Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Magic Faerie Dust

Magic Faerie Dust is that elusive substance that sometimes comes with new bikes, making them seemingly effortless to ride. It doesn't accompany every new bike, since it results from a combination of good experiences, including the excitement of placing the order, the pleasure of working with the shop, the joy of seeing the results, and the thrill of riding the bike.

Fortunately for us, we had a great Magic Faerie Dust experience last year when we got our custom Seven single bikes from Ride Studio Cafe. So much so, that even after 10,000 miles and numerous rides in heavy rains that really should have washed the substance away by now, I still feel its presence on every ride!  John says the same about his Seven.

So we really should have known that it was risky to our bank account and retirement plan to take a Seven tandem out for a test ride last December. We instantly fell in love with both the concept of that bike and its sublime ride.

My initial reaction was "Bummer, now I'm going to have to go back to work, so we can buy one of our own!" I can't quite put into words what made the ride so different and so good, but the first time we stood, it just felt like we and the bike were one. We've been tandeming for a long time, and really did not expect this bike to feel so different. We took it out on a Sunday group ride, and at some point I asked John to open it up, "see what this baby could do", and we blew the group apart. We stopped to regroup after a while, but we kept having to hold back to keep the group together. Descending was rock solid and stable. Now don't get me wrong, our current tandems are great on the climbs, at speed and descending, but the Seven just seemed to be a notch above.

The tandem we test-rode had disc brakes, and this started us thinking about how we could build up a truly versatile machine using two pairs of wheels. It could be set up as a fast hill climb bike, or a touring bike with fenders and cushy tires, or a gnarly dirt road bike with really plush tires. By using 650B wheels, we would have plenty of clearance for fenders and fat tires - even with a somewhat standard tandem disc fork. Or we could remove the fenders and quickly swap in lightweight 700C wheels for something like a hill climb race.

As we started talking more seriously about this new dream bike, we put out the word that we were selling our current race tandem. It would be hard to let it go. It's the one that John and Kristen used to set the Mt. Washington record. We do love that bike, but there's only so much room in the garage, and the proceeds would go a ways toward paying for the new machine.

We initially thought about couplers, and replacing both our existing tandems with just one, but decided in the end to hang onto our current coupled Co-Motion tandem for European tours, and save a bit of weight and money on the new bike.

We then had the discussion that every couple should about a major purchase. It's not like the retirement account is growing. We figured we might as well invest our savings in something that won't shrink away to nothing before our very eyes. And Magic Faerie Dust is priceless, after all! So in late April, we sat down with Rob Vandermark at Ride Studio Cafe and started hammering out details.

Rob had all our measurements and specs from our single bikes, and also knows the type of riding we like to do, providing enough info to customize/tune the tandem to us. So it was just a matter of getting a few more measurements from our current tandem, and then getting all the details for the various parts and the special weld-ons for John's backward brake cable routing and such.

Seven has a very detailed order form, and they are quite serious about capturing every last detail so that the resulting bike comes out precise and perfect. We have ordered many custom singles and tandems over the years, and I will say that they haven't always come out perfect. But our single bikes from Ride Studio Cafe/Seven did, and that's a large part of what makes that Magic Faerie Dust stick so well.

And this is why we had so much confidence that our new tandem would practically float on a bed of Faerie Dust...

Our major design considerations centered around the wheels.

Be able to swap in either 650B or 700C wheels
Clearance for fenders and 650B by 42mm tires
Tandem disc fork with caliper brake option (for hill climb races)
Disc Brakes (to accommodate swapping of wheel sizes)
Cable routing to accommodate Irish reverse braking orientation
Fender mounts
Rear rack mounts
Bottle cages (one on the stoker seat tube that the stoker can actually reach)
Pump peg on boom tube

We had a few meetings with Rob to go over all the details and then officially placed our order with the special request to build it quickly so we could have it for DROVES on Memorial Day weekend. The kind folks at Seven were then generous enough to both take some pictures of the tandem frame taking shape (thanks, Matt O!) and to allow us to pay a few visits ourselves.

It's a great advantage for us that Seven is a few blocks from our house, so we were practically able to witness the birth of the baby! And it's cool for us to occasionally bump into the folks who designed and built our frame - on a ride, at the coffee shop or a local pub!

