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Bike Review
Calfee Tetra Tandem!

Review by:
Maury Cohen

Several months ago, my stoker and I began shopping for a top-of-the-line tandem to replace the Burley tandem I owned at the time. We're fortunate to live in Northern California, where there are many good tandem dealers, as well as having a number of friends who allowed us to test ride their high quality tandems as well.

After weeks of deliberation we decided on the Calfee Tetra Tetra, purchased through Dave's Bike Sport/The Bike Peddler in Santa Rosa, CA. I gave Dave's a detailed list of the components we wanted (this would evolve a bit during the birthing process) and they supplemented this with detailed measurements of both of our single bikes and the previous tandem. All of this info. was forwarded to Calfee Design in Santa Cruz, CA. Craig Calfee builds his carbon frames specifically for the riding style and weight of a particular rider or tandem team. This insures the most comfortable ride possible while still retaining the stiffness that carbon is known for. We were in touch with Craig and other staff members a number of times during the building process, and they were always available and responsive. Joe's Bicycle Painting took care of the painting stage and did a wonderful job. He even accommodated our custom color request (a $280 upgrade for this DuPont Chromalusion color) only available from a different source than his usual paints (PPG). All was delivered right on schedule (8 weeks for a tandem).

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Dave's did a great job building the bike up from boxes of parts in a record two days , including wheels from scratch!

The Calfee tandem is not only one of the lightest (if not THE lightest) tandem on the market, but is surely the quickest handling. This was disconcerting to me when I test rode several during the research phase, but it's mostly noticeable in comparison to the slower "truck like" solidity of the handling of most other tandems. I spec'd handlebars the same width as my single bike and this helped to bring things into line for me. Speaking of weight; Our tandem included a wheelset built for reliability rather than lightness (Phil Wood hubs, Mavic CXP33 rims, 14 gauge non-butted spokes and brass nipples), and a Look Ergo Stem which weighs more than twice what a typical fixed stem weighs. Despite this, our tandem weighed in at under 32 lbs. For comparison our previous beast weighed 45 lbs.!

Shifting duties are handled by a combination of Ultegra and XTR. WE had a custom DaVinci crankset put on (actually fabricated by White industries in Petaluma, CA). Besides claiming a weight lower than the Ultegra triple the cranks are interchangeable to facilitate experimenting with longer or shorter cranks. We discovered in our research that varying the crank length of stoker and captain can do much to accommodate discrepancies in pedaling style. (I'm a "spinner" and Kathy's a "masher").

Our first rides confirmed our expectations of high performance. The frame is stiff even when climbing out of saddle, yet it's also the smoothest ride of any tandem we've ridden. I've adjusted to the quick handling completely, and often feel like I'm on my single bike on twisty descents. Kathy is really pleased with the effectiveness of the RockShox road shockpost on the back, which absorbs the big hits that make it through the carbon frame. We had the frame sized to allow either of us to captain, and she was pleasantly surprised with the handling when she tried her hand in front on our first short outing, even negotiating a slow uphill u-turn that had me ready to dive off the back. The ergo stem allows us to fine tune the handlebar position for any given situation, without compromising stiffness in any way.

There were some minor communication glitches between Craig and myself, so I'd encourage anyone ordering a Calfee to make a clear checklist of critical issues to be signed off by both you and Calfee. I highly recommend Calfee to anyone interested in a state of the art custom single or tandem bicycle.

Special thanks to Dick Powell at The Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos, Dave Walters (and his crew) at Dave's Bike Sport, and Sheldon Brown of Harris Cyclery and Peter Jon White, both experts in tandems with excellent websites.

When purchasing a tandem it's very important to deal with a shop that's familiar with them. Another shop I can vouch for is The Hub in Cotati, where my Burley was purchased.

Mr. Maury Cohen & Ms. Kathy Hiebel
'94 Jeffrey Richman Custom
'99 Burley Samba Softride
'01 Calfee Tetra Tetra

 

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