Friday, April 18, 2008

Product Review: Bike Friday Family Tandem Traveler

Diablo Daughter has about outgrown her Giant Halfwheeler trailercycle but she still enjoys cycling with Dad so we decided it was time for a tandem.

The Giant Halfwheeler has served us well for 4 years.

I looked at quite a few over the last few years and after much review, decided on this one. The runner up (Co-Motion Periscope) was really neat but at least twice the cost. What really attracted me to this Bike Friday was not the "packable" feature, but the geometry that lets me set up the stoker postion for a 4-foot tall rider with a minimum of extra bits and futzing.

So I called Bike Friday in Eugene Oregon, told them I was ready to spend my 2008 Economic Stimulus Tax Rebate check (I didn't really have it yet), and we got the order going. They sell a lot of customized bikes (different components, paint colors, handlebar options etc) but this one is available as a stock bike and ships out the same day you order it so that was an advantage to me as well. The customer service rep was excellent and talked me through a couple things and then I got an e-mail with a UPS tracking number to follow.

Wednesday the box comes and I couldn't believe how small it was. I thought "There's no way there's a tandem in here." But I opened it up and started undoing all the bubble wrap and packing paper and gradually I did realize that they had sent me a single, folding bike by mistake! I was disappointed but not exactly mad and I fired off an e-mail explaining the situation and asking what to do. They got back to me right away and had the correct bike sent out by FedEx with a Saturday delivery - they were very apologetic and bent over backwards to make sure I was happy. When they say they pride themselves on customer service, they mean it.

Saturday morning, the new box comes...

Oh no - the box is the same size... could they have made the same mistake twice?

AHH! There be tandem parts here!

It took about 45 minutes just to unpack it.

Here's what it looks like when you get all the parts out of the box. Very considerate of Bike Friday to include two cages, two bottles, and a bell at no extra charge.

Then it took about an hour and a half to do the bulk of the assembly. The instructions weren't too bad; there were a lot of "Insert Tab A into Slot 1" type instructions. There were some minor confusing issues in the manual but nothing that wasn't cleared up with a little head scratching. All the threads were clean and pre-greased with just the right amount of stuff, all the tricky bits like the crank, shifters, derailleurs, and brakes were already installed. Pretty much all that was required was to connect the subassemblies and tighten some bolts. I frequently found myself admiring the clever engineering and quality of the parts as I was doing all this.

Diablo Daughter couldn't wait to get on even though I wasn't done building it yet.

The paint job is powdercoat and looks nicer than I ever thought powdercoat could look.

Nice head tube badge too!

The timing chain goes on one of the three chainrings of the rear crank. This allows use of a regular, single ring crank for the captain's end instead of an expensive tandem crank. You don't need an eccentric bottom bracket either; the tension on the timing chain is adjusted by actually lengthening the exposed section of bottom tube and then clamping it with those allen bolts near the stoker's crank - one of those operations where it helps to have three hands but it wasn't too tough.

The V-brakes and 8-speed shifting work really well, needed some adjustments out of the box... just the normal stuff. The tire selection was smart also.

A kickstand is a nice feature on a long bike. The pedals that came with the bike wouldn't accept toe clips so I scavanged some other ones from my other bikes; minor gripe.

Cables up front aren't exactly tidy but they don't get in the way either.

Cable splitters easify disassembly and reassembly.

Note how the stoker's bottle cage angles up - makes it easier to grab and allows for two cages on the rear top tube. Captain has an extra mount on the down tube too.

The quick release takes the whole steer tube out of the frame when disassembling.

I thought I might need to buy a kid-sized saddle, but Diablo Daughter reports the stock adult size one is comfortable.

We are ready to roll, baby!

This is the catalogue photo of our tandem and there are some interesting differences to the one we received: it shows a pump peg on the bottom tube that isn't on our model, it shows a chainring protector/chainguard on the stoker crank that isn't on our model, it shows front and rear reflectors plus wheel reflectors that we didn't get, and it shows the stoker handlebars coming out of the seat tube whereas what we got is a conventional stoker stem that attaches to the captain's seat post. None of these reduce the value to me any (I have mounted front and rear lights, use CO2 inflator, etc). This photo also only shows one set of bottle cage mounts for the stoker but ours has two.

Let me talk a little more about why I didn't go with a more conventional tandem.

Look how far up in the air this stokid is... how does she get up there, a step stool? Doesn't look like a good position to me. Yeah, and like she can really reach that water bottle 6 inches below her feet.

