Well, it's been 30 days between our first and last ride on the Calfee and given that it's winter here in Georgia, we've pretty much limited our rides to the 25 - 35 mile loops around our house that fit into the warmer afternoon weekend hours. Warm days like today's high 50s are a mixed blessing in that they are accompanied by fairly strong winds which invariably seem to always be coming from whatever direction we happened to be headed. Enough of that... at least it's not raining, snowing, or below freezing.
Summary: As mentioned in the first impressions entry on January 12, Debbie is absolutely thrilled with the comfort and ride qualities of the new tandem and still has no interest in going back to our other tandem just to quantify the differences. Push come to shove, I know she's game to do so, but there's just a serious lack of motivation. However, the take-a-way is that what I'd hoped to accomplish by going to the Calfee has been achieved: my stoker is delighted with the new bike. Like my Calfee Pro single bike, the Calfee carbon bikes just feel exceptional: ride positions seem better even though they're the same ones used on similar bikes, the roads seem smoother, and riding in general seems to take less effort. As to whether or not the added expense was worth it, that would be a question better left to each team as the depth of their pockets, priorities, and other personal matters would all factor into that type of assessment, hearkening back to my earlier analogies to the Corvette and Porsche.
What's Changed? The only real change to the original build has been the bottom brackets. I really goofed when I decided to go with 116mm: actually, I originally spec'd 113, which I then upped to 115mm just for good measure, which then ended up becoming 116mm since Phil didn't offer a 115mm in the configurations I was looking for.
Well, like I said: 116mm was dumb idea since I've been riding 108mm and 113mm spindles on our tandems for the past umpteen years. So, a spare 111mm BB went in up front after the first ride and this past week the new 108mm Phil Wood BB for up front and a new 111mm for out in back arrived and were installed. Oh, it felt SO good to be back to a more narrow tread. Additionally, the 111mm allows for a very neutral 53mm chain line while still providing more than enough chain stay clearance and a nice channel for the chain to drop into if it over shifts the alpine cog. While square taper BB's and alloy cranks may not be the latest technology, they certainly remain the most tandem-friendly with respect to giving you the freedom to adjust your tread (aka, Q-factor) and chain line... and, well, the daVinci cross-over crank set with Phil Wood Ti & SuperTi BBs are actually a bit lighter than the FSA carbon Mega-Exo. Actually, the dirty little secret about FSA cranks is that the alloy Gossamer cranks are lighter than the carbon Mega-Exo models.
Nits: There was only one nit I encountered with the frame and it rests with the eccentric. The Calfee eccentric is a good design that does exactly what it is supposed to do with minimal weight and, in retrospect; I probably created my own problem.
I suspect if I only installed the front bottom bracket once and the cranks used a splined interface or even a conventional bottom bracket with a fixing cup and an adjusting cup, I may have never encountered an issue like I did with my Phil Wood BBs, which use a pair of adjusting cups that are tightened in tandem (no pun intended).
What I ran into was an issue whereby, as the adjusting cups approached their torque specs, the eccentric would slip: which, if you consider that the bottom bracket adjusting cups are in effect pushing out against the eccentric halves as they press in against the bottom bracket cartridge, would make sense. Therefore, when I would go to tighten the eccentric's bolts -- now under a LOT of torque -- the entire assembly would rotate. Holding the assembly via the bottom bracket tool or cranks at this point to keep the eccentric from rotating only made it easier for me to over-torque the eccentric bolts... until I realized what was happening.
In short, I finally realized
that there is a middle ground where the bottom bracket cups are
tight enough, but not so tight that they start to work against
the eccentric's bolts. Getting there required some back and forth
with the bottom bracket wrenches and the eccentric
Bottom Line: It's a nit, and it's the only one I have... which ain't bad given that once I came up the learning curve it ceased to be a nit. Moreover, had I not created a situation whereby I ended up installing and removing 2 bottom brackets before installing the last and final one, it would have not drawn my attention the way that it did. And, as Craig noted when I mentioned my conundrum to him, English-threaded bottom brackets don't necessarily need to be brought all the way up to max torque spec. for proper installation: Italian BB's, that's another story in and of itself.
