Monday, December 28, 2015

Schwinn Duo Sport Tandem

I've mentioned once or twice on the blog that I have a tandem in my collection of bikes, but I recently got a request from a reader to write a little about it.

My tandem is a 1989 Schwinn Duo Sport - a model that was made for just a few years - from '89 to '92. It was a decent quality, mid-to-high end tandem that was designed by the Paramount Design Group, but built in Japan. It features oversized butted chrome-moly tubing and - rare for tandems - a fully lugged frame. Schwinn used to offer some really nice fillet-brazed tandems in the Paramount line, but by 1989, as far as I know, those were long gone, and the Duo Sport was sort of a replacement in the performance level tandem market.

When I got mine, almost 10 years ago, it was mostly original, but a little rough-looking.

The original paint scheme was a product of its time - something one might call "Miami Vice."  The paint doesn't look bad from a distance, but up close it was very tired-looking. There were a lot of places where paint was worn down to the steel, and there was some rust poking through the white paint. Many of the components were original, but a few parts had been replaced at some point. I don't know what was up with those saddles. They have vinyl coverings that almost appear to be shower caps, but on closer examination seemed to be a permanent part of the saddles. Weird - and ugly.

Those original brake levers were badly scarred, so I ended up replacing them. According to the '89 Schwinn catalog, the original stem would have been by Cinelli (!) but a previous owner must have replaced it with this high-rise, dirt-drop type of stem. That's fine, as it actually puts the bars into a good position for me. 

The cranks and derailleurs were all original. It had SunTour Accushift indexing 6 speed shifting, with bar end levers. The rear seat post was a junk replacement, and not even the right size. It was fitted with a shim to make it work. The bike had 48-spoke 27-in. wheels on Suzue hubs -- good quality for the time, but verging on obsolescence today. 
I took the bike apart completely and sent the frame off for powder coating in a pretty classy olive green. I kept a lot of the original components, but made a few notable changes. Those included new brake levers to replace the scuffed originals and a pair of sprung Brooks leather saddles. I wrapped the bars in cotton tape with amber shellac to match the saddles.

Although pictured here with the original wheels, I replaced those with a pair of 700c wheels that I built with late-'80s SunTour XC hubs and Velocity Dyad rims. That change gave me a lot more choices for tires, and also gained a few more millimeters of tire clearance in the frame and fork.

Lugs are pretty rare on a tandem, then or now. These have been outlined in gold, which looks pretty cool against the olive green. That is a massive, very beefy fork crown. All the tubes are suitably oversized for tandem duty.
The original brakes were nice-quality Dia Compe U-brakes (essentially center-pull brakes with brazed-on posts) which were a brief fad on mountain bikes in the '80s, then lived on for a while with BMX bikes. The originals didn't have a lot of vertical pad adjustment though, and wouldn't quite adjust enough to work with the smaller diameter 700c wheels. I found a slightly different model of U-brakes that had longer slots for the brake pads that could accommodate the wheel change easily.

That's a honey-colored Brooks B67 saddle for the stoker. I also added some chromoplastic fenders. Notice that the rear brake is brazed below the very stout chain stays -- kind of a throwback to mountain bike fashion in the late '80s. But the lack of flex also makes for very solid braking.

The captain's saddle is a Brooks Flyer - basically a B17 with springs. Notice that unique seat-lug - specifically for tandem use.
The only decal I affixed to the re-built bike was this gold "Schwinn" die-cut vinyl one I found on eBay. It keeps the look simple and classy.

Some other info about the bike: The Duo Sport was offered in two sizes, and this was the larger of the two. The front, or captain's section is a 23" frame, while the rear, or stoker section, is a 21" mixte configuration (the smaller size was 21"/19"). The length of the stoker section on this model is a little shorter than what you'll find on a lot of newer tandems, which might cause some users to feel a little cramped, but actually works fine for my wife, who has a fairly short torso. I'd say the size and configuration actually works quite well for us.