Another child stoker conversion to a full-sized tandem. The child crank is barely below the top tube!

Here's my beef with these child stoker cranks - you've now got two timing chains to synchronize and tension, they clamp on to the seat tube where clamping forces are not accounted for in the frame design, and they just look too busy. Bike Friday tandems require none of this.

So.... what did all this run?

$1395 for the stock bicycle, including shipping

$100 for the crank shorteners (sounds expensive but they're a standard item from QBP and that's what the price everybody pays).

$40 for handle bar extensions; probably could have found some cheaper ones but I was thinking they were somehow special and I'd need them for my stoker's short arms... turned out she didn't need them so I put them on the front.

$20 for one pair of pedals that accept toe clips.

I had existing red blinkies and white headlights that I put on too, along with a friendly sounding bell on the captain's bars. Free Incredibell with bike went on the stoker bars.

Now for the importantest bit: How does it ride?

The small wheels definitely give the bike a different feel than a full size bike. It only took a couple trips around the block to get the right combination of leaning and countersteering though. And it definitely handles way better than having a trailercycle attached to your seatpost. Most of all, it is really FUN! This bike doesn't scream to be ridden in sufferfest hilly centuries, it's unpretentious and unusual and unabashedly unserious. This bike, in my opinion, is a superior next step up from a trailercycle and a far better option than a child stoker conversion to a conventional tandem. It gets a 9 out of 10 on the Diablo Scott tandem rating scale.

Hey, if any of my readers orders a Bike Friday, be sure to drop my name and I'll get a referal fee and you'll get an honorable mention RIGHT HERE!

Click - HERE to be taken to the post where I do the Tour de Cure ride review on our Bike Friday Family Traveler Tandem.
And click HERE to see my post where we rode our tandem in the Tour d'Organics; including a fun video.
UPDATE JUNE 2010: My first referral!!! I get a lot of blog hits from people searching the web for Bike Friday tandem product reviews and FINALLY, someone bought one and dropped my name as the reference and now I get a nice credit from Bike Friday. Thank you "Johanne" whoever you are and I hope you really enjoy your new tandem... send me a photo. And the rest of you... be SURE to tell them "Diablo Scott sent me"... they'll know who you mean.
Also, you might notice the rear pannier rack we added to the back. Diablo Daughter and I like to ride the tandem to the swimming pool, but my backpack was always too close to her head. Now we have the rear rack and we use either a trunk bag or a side pannier to put our stuff in... works a treat! Also good for the farmer's market. Normal bike racks won't fit though so you have to buy one from Bike Friday. Normal bags from any bike store work fine though.

If you want a response to your comment, be sure to leave your e-mail.  You can also find my e-mail link at the top of the page.  I answer them all!


jonathanb said...

Hey, Scott,

thanks for the review - I'm considering the triple version for my kids and me! Your review answered some of those nagging questions I had about whether I should order it or not. Thanks!


bikemom said...


Does the stoker have to pedal when the lead rider/parent does? How does that work? My son is 6 and he loves the trail a bike but I had the wobbles and we have a 1 year old to carry along now, too...

Diablo Scott said...

Yes, the stoker and captain cranks are synchronized; both riders must pedal at the same RPM.

You could probably put a rack-mounted baby seat on the back after you and your son get good at riding the tandem first. You could also pull a trailer but that would be one looooong vehicle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott: I'm trying to decide between the SRAM DD 24 spd and the 16 spd grip shift. Bike Friday consultants all recommend the SRAM DD, but acknowledge that while its usually bulletproof, if something does go wrong, it can be a problem. I'm a low tech guy and ride a compact double road bike. I'm looking at the Bike Friday for me and my 10 yr old. How does the double chainring version that you have climb? Did you consider the SRAM DD and if so, why did you go with the 16 spd? Thanks so much for you review.

Mike S.

Diablo Scott said...

Mike -

I did consider the DD version - it essentially uses a 3-speed internal hub instead of a triple crank so when you add the 8-speed cassette you get 24 speeds with no front derailleur. A really cool idea that Bike Friday puts to a really cool use. I just didn't think I needed one and it was about a $300 increase in cost (about the same as a conventional triple setup on the same bike).

I couldn't find a gear chart on the Bike Friday site. I don't think the DD version actually gives you lower gears though if that's what you're asking about; I think it just gives you smaller gaps between successive gears... so the tough climbing would be pretty much the same.

My tandem climbs like I expect it to - it's a little flexy so it doesn't respond well to sudden bursts of maximum power (HA!), but when you sit back a little and spin it scoots up the hills quite well.

