What’s keeping you from buying a bicycle built for 3, 4 or 5??

One of the most visited pages on our website over the last year is our Xtra-long bike page. There’s not many manufacturers that make bicycles for 3 or more people, and for some reason, there’s a lot of families interested in them right now.

Even with all of that interest, some people have a hard time committing to owning one of these creations. There are a few obstacles that can make these bikes impractical to own. These were all things that I struggled with too before I designed the Xtra-long bike that my family rode for 6 fun years. I thought I should share my experiences and let you all know why we make our Xtra-long bikes the way we do. There are some Rodriguez differences that can save you thousands of dollars. If done right, your experience can be amazing, and can create great bicycle memories for you and your family to look back on. I know this personally.

So, let’s get down to business. Here’s the objections most people have to actually jumping in and buying one of these bikes.

1.) How do I store it?
A bicycle built for 3 is too long to hang on a ceiling hook. One built for 4 or 5 can be up to 15 feet long. Where’s that going to go?

2.) How do I transport it?
There are lots of ways to transport a single, or even a tandem. But a triple, quad, or quint is so long that it won’t fit on top of a car or in the back of a pickup truck.

3.) It’s such a specialty bike. Will it get ridden enough to make it worth the price?
Most people who want a triple, quad or quint already own single bikes and a tandem. So, adding another expensive bike that will only be ridden if all parties are available seems impractical.

bicycle built for 5 on top of a car

You can benefit from our experience

After years of building bicycles for 2, 3, 4 and 5, we’ve learned a thing or two. We are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of the Xtra-long bicycle manufacturers still building in the U.S.

My family rode a bicycle built for 4 for several years while my kids were young, so I have a lot of experience in the subject. These are all things that I struggled with before we built our quad. The solution: S&S couplers and some Rodriguez ingenuity.

Let me tackle these obstacles one at a time.

1.) Storage: This one is very easy to solve. Every Xtra-long Rodriguez includes at least enough S&S couplers to take the bike into 2 parts quickly and easily. Having two halves makes storage much easier (take it from someone who knows). There is no extra charge on our Xtra-long bikes to have this feature.

2.) Transporting the bike: Another huge benefit for the S&S couplers in your new Rodriguez Xtra-long bike is transporting it. In my case, I simply took the bike in half (takes about 2 minutes), and was able to easily fit it in my little clam-shell style tandem hauler. I could fit the whole quad in there, as well as my road bike, the kids bikes, and all of our luggage for any trip we took. If I didn’t want to use the trailer, I could easily haul the bike as a tandem on my tandem rack, and the other 2 sections were small enough to put in the back of the van behind the rear seat.

Having enough couplers to take the bike into 2 parts is a must for all of our Xtra-long bike customers, and that’s why we include at least enough couplers for that to happen at no charge.

3.) It’s such a specialty bike, will it get ridden enough?
This is certainly an important consideration for most families, and was for us as well. Truth be told, if I would’ve just built a quad for our family, I don’t think it would have been ridden enough to make it worth it. Sure, we could’ve saved a little money up front, but it would be really expensive in the end. Read on…

S&S couplers, strategically placed, can make your Xtra-long bike quite manageable

This is where Rodriguez ingenuity really comes in. I designed our bike to be easily convertible from 2, to 3, to 4 in just minutes. Here at Rodriguez, we have a staff of rare birds, so anything is possible. The frame shop team can build just about anything, so this was no challenge at all to build.

This turned out to be the best money spent. As it turned out, most of the riding we did on this bike was done as a tandem. Even on vacation, I left the bike set up as a tandem and we did morning rides as a couple. Then, if the weather was good, and the kids wanted to ride, I made it into a quad. We could do a leisurely family ride into town and have ice cream. If one kid preferred to stay at Grandma’s house instead of riding, we left that section out of the bike. It was like owning a tandem, a triple and a quad, but a lot less hassle (and expense).

The Wrap-up and Recommendations

Make sure your Xtra-long bike is a vacation bike
Had we just built it as a quad only, then I don’t think I would’ve bothered taking it on vacation with us. The tandem is a must, as are the single bikes. So, how would I take all of those bikes, as well as the quad? Answer: I wouldn’t have. That would’ve been a shame, because it turned out that the most fun we had with this bike was on vacations.

Instead, it went on every vacation we took from 2006 ~ 2013, and was ridden in some configuration just about every day on those vacations.

Riding into Rupert, Idaho for the 4th of July parade on a quad was a blast for us and the kids. Believe me, cars slow down when they see a quad, and they usually roll the windows and start asking questions (which the kids love to answer). Riding through the Idaho farmlands as a family ‘racing’ Grandma and Grandpa on their tandem made for some lifelong memories. Then, while Grandma and Grandpa kept the kids for a few days, Marcie and I could take the tandem and spend the time in Sun Valley riding the trails up there.

