Jean Claude ManDamme.
Yes. The Mandem.
More specifically, it’s a Ritchey Breakaway tandem. All steel, and built as a breakaway; it breaks down into 3 components (front triangle fore of the captain’s seatpost (red), mid section from captain’s seatpost back to stoker’s seatpost (white) and rear triangle (blue)). I’ll go into build details at some point in the future, but the relevant data is that it’s an all drive-side tandem (single chainring up front, triple in the rear–the outboard chainring on the rear goes to the captain’s chainring, and the inner 2 chainrings on the rear are used as a 2×10 drivetrain to power the bike). An eccentric captain’s BB handles chain tension duties. Brakes are currently a set of 1st Gen BB7s that are awful; a set of TRP Hy-Rds is sitting in the box, awaiting install. Big 180mm rotors handle the slowing down. Contact points are all top-notch…Cambium saddles, Fizik Bars and tape, Crank Brothers pedals. For the stoker, a set of Fizik carbon flat mountain bars with bar-ends, and with taped grips, provides comfort. So what do you do with a Mandem? Obviously, you bro-it out. And then you hammer. The Mandem was built up with my good friend Brendan. We’ve only had it out a handful of times now, and it’s ridiculously fun to ride. When we both put our minds to it, the mandem is ridiculously fast on a flat surface. Descents are dangerously fast. Climbs…well, we’re still working on those.
The Ritchey frame is a masterpiece. It’s not only beautiful, but amazingly rigid. The ride quality is perfection. There’s no lateral whip, and while it has some vertical compliance, it isn’t noodlely as I had feared it might be. You do have to pay attention to tire pressure; if that gets at all low, the rear of the bike wanders around as the tire deflects.
As a stoker, it’s been a new experience. There’s no steering from the back, so you just have to have confidence in the captain. My job is to pay attention to the little cues from the captain (a smidge of back pressure means slowing…watch for the cue to unclip and stop…synchronize the clip-in and pedal, etc.). I try to be neutral in terms of cornering, letting the captain control the bike…and on sharper corners, providing a natural lean to compliment, rather than upset, the status quo.
There are times when it’s way easier to pedal than I expect…and times where it’s surprisingly challenging. Brendan’s a great bike-handler, so even things like car-control gates and tight switchbacks are not a problem. The Ritchey is designed to handle 700c wheels and also 27.5 mountain bike setups, so it’s got tire clearance for days.
The weirdest thing is the reduced feedback while pedaling. When riding solo, if you push harder, the bike immediately responds. You can sense how hard you’re working based on the response of the bike, changes in speed, etc. If you need to stand and pedal, you stand and pedal. If you want to increase or reduce cadence, you shift. On the Mandem, that’s not really how it works. It’s hard to know exactly how hard you are pedaling. (In some ways, having power pedals would be intensely helpful for the stoker…at times I find myself pushing really hard and not realizing it). It sounds ridiculous (you should be able to tell how hard you’re pedaling a bike), but it’s disconcerting.
At night, the sensation of speed is crazy. Not only do you have darkness, but you have limited forward visibility. All you see is trees rushing past. It takes some adjustment.
The Mandem might be the most fun bike I’ve ever ridden on a flat road. It turns a regular ride into an experience. I really enjoy riding bikes with others–and it brings cooperation into a whole new dimension. It’s a stunningly beautiful bike.
I’ve realized more and more that biking is a social experience for me. I love the places you go, the scenery you see, the sense of accomplishment from a hard ride well-ridden, sure. I get satisfaction out of good solo training rides that I do. But ultimately, I train so that I can ride with others, and not hold them back. If my riding was all solo, I don’t know that I’d do it. I’d much rather ride in an event with a team and enjoy it, than ride a solo event and win acclaim. I spend enough of my non-biking life in other contexts. For me, bikes are a way to come together with friends and share experiences. The Mandem is the ultimate expression of that concept.