What the...!? Yes, that's our now 1-year old Calfee sporting a rear disc, mud guards (aka fenders), a Tubus Fly rear rack and Ortlieb panniers sitting on our dormant Bermuda lawn in the autumn: touring mode, if you will.
Given this is the last update, I've decided to move my 'Final Thoughts' to the beginning of this last installment as these really will be my final thoughts. Below these remarks you'll find a few comments regarding components, accessories and updates to previously unresolved issues. With that, we now embark on the final installment....
What's left to be written that hasn't already been addressed?
Although my penultimate update back in August tied up many loose ends regarding open issues with creaks and squeaks and the little tweaks that were made to dial-in our Calfee, there are still a few open ends and other things to address in this final installment.
I'd like to say, "I'll be brief", but that will ultimately end up being far from the truth if past history is any indicator. Anyway, what follows is some commentary and photos on the rear disc installation and performance. Obviously, some commentary on the touring configuration and is called for so I'll touch on the Tubus rack, Ortlieb panniers and SKS fenders as well. Finally, there was still an open issue with regard to the Topolino wheels that I will address toward the end of this update plus one new observation that prospective Topolino owners will want to be attentive to regarding the cassette carrier.
Avid BB7 Disc Brake
With the fall weather is upon us, I finally did a full-fledged installation of the Avid BB7 Road rear disc brake on our Calfee in October so we could run the disc compatible 36° White Ind / Deep-Vs until spring '09. As in the past, installation was a no-brainer because of the caliper positioning (CPS) bolts and add-on compression spring. I make note of this because I'm often perplexed when I hear from folks who had the Avid BB7 fitted to their tandem, often times by a shop, where they were compelled to use brake boosters or compression-less brake housing to make the brake perform as designed. As mentioned in my numerous postings over the years, the only thing I've done to enhance the performance of the Avid discs we've had on our tandems is the insertion of a compression spring over the brake cable between the caliper cable stop and actuating arm. The purpose is to provide some additional pre-loading on the cable to remove excess slack from the very long brake cable run so that the first few millimeters of brake lever pull isn't wasted on pulling up slack. It also helps to ensure the brake caliper's actuating arm returns to its full pulled-back position and that seems to eliminate rotor rub.
As for performance, on our first day back on the Calfee with the Avid rear disc I intentionally over-used the rear brake to accelerate the bedding-in process over our 30 mile / 2,300' regular loop ride from the house. By the time we were headed down the 8% grade into our community I was able to get the rear wheel to lock using only the rear brake. The following weekend we did an in-town ride with three other couples. For those who don't know, the city of Atlanta and its surrounding communities north of I20 are actually quite hilly in many areas. Anyway, as I did yesterday, I intentionally overused the rear disc brake and by about 1/2 way through the ride the stopping power was well on its way towards what I would call "normal" for an Avid BB7 with 203mm rotor. It had been over a year since we'd ridden our Avid BB7 equipped '02 Erickson and it was nice to have a really grippy rear brake back on the tandem. While we really don't need it for most of the rides we do locally, it's wonderful to have when we head up to the regional mountains.
I need to make note that my previous installation was simply fit checks with the Rolfs and the White Industries MI6 when we first took delivery of the tandem. Those who have followed this journal may recall the MI6 rear hub with the bolt-on rotor made for a tight fit up against the Calfee's rear chain stay, in part because White Ind. seems to have a hard time maintaining I.S. spacing tolerances. I'm pleased to report there's more than enough room now that I'm back to using a thread-on DT adapter with the White Ind Daisy hub. This tight-fit between the rotor and rear stays has been noted by several Calfee owners and is something to be mindful of when ordering a Calfee. Craig Calfee has advised that so long as the rotor isn't touching the stay there is nothing to be concerned about, i.e., rotor rub or heat transfer. However, from a practical standpoint a tight fit will usually cause the rotor to nick and mar the inside face of the left chain stay during rear wheel installation and removal and that's clearly not desirable. So, as a lesson learned: Future Calfee buyers who intend to fit discs to painted frames should specify that at least an extra 1mm of clearance be added to the inside left rear chain stay to accommodate rotor installation and removal.
Of course, now that spring is upon us the disc has once again gone back into storage and been replaced by a rear rim brake caliper so we can use our non-disc compatible Topolino wheel set. The only thing I will make mention of here is after having the Avid rear disc on the tandem I was quickly reminded how poorly matched Campagnolo's 'Differential" caliper brakes are for use on tandems.