Bicycle built for four people

Riding into Rupert for the annual 4th of July parade in 2007. Photo Courtesy of Grandma Sally

At home, we left the bike as a tandem for our morning rides. It was our only tandem. We didn’t need multiple bikes. On weekends through the summer, I often put it back into quad mode and we went for an evening ride. Again, ice cream, dinner, coffee shop, you name it. Riding with the kids is quite a bit different than the 2 of us riding as a couple.

Had I built it as a quad only, this would’ve been the only riding it ever got. Instead, it got ridden several times per week as a tandem, occasionally as a quad around town, and almost every day of our vacations. Like we say, a bicycle that gets ridden is a happy bicycle.

Would we do it again?
Yes, absolutely! Our kids have outgrown the quad, and it was sold in 2014 for someone else to enjoy. But the memories live on. The only thing I would’ve done differently is that I wish we would’ve done it 3 years earlier. Having 3 more years to enjoy the family quad rides would be something we would cherish. That being said, I really loved the 6 years we had on the bike, and if it’s in your budget, I highly recommend it.

Back on Point
Obstacles to owning an Xtra-long bike: As you can see, all of these obstacles can easily be overcome here at Rodriguez. It might cost a little more up front, but it certainly saves a lot of money to have one bike that can serve as your everyday tandem, your vacation bike, as well as your Xtra-long family bike. Not to mention the added bonus of strorage and transportation.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this clears up some of those nagging questions so you can go ahead and order your Rodriguez Xtra-long bike 😉

Thanks for reading – Dan – 2017

A Super light Custom Travel Tandem

Highlight: A fly-weight steel travel tandem from Rodriguez

These have been really hot in 2016!

Super Light Custom Steel Tandem by Rodriguez

Rodriguez Ultra-light tandems offer many advantages over other brands:

  • A Rodriguez rides like steel because it is steel
  • Rodriguez Tandems are built custom to fit both riders at no extra charge
  • We don’t skimp or use tricky weight saving techniques like leaving out the Stiffener Tube
  • Rodriguez Tandems are built to last forever without the use of non-standard parts
  • A fork that’s not only tandem rated, but handles better than any carbon fork on the market
  • An adjustable stoker to dial in your stoker’s fit, then a super-light steel or titanium fixed position stem to shave another pound or two
  • A lifetime frame and fork warranty (most carbon frames have very limited warranties)

For almost a decade now, we here at Rodriguez have been known for building some of the lightest tandem bikes on the road. One surprising thing about these bicycles built for two is that they are made of good ol’ American steel! Well actually, they are made of the New American Steel. In 2007 we introduced our 25.8 pound Ultra-light tandem and shocked our competition. Since the bike’s introduction, we’ve sold them steadily, but 2016 seems to be something special. We sold several just in the last few months.

Now you don’t have to sacrifice weight to have the durability, comfort, and superior performance of a hand-built steel tandem.

A twist this year is that many of them are travel versions using S&S couplings. This adds 2.7 pounds of weight, but we’ve been busy shaving weight where we can and now have these incredible bikes down to a science in the travel version as well. I thought it was time for a highlight on one that’s just coming through the assembly dept. now. This one is our Chorus version, and has some weighty additions, but still comes out incredibly light!

The Current Tandem at Hand
The Weight Break Down on this bike goes like this:

  • Rodriguez Ultra-light Chorus Tandem Model (28.6 pounds)
  • Rodriguez Travel Upgrade (+2.7 lbs)
  • Cantilever brakes for extra wide tire clearance (+8 oz)
  • Bodyfloat seat post for Stoker comfort (+8 oz)
  • Option for disc drag brake (+5 oz)
  • Spinergy Tandem Wheelset upgrade option (-5 oz)

Including the above list of weight additions, final weight on this bike is 32.5 lbs once the included lightweight custom steel stoker stem is installed. Our ultra-light tandem models come stock with a temporary adjustable stoker stem that is heavier. Once the stoker’s fit is completely dialed in, measurements are taken of the final preferred position and a lightweight steel (titanium in the case of the Record Tandem) fixed position stem is built to replace it.

Realize, when I quote weights, I’m quoting verified true digital scale weights that we will stand behind with a ‘no bull’ money back guarantee. This one clocked in at just 33lbs 4oz with the adjustable stem and the other options.

Custom Rodriguez Tandem with S&S couplings

This Rodriguez Travel Tandem (Chorus model) is not only great looking, but only weighs 33lbs 4oz as pictured here with the fully adjustable stem and several comfort upgrades that add some weight. Subtract 3/4lbs when the included ultra-light stem replaces the adjustable.

