On 6 April I wrote a post about my plan to upgrade the gearing arrangements as well as several other things on the tandem prior to the Rhine Cycle Route trip we are planning and the work was excellently performed by JD Tandems
a few weeks ago. The new gearing set up is made up of a rear cassette with 11-34 sprockets coupled with 26-36-48 chainrings on the front, this arrangement allowed us to retain our 48-11 top gear but gave us a much lower 26-34 bottom gear.
The weather recently has been terrible and because of other commitments it has not been possible to get out on the tandem to give this new setup a good trial run. However, yesterday and the day before Lorena and I were able to get out, we did about 25 miles on Sunday and 40 miles yesterday in mixed riding conditions.
Even though the tandem over the last couple of days has not been fully laden it has become immediately apparent that this change of gears has been hugely beneficial, it rides like a new bike. For the vast majority of the time when rolling along we are using the 36 chainring and normally riding in one of the middle sprockets on the cassette which is ideal, giving a nice straight chain line for much of our riding. The major reason for the change was of course to help us cope with hills when fully laden with camping gear and even at this early stage things are looking very encouraging.
We found in our rides that we never actually needed to engage the 26 tooth chainring but of course we did experiment with it. We were amazed to find that using the lowest gear on a gradient of 4-5% it was possible for me to stop pedalling completely and just let my legs turn over and Lorena on her own was able to keep us moving forward, this simply wasn't possible at all with our previous gearing set up. Now, even on a fairly steep climb, if we engaged our lowest gear we were both able to apply very light pressure to the pedals whilst pedalling with a high cadence and we were still making steady and very comfortable progress up the slope.
Things will of course be very different when the tandem is fully laden with 25 to 30 kg of a combination of general luggage and camping gear but based on our recent experiments I'm confident that we will be able to cope with most inclines using this new gearing set up, even fully laden. The bottom line is of course that hill climbing on a tandem fully laden for touring and camping is never going to be easy but if something is really too steep the option always exists to simply hop off and walk, as you can see two solo cyclists doing with their fully laden touring bikes in this section of video
So, 10 out of 10 for JD Tandems for their excellent advice and workmanship. I believe that for this trip this gearing setup is spot on as we are not planning to go into the high mountains. It was also encouraging that when climbing in our bottom gear the tandem remained easy to balance and control, I suspect that if we drop the gearing any further this may well not be the case and we would also have to sacrifice our gearing at the top end which I would like to avoid if possible. It is perhaps worth just mentioning that yesterday on the flat with a tailwind Lorena and I were able to push along at up to 30 miles an hour without spinning out in our 48-11 combination, we really don't need any gearing higher than that!