Today we finally logged the first 30 miles on our Calfee using
a conventionally-built, lightweight 36° wheel set.
They literally transformed
our Calfee's handling to the extent that it was like we were
riding a completely different and vastly improved tandem compared
to the on which we'd logged the previous 330 miles.
This is significant because,
if you read my previous updates, I was clearly ambivalent about
certain aspects of the Calfee's handling and was merely assuming
it was something I'd adapt to. This was clearly not the case
and it would be fair to say that today's ride on the different
wheel set truly allowed our Calfee's inherent stability and exceptional
cornering performance to shine through for the first time since
we've taken possession.
Therefore, with regard to the
comparisons I've made to the handling and stiffness between our
Calfee and benchmark Ericksons in previous updates? You can
pretty much disregard all of that at this point.
That whippy feeling, slight
understeer on hard corners, and sense that the rear triangle
was flexing a bit? Fogettaboutit.
All of these issues were resolved
today by making one very simple change: new wheels.
One of the things I decided to do with this new tandem was to
experiment with a set of low-spoke count racing wheels, noting
that I've heretofore never been a fan, but really had no first
hand experience to draw on.
To make this an apples to apples
comparison I opted to use a lightweight conventionally built
wheel set using Velocity's Fusion rim instead of my personal
favorite (and 20% heavier) Deep-V.
The first 330 miles that we
put on the Calfee ended up being on the low-spoke count racing
wheels instead of the conventional wheels as originally intended
due to a timing issue. Therefore, the combination of a set of
the low spoke count racing wheels and the Calfee frame formed
the basis of those first 330 miles of observations and comparisons...
the ones I just discovered are no longer valid.
Let's Recap: Just to make sure the record and previous
updates are all put back in perspective, let me pull forward
a few of my earlier observations regarding the handling:
is definitely a little bit of a tail wag.... I suspect it's coming
from the rear chain stays and not the main frame tubes or seat
stays. Then again, it could very well be the wheels. Once we
have our 36° Fusion wheel set we'll be able to sort that
out. The steering will take a bit of getting used to."
"Although it's hard
to imagine a tandem with what is essentially the same steering
trail as a Co-Motion Supremo or Robusta running an Alpha Q fork
feeling sluggish, that's how the Calfee initially felt compared
to our Ericksons."
"I'm still trying to get acclimated to the 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. The confidence [the Erickson] 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... [For]
test**, today's ride used
the conventionally built 36° front wheel (White Ind. MI5
hub with Velocity Fusion rim) instead of the the low spoke count
racing wheels and the difference wasn't all that significant.
The aforementioned 'wag' or stoker lag that I initally detected
is still there"
back on February 10th I did a partial test ride where I replaced
the the front low spoke count racing wheel with the 36° conventional
one and noted only a marginal improvement. At that point I wrongly
assumed that if the front was on par with the conventional wheel,
the rear was likely as well and turned my attention away from
the wheels and back to the frame. Therefore, given the dramatic
difference that I experienced today when running both the front
& rear 36° conventional wheel set, I'm now inclined to
conclude the rear wheel is the weak link given the influence
that removing it from the equation had on the tandem's handling,
stability, and steering.
suggested, the Calfee is easier to steer in a straight line but
doesn't always seem to corner as fast as the Erickson. However,
instead of feeling normal, after putting 300 miles on the Calfee
the Erickson (fitted with the
low spoke count racing wheels ) now felt a bit skittish at
times. . In many of the other tighter corners and curves I had
to pay more attention to arresting the turn and lean angle with
more aggressive steering inputs making for some less than smooth
exits (no style points today)."
"Today's ride on the
Erickson has caused me to revise one of my earlier assessments:
the Calfee does exhibit some tail wag that's not in evidence
on the Erickson. It only shows up when Debbie's reaching down
for her water bottle, adjusting herself on the saddle, or when
she decides to really put in a big effort on her own. Also as
noted in the first ride report, we can torque the rear triangle
by standing and coasting on downhills with our weight standing
on either the right or left side pedals in the 6 o'clock position.
Therefore, given the Calfee has less steering trail than the
Erickson and the robust nature of the main frame, I'm inclined
to believe it's the rear triangle that's a bit less robust than
what we're accustomed to."
That Was Then, This Is Now: Every one of the issues that I experienced
during the first 330 miles with the Calfee was "fixed"
today by simply changing out the low spoke count racing wheels
for a set of conventionally built wheels. As already noted, it
was as if we were riding a completely different and vastly improved
tandem compared to the one we rode just yesterday.