Lightened couplers and braze-ons all around help to keep this flyweight tandem one of the lightest, best performing tandems available today. This customer also chose to add rear rack braze-ons for light touring. At Rodriguez, your bike is really ‘your bike’. Just tell us what you want and we will make it happen!

View the full photo gallery for this bike here

If you or anyone you know, has been considering a high-end tandem, ultra-light or not, we ask you to consider a Rodriguez Custom Tandem. We build every tandem by hand, custom for its owners. We’ve been doing it longer than anyone else too. Since 1973 we’ve been building our tandems right here in Seattle’s University district. We’d love to be your tandem shop.

Two Times The Fun!

Northwest Tandem Rally and Rodriguez Custom Tandems…A great pair!

Some Tandem Articles
How to Get Started on a tandem
Tandevangelist How to teach tandem
Custom vs. Stock size. Which one?
Stiff Proposition All about stiffener tubes
The Lightest Tandem
How to Shop for a tandem

Tandem riding is my favorite kind of bicycle riding. Tandem riding can be leisurely, or competitive, or BOTH at the same time. That’s the beauty of it. You can ride with your partner even if you have different skill levels, fitness, or enthusiasm. Since I’ve been married 32 years now, it’s important to find ways to enjoy activities together. Tandem riding evens out all of the differences between us. The other couples that you meet when riding tandems are a blast too.

Seattle is a hot spot for tandems, and has been since the early 1970’s when Angel Rodriguez and Glenn Erickson opened R+E Cycles.

The exciting news for Seattle is that the Northwest Tandem Rally will be held in here in July of 2017! That’s in less than 10 months! R+E Cycles is honored to be the title sponsor of the event. How we could we say no when the rally will be based just down the street from our shop? We’re very excited for the season to begin, and very excited for the rally!

I thought now would be a great time to list some of the historical events, innovations, and situations surrounding Rodriguez and Erickson tandems over the last years. I’ve tried to keep it brief and focussed on tandem specific stuff, but years is a long time. I hope you enjoy it.

My introduction to Tandems:
When I interviewed for a job here at R+E Cycles back in 1987, I met Angel Rodriguez. He was sweeping the floor, and I had no idea who he was as I was fresh out of Jerome Idaho. There was no internet of course, so personalities in the bicycle world were more regional at that time. Anyway, after my interview with Estelle, she introduced me to Angel Rodriguez (I had noticed the name Rodriguez all over the bicycles on the shop floor). After the pleasantries were over, Angel’s first question for me was “do you have experience with tandems?” Well, the only tandem I’d seen in person at the time was an Andre Bertin at a shop that I had very briefly worked at in Federal Way (Tandems are not something that most shops deal in). “Not much, but a little” was my answer. Little did I know that within a a few days, I’d be selling, working on, assembling and riding tandems every day.

My first year here, Estelle loaned me a tandem that my wife and I rode that summer. We were hooked! We’ve now been tandem riders coming up on 30 years. That love for tandem bicycles has driven our shop since its beginning, and 2017 looks to be another chance to share this irresistible style of biking with more Northwesterners than ever. You see, tandem riding can be competitive, leisurely, family fun, or anywhere in between. The folks you’ll meet at a tandem rally are a blast to hang out with. We’ve ridden tandem rallies where we led the pack at speeds not maintainable on a ‘half-bike’. We’ve also ridden tandem rallies where we pulled the kids in a trailer and rode way in the back of the pack. Every rally we met new people and formed life long friendships with them. I can’t say enough about the social event that is the Northwest Tandem Rally. If you own a tandem, and haven’t done a rally….do this one! If you don’t own a tandem, and haven’t done a rally….get one! I guarantee a good time.

Innovations and Creations:
Since tandems are on the brain, I thought I would take a few minutes here and share with you some of the rich tandem history of R+E Cycles over the last 44 years. Of course, my goal is to entice some of you half-bike riders (this is what we tandemmers call singe bikes) into possibly trying a tandem, but also just let the tandem world know some of the history between tandems and our company.

Quick Rodriguez Tandem Bicycle Historical tour:

In 1973 – Angel and Glenn started this company and started building tandems as well as single bikes.

Angel Rodriguez shows off a Triple (tandem) being constructed in the Rodriguez frame shop.

The triple finished and assembled waiting for its new owners. I love the 1970’s cars on the street.

In 1976 – Angel and Glenn attract the attention of a national bicycle magazine. Not specifically related to tandems, but that was coming.

