Team Scrapin’s Rock Lobster Relationship Accelerator – Amanda Schaper

Team Scrapin’s Rock Lobster Relationship Accelerator
Words by Amanda Schaper, photos by John Watson

Some people might call tandems divorcycles, but I like to call them relationship accelerators. Wherever your relationship is headed, a tandem bicycle will get you there faster.

The Lost and Found Bike Ride is always one of my favorite weekends of the year. The camping, the riding, the lake, the people, the beer…it all just makes for one heck of a good time. But this year was extra special. My fiancé Scott and I toed the line for the 100-mile gravel race on our amazing Rock Lobster tandem in the first of the Triple Crown events. We’re planning to race the full Lost Sierra Triple Crown on the tandem as our form of premarital counseling. What could go wrong, right? There was some competition in the tandem category at Lost and Found, with two other teams giving us a run for our money. After about 6.5 hours of racing and getting both wheels off the ground more than once, we crossed the line in victory! It wasn’t easy, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. Our relationship and the bike survived 100 miles of gravel grinding, and now we start prepping for the gnarly technical trails of the Downieville Classic.

But let’s get to what you’re really here for… That crazy awesome bike!

Scott and I have been dreaming about the perfect tandem for quite some time. We considered a few stock options, but there just wasn’t a frame out there that met our needs quite right, so we did what we really wanted to do in the first place: we went custom.

Back in January, we swung by Paul Sadoff’s shop to tell him that we were serious about building a gravel grinding, technical trail riding, bike packing tandem machine. After he got over his initial trepidation, he rummaged through a pile in the corner of his shop, pulled out that crazy downtube, and said “I’ve got just the right tool for the job.” And just like that, we were in business. The downtube was originally made for Intense back in the day, but the tube manufacturer used the wrong aluminum (7005 instead of 6061), and somehow Paul ended up with one. That tube had been patiently waiting in that pile for years until we came along. 

Scott worked really closely with Paul on the frame design, and he had a pretty long list of what he was looking for: stiff and lightweight aluminum tubing, one-piece top tube design from the head tube to the rear seat tube; clearance for 2.4” tires; boost rear spacing; tapered headtube; 8” rotor accommodation; triple crankset accommodation; six bottle cage mounts; rack mounts; and the ability to monster truck over anything that gets in our way.

We asked. Paul delivered. That guy seriously is a wizard. I mean, just look at that frame!

And from there, we were off to paint! And not just any old paint job was gonna do. We knew we wanted a fade, and we knew we wanted quality, so we went to Joe’s Carbon Solutions (Bicycle Painting and Carbon Repair) in Watsonville. If you’re in the area and looking for custom paint, go see Joe. We decided that the captain should pick the front color, and the stoker should pick the back color. Scott picked sparkle gold, I picked sparkle purple, and we added some sparkle orange cuz that’s a whole lotta frame to cover. We ended up with a gold-to-orange-to-purple fade that reminds you of a warm sunset on West Cliff in Santa Cruz, while drinking a beer and taking in the ocean breeze.

Finally, it was time to build this sucker. Here’s how it all came together…

Fork: When it came to suspension, there was only one choice: Fox. We originally asked our pals at Fox about using a Factory 34 with 130mm travel. They urged us to use a 36 on the tandem for added stiffness and offered to reduce the travel. That’s how we ended up with a Factory 36 Float RC2 reduced to 140mm—perfect! Plus, I’m a sucker for Kashima.

Wheels: When it came to rims, there was also only one choice: WTB. But we had a problem. Tandems need higher spoke count wheels to handle the added weight and force. 36-hole rims are ideal, but WTB taps out at 32. We reeealllly wanted to run WTB, so we reached out to our friend Heather and asked if there was any chance that they might have some random 36-hole rims kicking around. The answer was no, but then she offered to get some custom drilled Frequency Team rims for us. Heather, you are the raddest. We laced those up to Hope Tech Pro 4 hubs with DT Swiss Champion 2.0 straight gauge spokes, and we were almost ready to roll.

Tires: For the Triple Crown, it’s all about one bike and three sets of tires. At Lost and Found, it was the WTB Nano 2.1 front/rear. At Downieville, it’ll be the WTB Vigilante Fast Rolling/Tough Casing front/rear for droppin’ anchor when you’re comin’ in hot around the switchbacks. And at Grinduro, we’re going full mullet with a Vigilante Fast/Light in the front and Riddler 2.25 Fast/Light in the rear. Party in the front, business in the back.

