Bilenky tandem is big and small deal

bilenky 650B tandemYou want a tandem. One of you is 6-foot-7, the other, 5-foot-3. And because you’re fans of wider tires and the writing of Jan Heine, editor of Bicycle Quarterly, you want 650B x 42 tires. Plus, you want a bicycle you can take apart for the occasional airplane trip.

If you’re Julian and Noha of Normal, Illinois, this is what you get: a custom Bilenky tandem with nine S&S frame couplers. The captain’s seat tube is 65 cm from the center of the bottom bracket spindle to the top, and the stoker’s is 54 cm.

Here’s Julian:

“The nine couplers are necessary to get all pieces to fit into maximum regulation-sized cases (26″x26″x10″ — we’re using one hard case and one soft case — room for more than the bike in the cases). A “normal” tandem needs six couplers, but the size of ours necessitated nine. We went through a series of CAD drawings with Bilenky, and this was the only reasonable way – captain’s cockpit and head tube just too darn big!”

Some interesting details in this picture: First, the tandem is held up by a Click-Stand, sold as the “only folding portable kickstand” on the market. Says Julian: “First I’ve seen or used. Really impressed with it so far.”

The bicycle has five sets of water bottle braze-ons, which means, eventually, five King stainless cages. (If you visit the King link to see the company’s fabulous water bottle cage jig, turn the sound down–unless, that is, you enjoy rocking out to the Toy Dolls.)

This machine has three brakes, but the captain has only two levers. The rear hub brake, perfect for dissipating heat generated on long downhill runs, is controlled by the stoker using a top-tube-mounted shift lever. You can see the lever just under the stoker stem. Lever placement was suggested by Tom at Bilenky.

The first thing I noticed about the Bilenky was the René Herse drivetrain from Compass Bicycles, which is another pursuit of Jan Heine. Heine has written a lot about these cranks, first introduced in France in 1938 and reintroduced by Heine in 2011. Here’s what the French original looks like on a single bike made in 1969.

Again, Julian:

“Yes, Herse cranks. A splurge, but very nice.

“The current setup has a really wide gear range. The stoker crankset is 24-36-48 and the cassette is 11-34. We’re going to Norway for a self-supported, mostly camping trip towing a Radical Designs Cyclone IV trailer, possibly with Ortlieb panniers up front as well.

“We want to be able to ride up the hills if at all possible. Riding at 3 to 4 mph spinning at 80 rpms-plus beats pushing a tandem and trailer, and the 48-11 spins out at well over 30 mph, at which point we’re almost certainly going downhill and can coast!”

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About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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6 Responses to Bilenky tandem is big and small deal

  1. Micheal Blue says:

    I bet they diagonal tube is there so when they are putting it together they fit the parts properly. 9 couplers – perhaps otherwise they could assemble a lawn mower out of it? It must be lots of fun to ride, though I’m sure the captain cannot eat beans or onions before the ride (while the stoker should) 😉

    • It’s interesting that a few days before the event I was talking to my tandem stoker about 650B tires and Bilenky as a possible builder and then I was talking to the owner of a brand-new one.

    • Julian says:

      Michael, most modern tandems have diagonal tubes for stiffness — there are a few ultralight exceptions, but for touring with non-ultralight teams diagonals are the way to go. Natural gas power is always good — although as captain I am required to give fair warning! 🙂

      • When I was in St. Louis, I stopped by The Hub to see the latest Co-motion tandems. They have a couple of models that eliminate the diagonal and rely on larger cross-sections in the remaining tubes. So they’re now offering bikes with and without the diagonal. I’d think if faced with someone of your height, they’d steer you toward the diagonal design, as did Bilenky.

        For me, a great reason to have the diagonal tube is to give the stoker a couple of water bottle attachment points. Otherwise, you have the seat tube and the rear stoker’s handlebars for the mount.

  2. Micheal Blue says:

    Julian, so what follows the fair warning? Ejection sequence for your partner? 😀

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