In 1980 – A major bicycle magazine did a glowing review of the ‘Most advanced tandem they had ever seen’…the Rodriguez tandem. A 1979 tandem just like the one in that review can be seen hanging in our Rodriguez Museum (basically some old bikes hanging in the shop).

In 1984 – Estelle Gray and Cheryl Marek ride a Rodriguez tandem to set the Women’s World Record riding across the United states in just 10 days, 22 hours and 48 minutes. That was just a few hours shy of beating the men’s record

By the mid-1980’s – Rodriguez and Erickson tandems were a plentiful site at big rides like the STP

In the late 1980’s – Angel Rodriguez was called upon to help design Yakima’s first rooftop tandem carrier. The design carried the Rodriguez name for many years after that.

In 1989 – Angel teamed up with American Mfg. to build a line of aluminum tandems. Bicycling Magazine reviewed one in 1990, and gave it a strong thumbs up! These tandems are still out there on the road and have somewhat of a cult following.

Angel Rodriguez, The Tandem Bicycle Book
Along with these new aluminum tandems, came plans to take the Rodriguez name nationwide by opening tandem dealers all over the country. He contracted with tandem builder Dennis Bushnell to build a line of production steel tandems. Soon there were Rodriguez tandem dealers in many states across the country. Sales of both Rodriguez aluminum and steel tandems were growing by leaps and bounds. By this time, Glenn Erickson was no longer partners with Angel, but Glenn had a strong custom tandem business that would grow strongly through the 1990’s as well.

It was around this time that Angel released The Tandem Book and this even further established the brand’s commitment to tandem cycling. Angel sold R+E Cycles in 1990, but continued on with his tandem business through a new company called Evergreen.

Northwest Unofficial Tandem Society Logo

One of the many N.U.T.S. t-shirt designs from the 1990’s

By 1993 – The party was over. The new R+E Cycles owner went broke, but hat’s a whole other story. There was troubling news on the tandem front as well. As it turns out, tandems are hard to sell through shops that don’t have a strong commitment to them. Estelle (yes the record holder), my wife and I purchased the shop and the Rodriguez name in 1993 and started to piece things back together.

Back to basics. No more dealers. Rodriguez tandems would be sold exclusively through R+E Cycles again.

In 1994 – Debra, the President of the Northwest Unofficial Tandem Society (N.U.T.S.) called and asked us for a favor. She was moving, and had to give up her duties of running the club. She had tried to find someone else to do it, but no luck. So, we agreed, thinking that someone would pick it up after a short while. Well, a short while turned into several years. We lead monthly rides through the summer, and published and sent out a newsletter more or less quarterly (all snail mail back then). We ran N.U.T.S. until the year 2001 when Sheila (Thanks, Sheila!) formed the current Northwest Tandem Club, Evergreen. Don’t get me wrong, we love tandems, but running a club was something different. We were thrilled to merge N.U.T.S. into the Evergreen Tandem Club. They’ve done a fantastic job with it, and they are the folks who will bring you the 2017 Northwest Tandem Rally.

Dan with Tandem pulling Trailer

Throughout the 1990’s – R+E provided road support to many cycling events, including STP and some tandem events. The way we did it was unique. I rode a tandem with a trailer full of tools and parts (and sometimes my Doberman) along the route and fixed bicycles on the side of the road.

It was a way I could go on the rides and still be ‘working’, but it also gave us some visibility as the place to go for tandems. Finding stokers wasn’t easy. The trailer weighed 185 pounds loaded. Once someone had stoked for me with this contraption, they usually didn’t do it again.

Dan adjusting an eccentric of a Rodriguez Aluminum Tandem

On the road repairs can be…er…um…low tech once in a while. Here I am at the tandem rally ‘adjusting’ someone’s chain. Hey! If you look close you’ll see that’s one of those Rodriguez aluminum tandems from 1989.

Rodriguez Tandem owners at the 1995 tandem rally

The Rodriguez Tandem Owner’s photo at the 1995 Northwest Tandem Rally. By this time, we were definitely back in the tandem business. Again, I can’t say enough about how much fun the tandem rally is.

Estelle Gray helps people at the Rodriguez Tandem Rally in Sun Valley
1996 – A Huge Year for Rodriguez Tandems

We took the show on the road! In an effort to expand interest in tandem cycling further around the northwest, we setup a Tandem Expo of sorts in Sun Valley Idaho. We rented a van, loaded 8 or so tandems on top of it, and drove the 11 hours to Sun Valley for a weekend of Tandems that we arranged. We advertised the event in Boise and through all of the local Idaho shops that we could get to hand out flyers to their customers. The event was a great success. We did sell some tandems, but more importantly, one of the Boise cycling clubs started emphasizing tandem cycling quite a bit more. In just a few years, that club would actually host the Northwest Tandem Rally in Boise.