Can't speak to the bulletproofness of the SRAM DD hub but it seems to be pretty well established for the niche kind of thing it is. Buy one and then write a product review of your own!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply and comments. Just one more thing - you have the double (16 spd version) right?

I'll let you know whichever way I go.

Mike S.

Diablo Scott said...

Yes, this one:
Family Tandem Traveler 16sp -
Example 2 BTO $1,598.00

Price is $200 more than two years ago. And give them my name when they ask for a referal - Walter calls it the "free tires for life" program. My e-mail address is in my profile.

I get dozens of blog hits every month for this review and NEVER A SINGLE REFERAL!

Scott said...

Hi Scott, a peninsula Scott forwarded your article to his wife, and she's been pestering him. Something about wanting to double-book my training time for carting a kid.

You got the flat bars - any regrets? I'm thinking regular gearing rather than dual-drive, as I already have the tools, and am wondering whether I should just kit it out so it's like a road bike, or go with the flat bars specifically so that I don't burn my kids out by spinning too high.

Any issues with the extra chainring on the stoker position? I'm guessing it's more-or-less like a triple, except that I'm not sure I'd trust my kids with a triple, either. I'm mostly thinking loose pantlegs or laces combined with a captain's overwhelming power may not be a good combination.

Have you disassembled for travel? We'd be looking at car-based travel only, but I would like to easily be able to cart it to a short charity ride. Either of my kids consider free food to be super keen.


Diablo Scott said...

Flat bars - (actually riser bars) well, like I said in the review, the riding position is a lot like a hybrid... the captain sits pretty straight up, it's not great for long distances or aggressive cornering; it is great for bike paths and shorter charity rides.

Extra chainring - no... not an issue with the sweatpants or bike shorts (or velcro shoes) my daughter wears on the bike... loose-leg pants and laces would present the same issue to any crank that didn't have a guard though.

I have not taken my tandem apart for travel - I've got a pickup truck with a fork mount and I leave the gate down and put a tiedown strap around the bike. My version doesn't fold up like the more expensive versions and you might consider if that's something that's worth the extra money to you. If you don't have a pickup or tandem rack for your car it probably would be a good idea.

And to you and anyone else out there reading this - I don't mind e-mails at all. Unless you're blogger members I don't have any way of contacting you with specific answers.

familyfuninthekitchen said...

Nice review Scott,

We drove to Eugene yesterday and tested them. We fit the box in the trunk of a VW Eos Convertible. It fit, sort of.

We have the dd 24. More expensive but we live up a bunch of hills.

The DD shifts much more suddenly and spectacularly than my MTB or Hybrid singles. Strange ride.

We were also looking at (for back seat captain).

My daughter loves it.

We had a dumb troubleshoot... If the cables are all too tight, then the bottom tube is not all the way in on the stokers bottom bracket.

I felt really stupid.

Wade from Medford Oregon

J said...

Hi Scott,
I am "Johanne" -- great to read that you got the referral bonus :)

I have the timing chain come off in just about every quickfold right now, so researching/googling bike friday tandems and timing chains again. I guess, I just need to tension it?

I also have the paint scratched right through from said timing chain on the front part of the frame -- need to quickfold the front part down to get the tandem into the elevator at work...

Anyway, very happy with the tandem, we have been riding for three years now, stoker child is now 9 years old, and can't fathom that I will want to sell the tandem at some point: no, mommy! Ah well, we'll see how he feels in five years.

Thanks so much for the extensive review! Very helpful in deciding to buy.

Pete said...

Thanks for the review. In hindsight, would you recommend starting with the halfwheel, or going straight to the tandem?

Diablo Scott said...

Well if your kid is big enough for the tandem, I'd just skip the Halfwheeler. But if you're not sure your kid is going to like riding with you, the Halfwheeler is a much less expensive purchase. BTW, I sold the Halfwheeler for about half of the purchase cost after three years of use, so that was a good investment.

Unknown said...

amazing review.. i totally agree in getting BF than a full sized one. Quick question though, what is the size of the box of the tandem when it arrived?

Diablo Scott said...

@Marvin Marinez - there's a photo of the box near the top of this post - actually two boxes but the tandem is in one and the single is in the other one. It's amazing they can fit a whole tandem in such a small box... from memory it was about 10" high, 20" wide, and 24" long.

Unknown said...

Wow, I saw that and I thought it was two boxes for the tandem. Amazing that they fit in one box. Im planning to get one. Either used or new if I dont find any.