For those who don't know, Campagnolo sold its caliper sets with front & rear dual pivot brakes up and until 2001, at which point it decided a single pivot was more than adequate for single bike rear wheel braking duties. In fact, the single pivot was heralded -in as a way to mitigate rear-wheel brake lock-up while reducing the rear brake by 40 grams. While this was a prudent move for single racing bikes, it short-changed caliper brake-equipped tandems that benefit from the added braking power given the long wheel base and increased gross weight. So, when you hear the expression 'differential' what it means is the front brake is a dual pivot caliper and the rear brake is a single pivot caliper.
Anyway, I digress. The new data point and change here was making a decision to acquire a second set of Record skeleton brakes so I could modify the mounting bolt on the front dual pivot brake to allow for its use as a rear brake caliper. The modification required the disassembly of the caliper and then shortening and cutting new threads further up the mounting post. While I wouldn't recommend this modification to anyone who hasn't previously rebuilt brake calipers (after all, these are the things that stop your tandem), the results have been worth the effort. Having the dual pivot back on the rear wheel made for a noticeable improvement in rear braking power over both the single pivot skeleton brake and the '00 Record dual-pivot model. Of course, I'm now left with an excess pair single pivot Record skeleton calipers.
Travel & Cases
Fortunately or unfortunately, with all but the Santana Stowaways & the optional SafeCase you're left to come up with the best packing solution for your travel tandem. To become proficient at packing and unpacking it usually takes a few hours sitting there with your disassembled tandem to figure out the best way to make it all fit.
Once you've figured it out it's a pretty good idea to create a step-by-step photo show illustrating how you've decided to pack your travel tandem to use as a guide in the future. In fact, I do just that using PowerPoint and then tape the photos to inside lid of our travel case. Having those pictures eliminates the guesswork and always insures your tandem gets packed correctly with no stress and in the least amount of time.
Now, having lived with a travel tandem prior to taking delivery of our Calfee, I found using the padded Velcro stuff seemed to be more trouble than it was worth when it came to packing and unpacking. I would guess that working with the Velcro covers probably consumed more time than the actual disassembly and assembly of the tandem, noting I'm pretty good with erector sets. On the other hand, the Velcro does a really good job of protecting the frame during the disassembly / assembly process (assuming you tailor it such a way that it can stay on the frame throughout the process) and when the frame is packed in the case. Conversely, and looking back at the SafeCase or similar packing methods where foam sheeting is used, extra care must be used in handling the frame during the assembly and disassembly process as it's very easy to mar the finish of an unprotected, painted tube. The latter is again one of the reasons that I found the unpainted carbon to be an attractive option for a travel as are the unpainted titanium frames.
But I digress.... Again, I've yet to
decide if I'll buy some more of the padded Velcro material
for our Calfee, or if I'll do my own SafeCase
foam inserts as previously mentioned. At present, all I have
are the cases I acquired for our first travel tandem, noting
I opted to hold onto those when we sold our beloved Erickson
Mud Guards, Panniers & Racks.. oh my!
One of the last things I needed to do to put the finishing touches on our Calfee before doing the final wrap up was to make sure it would be able to support our future touring needs. Installation and check out of the rear disc brake an essential part of our touring kit was already addressed. Therefore, the things left to be addressed are mud guards, rear racks and luggage. Now, it goes without saying that hanging all of this 'stuff' on a fine machine like a Calfee tandem could strike some as a blaspheme; however, for us it was all part of the package.
Mud Guards: The mud guards were something of a trick since we purposely didn't ask for mudguard clearance or mounting hardware. Instead, it was my intention to double-up on the luggage rack mounting hardware spec'd for our Calfee (i.e., Calfee's threaded seat stay 'spuds') and then do some 'customizing'.
I should note, I've successfully installed mud guards on several racing bikes that didn't have any eyelets or other accommodations for mud guard brackets through the use of special zip ties and using caliper brake posts. This approach worked fairly well with the Calfee, although the very narrow opening I the Alpha Q fork and at the rear brake bridge did require some serious cobbling on the SKS fenders. In fact, my initial effort on the rear fender mount may still require some rework. In short, the front fender had to have a 3" section removed that was replaced by an aluminum bracket to connect the two halves and to attache the fender to the brake post. For the rear fender, a similar arrangement was used; however, zip ties are used to attach the fender to the rear brake bridge (noting the mud guards are only used in concert with the rear disc brake) and to the seat post. All in all, the installation scores about a 7/10 which while still well below a true touring bike installation made using hard points all around, is far better than the 4/10 solution that SKS Racer Blades score with their partial coverage and strap-on mounting.
