Our Calfee Journal

Documenting the first year of ownership

INTRODUCTION: We created this journal to provide tandem enthusiasts with insight into our experience in breaking-in a new tandem and the associated discovery process with very candid and frank commentary.

The goal was to give others who go down a similar path with their first Calfee -- or perhaps their first custom tandem of any type -- the benefit of a first-hand perspective to demonstrate that even a fairly experienced tandem enthusiast will make mistakes and find things aren't always perfect.

They key to success is, as always, solving issues by realizing where you may have made mistakes, learning new things about your equipment, finding the root cause of performance issues, fine tuning to suit your long-term preferences, and addressing all of these things using a logical and methodical process. Moreover, it will hopefully underscore how important relationships and communication are throughout the lifecycle of the entire process and product.

UPDATE - YEAR FOUR OF OWNERSHIP: Since we routinely receive questions from folks who have read our journal and asked us how our Calfee story has played out since publishing our final Calfee Journal update back on March 28, 2009, I thought it might be worthwhile to publish a periodic update: a long-term ownership update, if you will.

The elevator speech goes something like this: Absolutely no regrets about making our decision to have a Calfee tandem frame built.

The frame has exceeded our expectations in terms of the ride qualities: comfort being #1, handling #2, and responsiveness #3. After all, if it's not comfortable the other two qualities aren't all that meaningful unless it's a purpose-built time-trial machine that's only used for short periods of focused maximum effort and pain. And, when we say "comfortable" we mean the most comfortable tandem we've ever ridden and we've ridden quite a few exceptional tandems that were very comfortable.

In terms of quality, once the initial kinks were worked out vis-a-vis having the eccentric shell updated to a new spec in August '08 (detailed in update #11), we've enjoyed over 12,000 trouble-free, quiet miles. Although we have a little bit of yellowed epoxy caused by UV rays in a few spots, we really have no regrets over the nude finish. It's very low maintenance and hides road grime quite well. It has also made some rework early on a lot more feasible & easy to do since no repaint was needed. As for the yellowing, we should have probably been more diligent with regular applications of Aerospace 303 protectant, so that's on us. Frankly, I think it actually gives the frame a little more character.

In terms of support from Calfee, the attention we received from Craig & James during the first few months after taking initial delivery was excellent and we haven't needed any additional support since August '08: again, the frame has been flawless.

Bottom Line: If we had to replace the Calfee for any reason we'd be hard pressed to replace it with anything other than another Calfee using the same geometry & dimensions Craig developed for our current frame.

Bear in mind that we did not buy a fully-assembled tandem from Calfee, just the frame. I believe we may have even supplied the fork that was used on our Calfee as I had several spares on hand at the time. So, in terms of how the "entire package" has been performing, here are some data points, remembering we were the ones who spec'd, sourced, installed and did all of the adjustments to the components that were attached to the Calfee frame:

  • Build - Pretty much spot-on. We're still running the same seat posts, handlebars, stems, saddles, shifters, cranks & front derailleur.
  • I've switched over from a Campy Record long cage rear derailleur to a SRAM X.0 to give us the ability to use 32t - 36t cassettes, noting the Campy long-cage RD would experience some minor interference with the 32t cassette. This does not come as a surprise as the Campy RD had a 29t upper limit.
  • Around 12-13k miles, the right hand Campy Ergo lever required a new spring to restore it's crisp performance but that's about normal for our Campy Ergo equipped bikes given that we make a lot of rear derailleur shifts here in our part of the world given our rolling hills and stair-step steep climbs.
  • While the Gates Carbon Drive remains all the rage on high-end tandems, we remain fully committed to our chain-driven sync drive & daVinci cranks. The daVinci cranks mounted on Phil Wood Ti-Mag bottom brackets have been flawless and chain service is a no-brainer. Now, to be fair, the Gates system isn't compatible with our tandem's custom dimensions so it's a bit of a moot point.
  • The S&S couplers may have been unnecessary as we still haven't traveled with the tandem. In retrospect, we probably should have saved the $3k and 3lbs and gone with an uncoupled frame. Our retirement picture doesn't seem to suggest world travel will be in our future. Instead, road trips here in the good old CONUS is the more likely scenario. But, should an opportunity present itself, we'll be ready.
  • As for our high-zoot 'Zona' carbon stem, while insanely expensive, the custom geometry (low-rise, long boom) has been perfect for Debbie. There are some cosmetic cracks in the paint/clear coat at the point where the boom connects to the seat post clamp that make it look like it has some durability issues that we monitor, but they have remained unchanged for 3.5 years.
  • The Shimano XTR in-line gear position indicator I installed for the front derailleur cable failed at about 6k miles, making a mess of the front shifting during its final ride. The housing bends were just too tight and fatigue cracked the plastic end cap. I've found I can easily look down and back between my legs to see what chain ring I'm in so it was no great loss.
  • The Record brake calipers - front dual pivot and custom rear dual pivot - continue to work like champs for all but the most demanding terrain. Lots of grip and plenty of room for 25mm tires, perhaps even 28mm if we change out the 45mm rake / 374mm long Alpha Q X2 front for our spare 55mm rake / 395mm long Reynolds Ouzo Pro Tandem fork. Fresh brake pads went on last season, as is my habit.
  • The Avid BB7 Road Disc has been perfect for those demanding mountain descents and an easy 15 minute swap-out with the rear caliper and a switch to our disc-compatible conventional wheelset.
  • With regard to wheels, we now run our Topolino wheels almost exclusively. We had some issues with the front wheel bearings but they were solved by Topolino and the wheels have been 100% reliable ever since then. The conventional White Ind / Velocity Deep V wheels typically stay in the wheel bag as our back-up wheels and get used when we decide to install the Avid BB7 disc, given that the Topolino's can't be used with a disc. The Rolf Prima Vigor Tandem wheels hang in the garage unused for the most part.

