Helios coming soon

I have been mulling over the possibility of owning a tandem for a while now, primarily because I want to introduce the wonderful, life long activity of cycling to my daughter, who is 9.  She has a bike of her own, which is great for riding around the quiet road near home, but on the occasions when I have taken her riding on the ‘real’ roads, it is frightening to see how little car drivers seem to cater for the fact that children are prone to the occasional wobble.  Thus, some weeks ago now, I posted an article on a company near Cambridge who market the remarkable Circe Helios tandem.

Last weekend, I took the plunge and we traveled together to the Longstanton shop which is the home of Circe Cycles (as well as this, they also market the Airnimal brand of folding bikes – I knew this was going to be an interesting visit from the start).

The actual shop, if you can term it that, is known as ‘Bike to Be’, and it is situated on the High Street in Longstanton (which, for those of you who are East Anglians, is a village north of Cambridge just off the A14).  Cambridge is a city where the bicycle is a very important and well-used mode of transport, and so innovation is always expected.   Having taken a couple of tries to find the shop (it’s hidden away at the back of some shops on the High Street), I pushed at the open door and found myself in the workshop, which seemed to be unstaffed, except for the presence of a variety of the most weird and wonderful bikes I had seen since my last visit to Madgetts in Diss.

Worried that I had arrived at lunchtime, I was eventually found by the proprietor, Richard Loke.  I explained why I had come, and Richard took some time to listen to what I wanted.  He directed us to a sleek black tandem sitting in the showroom, which I was pleased to note was the hub geared version I was after.  A quick fitting of a set of pedals, and we were set to go for a test ride.  And what a revelation!  My daughter and I had previously had a perfunctory ride on an old mountainbike based tandem that was for hire at a bike hire firm in Cambridge.  Battered and bruised, it was like trying to steer a canal barge, and about as heavy.  But the Helios was a different thing altogether, as they might say in Cambridge.

With offspring comfortably seated, we set off and quickly got the hang of the bike.  With a lo-profile frame and small (20 inch) wheels, it is superbly rideable and handles little worse than a normal bike.  I got the chance to run through the Alfine 8-speed hub gears, which in comparison with my Rohloff (also available as an option on the top-of-the-range Helios) was quiet and smooth, although with a much smaller range.

Back at the shop, we discussed options and specs.  Given that I view this less as a material purchase and more as a tool to offer my daughter a way in to the delights of cycling, I was already convinced after a couple of short rides.  I took the Alfine hub version as a base, and checked the standard spec.  It’s surprisingly good – Circe have used a solid set of components and there is none of the bargain basement cost cutting used by most of the big manufacturers, which I guess is the benefit of dealing with a small firm.  For example, hubs are Deore, brakes are Shimano Deore v-brakes, to which I added mudguards and a pair of Schwalbe Marathon 1.75s.  And, thus convinced, I left having ordered the bike for collection in about three weeks.

So, as with all the exotic machinery that has had its day on this blog, I shall be reporting periodically and, most assuredly in depth on the tandem as it is ridden in the real world (or at least, what I see as the real world!).


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