Published: Silent Sports, June 2000
Author: Rolf Garthus
Part III: Tandem Recumbents
Recumbent tandems are making huge gains in the world of tandem biking. People often experience more discomfort on an upright tandem than on an upright single bike due to the fact that stretching and shifting around on the tandem can be more difficult since it often needs to be done in unison. Also, the likelihood that a tandem team will need the comfort of a recumbent is doubled because if either one of the team is uncomfortable on an upright tandem, a recumbent is the solution to keep them riding as a team. We have experienced no downsides to riding a recumbent tandem, and it's been our experience that recumbent tandems climb as well as upright tandems. We will be comparing two of the most popular recumbent tandems and a lower priced newcomer in this article.
My wife, Barb, and I have spent the past four summers riding recumbent tandems and it has become our favorite way to travel. We have many fond memories of B&B tours through the hills of the Coulee Region near LaCrosse, WI, day trips in central Wisconsin and traversing the State on GRABAAWR. The first two summers were spent on a Rans Screamer and the next two riding seasons were spent on a Double Vision so we feel well equipped to compare these two extremely popular models. For the past week we have been feverishly riding the new BikeE E2 tandem and testing rolling efficiency, so we can add some perspective on this model as well.
The Rans Screamer and Double Vision are extremely close in performance and price. The 26" rear / 20" front wheel combination provides great rolling efficiency. We feel that these two are the best choices for tandem teams who want the greatest efficiency for long tours. However, there are differences that can make one of them a clear choice over the other for certain tandem teams. The Screamer positions the riders better aerodynamically but the Double Vision positions the stoker in a little more powerful riding position. The BikeE E2 is a new entry in the recumbent tandem market. At about $1000 less than the lowest priced Double Vision or Screamer it fills a price point gap that some tandem teams will find attractive. The smaller wheel sizes make the bike less efficient but this may be of little or no consequence for teams riding leisurely and less than about 30 miles at a time. The Double Vision weighs in at about 52 lbs., the Screamer at about 45 lbs. and the BikeE E2 at about 42 lbs.
The Double Vision is available with either over seat steering (OSS) or under seat steering (USS) while the Screamer is only available with OSS. Anyone much shorter than 5' 9" should consider the USS if choosing the Double Vision because there are two seat positions for the captain and shorter riders who need to use the forward seat position are likely to feel that they are too close to the handlebar. The handlebar is adjustable but if it's pushed forward far enough for a comfortable bend at the elbow, the steering will get squirrelly. If you are shorter than 5' 9" and OSS is definitely what you want, the Screamer may be a better choice. However, the under seat steering option on the Double Vision is extremely comfortable and easier to use than you might think. Don't make up your mind on OSS versus USS before giving it a lengthy test ride. The BikeE E2 has over seat steering and fits a wide range of rider sizes in either position.
Seat Comfort and Adjustment
We have found that the majority of our customers prefer the comfort of the slung seats found on the Vision over the hardpan seats found on the Rans and BikeE. Our personal choices are: Vision seat - #1, Rans seat - #2 and the BikeE seat - #3. Both the Screamer and Double Vision seats can be adjusted for the amount of seat back angle. For maximum comfort, it's important to be able to lean back and distribute your body weight over your back as well as your butt. This can be the difference between totally comfortable tours and a pain in the butt (even on a recumbent). On the Screamer and the BikeE E2, both seats adjust easily on a sliding track. The Double Vision uses a sliding boom for the captain's leg length adjustment but does include a sliding stoker seat. Teams who want to interchange between stoker and captain should consider the Screamer over the Double Vision. The BikeE is very accommodating to families that want maximum ease of adjustment for all possible combinations of family members. BikeE positions the stoker higher for better forward vision. This does create some stability problems due to the higher center of gravity and makes it hard for many stokers to reach the ground at the stops. The BikeE seat also places the riders in a more upright position, which BikeE says makes the bike easier to learn to ride. However, this upright riding position places virtually all the rider weight on the butt. Combine this with a very firm seat cushion and both Barb and I were yearning to get off the bike and give our behinds a rest after less than 10 miles of riding.
The Screamer nests the stoker closer to the captain by positioning the stoker crankset lower and further forward under the captains seat. This lower crankset position can cause problems for shorter stokers. The seat slides forward towards a point 14" above the crankset. As the seat moves forward the stoker may begin to notice problems with the leading edge of the seat "slapping" the underside of the thighs on the pedal down stroke due to the extreme downward angle of the legs. In our experience, stokers shorter than 5' 4" often prefer the stoker position of the Double Vision. The Double Vision positions the crankset closer to the height of the stoker seat so when the seat slides forward the seat is sliding almost straight at the crankset. The Double Vision will work with extremely short stokers. We have seen a six year old riding stoker on a Double Vision which makes it a great family bike as long as one family member is always the captain. The Double Vision seats the stoker lower than the captain which limits the view. The Screamer seats the stoker about on par with the captain but since stokers are typically shorter than captains the stoker view is still somewhat limited. The BikeE E2, on the other hand seats the stoker higher than the captain and the view is great.
Both the Double Vision and the Rans use a 26" rear wheel which means conventional drive train components provide suitable gearing for any needs. The E2 uses a 20" rear wheel but wisely avoids using the 3x7 hub. However, the penalty is a somewhat lower high end on the gear charts, although 105 gear inches provided by the E2 is not a problem for many teams. Vision offers the Independent Pedaling System (IPS), which allows either team member to coast while the other one pedals. This is a great invention for parents and kids as well as for adult teams where riding skills are extremely different. However, IPS is not for everyone. Even moderately matched teams will frequently prefer fixed pedaling if given the chance to experience both for 40 - 50 miles. IPS allows riders to pedal out of sync, which can cause an annoying surge that can effect the handling of the bike. IPS also is harder to live with when a slightly out-of-adjustment front derailleur throws the chain off the large chain ring. IPS also ads about $350 to the price. The Vision VR82 and VR85 use the new Shimano 27 speed drive train and the Rans Screamer uses the new SRAM 27 speed drive train. We have found that the SRAM 27 speed drive train out performs the Shimano 27 speed drive train in shifting dependability. We make two custom versions of the Screamer and the Double Vision equipped with a 24 speed drive train. It's been our experience that Shimano rear derailleurs on the 24 speed drive train shift more dependably than on the 27 speed. The verdict is still out on the SRAM 27 speed versus 24 speed systems. We plan to do some experimenting with the new SRAM 27 speed on our personal tandem this summer. In the meantime you may want to consider sticking with a 24 speed system as there is little added benefit from a 27 speed system and some potential problems for tandem riders with the added friction of long cable runs. Feedback on the 8 speed versus 9 speed cassette issue from other tandem riders (upright or recumbent) would be most welcome.
- Rolf Garthus