ll be able to keep up with any group your fitness will allow you to. Doing the math, I have between $2,100 and $2,700 give or take, into a race-quality bike (I don’t even the remember the right amount the bike’s been through so many changes). On a budget, that’s as good as you’re going to get. Throw in another $700 for an upgraded set of wheels and your fitness will be your only limitation. With this bike, with the right transmission to suit your needs and decent wheels, you’ll be able to show up and ride with anyone your fitness will allow – A through F groups.

The Modern Race Bike – Mid-Range

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The mid-range race bike will run you between $3,000 & $7,000 and once you get to this quality in a bike, you have no more excuses as to why you can’t keep up. At this point, if you can’t keep up with the group you want to ride with, it’s most definitely you. Spending $3,000 on a bicycle isn’t easy – spending double that is harder… but it’s oh so worth it once you throw a leg over the top tube and clip in. This is where you can start to bump your head on too much bike for a group. While I don’t know many people who would ever deny another the enjoyment of riding a top-level race bike out of jealousy, a steed like this isn’t meant to be ridden on a nice little weekender with granny. If your idea of riding a bike is a nice 15-mile ride over the course of an hour and a half, you don’t need anywhere near this level of bike. Groups D through A; your only limitation will be how hard you can push on the pedals.

The Top-of-the-Line Race Bike

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The top of the line in road bikes will set you back between $8,000 and, for either of the two high-end racers above, $12,500. You can spend more on a top-of-the-line bike (the Bianchi-Scuderia Ferrari with Campagnolo components will run you a cool $18,600), but at that point you’re paying for the nameplate. You’ll be riding what the pros ride. You’ll have the lightweightiest, fastest, carbon fiber’est, ceramic bearing’est steed on the market. If you can’t keep up with a group on this bike, saunter up to a mirror and look in it. That’s your problem.

If you can afford a steed like that, ride that rig with a smile on your face because that’s as good as it gets.

If you show up for anything but the A, B or maybe the C ride with a top-end steed, you will unquestionably get a quizzical look or fifteen. Knowing what I know today, if I had the money laying around to blow on his and hers Ferrari’s, I’d do it. Owning one would be spectacular, but mostly unnecessary. I wouldn’t be any faster on that than I would the Specialized Venge I have $6,000 into.  High-end bikes don’t make a cyclist faster.  They make fast easier.

Road Bike Setup, Fitting, and Aging; How to Deal with Flexibility Issues as We Age

I was a late bloomer cyclist, picking the sport up at 41 after it became apparent I was too cool to ride a bike the day after getting my driver license at 16-years-old.  Sad, really, but at least I’m riding now.  Getting to the point, once I realized how much fun cycling was, I wanted to get into the “sporty” side of it.  Light, sleek bikes, flashy setups with the saddle several inches above the handlebar… it seemed like an “elegant” sport to use to keep fit.

For those who want to get into this side of cycling, there are a few hurdles.  First is weight.  A spare tire can’t be cycled around – we have to lose it before the front end of the bike can be lowered.  We’ve gotta ride the gut off, first.  Second is the local bike shop’s setup of the bike (or the previous owner’s setup if buying used).  The tendency with fitting a person on a bike is to “get you in a comfortable position”.  Riding with the handlebars dropped in the front, with the saddle high, isn’t exactly comfortable… at first.  Once you’re used to it, that’s another story, In my case, I started with the shop setup, then started lowering the bar as I got comfortable with riding.  I didn’t have any weight constraints.  The others can be overcome with a little knowledge.  How to swap spacers from below the handlebar to above, etc.

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For most of my 40’s, I’ve tinkered with my setup on two, now three, road bikes until they were each as low as they could be at the front while still allowing me to ride comfortably.  To be honest, I’m a little sad that I’ve found my limit on all three of my road bikes.

This all started back when I brought home my Trek 5200 that the shop had set up with the handlebar only a couple of inches lower than the saddle.  Within weeks I was lowering the handlebar, a little bit at a time, till I got to about four inches.  Then, my Specialized Venge in 2013, at the end of the season.  I had a Body Geometry fitting done on the bike – the only thing they did was lower the saddle two millimeters.  I’d set the bike up myself, correctly, with that small exception.  Once the Venge was set, I shifted my attention to the Trek.  I tried to match that to the Venge as closely as I could.  Here are four photos that illustrate the changes over time:

5200 Trek-Stem

In the last photo, bottom right, you can see the nose of the saddle on the left, and the huge increase in drop from the photo just left of that.  The changes to the Venge were subtler, but substantial at the same time:

2013 Specialized Venge

The drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my 5200, after the last adjustment, was so profound I actually had to put a spacer below the stem to raise it up 5 mm so I could ride it comfortably in the drops.  The key is to know my limits… but to know them, I had to find them first, then back it off a bit.

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Sadly, age is finally catching up to me as I near 50.  I’m still quite flexible, and the bikes as the setups are now are comfortable and fast.  I just can’t go any lower unless I get into drastic remedies to improve my flexibility.  I won’t say never, but it won’t happen any time soon.  I’m content to leave well enough alone at this point.

 

Road Cycling and Saddle Height; Down to the Last Millimeter

I’ve been struggling, a happy struggle mind you, with the saddle on my Trek 5200. Specifically, the height of said saddle on said 5200.  The fore/aft location is darn-near set in stone, as I prefer my kneecap to line up with the pedal spindle per the normal setup of a road bike.

