Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Back to Back Tandem

My friend Uwe Anderseck and his son Martin attended Spezi 2010 in Germersheim and wrote me the other day about the new back to back tandem to be produced by Zox in the near future. Martin snapped these pictures:

Captain power is conventional twisting chain with tubing to protect against chain rub. Rear drive appears to be a simple reversing chain with more tubing to protect against rub. While the stoker has a full set of gears in back, there are no handlebars, just a pair of grips on either side at hip level.
The bike will be offered in three frame sizes.
The bike weighs 55 pounds and is a little over 9 feet long. Bottom bracket height is 23 inches and seat height is 15inches, exactly the same as my Barcroft. The seats appear to be stock Zox seats. The bike rides on two 20 inch wheels.
Like all other Zox bikes I've seen, the frame is a monotube. Unfortunately, that means it will probably not break down for transport like my Barcroft or the Flevo BTB. It does appear to have a mid-tube kick stand. That's a nice touch as I could never find a spot to add one to the Barcroft. The seat recline angle looks like it's going to be limited to a fairly upright angle. That's too bad, because that's going to limit speed.
According to Sergio Gomez at Zox, the bike will retail for about $5265. You're probably going to have to add shipping from Germany on top of that, so this is a rather pricey bike.
I can't wait to try this bike out!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Carbon Back-To-Back Cancelled

It was a nice dream, but I reached the conclusion this week that a one of a kind carbon fiber back-to-back tandem is not in the cards for me anytime soon. I got an estimate to build the CF frame from scratch and from that I figured the whole bike would have cost me around $10,000. That's alot of money for a small increase in speed over the Barcroft back to back tandem. I don't mind spending it for a unique product like this, but I am also mindful that it is unlikely I would be able to resell the bike and get my money back. So, it looks like I will begin the kitchen redo that my stoker has been pushing for in the alternative.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Perfect Back to Back Tandem

With the onset of standard time, winter and the rainy season here in Houston, my thoughts turn to next year and a new, improved, back to back tandem. I asked myself what features I'd want if I could design a ground up back to back tandem. I'm not a builder or a technician, so this entry won't be about technical specs for a new bike. rather it's just a musing on what I like and don't like about the two back to back's I've owned so far and what I would keep or change in a new one.

My first back to back was the Flevo. It was fast and comfortable. It's speed probably derived from the recline angle of the seats. On the other hand, it was very long, very heavy and fairly unwieldy. It's 26" wheels made for a pretty high ride and this could be unsettling when riding backwards. It wasn't a technically advanced bike. The bar on which the bottom brackets travelled, for instance, was composed of solid metal stock. The bike came apart in the middle by backing out two large screws. I trailered the bike so disassembly wasn't necessary. The connection joint did allow for a bit of flex between the two halves. Even allowing for it's plywood frame covered with aluminum, the bike still tipped the scale at over 70 pounds. Still, the bike was an eye catching beast. I sold it this year after my stoker broke her hip and declared she just didn't want to be that high off the ground anymore and risk a fall.

Next came the Barcroft California. I'm still riding this bike, of course. It was and is a significant improvement over the Flevo in several respects. Being low to the ground it's easier to start and stop. It's almost as fast as the Flevo was. I suspect it would be even faster if we could recline the seats more, but they are so close together at the top now that more recline is impossible. Like the Flevo, the California comes apart at the middle. I've never disassembled the bike. The connecting joint is rock solid, however, so there is no possibility of Flevo flex there. The biggest drawback of this well designed innovative bike is it's weight. Like the Flevo, it tips the scale at around 70 pounds.
The obvious answer to the weight problem is a carbon fiber tandem, like the M5 Double D here. It's not for sale though, so I am left to imagine building a new CF bike of my own.
As I mentioned above, I like smaller wheels since they keep my stoker close to the ground and make the bike easier to start and stop. Independent front and back drive makes sense from a number of perspectives. It eliminates the need for a long chain to the back wheel and the power sucking idlers it requires. In addition, my stoker is completely sold on the independent cadence that we enjoy on the California. This is possible only with separate drives. A CF frame would result in a substantial weight savings. Lastly, to get the the additional speed we had on the Flevo, we need a seat recline of around 20-25 degrees.
With all of these thoughts floating vaguely around in the back of my mind, I came across this photo of John Morciglio's CF M2 mid racer. I realized that I could be looking at the front half of my dream back to back tandem. The size is about right. The seat recline is right. The CF frame is right. It only remains to contact a skilled craftsman and builder to explore the possibility of bringing this concept to life.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thundervolt M1 Review

Like most riders, I've always been attracted to beautiful new bikes and the prospect of going faster. I'm way past my biking prime so any advantage I can find is welcome. I felt a strong attraction when I discovered the Velokraft Nocom, but alas the price, at $8-10,000, was just more than I was willing to spend to indulge my speed lust. I considered a used Nocom, but there just aren't many of those bikes around.