Drivetrain: This was a point of contention. Scott wanted a triple, and I wanted a 1x. Scott convinced me he was right, and now that we’ve ridden the bike a bunch, I’ll admit that he was. Tandems go real slow uphill and real fast downhill, so you need really low gears and really high gears. We needed more than 500% in our gear range. Scott tracked down a Truvativ Fire X Tandem Touring Crankset at Tandems.co.uk, and we had that sucker shipped across the Atlantic. We combined this crankset with the durable workhorse Shimano XT group, and it took four chains to connect all the pieces together.

Brakes: You need a lot of stopping power on a tandem. Like I said, those things go real fast downhill. We used Shimano XT 4-piston brakes with giant 8” rotors. Thanks to our buddy Aaron Bradford for the custom extra-long brake hose. With all that, we can stop on a dime and skid across the finish line.

Suspension Seatpost: Yeah, that’s right, suspension seatpost. If you’ve ever been a stoker, you know why this is important. We went with a Cane Creek Thudbuster LT, and this was the right choice because all thuds have been properly busted. We’re even contemplating getting a second one for the captain, stay tuned.

Stoker Stem: A custom tandem is not complete unless you have a custom stoker stem, and we’ve got one of those, of course built by Mr. Sadoff.

Pedals: Okay, so we can’t agree on everything. Scott is using Shimano SPD up front, whatever. But check out my rad Crankbrothers Candy pedals! Who remembers that special edition purple from Interbike 2012? I knew holding onto a mint condition pair would come in handy someday.

Top Cap: Golden Saddle Cyclery bling, duh!

When it was all said and done, Paul was super proud of this bike, and we’re even prouder to ride it. He hasn’t built a tandem in fourteen years, and this is the first aluminum mountain bike tandem he’s ever built. The bike is simply incredible, and we can’t wait to rally the heck out of it at this year’s Triple Crown events. After that, we’ll be enjoying this mean machine for many years to come. After all, tandems are relationship accelerators, and ours is taking us straight down the aisle, full send!

____

Follow Amanda on Instagram and follow Rock Lobster on Instagram.

  • dc

    URL copied. Sending to my wife. That’s so much rock rock lobster lobster.

    • Amanda

      A whole lotta lobster for sure!

  • nothingfuture

    This bike is so badass. As are the team riding it.
    I’ve eagerly been waiting for a write up on it- so good to see.
    It’s a really well thought out bike and build, and I’m deeply jealous. Even the build spec isn’t far off what I’d do if I was lucky enough to build that frame up.
    I’ve been struggling a bit looking at tandems to ride with my kids- they want to ride singletrack, but there just aren’t that many choices out there (especially if you’re trying to not spend 10k on the thing…). Anyone know if Rock Lobster would be keen do make another like this (ish?)? Does he have more of those downtubes in a bin somewhere?

    • Amanda

      Thanks! The bike is a lot of fun, and it’s rad you’re looking for one to ride with your kids. Drop Paul a line, he might be down to make another one! http://www.rocklobstercycles.com/order/
      For a stock option, the Salsa Powderkeg is also very cool.

      • nothingfuture

        Thanks for writing back, Amanda!
        I grew up riding road tandems with my folks and sister, so I’d like to expose my kids to those same sorts of memories.
        I’ve been looking at the Powderkeg, too. That’ll likely be the first bike; then something more ridiculous (assuming the kids are still into it…).

        • Jonathan Clay

          For a good entry level tandem, KHS has some great options. I bought a 26″wheeled mountain bike that I have used for bike packing with my son, and also is the school drop-off vehicle. I am going to find a used Fox 36 to swap on and try some easy off-roading with my son on the back. Eventually will setup to a Ventana tandem if my son continues to enjoy this.

          • nothingfuture

            Ventana does some pretty neat options- they even do a 27.5+ full suspension tandem. Pretty cool.
            First move for me will (likely) be a Salsa Powderkeg- there’s a fair amount of gravel around me, so it looks like it could be fun for a starter bike.

          • Amanda
          • nothingfuture

            Outstanding.
            My eldest is *nearly* tall enough to ride the LG/SM with me. Nearly!

          • Amanda

            Check this out for more photos of that bike in action:
            http://theradavist.com/2016/10/tandemonium-at-grinduro-amanda-schaper/#1
            I can confirm that if you let it, the Powderkeg will go “full NASA.”