One thing that the bike lacks that would be found on a lot of newer high-end tandems is the inclusion of some kind of drag brake -- such as a drum or disc brake to help scrub off speed on long descents without heating up the rims. This bike doesn't have that, and the spacing of the rear triangle isn't really wide enough to retrofit such a thing. Could the frame be re-spaced a little wider? Probably, but the very stout stays would make it a tough operation. And ultimately, this bike is not used on the kind of demanding terrain where a drag brake would be necessary. As it is, the U-brakes with modern pads give very sure stopping power. Hard core tandemists going on long distance tours might want something more "serious" - but this works great for us.

Prices on Duo Sport tandems today seem to be all over the place. I just spotted a seller on eBay asking $2000 for one in clean original condition. But the bikes show up on eBay and Craigslist all the time, often for well under $1000. At that price, the bikes offer a pretty nice introduction to the tandem world.

21 comments:

  1. What about a dual front brake setup by adding a drum to the front hub?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hadn't actually thought about that, but I suppose it might work. Drag brakes are almost always located on the back wheel, though, I'm not sure of the reason. Maybe a more serious tandem rider can comment?

      Delete
    2. I would not want a drag brake on the front because if you are cruising down a hill and hit a slick spot causing the front wheel to lock up you will lose steering ability and risk going down faster than you can blink.

      Maybe I haven't gone down too many really long steep hills but I haven't found the braking to be lacking on my 1989 Duo Sport.

      Delete
    3. Ahh, so you have one too. Good point about the extra brake on the front. It occurs to me that the late Sheldon Brown had a lot of tandem info on his site, and there may be more there on the topic. I'll have to look. And I agree with you, that for the riding I do with it, the brakes lack nothing.

      Delete
  2. The olive green finish and gold outlining are a great choice, especially with the honey Brooks saddle. (Olive and honey. Hmm...)

    The reason lugs are so seldom used on tandems is that a builder would almost have to make the lugs him/her self, as even the best commercially-available lugs are rarely, if never, made for the geometries and other configurative details (attached lateral tubes like the ones found on classic mixtes, for instance) needed for tandems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely true about the lack of lugs on tandems and the reason why. Interesting thing about the lugs on this model is that they were offered for sale commercially for a while. What I'd be interested to know is whether these lugs were available before Schwinn decided to use them, or if the Schwinn designers commissioned the lugs themselves, and the casting company then made them available later.

      A different note, that you may have noticed before, is the tandems Mercian have built which almost look like they're lugged, but in actuality are fillet brazed, with some extra reinforcement pieces brazed on - what some builders call "bi-laminated". I'd love to have one of those.

      Delete
  3. What an excellent looking bike! There's something about a green bike with a honey saddle, clean gumwalls, and fresh shellac on the tape that really says, "classy".
    Did you do the lug lines yourself? Good call on the gold w/ the gold decal.

    I've used similar seatposts before for the oddball Schwinn sizes. The incongruity of the modern logo on the post vs. the old bike bugs me, and led me to discover that a bit of acetone takes the logo right off.


    Heh, everytime you post anything with Schwinn in it, it grabs me. I've mentioned many times my affinity for them. Made in Japan likely means that the frame was made by Panasonic, which is a very good thing, IMO.
    That's nice that Mrs. RetroGrouch rides with you.



    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right about the logos on those seat posts. A little logo removal might be in order.

      Delete
    2. Oh -- to answer your question, I did do the lug lining myself. Sharpie paint pen, extra fine point. They're easy to use, are oil-based, so mostly permanent, though if you screw it up, you can clean it off easily with alcohol.

      Delete
  4. Very nice bike. The choice of colours is classic and classy.

    One question tough, what about the short brake levers on the stroker handlebar? I have never been on a tandem, so sorry if the question is stupid, but do the levers do something or its just for your hands to rest on?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a dumb question. Those are called "dummy levers" though that sounds insulting. They don't actually do anything, but provide another grip. In the "before" pictures you can see the original ones, which were very simple and kind of resemble big padded knobs (and the previous owner had them installed in a weird, almost useless location). I had a nicer set that look more like brake levers with short, truncated levers.