Then I discovered John Morciglio and his line of Thundervolt CF bikes, hand made in Waterford, MI. The bike is available from John as a frame kit for $3700. This includes fork, carbon/aluminum tiller, front and rear brakes, headset and front wheel. That's an amazing price for a bike that gives Nocom performance and a responsive, available builder right here in the USA.

When I contacted John he was already working on a team order for 5 of these beauties so I would have a 6 week wait for mine. John sensed my eagerness and offered to sell me his personal M1 which was set up and basically ready to go. He threw in his gorgeous, custom CF wheel covers and a rear wheel. All this for a smoking hot price, not much over what the frame set would have cost me.

The box arrived from Michigan safe and sound. John packed it so well that cutting the box open and actually getting the bike out was a major chore. It was pretty much ready to ride when I got it. John and I just happen to be the same height so the bike was a perfect fit.

One of the reasons I bought John's personal bike as opposed to ordering one was that I was intrigued by the machine gun handlebar set up. John tells me this design is more aero. That makes sense since it tucks your arms in while riding. On the other hand, it does make the bike very twitchy at low speeds until you're used to it. With 150 miles under my belt, I am now able to start and stop easily. While cruising with these handlebars, the slightest steering input brings immediate results. It took a bit of concentration during the first 50 miles or so to adjust to this characteristic. On one ride I reached up to scratch my forehead and was immediately off the road. These issues disappeared as I gained more experience on the bike. Now I ride with comfort and confidence. I'll be clipping in soon.

People who have seen the bike ask about visibility. It turns out that the view from this cockpit is perfectly adequate. This brings up another issue. Since the bike is so aero, there really isn't anywhere to mount a mirror. I've experimented with a helmet mirror, but I am still looking for a better solution.

There is storage space in the hollow chains stays. I will soon be using a bladder for hydration. I fit a couple of spare tubes and basic tools on the other side. Wallet, phone and car keys fit into the integrated storage compartment in the seat.
Now for the good stuff: this bike flies like nothing I've ever ridden. I can cruise easily at 20+ and so far have had the bike up to 27. Acceleration is smooth and once the bike reaches the desired speed, it wants to stay there. The ride is a little bumpy on chip seal pavement (I try avoid it), but nothing to complain about. The bike is best, of course, on smooth, straight roads where you can really unwind it. I like riding the Memorial Park Picnic Loop, but there are so many turns it's hard to get going faster than about 20. Nevertheless, it's exhilarating to lap DF riders.
The riding position is extremely comfortable. It reminds me of lying in bed with my head propped up with a pillow to read a book. My weight is evenly distributed and there is no soreness or aching after an hour in the cockpit. Mounting and dismounting is a bit of an effort for an old, fat man like me, but I'm getting better at it.
The bike is rear wheel drive and there can be some chain rub on the front wheel. This hasn't really been a problem since there is seldom an occasion to deflect the front wheel enough make contact. Perhaps one day John will come up with a front wheel drive version.
Since I broke my femur in January of last year in a fall on wet pavement, I've made it a rule never to ride in the rain. Last weekend I did get caught with Jim on wet road at George Bush Park on the M1. It has drizzled earlier, but was not raining when we started the ride. As soon as we were up to speed I had the impression that it had started raining hard. It was difficult to see with the rain on my shades so I took them off. I had to squint with the rain hitting my face. As soon as I stopped, the rain did too. I thought that odd. As soon as I resumed, so did the rain. It finally occurred to me that the rear wheel was throwing water up over my head and onto my chest. I was making my own rain. That is not to detract from this bike as it is not meant to be ridden in the rain or even used as a road bike for that matter. There's no way I'm going to fool with fenders either. I will just reserve the M1 for great roads and good weather.
The bike rides so low that I've been concerned about being seen by other riders and motorists. For George Bush Park, I've mounted a blinking white strobe for oncoming traffic. For road riding I plan to find a good spot for a tail light.
The bike has a weight limit of 230 pounds and, happily, I'm well below that now.
John has been a dream to work with and very responsive to all my questions and concerns. He's asked that I check both wheels and the frame before every ride and I've done that religiously. No defects found. Both wheels remain perfectly true and the frame is perfect. More than once he has offered a replacement frame if there are any issues at all, but I am pleased to say there haven't been any.
If you're interested in acquiring one of these rocket sleds, contact John at kmorciglio@comcast.nospam (replace nospam with net).
Thanks, John, for an amazing bike!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bike Around the Bay 2009

