It was luck that did it. Mary, who is superstitious about such things, came across a charm of a tandem couple and bought it as a pendant. “What do you think?” she asked when she showed it to me that night. She had planned to buy us mountain bikes this year – now a tandem was calling out to her. She was surprised when I said yes.
That was March. The first week of April we walked through the doors of Cyclo-Sportif G.M. Bertrand. “We’re here about a tandem.” “Tandem? You must talk to JJ.” JJ (Jean-Jacques) was busy with another customer who had a long list of questions. We had arrived at 9:30; by 11:30 he was deeply apologetic and shaking his head at the delay. “That’s okay,” I said,” that’s why we come here. You’re willing to spend time with your customers to get it right.”
There were some criteria we had agreed on. We only want to do this once. We want a good bike, one that we will not have to upgrade in future. We want to tour with it. For us touring is the best part of riding. We want good components. We both know what components mean. And it must fit both of us.
JJ has some experience with tandems – he and his family are on their third. He has a photograph of himself and his girlfriend on their bike, with their eight year old on a “giraffe” behind and the two youngest in a chariot at the back. The entire train is over 16 feet long.
“Have you ever ridden a tandem?” he asked. No, we had not. “Rent one. Ride it, and then come back.” Hmmm. Not quite what we expected. So we rented a tandem, and spent one hour riding a quiet side street parallel to the canal. It was, Mary said, like relearning how to be married and ride a bike, all at the same time.
JJ had pointed us to two companies: Santana and Co-Motion. Both are good. The rear forks of the Santana are spread wider than the Co-Motion, and so is more rigid. The Co-Motion has the Co-Pilot option, a coupler system that allows the bike to be taken apart for packing, which makes it ideal for traveling and touring. Co-Motion got the vote.
JJ now got serious. “Normally this is something you would do in the winter,” He said. There were quite a few details to consider. The width of the stoker’s handle bars must clear the pilot’s hips; the stoker needs a thud-buster seat post because she can’t see what’s coming. Etc. Hmmm. We hadn’t thought of that.
Over a period of weeks options were decided on. Measurements were taken. All we needed was a price. Since Bertrand does not normally deal in tandems, this meant waiting while Bertrand and Co-Motion talked to each other. And suddenly things slowed down.
The folks at Co-Motion are really nice. Over the course of this exercise we have talked with Pete, Zac, Brian, and Dwan, or about one quarter of their total staff of 17. Each and every one has been unfailingly pleasant, helpful and polite. They have been a real joy to deal with.
It turns out that we had run into a serious difference of styles and culture. Bertrand takes his responsibilities very seriously, and has strong feelings about what a bike’s geometry should be. Co-Motion, who do this for a living, build their bikes using a CAD program and utilize standard measurements. Both parties feel a strong sense of professional responsibility.
In the end, once we realized what was going on, we were able to laugh about it. No, we were not going to have our tandem in time for Rideau Lakes (hence our envy). But we put ourselves in the middle and managed to move things along to the point where, two months after we first walked through the Bertrand’s door (and the day after Kingston), we had placed a firm order.
I think Co-Motion feel badly about how long this all took and have moved us to the front of their line. Pete contacted us for an immediate decision on colours and decals. She's in the paint shop and might be shipped before the long weekend. “It’s like she’s in utero,” says Mary. Oh dear, too much information.
So there it is, that’s what’s happening. Mary says this is the convertible sports car we will never have. Now for the tough part. What do we call her?