          • 3j

            You can usually find used Ventana ecdm’s for 3-4k. They are excellent for riding singletrack with kids. Check out the tandem mountain bikes Facebook page. There’s a handful of dads who shred with their kids. See also my review of the ecdm on The Bike Dad’s website, specifically geared towards riding with kids.

  • Nicholas Petersen

    Side actuated front derailleur?

  • i grow tired of not owning a rock lobster. so many years of this bullshit.

    • Amanda

      Make 2018 the year that you finally own one!

  • Brian Simon

    “Some people might call tandems divorcycles, but I like to call them relationship accelerators. Wherever your relationship is headed, a tandem bicycle will get you there faster.”

    … for those smart enough to see it coming.

  • swrve

    Can’t decide what I like more… the write up or the bike.

  • Avuncular

    Lovely. Nice paint fade.
    Weight?
    Did you consider going Di2 to improve shifting over longer cables or too exyy?
    Pad life?

    • Amanda

      This is the guy! http://joescarbonrepair.com/ Joe did a great job, and he turned it around in a week, complete with making stencils and painting decals. I was impressed!

  • JC
    • Amanda

      Woah! There it is! I hadn’t tracked it down on an actual frame yet. Thanks for sharing!

  • hans

    dang so rad!

  • Julius

    Wow, that is one incredible tandem. And I really enjoyed the write-up! This machine leaves no room for questions… well, wait, just one: why straight gauge spokes? I thought butted spokes were more durable and with the extra forces working on tandem wheels, I would have guessed that that added resilience would come in handy.

    Oh, and all the best wishes for your journey together – not only on this tandem, but in all regards.

    • Amanda

      I’m glad you enjoyed the write-up, and thanks for the good wishes! :)

      Regarding your spoke question, I’m not going to pretend that I wrote this, so here’s what Scott has to say:

      You are correct that we desire more resilience in our tandem wheels. However you are mistaken; a butted spoke is less resilient than a straight gauge spoke. The durability of the spokes comes from the thickness at the J bend and at the nipple threads, typically the same gauge (2.0mm) is used at these parts on both straight and butted spokes. Thus the durability of a straight vs butted spoke should be the same in regards to spoke failure.

      When building a wheel, the overall tension of each spoke should be around 1200 newtons, no matter if you are using straight or butted spokes. That said: Try comparing the spokes on a wheel built with butted spokes to a wheel built with straight spokes by squeezing the spokes together. You will notice the straight gauge spokes will flex less and “feel” tighter than the butted spokes because they have less elasticity. A straight gauge spoke will withstand more force before deflecting compared to a butted spoke. So, Wheels built with straight gauge spokes will be stiffer and have less flex (more resilient) and this is what we desired for our tandem wheels. As for durability, when smashing through baby heads at the D-Ville Classic, there’s not much we can do to prevent impact damage from rocks. Descending the tandem is like a run-away freight train. We can just hope our tires hold air and that we keep the rubber side down.

      • Julius

        Many thanks for the detailed explanation! I definitely understand your point. It seems there are different opinions on what spokes are least prone to fatigue failure (see for instance https://janheine.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/making-strong-wheels/). However, in the end, I guess that what counts more than anything else is experience, and it appears that both a lot of experience and thought went into your spoke choice – thanks for sharing those with a novice wheelbuilder. And as to any babyheads and rocks crossing your path, my fingers are crossed!

  • Matt Meko

    Cool write up! I appreciate the detailed justification for the frame choices and parts build. Also, I find tandems in a race context more interesting than single riders. Wish I could see you guys on the trail, I bet is it a spectacle

    • Amanda

      Oh it gets real interesting when you’re racing a tandem… ;)
      Maybe we can convince John to shoot Downieville Classic so you ca at least see some photos!

  • That thing is downright bananas. Thanks for sharing the joy.

  • Gene

    I think the thing that geeks me out most is that Scott’s wearing a cap I designed. :)

  • AlTilleythebum

    Question – why do you prefer WTB rims? Do you find they’re the strongest? A good friend of mine DNFd at DK this year on his tandem when they destroyed a wheel on a descent. (I dunno if he was running WTB or what, just curious about some other options).

    Second question – you don’t find the suspension action of the thudbuster throws off your cadence/syncing whatever as a team? I’ve captained for my friend a couple times, and he has a thudbuster, and it kind of throws us out of rhythm when we’re hammering. Maybe we’re just still learning.

    Awesome bike and writeup – thanks!