I (Pamela) stopped by to see the first tubes being cut...

Use your imagination, and you can see it's a tandem backbone.

The boom tube, being cut and mitred
The pierced top tube
Then John stopped in the next day after the frame had been tacked...

Matt O'Keefe sent us some photos of the welding...

Photo courtesy of Matt O'Keefe

Photo courtesy of Matt O'Keefe

Jon H, preparing for his next jousting contest.
Photo courtesy of Matt O'Keefe.

To make the timing tighter still, we also wanted to build it up ourselves, while trying to fit in brevets every weekend and make preparations for DROVES. John really likes to build the wheels and wanted to learn all about the new Shimano cranks, as well as fine tune the not quite matching shifting systems and such. This led to him skipping the Fleche brunch in Portland so he could head home and lace up wheels! Then he stayed up late every night that week building up the bike, making sure it was ready to ride on our 16th wedding anniversary.

Here's the new bike-centric anniversary chart for Wikipedia...

1stPaper Maps of Cycling Routes
2ndCotton Cycling Cap
3rdLeather Saddle
4thSilk glove liners
5thWood Fenders
6thTire Irons
7thWool Cycling Jersey
8thBronze Bike Sculpture
9thCopper Bicycle Bell
10thAluminum Tandem
11thSteel Tandem with Couplers
12thSilk Base Layer
13thTruing Stand for Lacing Wheels
14thIvory Colored Bicycle
15thCrystal Bike Sculpture
16thTitanium Tandem

The result was fabulous. Apart from a quick ride around the block, the first real ride consisted of 90 miles with 9000' of climbing on roughly 70% dirt roads in Vermont's wonderful Northeast Kingdom. And what a ride it was! The numbers, impressive though they may be, don't convey the steepness of the climbs or the technical nature of the descents with holes appearing at the last second before a hairpin bend. However, the tandem didn't just take all the above in its stride, it gobbled it up effortlessly, leaving us to enjoy the glorious scenery and the thrill of the downs. Pamela only let out squeals of delight, as the descending was so stable and confidence inspiring.

A still clean tandem with Burke Mountain in the background.

The SRAM 12-36 cassette provided plenty of gear for our challenging weekend on dirt roads. 

The new Shimano tandem cranks shifted extremely well. They look cool too! And they have a lower q-factor than any other current production tandem cranks.

We chose a 44mm headtube to keep our fork options open in the far distant future. 

Bushnell internal eccentric to match the eccentric on the front of the bike.

"Red" Grand Bois Hetres go with the red theme of various parts on the bike. And did we mention that they ride very nicely too?

Ride Studio Cafe coffee cup logo. This was painstakingly added by hand by Matt S. Thanks Matt!

We got it thoroughly dirty over the weekend. I (Pamela) felt a bit guilty and washed and polished it (with Lemon Pledge) on the Monday. John came home to find a clean tandem and told Rob if he'd known it was self-cleaning, he would have ordered one years ago!

We absolutely love the new machine. We hauled a couple of single bikes up to Vermont over Memorial Day and they were neglected all weekend. We were just having too much fun on the tandem.

As it is a 007, we call it Bond! We are going to mix a bit more actual dust in with the Magic Faerie Dust in coming months as we plan to use it on a few more dirt events, including the Rapha Northeast Gent's Race in a few weeks. We'll see if it continues to be self-cleaning!

The fine folks at Seven make fabulous titanium frames. They also build in steel. But what's really special about Seven is the custom experience. It's not just custom sizing. The bike is designed for you - whether it's an expedition touring bike, a gnarly cross bike, a super responsive racing bike, an incredibly versatile tandem, or some combination of performance, handling, reliability, and fender clearance. They design and build your bike. They take it all in and build the bike to meet your needs. I have to admit before I started hanging out at Ride Studio Cafe because they make some of the best espresso in the area, I had just thought Seven made fancy high-end racing bikes. Over time, I saw lots of different styles of bikes being wheeled past the coffee bar and realized that I could actually get my own dream bike that didn't quite fit the standard mold.