More specifically, the improved
handling and cornering was immediately apparent with the first
tight corner: and the grin that finally returned to my face got
bigger with every hard corner or fast curve. I was also something
of a 'Chatty Cathy' as I related my newfound excitement for the
handling and steering that our Calfee was now exhibiting to Debbie.
Debbie also made mention that
she could tell I had my confidence back after 'nailing' that
off-camber and slightly uphill, sharp right-hand turn and could
also tell that the tandem's path through the corners and curves
was much more precise, smooth, and reminiscent of what she enjoyed
on the Ericksons. All of the 'tail-wag' is also gone. I'm not
even sure if Debbie ever took a drink of water today. In fact,
we were easily able to do short track stands at intersections
while waiting for traffic to clear... something that was routine
on the Erickson that proved illusive on the Calfee up and until
yesterday. Therefore, all of my previous concern over the robustness
and stiffness of the frame or rear triangle is now gone.
There was also one other performance enhancement that came with
the change to the conventional wheels: an even more comfortable,
smoother, controlled ride especially over the rough stuff at
the bottom of fast descents with the ubiquitous small bridges
over the creeks that run through these draws.
As you can tell, I'm still
giddy with joy over the transformation of our Calfee: it was
a very different tandem from the one we rode yesterday and all
of the differences were positive in a HUGE way. I would go so
far to say that the overall handling and cornering performance
of the Calfee is now as good as or better than our Erickson.
In short, I finally feel the way I expected to feel back on January
12th when we took that first ride: exhuberant!!
So, What's This Mean? Perhaps nothing beyond satisfying my
own curiosity regarding how these different types of wheels would
perform, and the profound impact that they can have on how a
I would clearly state that
this is not an indictment of the low spoke count racing wheels.
While I have articulated some concerns regarding how they influenced
the handling and my initial impressions regarding our Calfee's
handling, I would note that the low spoke count racing wheels
do seem to roll more easily / have less aero drag than the conventional
wheel set. Now, I'm not sure I can quantify that perception as
we're not nearly consistent enough nor are our training loops
conducive to doing that type of a performance comparison. However,
there definitely is a "lighter feel" to the low spoke
count racing wheels s that goes beyond their weight as the conventional
wheels we had built to support this comparison only weighed ~150
grams more than the 1,830 gram low spoke count racing wheels.
In fact, had I not specified a disc hub and, instead, used a
left-hand threaded tandem hub the difference in weight would
have been completely negligible.
I think the only thing I need
to add at this juncture is that it's too soon to tell if my experience
with this particular set of low-spoke count wheels is representative
or perhaps an anomaly. The spoke tension numbers for both the
front and rear wheels have been sent back to my dealer who is
comparing notes with the manufacturer. It may very well be that
this set of wheels is out of spec. and, if so, reworking them
may resolve the matter... which would be just fine with me. I
have not heard nor read anything else on this forum that suggests
others have had this type of experience so it does strike me
Therefore, to those riding
low spoke count racing wheels today... by all means keep on enjoying
them. For those in the market, do your homework. My observations
and conclusions are just that: my own. I'm what I'd characterize
as overly sensitive to handling and what strikes me as something
significant or noticable, may be in the noise level for many
Final Thoughts: Today was very significant for me,
as I'm sure it was obvious that I was a bit conflicted with regard
to the handling of our new Calfee tandem and why it was so different
- and not in a good way from my perspective -- from our benchmark
However, as I sit here reflecting
on the day and recording my thoughts on the laptop in our family
room while watching the end of today's NASCAR race, I am now
"at one" with the new Calfee and can, without any caveats
, truly say that it has exceeded ALL of my expectations. That
may or may not have clearly been the case before today.
The take-away for this little
experiment to those who have taken the time to follow our progress
with the new tandem is that a tandem is only as good or as bad
as the sum of its parts and your expectations for how those things
should all come together and perform. Racing wheels, heavy-touring
wheels, different size tires running at different PSI, and the
like will all influence comfort, stability, steering, and your
overall satisfaction with a given tandem frame. The extent of
that influence -- and the perceived performance of a tandem --
can be far more significant than you might realize.
I've been open and candid with
my experiences on this tandem because I felt it might be of benefit
to others who go down this path, e.g., things aren't always perfect
and solving issues is about realizing where you may have made
mistakes (bottom bracket spindle lengths), learning new things
(eccentric nuances), finding the root cause of performance issues
(handling & stability) and addressing them in the right order.
Rest assured (or fair warning),
this isn't the final chapter of our saga... more to follow.