Weight Update: Since a photo is worth a thousand words, here are a couple to ponder (as always, larger images are linked to in-line text photos)
The photo above is the Calfee hanging from a Ultimate Alpine Scale showing a weight of 31.5 lbs. (Yes, the cranks aren't set properly as I was in the midst of some bottom bracket changes.) Anyway, to get to what most tandem builders call their comparison weight you'd have to subtract about 1lb for the Speedplay Frog pedals w/chromoly axles (250g) and the four water bottle cages (~200g). It's also noteworthy that the wing bars and stoker rests probably add at least another full pound compared to what comes on most tandems sporting alloy drop bars up front & bull-horn bars for the stoker and my saddle is a portly 325g. Therefore, a more accurate comparison weight would likely be about 29.25 lbs... remembering that this is a travel tandem with ~2.5lbs of S&S couplings and a 30" long stoker compartment. Actually, probably something closer to 29lbs as this weigh-in was done before the lighter Speedplay Frogs with Ti axles (-50g) and narrower Phil Wood BB's (-80g) were installed.
Now, as I said, what the Calfee has also done is to give me an even greater appreciation for our Erickson. In that light, I decided to hang it on the scale with the low spoke count racing wheels wheels for an apples-to-apples weight comparison, remembering that this tandem is also sporting the same extra 1lb of pedals & water bottle cages, drop-bars with stoker rests instead of bull horns in back, and my still portly 325g saddle. If I were to factor in the other lightweight goodies on the Calfee (Phil Wood Ti bottom brackets and Thomson seat posts), another 1/2lb could come off the bike for a pretty svelte sub-32lb '98 vintage steel tandem with a 31.5" stoker compartment.
That Handling Thing: Our Calfee came with the standard steering geometry used by Craig on most of his tandems, e.g., 73° head tube with 44mm fork rake for about 5.9cm (2.3") of steering trail, the same used by Co-Motion for it's racing tandems fitted with the same 44mm Alpha Q X2 tandem forks. For comparison purposes, Santana uses about 4.8cm (1.9") of steering trail and our Erickson has something closer to 6.4cm (2.5"), so the differences are not insignificant. Therefore, I'm still trying to get acclimated to what feels like different steering geometry. While it's a blessing for 99% of our ride time, it's that 1% when we're bombing down the mountain roads or diving through corners that I'm still trying to come to grips with. While the Erickson's very long trail carried with it a high task load during long seated climbs, the confidence it inspired in the corners was something I've taken for granted.
As I mentioned before, I wasn't sure if the handling differences were being driven solely by the change in steering trail or, perhaps, by the low spoke count racing wheels. I'd hoped to address that with our second set of conventionally built daily-use / travel wheels but there was a slight mix up with the wheel builder in which a MTB 135mm MI6 hub was grabbed from the shelf instead of the nearly identical looking 145mm MI6 intended for use on the tandem. So, at least as a partial test, today's ride used the conventionally built 36° front wheel (White Ind. MI5 hub with Velocity Fusion rim) instead of the low spoke count racing wheels and the difference wasn't all that significant.
Worst case scenario -- assuming that time, wheels, or going from our 23mm to a 25mm diameter tire don't afford me the changes I'm looking for -- would be going to the 41mm rake version of the Alpha Q X2 which would yield about 6.2cm (2.4") of steering trail on the Calfee. To be fair, this is all probably analogous to the story of the Princess and the Pea as I suspect I'm way too overly sensitive to subtle differences bike handling. At the end of the day, this is something that only a captain riding an older Erickson that had been retrofitted to an Alpha Q X2 fork would ever even be cognizant of. In most all other cases, and unless someone was already riding a Co-Motion or stock Erickson, the Calfee would feel just right. My current plan is to stick with the 44mm fork until we can do some group rides and mountain descents to see if the slight difference really matters.