It was a great rally indeed! Since it was a long drive, I offered to use my trailer to haul 20 of our customers tandems for them so they could fly. It was quite a trip. My van broke down in LaGrande Oregon on the way there, and the way back.

With all of this tandem stuff going on, we had managed to make enough noise in the tandem world to catch the eye of Eugene based Tandem Magazine. They came by and did a full spread on the shop for their magazine.

It was also in 1996 that we designed and built the first Tandem that could be converted to a single bike. It used 8 S&S couplings to achieve this feat, and we named it the Rodriguez 8-Ball. Author and Adventure Cyclist, Wilie Weir, chose a Rodriguez 8-ball for his highly publicized trip through Cuba. This publicity was great for our tandem reputation. It would be over 20 years before any other company even attempted such a creation, and by that time, we’d built dozens of them.

Rodriguez Tandem that converts to a single bike too
The Rodriguez 8-Ball is the only tandem that can be both your single bike and your tandem.

In 1997 – In an effort to offer a Rodriguez tandem at a lower price, we started producing the Rodriguez Toucan. Like Angel had done before, we contracted with Dennis Bushnell to build the overflow of these frames for us, as our custom shop at the time was not able to produce them fast enough. We sold them like hotcakes! It was hard to keep up with the demand. A Rodriguez tandem for just $1,997 was a great price.

The success of the Toucan put us on a National footing and soon the Tandem press noticed us. It wasn’t long until one of the owners of (the now defunct) Tandem Magazine called and ordered a custom Rodriguez tandem for he and his wife. This was pretty cool for a couple of reasons. You see, Tandem Magazine was based in Eugene Oregon, and so were Co-motion, Burley and Bike Friday….3 of our biggest competitors at the time. I thought it said something that a Eugene based Tandem Magazine owner wanted to order one of our bikes. Well, they ordered it, and then reviewed it in the magazine. I was a little nervous, but the review was very good, and the bike looked spectacular!

In 1998 – Tandem Magazine also reviewed the Rodriguez Toucan. That would be the last ‘tandem specific’ press we would get for a while. Tandem Magazine went out of business a few years after that, and it took a while for another magazine to pick up the reins.

In December of 2004 – We bought out Dennis Bushnell, moved all of his equipment into our shop, and hired Dennis full time to run the frame shop. By combining forces, we were able to develop an entirely new way of manufacturing custom bicycles and tandems. A method and philosophy that would make a Rodriguez bicycle or tandem the best value in the industry. Myself, as well as our frame building team also learned from Dennis and his wealth of knowledge.

Along with Dennis Bushnell came the famous Bushnell Eccentric bottom bracket. This is a tandem specific design that Dennis had developed. We went to work to patent the design right away. We had also been working on new tandem specific cantilever brake design. Having Dennis full time at the shop meant that we could speed up the prototyping process and begin patent work on that as well. It was a win for all concerned, and both products rocketed to stardom.

In 2008 – We introduced the Rodriguez Ultra-light tandem. At just 26 pounds, it was an industry sensation. Dennis’ long history of flyweight tandem building, and our new manufacturing process made something like this possible. The rest of the industry scrambled to keep up, and they’re still trying.

Lightweight Custom Racing Tandem

2008 – FREE Custom Tandem Sizing This was also the year that we made the announcement that all Rodriguez Tandems would include custom sizing free of charge. This just makes sense as trying to properly fit 2 people to one bike is impossible unless it’s built custom for them. Even if you don’t think you need a custom size tandem, you should read this article. Other manufacturers are still charging several hundred $$ to build in custom sizes, but our manufacturing method makes it possible for us to do it for free. As Angel always said “FREE is a very good price!”.

In 2009 – An early version of our tandem brake, the Big Squeeze, was reviewed in a British cycling magazine. Sales of the product took off.

2009 was also the year that we built our first Bicycle Built for Five that also converted to 4, 3 or 2. Having a builder like Dennis really stepped things up on the x-tra long bike division.

Custom Bicycle Built for Five in progress
A Rodriguez Bicycle Built for Five

We built several triples, and quads (bicycles built for four) in 2009 It was the year of the long bike. Our 2009 staff photo featured a couple of them that just happened to be in the shop at one time.

In 2011 – Our patent was finally awarded for the Bushnell eccentric. This was an enormous undertaking, but sales of the Bushnell eccentric are now worldwide. When we applied our new manufacturing techniques to making this product right here in Seattle, we suddenly became the largest producer of high end bottom bracket eccentrics in the world. As far as I know, our Bushnell eccentric is the only product manufactured in the U.S.A. and shipped to companies in Taiwan (instead of the other way around).

