Now where do I start? Tandem bicycles are quite an uncommon sight, firstly they are a bit unusual, require two people willing to cycle together on one and lastly they are a difficult to store and transport. However the problem of having two cyclists of different fitness levels riding together usually means one is constantly going ahead and waiting for the other, conversation with the other is difficult if one rider is puffing and the other is taking it easy, these factors don't create the most socially conducive situations.
My partner and I had toyed with the idea of getting a tandem and ended up hiring an entry level one for the weekend and rode around the Chilterns. Despite being a bit difficult to start, harder to turn and requiring a lot of coordination, it was outweighed by the ability to talk together, and ride together as one bike for two was immensely fun! Besides, they are kinda cool in a dorky way!
There were plenty of tandems on the market, however they usually fall into several categories. Really old ones... Usually with lots of obscure old parts, weird old fashioned geometry, insufficient braking and limited upgradeability. Then there were a plethora of old Peugeot tandems, these had all the oddball French bits, so no. There were more modern tandems from the 80's and later these were the type that were really quite good, everything from the ubiquitous Dawes Galaxy Twin to hand-built beauties.
We watched eBay for a fair few months, there were plenty of tandems for sale and our original strategy was to get one in winter when not many people would want to cycle. However one problem we had figured was sizing, firstly neither of us are particularly tall at 172cm and 161cm respectively. We also had agreed that we should share the duties of Captain and Stoker, so we would need a relatively small tandem, however as I would find out, almost all tandems are sized for an average guy at front and an average lady at the back at the smallest.
|Yes it fits in a small lift just fine!|
Fast forward a few months and we spotted a beautiful orange Jack Taylor tandem on eBay. It was nothing short of amazing and it was love at first sight. It was completely unique compared to any other tandem I'd seen, it was fillet brazed which is usually a framebuilding technique reserved for custom hand-builts, it was also 650B wheel sized which also meant it would more easily fit smaller riders and it had hammered mudguards and custom front and rear racks. The bike was a tandem built in the style of the classic French Randonneur, however it was built in England. Sadly this bike disappeared off eBay after a week, I was disappointed and after having seen such a gorgeous bike every other tandem just looked... plain.
However, as fate would have it another Jack Taylor tandem turned up on eBay a few weeks later. This one was near identical however it was for a slightly smaller captain, even better! Hurriedly I made an offer which was accepted, I left a deposit. Even better was the bike was located in the Lake District where we were headed in 4 weeks time. After what seemed like a very long wait we headed up to the Lake District and picked up the tandem from the seller, literally out of the back of a van in front of the train station.
I had never known of Jack Taylor bikes before this, however Jack Taylor bikes were one of the most prolific custom builders in the UK and exported may of their bikes across the world. They were known for their beautifully crafted bikes, particularly their tandems which were highly regarded. Based in Stockton-on-Tees in northern England, they managed to build just under 10 000 hand-built frames over nearly 50 years. Their style of bikes were along the lines of French Constructeur/Randonner style epitomised by Rene Herse and Alex Singer. Custom racks, integrated lighting, hammered fenders and low trail geometry are typical characteristics, they are also known for fillet brazing most of their bikes. This means that the tubes are joined without lugs, which gives the tube joints a smooth appearance.
This Jack Taylor is one of their Super Tourist Tandem type bicycles which they are well known for. The serial number is stamped on the left dropout, this frame is from 1974 according to the Jack Taylor Registry. The bike is mostly original, the seller said he bought it as a shed find from a friend, there is some pitting underneath the original metallic red paint and plenty of scratches and chips which just give it more patina. Here's a walkthrough of the bike:
Frame & Forks
- Reynolds 531 Super Tourist double butted tubing - fillet brazed construction and box lining detail
- 55cm & 59cm top tube (captain and stoker respectively)
- 55cm & 59cm top tube (captain and stoker respectively)
- Double diamond design with Campagnolo dropouts
- 650B wheel size and low trail geometry
- Internal dynamo cable wiring
- Stronglight oversize tandem headset in French threading and sizing
- Spécialités T.A. Tandem Cyclotourist Pro 5 Vis cranksets 53/42/39t drive and 30t crossover
- Spécialités T.A. Bottom brackets
- T.D.C 14-28 5-speed freewheel
- Campagnolo downtube friction shifters
- Campagnolo Record Front Derailleur
- Suntour GT rear derailleur
Brakes & Wheels
- Mafac Cyclomoteur Tandem specific cantilever brakes
- Mafac dual pull drop bar levers (now swapped for Shimano 600 units in the photos)
- Maxi-Car 36h Front hub 110mm French tandem spacing
- Unbranded 36h rear freewheel hub integrated 90mm drum brake 135mm spacing
- Weinmann 650B alloy rims and 13g straight gauge spokes
- Hutchinson 650B ISO 584-37 tyres
Accessories & Miscellaneous
- Custom Jack Taylor front and rear racks
- Custom Jack Taylor combined captain's seatpost/stoker's stem
- Lefol hammered alloy mudguards (note the racks are restrained by these as per the French style)
- Brooks B17 saddles (rear swapped for B66)
- Milremo fluted stem (not shown)
Getting the bike back to London was a story in it's own. As we had ridden the Lake District the two days prior to picking up the tandem, we each had our own solo bikes and a tandem to bring back to London on the train which was an exercise in logistics. The following weekend (luckily Easter long weekend) we had planned to work on the bike for a day or two then ride down to the Seven Sisters as its maiden journey. The work on the bike was quite an intense two days, the both of us slaved until our knuckles were raw, our hands embedded with old grease and our spirits near broken. However at the end of it we had swapped the bars for drops, repacked and regreased the bottom brackets, headset, replaced all cables, adjusted brakes and gears and most importantly polished the beautiful Spécialités T.A. crankset. The bike was ready for its first shakedown ride.
The ride down to Sussex went without any major hitch, save for saddle pain and getting used to the reality of riding a tandem all day. Not only does it require much more technique than a solo, it requires both teamwork and communication between the two riders. After our experiences, we decided to call this bike Jackyll, like Jekyll and Hyde because of the two personalities combined on a
|It already has its first admirer!|
Generally though the feel of bike was fantastic, it rode significantly better than the modern low-end tandem we rented. The steering was direct and light, yet still very stable on quick descents and low speed handling was excellent, that is once we had enough practice. This is testament to the pervasiveness of quality, the build quality of the Taylor brothers still stood the test of time 35 years after the bike's conception. There will be plenty more to come as we build up and ride this beautiful machine, thanks for reading.