First, that Montrose Pro carbon saddle is one fine saddle and some the best money I’ve spent on that bike went to that saddle. It’s got the perfect blend of lightweight, flexibility, and padding for a long distance saddle. I can even wear my thinner chamois bibs for 70+ mile rides on it – bibs I once only wore for 25-35 mile rides on inferior saddles.

My biggest issue has been getting the height dialed in so my Trek feels like my Specialized, though.  So, second would be the disclaimer that I’m notoriously picky about saddle height. Obsessive isn’t really a good word, but it comes pretty close to reality.

When I picked the saddle up, I first set it just a touch too high (my measurement is exactly 36-3/8″). I lowered it once because my keister was hurting. Then I lowered it another bit because it still hurt my heinie and by that time, my back was hurting and starting to seize up on me every now and again.  The second lowering did the trick, and that’s where I left it for DALMAC. I rejoiced for the weekend because the saddle felt excellent, with only a minor flareup of baboon @$$.

It wasn’t until I got back and rode the Venge a few days, then took the Trek out once more, that I realized the saddle on the Trek was a little too low. It felt it at the time, but in reality, it wasn’t by much.  It just felt… off.  It felt like I wasn’t getting my full leg extension, that I was working just a little too hard.

Well, Saturday afternoon I raised the saddle up to test my theory, thinking maybe I lowered it too much the last time. I didn’t raise it much, maybe 1-1/2 to 2 millimeters:

With the heightened chance of rain on Sunday, I rode the Trek. At first he saddle height felt right, or better at least.  I was definitely getting full leg extension, and I felt a bit stronger.  40 miles in, I was antsy in the saddle and my back pain started in again.  I knew I’d raised it too much. There was too much pressure on the sit bones. On coming back, I split the difference and lowered it by about half… and nirvana!

I rode with my buddy, Chuck Monday night, picking my lightest pair of bibs, and I could tell instantly, I nailed it.  Finally.

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I almost can’t believe it, the infinitesimal amount I’m talking about, but I’m here to tell you, that millimeter made a difference (actual difference once I lowered the saddle is half the gap shown above between the seat post and the marker line).

So here’s what was messing me up; having the saddle high helps keep your butt up and your head down – it’s aerodynamic.  Having the saddle up also allows for a stronger pedal stroke.  Unfortunately, having the saddle too high also hurts like hell.

Does it help that I’ve got the Venge to contrast what I’m feeling on the 5200?

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*Does it or doesn’t it help to have a phenomenal race bike to contrast my other bikes against?  Look, this is going to be a matter of perspective.  It’s more a blessing than a curse as I see it.  Having the Venge to match the Trek to has made the Trek a significantly better bike.  I never could have gotten it to where it is, as fast as I did, without the Venge.  Mrs. Bgddy might disagree with that assessment as it pertains to cash, though.  Ouch.

Jesus Built My Road Bike; My Love Affair with Speed… and a Specialized Venge

So there was only one thing that I could do
Was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long

One of my best riding buddies, Jonathan, just picked up a 2012 Venge, and got a smokin’ deal on it… Then he went to work on it. The bar tape is new, the wheels are new, even the drivetrain is new (it had SRAM Red and was upgraded to eTap).

That got me to thinking about mine, of course… because, like Jonathan’s Venge, mine is far from stock. The frame, fork, and chain rings are about the only original parts on the bike. The saddle is the same model as the original, but a year older… it matches the color scheme a little better.

I ended up taking the Venge out the other day for what was supposed to be a recovery ride day – typically not a good idea because I have a tendency to push the speed a little too much to be able to call it a “recovery” ride. My target, as I was standing in the driveway waiting for traffic to clear was 19 (ish) miles at 17-1/2-mph… I ended up doing 19.75 in just over an hour (19.3-mph average when the dust cleared).  So much for a recovery ride.

Everything on my Venge is in perfect working order. Nothing squeaks or creaks (with the exception of the cleats if I forget to lube them up now and again). When I get out of the saddle, the only sound is the whoosh – whoosh – whoosh distinctive to carbon fiber wheels and the subtle hiss of tires on asphalt. The shifts are clean and crisp. My Venge is a lot like a fifteen pound Ferrari.

In addition, everything on my Venge is color coordinated as perfectly as I can get it.  I went through a great deal of effort and money to make sure everything was right… and anything that was only close got changed out.  From the brakes, to the saddle, and the bottle cages to my Garmin, everything was chosen to get that bike as close to stylistically perfect (without going overboard to gaudy, say by adding red bar tape and red cable housing…).  I did the best I could with the money I had.

The Specialized Venge is the best-represented make and model on our Tuesday night club ride by more than threefold, and for good reason.  The Venge, especially the first generation, is the quintessential aero race bike.  Pure racing geometry, stiff as a board, exceptionally light at the Ultegra+ model (mine is 15 pounds – 16 with pedals and cages included), the Venge is all go and no slow, baby.

My Venge is no longer the newest, most “aero” thing on the road… but it’s hella-fast and it’s me, right down to the red and black, purposely mismatched carbon fiber bottle cages.

Standing there, sweating in my driveway, uploading my ride from my Garmin to the interwebs, I couldn’t help but think back to one of my favorite Ministry songs…

Jesus built my road bike
It’s a love affair
Mainly Jesus and my Venge