The aforementioned 'wag' or stoker lag that I initally detected is still there, but as noted before it's no worse than what we've experienced on our '98 un-coupled Erickson. If we were a taller or heavier team, it might be a different story... but then again, all of the Calfees are designed for the couples who buy them and if we were heavier more material would have been added to the frame.
All-in-all, as I said, a great handling tandem that's easy and comfortable to ride, but that can also be jumped-on for a sprint or hard climbs without undue forethought.
Wireless Weirdness: Ok, here's one for the MSEE's and other electron chasers to ponder. We've used wireless computers on our steel tandems for going-on 5 years now. The captain's is a no brainer: works just like a single bike with a front wheel pick-up. The stoker's wireless became a no-brainer when Polar's higher-end HRMs started to come with transmitters featuring medium or long-range jumper settings. So, with the exception of those times when batteries would weaken every two years or so, the rear wheel pick-up mounted just under the rear brake caliper had no problem sending a signal to Debbie's receiver/computer on her handlebars.
The new Calfee actually moved the transmitter a little closer to the receiver so fat-dumb-and-happy, I slapped the transmitter and receiver on and simply assumed it would work just as it did on the steel tandem: wrongo! For reasons that still aren't clear, the transmitter's signal just doesn't seem to play well with the carbon frame. Hold the receiver at a right angle and away from the bike and the transmission distance returns to the 30" or so that's been the norm. However, once it must transmit through or around the frame the transmission distance is reduced by nearly 6", or to a point where the receiver needed to be either 3" behind the center of the handlebars, or out towards the curve of the bar to pick-up the transmitter's signal. On a hunch, I decided to change the orientation of the receiver such that, instead of mounting the wrist unit around the handlebars per normal using the bar-mount, I turned the receiver 90 degrees. Well, son of a gun it started receiving the signal loud and clear and with a few inches to boot! As to why the signal is either being polarized or attenuated, who knows. As for the solution, now I just need to convince Debbie that reading her computer at a right angle won't be all that hard to do.
Well, at least on the workstand, I was able to move the watch back to about 35 degrees off center without losing the signal which even to me and my bad eyes seemed to make the computer's face easy enough to read. On our next ride the off-kilter Polar (see photo at left) worked just fine and never dropped the signal. It is truly an interesting behavior and it may be unique to both our unpainted coupled and extra-long Calfee + the Polar S720i. Debbie had to fight the urge to straighten the thing when she first got on the tandem, but resisted throughout the ride. When asked if the off-centered watch face was readable without undue effort after about an hour on the bike, she candidly noted that, just like the loss of her more easily accessed water bottles, it was something that she would just adapt to.
Adapting To Changes: Let me seque a bit here.... Debbie went on to note that with each ride it was getting easier to grab the bottle from her seat tube and had she never learned to ride on tandems with the internal tube-mounted bottles that were a bit easier to grab, she'd have never known the difference. I asked her if she'd be willing to jump back on the "other" tandem for a ride just so we could do a back-to-back comparison and she glibly replied, "what other tandem?". I said "the Erickson" and she said, "honey, there's only one tandem that I want to ride". Egads... I'd created a tandem snob!
Any Regrets: None. Being of average means -- at least per my '08 survey -- I've probably ensured at least one more year of work before retirement and/or put us another year further away from heading to New Zealand with Mel and Barb Kornbluh for 3 weeks at Christmas and, to be candid, the couplers will never be amortized within the next 10 years. However, all of that said, if I had to do it over again I would in a heartbeat. Debbie is in heaven and everything just works like it should on this bike. I truly enjoy not being concerned about nicking the paint and have found some UV protection products that will outlast the recommended 303 Aerospace product by a factor of 10 which means a lot less time will need to be spent primping the bike. In fact, it hasn't even been wiped down once in the past 30 days... a record for me with our road tandems.
Until such time as the other wheel set is ready and the disc brake goes on, that's about all the news there is to report.
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.