Turn out was disappointing this year. When I rode this ride in 2007 (the 2008 ride was cancelled by Hurricane Ike) I thought it was the best ride of the year. According to my notes about 450 people showed up back then. The crowd was smaller this year. Perhaps it was the overcast skies threatening rain on Saturday morning. A ride official said that a hundred people or so had registered but had not shown up. I would guess that maybe two hundred people showed up this time.

Aimee and I had mechanical problems right of the bat. That was my fault, not the bike's. In any case, two nice guys from Bike Barn helped us out and we were back on the road in about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, that put us at the very back of the pack.

A ride marshall informed us that we'd be followed by the "Turtle" SAG truck. This honor is given to the very last rider in the ride. I don't like being last at anything and I certainly don't like being followed by a truck 100' behind us for the whole ride. Aimee and I pedaled a little harder hoping to catch someone and drop the Turtle. With a 40 minute delay at the start, that wasn't going to be easy. Nevertheless, we pushed hard for the first 10 miles or so and finally drew up to rider who had pulled over to the side of the road with a motorcycle ride marshall. Aimee and I were jubilant since this was our chance to shake the Turtle. Our smile faded when we saw that it was none other than Jim with a flat on his Bachetta. We stopped and loaned him some air before pushing off again. Since he is faster than we are, we had no intention of rejoining the Turtle posse. By the first rest stop we were out of danger. There were 10-15 riders there and we left ahead of all of them.
The route for Day One is unchanged from the original ride, but Day Two had an alteration at the end to avoid the horrible traffic and narrow winding road on the last 10 miles. As it turned out, we were not to see the new route.

In spite of the overcast and threat of rain, Day One was a pleasant ride. The only climb on this leg is the High Island Bridge. The Seavo handled it easily.

Lunch was a variety of sandwiches and several different kinds of chips served buffet style int he back room at the "Big Kahuna." Not bad, but not as good as Chick Filet last year.

The route on Galveston Island was the same as last year, but this time we got our own lane, cordoned off with red cones, all the way to Moody gardens. Nice.

We were fortunate enough to spend Saturday night at David's beach house on Galveston and to have a private SAG wagon. Aimee and I took a dip in the Gulf and went to bed early.

I rose early on Day Two and checked the weather. The forecast was for 12mph headwinds and 70% chance of rain. I love this ride and I love spending the day on the bike, but since I broke my femur last year on a wet road, I'm a bit more conservative about inclement weather. No more wet roads for me. David, Jim, Aimee and I conferenced over coffee and breakfast and all decided to skip Day Two. Judging from comments made by friends who rode Day Two, alot of other riders decided to skip it as well. Perhaps the weather will cooperate next year.

The only minor peeve I have about the ride is this: when ride marshalls on motorcycles pull up to assist a rider who has stopped on the side of the road, they pull their hog up alongside the ride, thus taking up the entire shoulder and forcing other riders into the traffic lane. More than once we had to stop behind the them because of traffic. Why not just pull up behind them instead of blocking the whole shoulder?

My gastric sleeve keeps working as intended. This morning I am down 43 pounds. That's 5 pounds in just the last 2 weeks.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Progress Report

It's been two months now since my gastric sleeve surgery and I am down 38 pounds and two pants sizes as of this morning. The weight is just melting away. I've had immediate benefits in my cycling as well. Aimee and I took the Seavo out a week or so ago. We hadn't ridden it since my surgery. When we rode it this spring I actually thought about selling it because it just wasn't comfortable any more. Although I was loath to admit it, the trouble was that my stomach had grown so big that my thighs were hitting it when I pedalled. Riding the bike since my weight loss was a revelation. With my stomach gone (literally) pedalling the Seavo was the way it used to be: easy and comfortable. Our speed picked up as well. I'm glad I didn't sell the Seavo. Aimee and I will be using it for the Bike Around the Bay this coming weekend.