In 2012 – Another Rodriguez tandem specific patent would be issued. Our Big Squeeze brakes patent issued in March 2012. It might not sound like much, but holding 2 patents specifically related to tandem products is quite rare for a small company like ours.

By 2013 – It was hard to ignore the recent accomplishments we’d made in the tandem arena. By this time, there was another magazine that paid a substantial amount of attention to tandems again, Recumbent & Tandem Rider Magazine. Now we were approached by this Magazine for a review. The result was seven pages of the issue, including the cover of the magazine. They were very impressed with our ‘Only Custom’ sizing. Again, sales took off to new heights!

2014 – This was such a great tandem year for us here at R+E Cycles that it got a new Rodriguez tandem model named after it. The Rodriguez Model 20/14 is a creation to behold. Unique in the industry as a full tandem that rides like a full tandem, but will fit in small standard sized suitcases….small enough suit cases to be ‘carry on’ luggage in the European train system. This was the requirement that the bike was designed for.

The design was a great success, and we’ve built several of them now. As a matter of fact, we’re building one as I’m typing this article.

That brings us to 2016 – Here we are in 2016 and having one of the best tandem seasons since 1996. Tandems of every style are on order right now and we’re working on a bicycle built for 4 as well. Our new manufacturing method has proven itself to be the most flexible model in our industry. We even attracted the attention of a major business newspaper, the Puget Sound Business Journal to highlight our shop. We’d love to invite you in to visit our shop and meet the folks here at R+E Cycles (Rodriguez and Erickson).

After years of building tandems, we’ve done it all. We’ve built for world record holders, national champions, and most of all, families and couples of all skill levels and abilities. We’ve built tandem trikes for folks who couldn’t balance anymore, and we’ve built tandems for people almost 7 feet tall. You can have a gander at our tandem photo gallery to see some of the creations we built just over the last few years.

My Family in 2006 on our Rodriguez Bicycle Built for Four riding through the country in Idaho. We’re on our way to the 4th of July Parade!

Former national racing team member on his Rodriguez tandem (that also converts to a triple)

2017 should prove to be our best tandem year yet! We’re thrilled to be the title sponsor of the 2017 Northwest Tandem Rally, and looking forward to participating in it.

I say again, if you have a tandem and haven’t ridden in a tandem rally, do this one. If you don’t have a tandem, get one. We’ve got an excellent selection of used and new tandems right here in the shop for you to try.

Thanks for reading. I’ve got to get back to work now. –Dan – 09/2016

Please visit us soon!

Wouldn’t you Rather Have a Custom Tandem?

If your tandem bicycle was made before you ordered it,
it’s not your tandem.

Today’s Topic: Free custom tandem sizing at Rodriguez

At Rodriguez, there are a lot of things we do differently than the other guys. As a matter of fact, there’s very little that we do the same as other tandem manufacturers. Although our tandems may look similar to other brands, there are some huge differences and I thought I might just take a moment today to tell you about a few of these differences.

In this article I will touch lightly on the fact that we offer all of our tandem frames in custom sizing at no extra charge. I will go a little deeper into why we do that, and what it means for you, the tandem team.

Who is this article for?
If you’re a stoker, this article is definitely for you! If you’re a captain who sees value in having your stoker be comfortable and happy on your tandem, then this article is also for you.

I promise to try to be brief and stay focused, but those voices in my head keep steering me off course. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and let’s graze the surface of just why a custom tandem from Rodriguez is different.

Tandems and stock sizing:
Years ago, like other tandem manufacturers, we made our tandems in production (or stock) sizes. We had XS, S, M, L and XL. The reason to produce them in ‘stock’ sizes was to save money by having a repeatable method. We could build several frames of each size at once, and stock up on them. Then when customers came in, we could fit them to one of the sizes. This is the way that most shops have to sell tandems even today. They only have pre-determined sizes available, so the best that they can do is to adjust things around those sizes to make something work. If they have a custom option available, it is a lot more expensive and takes a lot more time.

When we had stock sizes, it turned out that about half of the time, the stock size was not ideal, but could be ‘made to work’ with some compromising. As a tandem builder who puts proper fit at the top of the list, we could always build a custom size if one of our pre-built stock sizes wasn’t perfect. About half of the customers who could technically fit on a ‘stock’ size chose custom anyway. The rest of the time though, the stock size was so far out of the ballpark that it just wouldn’t work at all. We found that even with production sizes that were pre-built, most of our tandems were built as custom anyway. Customers were willing to pay the extra $$ and wait the extra time to get the right fit without compromising. So, only about 25% of our tandems went out as ‘stock’ sizes.

