The tandem on the Rodwell Trail ready to tour

The Bike and the Equipment we use

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Our tandem is a Thorn Explorer from St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater. It is our third tandem together and superb for expedition touring. We traded in our previous Thorn in 1999 because we wanted S and S joints. This is so that we can divide it into three parts, originally for air travel but now even for trains in the UK. Robin Thorn gave us a very good price.

Thorn tandems always get good reviews in the various magazines. They also cost a good deal less than bespoke tandems from specialist builders. We had to choose from one of nine sizes but even with our unusual size configuration it was not difficult to get the right size.

In most years we have done around 5,000 miles on the tandem. In order to do this mileage loaded any tandem requires major overhauls and replacements. We have replaced all the chains and the cassette and most chain wheel rings each year. We also wore out the wheel rims (Sun Rhino) but with great credit to Thorn they stayed true till the day the sides blew out. We have also replaced almost every moving part but the main structure remains sound and reliable.

The S and S joints work superbly. You would never know riding the bike that it can be dismantled in 15 minutes. The joints come apart with a spanner which looks like an old fashioned hooked bottom bracket tool. We often take just the front off the tandem when we need to get it into a hotel room or onto a train. Thorn uses two sets of Moulton cable dividers on each of the three cables. We think that one split on each cable is sufficient and a lot less trouble but it does need careful thought and non standard braze ons.

Tyres and brakes are a serious problem on a heavily laden tandem. The ONLY tyres we have found to stand up to our use are Schwalbe Marathon XRs. On every other make we have used the sidewalls have blown out, sometimes in only a couple of hundred miles. Long ago we replaced cantilever brakes with XR V brakes and a drag brake is also essential.

A typical lunch stop in a bus stop, this time in France. You will see cooking gear and much other equipment spread out.

Last year, at enormous expense, we upgraded the tandem to work with a 14 speed Rohloff internal gear hub. This gives a gear range similar to the derailleurs it replaced but makes gear changing, maintenance and dismantling much easier. It should also mean much less maintenance in the future. There is a risk that a 32 spoke rear wheel will not be strong enough but it is standing up ok so far. The downside is that it is not possible to fit the usual third drag onto the rear wheel. It is only possible to fit a disc brake and so far they all melt under tandem loads. Please see the links page to the excellent Sheldon Brown web site and be very careful on your bike if you have discs. We currently have on test from the CTC a Sturmey Archer new generation hub dynamo with a combined hub brake in the front wheel. It works to slow and steady the tandem on Dorset hills but it remains to be seen how well it performs on mountain descents. It also provides a magnificent front light beam.

Following Anne’s illness we modified the tandem to allow her to free wheel. The timing chain drives forward to a free wheel mounted on the left hand side front crank. The main chain drives from the right front chain wheel direct to the rear wheel. The long wheel base of the tandem means that we can ride out of sync without our feet or legs touching. The bits we needed were not easy to get, then they were modified by High Path in Wales but it all works well.

We do travel light although it does not feel like it very often. In terms of clothing we have one on, one off and one in the wash. We do carry full camping gear though seldom use the tent as we prefer not to camp if we can avoid it. But we have a superb British Saunders Space Packer tent, lightweight sleeping bags and self inflating sleeping mats. Our one luxury is a pair of aluminium three legged stools.

The right hand side of the tandem with the new hub gears from Rohloff

We cook using our trusty Trangia meths stove though it can be fun trying to get meths in some countries. We also carry plates, cups, eating irons etc but most importantly of all a Swiss Army Knife. We usually have a picnic lunch and brew up along the road most days. We have one pannier full of food and always have emergency rations at the bottom. We have needed to carry three days food on some trips.

Before Anne’s DVT we carried all our stuff in four panniers and we are returning to this method. We are trying this year to cut down on baggage and do without our battered BOB trailer with its excellent waterproof bag. We still need to carry Anne’s electronic blood monitor which takes up space and needs to be kept dry but we hope that with new waterproof panniers we can keep everything, including our clothing and other electronics, completely dry.

Being privileged to be able to spend several months away from home each year we have always considered it important to keep in touch with family and friends. On our first tour we started a daily diary and on this and each subsequent trip have sent this by email to an ever increasing number of people. Back copies are available if anyone wants them and some are included on the Links and Downloads below. In the past we have used a mobile phone linked to a Psion 5 which dials up our ISP. It is complex to set up, contact us if you want to try this yourself. On last year’s tour we used an XDA 2i PDA, but Ken lost it. It was replaced by an XDA mini s which runs on Mobile Windows 5. In theory, with this slightly improved but still poor software, we should be able to post from the PDA via the ISP dial-up direct to this web site.

We have also for the first time bought a Spanish sim card from ebay for our mobile. We need to make about 50 minutes of calls in Spain to make this worthwhile and we do not usually do this for a short stay. It has the advantage, unlike our UK mobile, that O2’s extortionate rate for incoming foreign calls is not charged. If you need our phone numbers please email, we are naturally reluctant to put them on this web site.

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This site is created and maintained by Anne Neale and Ken Reed.