For those who will inevitably ask, here are a few more specs:

Titanium frame

Fork - currently a Co-Motion steel fork. This may be replaced with a Wound Up carbon fork at some point in the future, should they become available again.

Captain: Seven Ti stem with Deda Newton Handlebar and TRP RRL-SR brake levers, Fizik Arione saddle on Fizik Cyrano aluminum seatpost, Chris King red headset, Salsa red seat collar, Fizik red bar tape + gel
Stoker:  Seven Ti fixed stem with Profile Wing TT bar, Terry FLX saddle on Thomson Masterpiece seatpost, Salsa red seat collar, Fizik red bar tape + gel

new Shimano Tandem cranks with Chris King red bottom brackets
Shimano front derailleur, SRAM XX rear derailleur
SRAM bar-end shifters and SRAM 12-36 T cassette

SON disc hub (36H) (front)
Chris King red disc tandem hub (145 spacing, 36H) (rear)
Avid 203 disc brakes

Blunt/Blunt SL rims (36H)
Gran Bois Hetre 650X42 tires - red

Red decals - over bead blasted logos

Honjo hammered fenders (to be mounted after Gent's race)
SuperNova lights to be mounted as needed


  1. 36h wheels for tandem?

    1. We've been using 36-holes on tandems with 26"/ISO 559mm wheels for closer to two decades than I care to admit, with nary a problem. That "choice" initially came about through lack of choice of rims with more spoke holes. However, they proved themselves and, indeed, the same hubs and spokes were used for many of those years as I reused them when replacing rims with worn-out sidewalls. The wheels weren't babied but, on the other hand, we are a relatively light team.

      Of course, 650B/ISO 584mm wheels are a little larger and thus theoretically weaker but I won't be losing sleep over the difference. We have also clocked up plenty of tandem miles on 36-hole 700C/ISO 622mm wheels over the last 10+ years, with many of those on a pair of wheels that I initially built for use in hillclimb races (i.e. light by my (conservative) standards). However, we enjoyed riding them so much that they were used for all kinds of things that I would have never considered them for initially!

      With that as background, I expect 36-hole 650B wheels will do fine in our use.

    2. I assume that the wider tires and (relatively) lower tire pressures should also reduce stress on the wheel. A strong rim also helps.

  2. I wish I would have known that Ti tandems were the appropriate celebratory gift for 16 years of marriage. We've had a Ti tandem (a Santana, set up very similarly to your Seven) since our fifth year of marriage.

    We've also shifted entirely to a Ti bicycle fleet. It's hard not to like a frame material which lasts forever, doesn't need to be painted, can be renewed with a brillo pad, and rides so well.

    1. You're ahead of the curve! And, like you say, it's hard to not like Ti as a frame material.

  3. Great bike. 650B is perfect for tandems. We have a 650B conversion tandem and love it but not enough clearance for fenders. Please post pictures with fenders!

  4. Very interested to hear more when you switch between wheels to see the effects. Comfort, speed etc. Great looking bike! Very jealous!


  5. What a sharp looking tandem, congratulations!

    Glad to see my favourite tires on it as well. I can only imagine how divine the combination of those and the Ti frame feels on the road (and off).

    Wishing you many-many-many happy miles on the new tandem and looking forward to seeing it in person.

  6. Can you indulge me in two seemingly personal questions? How much and what is the team weight range?

    I just received my Seven packet in the mail this week and we are considering a coupled ti tandem. Your solution with swapping wheel sets makes this the Swiss Army knife of tandems. If you can give me a range for cost and team weight, it would be most beneficial. I'm hoping you will say <$10k. I ask about the weight because we are +350 and might would different wheels.

    Approaching our 27th anniversary and 6 years on a tandem. Thanks,
    Natchez, MS

    1. We come in at under 280 pounds, and the bike did surpass $10K. But it is the best investment we've ever made!

      I'd definitely recommend heavier rims for your team weight. Our choice was largely based on availability at the time, but they are working great for us.

  7. Talk about "aesthetics of use!" Really interesting to see the extent of direction and inflection you brought to this commission and the wonderful collaboration that ensued to produce this machine. Admirable! So great to see the pix and read the account. All the best for countless rewarding rides! Jim Duncan