The same problem existed with all of the other brands that we worked with as well. There were often too many compromises that had to be made in order to fit a couple to a tandem comfortably. It’s not that we hadn’t found the right stock size formula, but that a stock size formula is not realistic when trying to fit 2 people to 1 bicycle. This is something we confirmed in 2006 (Sound interesting? Read on).

Why not make all tandems custom?
Back in pre-historic times (pre-2006) it was a lot more expensive for us to make a custom bike, and it took a lot more time. Making them all custom would’ve been very disruptive to the flow of our manufacturing line back then. At most manufacturers, it still is more expensive, disruptive, and still takes more time. At Rodriguez, we’ve conquered this challenge, and we’re doing things different than everyone else. But that’s a whole

different article if you want to read it.

A quick word about our new way of building bicycles

In 2006, we developed our

current method of producing bicycles. It’s as simple as this: Make bicycles one at a time, in the order they are ordered. I know that sounds incredible for a manufacturer that makes as many bicycles as we do, but it’s how we do it. It turns out to be much more efficient and gives the customer a far better product. It’s one of the reasons a Rodriguez is the

best value in the industry.

Our method is unique to the industry, and now I feel myself going off topic…

Now back to our regularly scheduled topic…
Suffice it to say that in researching for our new fit and manufacturing method we discovered two important things when it comes to bicycle and especially tandem bicycle fit. It takes 18 stock sizes (in single bikes) to fit 90% of the customers we work with. 10% of our customers still end up on a custom bike because of fit issues. Now let’s extrapolate this to a tandem couple. How many sizes would we have to offer in order to give the tandem couple the same type of accuracy that we give with 18 stock sizes in single bikes? What do you think….36….64? That number is 18×18 or a whopping 324! And that number would only fit 90% of the couples we work with. Trying to produce 324 stock sizes is not efficient, or even realistic. It’s way more efficient to build every tandem with a custom design. So that’s what we do. We offer every tandem couple a custom frame size at no extra charge.

So where’s the pain?
The stoker (person riding the back of the bike) is often ignored when it comes to fitting a couple to a tandem. The theory goes something like this: With an adjustable stem and seat post, we can get the stoker’s bars and seat anywhere we want.

That sounds like a reasonable theory, but in reality, there are many factors that we’ve encountered that make for trouble. Trouble in this area means an uncomfortable stoker. An uncomfortable stoker means a ‘no-fun’ ride.

I could write a book here, but instead, let’s just analyze three recent tandems that we’ve built and I’ll walk you through why these customers don’t fit on a stock size without compromise. I could easily put hundreds of bikes here to analyze, but I think these three are a pretty good sampling.

I’ll show actual images from the C.A.D. drawings that we used to build three recent tandems. I’ll remove the dimensions and add some crude seats and bars for clarity. For fun, I’ll link image galleries of those exact bicycles so you can see how they turned out.

We’ll look at a tandem that’s obviously custom built for a couple that obviously needs a custom. We’ll look at a tandem that’s obviously custom built for a couple that most would think could ride a ‘stock’ size. Finally, we’ll look at a custom tandem that looks like a ‘stock’ size for a couple that looks to be ‘stock’ size.

First Up — An obvious custom

Captain height – 7′ | Stoker height – 5′ 4″

Any shop would send this couple to a custom builder, because of the massive height difference in the riders, and the fact that the captain is too tall to ride any ‘stock’ size of any bike. Take into account the fact that he rides special 220mm crank arms as well, and that rules out any ‘stock’ size.

Of course, anyone who’s 7′ tall expects to need a custom tandem. What they don’t expect is that at Rodriguez, it will cost nothing extra to get that perfect fit.

In this example, we’re just showing that no matter what the height differential, a tandem can be made that looks and rides great! We’ve built a lot of tandems through the years that are this same frame design, but until this bike, we didn’t take pictures.

This couple worked with me via email to get their sizing perfect. The bike turned out beautiful, and they are loving it! See the image gallery for this specific bike here.

Custom Tandem Number 2

Custom tandem for a ‘stock’ looking couple
Captain height – 6′ 1″ | Stoker height – 5′ 4″

Going by the rider’s heights, most shops would guess them to be a ‘Large’ or equivalent tandem size in most brands. This would be especially true if they were communicating by phone or email, and just guessed by height alone. This is probably the biggest misconception that we deal with when fitting a tandem to a couple. We’ve learned by statistical analysis of fit data collected over several decades, as well as through experience working directly with our couples that height alone is a terrible way to size a tandem.

Most companies don’t have the opportunity to work directly with every customer purchasing one of their tandems, and therefore must rely on their dealers to do the fit work. When you work with Rodriguez, you’re working directly with the folks who will design, build and paint your new bicycle.