This morning I met Jim and David for the maiden run of my new Mocon low racer. I spent last night with the final details of getting it set up and practising getting on and off. This another example of the benefits of my weight loss. Frankly, I doubt I would have been able to mount and dismount this bike, much less ride it.

We found a quiet country road for this test. I didn't want to have to worry about traffic as well as trying to ride this beautiful bike. My first challenge was starting the bike. The machine gun handle bars make for poor handling at low speeds so it's fairly important to get up some speed right off the bat. While puzzling how I was going to get both feet up on the pedals as I pushed off, I realized that I could put both feet on the pedals with the bike standing still. All I had to do was steady the bike with my hand on the pavement (yes, the bike is that low). After 5 or 6 tries I did get the bike started. It accelerates quickly and handling improves with speed. Nevertheless, it took 15-20 miles before I could take turns with confidence. I easily moved up to 20 mph with a couple of gears left unused. I decided, though, to save a speed run for another day when I had a little more experience on the bike.

By the end of today's 30 mile ride I felt at home on the bike. I have a little tinkering to do before the next time I ride it. I couldn't get my computer to work properly. It's new and suspect it may be batteries. I might get a new seat pad and perhaps trim the chain stays a bit to fit my shoulders. I'd also like to mount a red light on the back of the bike since it's ultra-low and easy for drivers to miss.

Fortunately, I am exactly the same height as John, who made the bike for himself, so no BB adjustment was needed. The bike is very comfortable and after 30 miles I had no recumbent butt or foot numbness. I can't wait for the next ride.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hotter N' Hell Hundred 2009

Aimee and Jim and I headed north last week for the 2009 Hotter N' Hell Hundred. It was just a month since my gastric surgery so we opted for the 50 mile route, even though the weather promised to be mild.

The first few years I did this ride we stayed in Duncan, Oklahoma. It's just 60 miles from the ride and hotel rooms are plentiful and cheap. Of course It does require getting up an hour earlier and driving back to Wichita Falls in the dark. Last year we had a chance to stay in WF and loved the convenience so I don't think we'll being staying in Duncan in the future.

In previous years we've either ridden singles or the Rans Seavo on this ride. This year Aimee chose the Barcroft California back to back for the ride. I had some misgivings about bringing the California to the HHH, primarily because we transport the bike on a trailer. That means everywhere we park in crowded Wichita Falls we would need two spaces. It all worked out though. We found a good spot at the hotel and arrived early at the ride on Friday morning to find a perfect spot on the street. The bike even fit in our hotel room.

This bike is alot of fun, of course, everywhere we ride it and the HHH was no exception. We were chased by several photographers at the start line who wanted info on the bike. Almost everyone who passed us asked us the usual questions:

"Did you build that?

"Don't you get car sick?"

"Does it go both ways?"

At every rest stop we would get water and refreshment and return to find our bike surrounded by admirers. This bike is a good will ambassador!

The last 5 or 6 times I've done this ride, it's been on a recumbent and usually a tandem. We were always started in the front at the start line. This year tandems and recumbents were started with their mileage groups. I didn't like this much when I heard about it since the California is a little twitchy at low speeds. It turned out to be an improvement. We started at the back of the 100k pack. Since we were in back we were not surrounded by bikes and were able to maneauver freely. We crossed the start line by 7:20 or so.

The first ten miles of the ride, although flat, are my least favorite. The road surface is chip seal. It's rough and slows the bike down. This road makes regular asphalt seem like glass.

The California affords the stoker an excellent platform for photography.

Turnout this year was 14,205 riders according to the HHH websire. It showed at the erst stops where, for the first time, I saw long lines for food and water.

Like most recumbents, the California is fast on flats and descents, but slow to climb. It's definitely not a hill bike, at least for me.

This is probably the easiest HHH I've ever ridden. The high was 88 when we finished compared to the 103 we endured a few years ago. Winds were light and favorable. Sag and rests top support was, as usual, simply awesome. I'm looking forward to next years HHH.
Since my weight loss surgery on July 28, my biking has been getting easier by the day. I've now lost 30 pounds as of this morning. Who knows what I'll weigh then? My plan is to do the century on a new low racer.