"What about that new belt drive system instead of a tandem crossover chain?"

This is a question I get a few times per year these days. This was something that I had considered back in 2002 when the tandem rally was held in Boise Idaho. I had offered to drive a trailer full of our customers tandems to the rally so that they could fly. Well, my van broke down in LaGrande Oregon on the way back from the rally, and I had to stay there a few days while the timing belt was replaced. When I returned, I talked to Bob, a retired auto mechanic who was working for us part time as a bike mechanic, about the difference between belts and chains (cars used to use timing chains). He told me that belts were lighter, and that using a belt on a car instead of a chain would result in more horsepower. I thought pretty hard about making a timing belt for a tandem as it would be a very easy thing to achieve, but I never had time to develop the idea further (darn business got in the way).

A few years ago, Gates introduced their carbon belt drive for tandems. The basic idea was the same as what I had in mind but with a few differences. I thought that the belt should be something one could buy at any local auto parts store. That way a tandem team wouldn't be stranded in Montana looking for a proprietary part for their tandem. Instead, the Gates system limits the tandem owner to a much harder to find part, as well as a specific length. The tandem must use a 724mm boom tube (72cm stoker cockpit). This length is really short at best for stokers over 5' 2" tall, and may not work at all if the stoker is an experienced rider with particular fit needs, and the tandem will be ridden for long rides. Parts that limit our ability to build the tandem to sizes that fit the customer, and make it difficult to repair the bicycle if they break are parts that our customers don't usually choose for their 'lifetime bike'. This is why we don't put the Gates belt on our bikes as a standard, but we are more than happy to build your tandem with the Gates system if you want it.

Feel free to email me directly if you have specific questions on your stokers fit and how it may work with a 72cm cockpit gates drive tandem.

Product Testing:
The one thing that I love about the Gates belt drive is that it will save our company 2 to 3 years of product testing. This is how long I would test a belt drive system before I would recommend it to our tandem customers. So far, the only complaints that I've heard about are squeaky noises that some people are having trouble solving, and a problem having to do with grit getting into the belt and prematurely wearing the teeth on the belt pulleys. I'll let Gates solve these small issues. If the parts become readily available, and the belt can be ordered in any length we want (like other standard belts) I will consider offering them as a standard. Until then, we'll happily offer them by special order to those who want them.

Summary
I think the idea has potential. The good news is that any tandem bicycle could be adapted to a belt drive easily down the road if the system evolves the way that I think it will. If it doesn't evolve, I don't see a mass market use being very practical.

Our philosophy of repairability and fit stem from the fact that we deal directly with our customers and not through dealers. We understand how frustrating it can be when your bike breaks and there's no way to get it fixed until parts can be ordered (or made in some cases). We deal with every brand and make of tandem and we've been manufacturing Rodriguez tandems since 1973. We've seen it all, and we do everything we can to keep our customers riding.

To read more about our philosophy of building bicycles that last, visit our articles section of the web site.