Any regrets? Not really. Debbie is VERY fond of the Calfee (as am I) and would only be interested in another tandem if it was somehow more comfortable than the Calfee without giving up performance. I'm not sure what that would be. As for any future changes, I don't see any in the offing. We've ridden a tandem with Di2 and while it worked well I wasn't "blown away" by any perceived improvement in performance or ease of use, so the value proposition is lost on me. However, the folks who have it on their tandems seem to like it a lot, so that probably says more about me than the technology.

So, there you have it, circa Spring 2012. We'll update again next Spring unless something significant happens that warrants an earlier update.

JOURNAL NAVIGATION: We have broken the journal down into separate web pages for each update. The following index will appear at the bottom of each journal page to help readers navigate through the various information and subjects. Bear in mind, most of the material in the journal will be somewhat dated. In certain instances I have gone back and added updates which you'll find in a very distinctive typeface color.

Summary & Overview: Purpose of the Journal, long-term ownership update & Journal navigation
Update #1: January 3, 2008: Our Calfee Tetra Tandem Arrives: Background on why I selected a Calfee and what makes our frame unique.
Update #2: January 12, 2008: Build 99% Complete... And The First Ride: First impressions on the build-up and ride qualities as well as a description of the initial components, the weight, cost, and some other thoughts.
Update #3: February 10, 2008: First 30 days & 250 miles: Dealing with a new type of eccentric, trying to resolve some handling issues and working around an RF interference issue with my stoker's wireless computer.
Update #4: February 24, 2008: First 45 days & 300 miles: Back-to-back riding comparisons with our Erickson steel tandem and first impressions of low-spoke count / paired-spoke racing wheels.
Update #5: March 2, 2008: Ever Wonder How Much Influence Wheels and Tires Have On Your Tandem's Performance? Our first chance to ride the Calfee with conventional wheels solves the early handling issues.
Update #6: March 16, 2008: As The Wheels Turn.... And Other Weighty Issues: A little more on wheel comparisons, disc brake rotor clearance, and some final thoughts on our experience with low-spoke count / paired-spoke racing wheels.
Update #7: March 30, 2008: And Now For Something Completely Different: Tandems East's '08 Tandem Expo: Meeting Craig Calfee for the first time along with several other industry representatives and enthusiasts while attending one of the few tandem expos held here in the US.
Update #8: April 19, 2008: It's the Little Things.... And Some New Wheels: A few tweaks, some different water bottle cages, and yet another wheel set: these babies are keepers.
Update #9: May 11, 2008: Back In Black... And More On Wheels: The Calfee takes on a more stealthy look, an update on the Topolino's and a new set of old wheels: Rolfs Part Deux.
Update #10: May 27, 2008: Wheels, Rims, & Unexpected Consequences: Debbie's Calfee: We are so impressed with the Calfee tandem that a 3rd Calfee bike is added to the family livery, plus updates on wheels, creaks, and a short photo retrospective on US: 2008 compared to 1997.
Update #11: August 12, 2008: The Perfect Ride & The Penultimate Update: After about 8 months and a couple thousand miles of fine tuning, our Calfee Tetra Tandem is Perfect. This update includes a summary of the final adjustments made since May and will likely be the last update before our final, year-in-review over Christmas.
Update #12: March 28, 2009: The Final Entry: This is it, the last installment. A final summary of our impressions and thoughts on uber-light / performance tandems, our Calfee and some additional details on disc brake installation, touring gear and a final installment on our flirtation with exotic wheelsets.
Final Wheel / Tandem Configurations & Build Sheet With Cost & Weight Data

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