Sunday, January 26, 2014

The da Vinci JointVenture tandem


In late 2013, I was ready to order a decent quality tandem, something mid-range. We'd already had experience renting tandems in places like Martha's Vineyard and Hangzhou as a great way of sightseeing around the island and the famous West Lake, respectively.

Hangzhou's West Lake

Tandem rental place in Hangzhou. Note the shade on some of the tandems. Very welcome when it's 108F and sunny.
West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard

Gay Head cliffs, Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard

A Visit to Denver

On Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to combine a Denver ski trip (to Winter Park) with a visit to da Vinci Designs. Their claim to fame is building tandems with an ICS (Independent Coasting System).

(Some years back, I did a couple of brevets on a conventional tandem (Santana), and I've always hated the idea that I couldn't stop pedaling when I wanted.)

However, I didn't want to spend the money without taking a test ride. So after one day of skiing, we went downtown Denver and test rode a lower end ICS tandem along the South Platte River Greenway.
Greenway near the Sports Authority Mile High stadium

We test rode a Grand Junction, courtesy of Todd Shusterman. Note the cold weather gear; it's late November in Denver.

The Grand Junction is a lower-end model built in Taiwan. It still has the ICS.

We also got a factory tour. Some pictures:
Frames are specific to da Vinci Designs since they need that extra bottom bracket on top of the bottom tube for the ICS plus the small tube that holds the front derailleur.
Close up of the head tube.
A stable of tandems, some carbon-fiber, mostly steel, available for test rides.

The ICS requires three chains. The incalculable benefit is the stoker is able to coast independently from the captain.  Plus four chainrings on the front. The downside is additional complexity and weight.
Frame tubes in steel, aluminum and carbon fiber.

Selecting a Tandem

We decided on a JointVenture, da Vinci's second-from-the-top model. And on aluminum as a compromise for the frame material: aluminum is considerably less expensive than titanium or carbon-fiber and a bit lighter than steel. It's a $400 up-charge though. Finally, we decided on the 26" wheel size, as opposed to 700c.  Being only 5'8" tall, I find the 650c wheel size works nicely for me on my regular road bike, a custom Litespeed Ghisallo. Given these frame parameters (aluminum, 26" wheel, small frame), it turns out a suitable frame was already available and hanging on the wall:

Unpainted frame. Ours is the first one.
Todd holding our frame. Notice that weld!
Next, we decided on the color combination, an extra-cost, top-to-bottom two-color fade:
Difficult palette decisions: violet on top or blue on the bottom?

Looking to see how the colors look in sunlight.
Like buying a new car, the base price can quickly get out of control if you start adding packages and special options. To keep the cost from spiraling too far, we decided on just upgrade package #2, which included the Wound Up carbon fork, front disc brake, the two-color fade, and upgraded bits for the ICS and headset. The drivetrain is uniquely interesting. We opted for Campagnolo (over Shimano) shifters as enables the front derailleur to have four chainrings in front (equiv. to 24T, 36T, 48T, and 60T). On the back there is a 11-32 9-speed cluster.


There are a bunch of other details to be nailed down but I was ready to confirm the order about a week after Thanksgiving and put down a 50% deposit. Only thing I didn't really want was their choice of captain's saddle, since I had a couple of (my preferred) Selle Italia SLR saddles stashed away. 

In mid-January, we got a call from da Vinci Designs saying that they were about ready to ship. The phone conversation ended up with swapping out a couple more of their stock components for a 42cm 3T Prima 199 handlebar paired with a Ritchey WCS 110mm stem. Plus a Bontrager carbon seat post. Fortunately, that added only another $25 to the total. 

Shipping was another $150 from Denver. Anyway, last Friday the Fedex truck came by with a 2.1 meter long box:

Even without the front wheel attached, it came in a very long cardboard box.
Some self-assembly is required. It also comes without pedals; we decided to use low-end (double-sided) Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals for robustness and walkability. I spent the morning slowly documenting the unwrap (should I need to repack the bike), and installing the front and rear handlebars, the front chain, the front disc brake and wheel.

Assembled and ready to go for a ride.
I forgot to buy waterbottle cages. It has mounts for 5 (five!) cages on the frame. Including the 4 cages, the bike comes to 35 lbs.

Maiden Ride

The first shakedown ride was on a 20 mile rolling loop popular with locals. The disc brakes were disconcertingly weak and squealed like a proverbial pig being dragged off to slaughter first time around, but settled in quietly afterwards. With 200mm rotors, there is plenty of stopping power.

Rancho Vistoso Blvd.

We are looking forward to many more rides on our JointVenture...


Spec sheet as far as I can figure out.