Tubus Fly Rack & Ortlieb Panniers: I started doing my homework on racks and luggage in mid-November and after checking out the usual sources here in the states I decided to see how the pricing was at some of the European Etailers. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled onto the Wiggle site and found the Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers I'd been looking at for prices well below anything I'd found thus far ... even in light of what was at that time still a strong British Pound. So, on November 26th I decided to pull the trigger with Wiggle and ordered up a Tubus Fly rack for £37.58 ($56.01) and a Tubus QR Kit for £16.47 ($24.54) to support a work-around to accommodate our short rear stays and the rear disc. I also ordered up a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Plus panniers for £79.65 ($118.72). The icing on the cake was "free shipping" and, as it turned out, no sales tax or duty. My order arrived in a mere week from Germany and while the Tubus racks and Ortlieb bags are really pricey, the engineering, materials, fit and finish are superb.
All said and done, I was quite pleased with the installation. I'd thought about buying the Tubus Disco rack designed to work with disc-equipped bicycles; however, Wiggle didn't carry that particular model and I just wasn't sure it would work as designed given where the rack mounts are on our Calfee. Therefore, I rolled the dice and hoped that with a little farm-boy engineering I'd be able to get the Fly to work and, well, mission accomplished. We rode our local loop with the Calfee in touring configuration a few times just to be sure everything would stay put under normal light-duty touring mode (i.e., jackets, street shoes and a change of clothes in the panniers) and it did just fine. I would also note we already have a very nice trunk bag that with the addition of a solid shelf on the Tubus rack will also work quite well when the panniers aren't the preferred choice for luggage.
Back in my May 11 update I mentioned we were experiencing some hub / axle noise on the front wheel of our Topolino AX 3.0-T wheel set on hard, out of the saddle climbs. The support from Topolino was outstanding and Rafe Schlanger, Topolino's founder and president, even went so far as talking me through the front axle repair procedure over the phone -- essentially being his hands -- just to be sure the change was made per spec. The new axle ends added a small recess around the skewer hole and that seemed to solve the creaking noise associated with the slight fork slippage we experienced with the original flat faced axle ends.
However, once the original fork drop-out / axle end noise was silenced it became evident there was something else amiss with the front hub. Rafe had me send the front wheel to Connecticut for some quick-turn rework. After getting the front wheel back and confirming the second axle related noise was resolved, a bearing click had now developed. This necessitated a second return trip to Connecticut for the front wheel. Although they did not have a tandem at their disposal to use as a test bed for replicating the noise and could not replicate it on a single bike, the folks at Topolino went ahead and replaced the original front wheel with a new one under warranty.
With only a few hundred miles on the wheel before it was put away for the winter months it was rock solid and quiet. Fingers crossed, it will remain that way when we slap the Topolino wheels on here in the next month or so as the one-year limited warranty will soon expire.
Now, I did hint at a new 'discovery' with regard to the Topolino wheels. Prior to hanging up the wheels for the season I opted to go ahead a give the Calfee a try in 10 speed mode. Again, you may recall our Calfee was set up using Campy Ergo 10 shifters and a Campy 9/10 speed rear derailleur running Shimano 9 and 10 speed cassettes. The spacing has proven to be 'close enough' to work so long as you use the more narrow Shimano 9 and 10 speed chains. We'd logged over 3,000 miles on the Calfee in 9 speed mode over the balance of the first year and before putting the Topolino wheels away for the winter I went ahead and swapped out the 11x32t 9 speed XT and 12x27t Ultegra cassettes we'd been using for a 12x27t Ultegra 10 speed cassette that we used for about 200 miles.
The most significant difference in these cassettes is how the high-torque generating, taller sprockets (the ones with more than 17 teeth) are grouped together. As you can see in the photo above, the XT / mountain bike cassette has the 5 tallest sprockets attached to a one piece spider that distributes the loads on any one of the 5 sprockets over a large portion of the hub's cassette carrier. The Ultegra 9 speed clustered the 3 tallest sprockets together and then the next 2 tallest together which accomplishes almost the same thing and, in fact, makes the 15t sprocket the first single load bearing sprocket to sit on the carrier. However, as you can see the 10 speed Ultegra only groups together the 3 tallest sprockets and lets 19t and 17t sprockets individually bear the full brunt of the drive train loads on the cassette carrier through a very narrow 1.6mm contact patch. If that weren't bad enough, the individual Ultegra (and DuraAce) cassette sprockets are also missing a few spline teeth which exacerbates the loading on the remaining six. If the loads are big enough, the individual sprockets will be pressed into the standard lightweight aluminum alloy cassette carriers and create small indentations or dimples in each of the cassette carrier's splines.