      Delete
  5. As a point of Duo Sport trivia, the two model sizes came with different sized handle bars. I found out due to a boxing/labeling error by Schwinn. The 1989 Duo Sport was the last bicycle purchase while I was a Schwinn mechanic in college. Since I got it for 10% under wholesale I "had" to assemble it on my own time. After assembling it and taking it home I discovered that the rear was too tall for my wife who needed the 19" frame. Upon measuring I discovered that I actually had the 23/21 frame rather than the 21/19. Schwinn sent out another Duo Sport and rather than setting up another complete bike I just transferred all the parts. (Schwinn required a full setup and tune-up on new bikes including the first truing of the wheels. The transfer of parts was faster.) When I looked at the handle bars of the 21/19 I discovered that the drop and width were smaller. Due to the mix-up I came out ahead on the deal since my thighs would just touch the narrower handle bars.

    BTW, nice write-up.

    David D. Nelson

    ReplyDelete
  6. In the second paragraph the post says "...but built in Japan...". I'd amend that to say "...AND built in Japan....". By the late 80s, Japan was turning out far better products than the US or Italy. This includes cars and cameras!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. point taken. Yes - the workmanship is quite nice.

      Delete
  7. That rejuvenation is beautifully conceived and executed. I'd love to learn whether you approach riding a tandem any differently than individual bikes, if there is a shared mindset about venturing forth or a certain kind of riding that calls for the tandem, aside from whatever teamwork peculiarities there are. Or whether it's just about what mood you're in that day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, the desire to get a tandem came from the fact that my wife is far less active or athletic than I am, and gets very self conscious about going slow, or holding me back, or what-have-you. I thought it might be a way for us to ride together - truly together, with no worries about her being able to "keep up." We used to ride two-up on motorcycles for a time, and we've tried to follow similar practices when riding the tandem -- for example, when stopped at lights, etc, she'll keep her feet in the pedals just as she used to keep them up on the pegs, while I keep us both balanced. That's good practice on the tandem, as she can start applying power to the pedals right away as we try to get started from a stop. Or when cornering, she already understood about leaning together in synch when turning.

      I do have a funny story about a time I had to ride the tandem by myself once. I may have to share it here on the blog some time, if I don't have a better subject.

      Delete
  8. What an awesome find. I've often dreamed of having a tandem so the wife and I could ride together but I'm afraid I would look back and find her with feet propped on the handlebars while smoking a cigarette. I like your choice of components and color. Some people might describe that shade of olive as merde verte d'oie(perhaps because it shows up on so many classic french bikes)but I think it's very handsome. One doesn't see many tandems out on the road much less get to ride along with one. I do remember one year at Ragbrai doing some cat6 racing with a father/daughter on a red Burley tandem. I could drop them easily on a hillclimb(yes there are hills in Iowa)but when the road leveled out they seemed to have no problem reeling me in. If the flat continued for very long I had to pour on the coals or they would have shown me their heels. Tandems sort of remind me of the bicycle version on a twin enginned dry lake speedster.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mr Grouch - as the one who originally asked about your tandem, I thought you'd like to know that I have purchased a road tandem of my own. Its built in 1990 from Ishiwata 0245 chrome-moly and "modelled" after a Santana of the time. Came with Magura hydraylic rim brakes, which are good enough to raise the rear wheel when riding it solo! There's also a rear drum brake in the rear.

    Some pictures are found here
    http://criggie.org.nz/pictures/?gallery=bikes/tandem

    My stoker is only 12, so we've had to rotate the drop bars for reach. Adjustable stoker stems seem to be somewhat rare, which is why PO made his own.

    Curiously it has a 700c rear and a 27" front wheel. Can't see it, need a tape measure to show the difference.

    The bike rides straight wonderfully with one or two riders. However in corners its a strange sensation, the bike wants to stand itself back up and keep going straight.

    And yes, it has full sized mudguards (fenders) and front and rear racks.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi, I have a slightly more modern KHS steel tandem in True Temper steel tubing. The rear wheels is threaded to accept a drum brake so I did some research about that - short answer is that unless you are riding somewhere with really long descents like the Rockies you will never heat the rims up enough with braking for it to be a problem. I swapped out the front V Brake for a Magura Hydraulic brake I picked up off Ebay for a few bucks but just with V brakes it would stop fine.

    Nice bike, would like to see a how to post on doing cotton shellac tape sometime>

    Love your blog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually had a couple articles on that topic. http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com/2014/09/give-em-good-shellacking.html
      http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com/2016/04/new-old-bike-project-wrapping-bars.html

      I hope those prove useful.

      Delete