Back to analysis: With a stoker that’s 10 inches shorter than the captain, this tandem team has a pretty standard height differential. However, their custom tandem is very different from any ‘stock’ size on the market. We see a lot of poorly fitting tandems out there ridden by couples at this respective height difference. Since going strictly custom, we’ve found that many more couples need a tandem that looks like this than even we would’ve estimated 10 years ago.

Although she’s 10 inches shorter, this stoker actually rides a higher saddle than the captain. That’s because her inseam is longer than his. Her height is in her legs, and his height is in his torso. Stock sizes always presume a lower stoker saddle than a captain saddle. In this scenario, her comfortable bar height is level with her saddle, and that means that her bars need to be higher than the captain’s seat. All of this adds up to a much longer stoker compartment to accommodate her fit.

Almost all other brands run a 73cm (or shorter) stoker compartment on their ‘stock’ and even on their custom sizes. The stoker compartment on this frame is 82cm. That’s almost 10cm longer than the standard that other manufacturers run on all of their tandems (including custom). This stoker would have to ride with her bars way too low to be comfortable for her unless her custom tandem was built to order. At Rodriguez, we start every tandem drawing with the stoker’s fit on the screen, and then add the captain’s fit with regard to stoker’s reach and bar height. This will ensure that the stoker will be comfortable, and her/his hands will not be hitting the captain in the butt.

This drawing is very similar to the custom tandem reviewed in Tandem and Recumbent Magazine in 2013. See what they had to say about our custom tandem process.

We’ve built a huge number of tandems for customers that need a longer, higher position for the stoker than is possible on ‘stock’ sizing. Here’s one we did for the
Jacobs, and another for the Millins. This fit is just not something that a company can plan a ‘stock’ size for, but ends up as one of our most common designs.

You can view specific hi-resolution images of the bike the bike we are analyzing here.

Third time’s the charm…or is it?

‘Stock’ looking couple – ‘Stock’ looking bike

Captain height – 5′ 11″ – Stoker height – 5′ 3″

This bike looks like a ‘stock’ size doesn’t it? Well, it’s not even close. The stoker’s compartment is 80cm long. That’s 6~8cm longer than anybody else’s ‘stock’ size.

Here’s an example of a customer that technically could fit on our old ‘stock’ size L, but the stoker would’ve had to compromise her comfort. A couple like this is often willing to put up with some discomfort for the stoker in order to save the $400~$500 that other companies charge for a custom size. Once we started offering custom sizes on tandems, we quickly discovered that almost every couple really fits better with a stoker compartment longer than 78cm.

We ask: Why compromise a comfortable fit for the stoker?

This stoker wants her tandem to fit like her single bike does, and she’d like a little distance between her face and the captain’s rear end. Although she’s just 5′ 3″, her preferred handle bar height is 4.5cm higher than her saddle, and her bar width is just 38cm. With the shorter 70~73cm stoker compartment that is built into all other ‘stock’ sizes, she would have to choose from one of 3 compromises. She could ride bars that are too wide, she could ride with her bars too low, or she could ride with her total reach too short for her fit. Without one of these compromises, the captain’s hind quarters would hit her in the hands. This is a compromise repeated again and again throughout bike shops everywhere. The stoker’s fit is compromised.

Here are a few customers that have very similar ’80cm +’ stoker compartments on ‘stock looking’ custom tandems. If you see these bikes on the road, you’d think they were a ‘stock’ size, but they are far from it! They are all custom Rodriguez tandems. All of these stokers are enjoying the benefits of a tandem built with their comfort in mind!

The Wrap Up

Well there it is, our case for the custom tandem frame. We started offering free custom tandem sizing several years ago, and we’ve never looked back. Our tandem customers are happier than ever, and we’ve helped dozens of couples out of poor fitting ‘other brands’ just by working with them in our fitting station. As it turns out, most stokers want to be comfortable on their bike, and once they’ve experienced that, there’s no turning back.

If you’re considering a tandem to replace your old one, or if you’re considering your first tandem, why not make it your tandem? Now you don’t have to compromise fit or $$ to have the perfect fitting custom tandem that you’ve always dreamed was out there.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk further about our bikes, just email me or call the shop at 206-527-4822.

I sure hope you enjoyed this article, and that you learned something from it. We have a good time here at Rodriguez making and talking about bikes. Thanks for reading.

Dan – April, 2014

More technical tandem articles

A Stiff Proposition – Stiffener tubes
Double Trouble – Tandem forks
Featherweight Champion– Race tandems

Linked in this article

Our Custom fitting history at Rodriguez
The Best Value – Custom Rodriguez
New Manufacturing method
Our Tandem Photo Galleries
Rodriguez Tandem Testimonials