As you can imagine, a tandem can easily generate 1.5x to 2x as much drive train loading as a single bike and for this reason most tandem-specific hubs use steel, stainless steel or titanium cassette carriers instead of the lighter-weight aluminum alloy carriers. However, for whatever reason, Topolino decided to use the same hard-anodized aluminum alloy cassette carrier on its AX3.0-T tandem-rated hubs as they do on their single bike hubs. Now, while the hard-anodizing makes the cassettes more resistant to dimpling, as you can see in the photo of the Topolino carrier (at right), it was no match for the super narrow, individual 10 speed cassette sprockets used for only 200 miles. Contrast the Topolino alloy carrier with the titanium carrier used on our Rolf wheel set (at left) that saw nearly 2,000 miles of use with the 9 speed Ultegra and XT cassettes.
Getting back to the Topolino hub, the 19t sprocket was actually embedded in the carrier when I attempted to remove the 10 speed cassette last fall. At first I was somewhat dumbfounded when only the 12t through 16t sprockets slid off the carrier as expected while the 17t was a bit stubborn and the 19- 27t sprockets remained firmly affixed to the hub. After looking at it closely I saw the 19t sprocket had become embedded in the carrier and used a soft plastic mallet to knock it loose. However, even after the 19t sprocket was loose it took some effort to get the rest of the sprockets past the displaced material around the dimpled cassette carrier's splines.
While the folks at Topolino acknowledged this was a known condition, it was not seen as a issue. While I don't necessarily agree with that assessment the only 'fix' I'm aware of is making sure I use cassettes that have at least the 5 tallest sprockets either fused together or that attach to the hub's cassette carrier via a spider.
Again, this is just something to keep an eye on for anyone who acquires a set of these highly desirable, uber-light wheels. Speaking of which...
That said, and aside from the issues I've already addressed, the Topolino AX3.0-T wheel set is still one of our favorites for some tangible and intangible reasons. Tangible reasons include the wonderful ride qualities, particularly on less than smooth roads and their insane light weight when faced with a lot of heavy climbing. Interestingly enough, neither of these characteristics are traded-off against a loss of stiffness or stability. On the intangible side of the equation is the bling factor: they simply look great on an all-carbon Calfee tandem.
However, the real question remains; are they worth $1,350.00? Unfortunately, much like the cost of a Calfee tandem, each prospective buyer will need to figure that one out based on their own value system. I only ventured into what I still consider the dark side of tandem wheels by acquiring the Rolfs and Topolino wheel sets to educate myself and gain some first hand experience with them so I could temper my intuitive assessment of their suitability for tandems.
At present, I still think a good set of conventional wheels is still the best value for money that anyone with a performance tandem can buy. However, if the budget allows for a second set of performance or "special purpose" wheels that may give a team a sight performance edge or make them enjoy their tandem a bit more, then these high-end wheel offerings are a good choice. They deliver sex appeal in a big way and do seem to offer a very slight performance edge. That said, if someone was looking for true racing wheels then that's what they should go and buy, e.g., HED or a Zipp 404 wheel set for time trails and other non-technical racing events. Push come to shove, for fast centuries or road racing the Rolf's with their slight aero advantage probably get the nod over the Topolino wheels. For supported ultra-distance rides over less than ideal roads or events with lots of climbing the AX3.0-T from Topolino would be a good choice, particularly if you're riding a steel, aluminum or magnesium framed tandem.
However, for any of these wheels that can't be fixed in the field, always give them a good looking over whenever you hear or feel something out of the ordinary, after they've taken a hit or on a regular basis during a monthly bike cleaning. And, well, I strongly encourage having a second set of wheels for every day use that can also be called up for duty in the event your go-fast wheels need some attention.
Thanks for sharing OUR adventure...
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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
#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.
#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.
#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.
#10: May 27, 2008: Wheels, Rims, & Unexpected Consequences:
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.
#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
#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.