I’d been watching the greater Seattle Craigslist for a while thinking that I’d like to get a tandem frame and build it up with high quality components. The outcome of the Rincon project made me pretty certain that I could put something together that I’d be happy with (as opposed to my experience with Will’s mountain bike which never worked out quite as well as I would have liked.)
My criteria were that:
- I wanted a steel frame
- I preferred an Erickson or Rodriguez or Davidson
- I would be okay with a Burley or Santana or Cannondale or Trek (or some more exotic frame)
- I didn’t want an old Schwinn or Huffy or any kind of beach cruiser or Walmart bike
- I didn’t want to spend more than about $500 on the frame
I monitored Craigslist daily for about six months and really only came close on one frame – a bare Davidson frame for $750 that was really too big and where I was too slow in responding. It seemed like there were always half a dozen listings for sub-$500 tandems, most of which were really old or low end and not worth having. There were almost always listings for a couple of serious tandems but they were typically asking $3,000 or $4,000 (and the bikes typically looked like they were worth that much.) Over Thanksgiving weekend I noticed a listing for a tandem described only as a “mountain bike set-up” and asking $250. I emailed the seller asking who the manufacturer was (and confirming that it was aluminum and had 26-inch tires.) He came back saying that it was a Crestline and I toyed with the idea of abandoning my first criteria because of his price. I googled Crestline and read enough negative opinions that I decided to hold out for steel. Then I saw an ad for an Ibis tandem for about the same price.
I googled Ibis, not knowing any more about it than I did about Crestline. What I learned made me jump to respond and I was evidently the first because a few hours later, after a trip to the bank machine, I loaded an Ibis Forte with a grey fade paint job and serial number 3589 onto the roof of the car.
Here’s the old post from TandemGeek on bikeforums that was really what made me go for it:
03-27-08, 04:14 PM
Ibis tandems have a cult-like following which says more about Scot Nicol’s persona than the tandems. Nicol was and still is someone who marches to the beat of a different drummer and much of that is evident in the tandems that were made during the first life of Ibis, e.g., MORON tubing, hand-job brake bridge, toe-jam pump peg, never mind some of the paint jobs and frame designs. You’ll find up tube and double up tube Ibis tandems as well as more conventional frame designs.
At the time they were produced they were at least as “good as” the best tandems being made by anyone else. However, some of them had some funky features that set them apart: some good (pretty good tubing), some not so good (U-Brakes).
So, when considering an Ibis tandem you need to decide if you’re buying an icon or simply your first tandem. If it’s just your first tandem, then you price it like any other tandem of the same vintage, quality, and componenty. On this type of bike, older or eclectic non-original components will likely be something you may want to replace and that should be factored into your decision process when comparing the total acquisition cost of any tandem to another tandem. A good deal can get awfully expensive if you find that you need a new wheelset and transmission.
If you’re looking for an icon then you’d want to make sure that the frame you’re looking at actually has some of the iconic chacteristics, e.g., one of the unusual frame designs, the hand-job/toe-jam, or a kick-butt original paint job. While the price shouldn’t be any different than what anyone else might pay for a first tandem, the icon status often times causes folks who are looking for an Ibis (or who have one to sell) to pump up the price. On the icon type of bike, the original and very eclectic components are actually more desireable and may help to justify the price of an Ibis vs. a tandem that’s become a frankenbike with all kinds of weird, personal upgrades.
So, all of that said, you’d need to decide what the bike is worth to you compared to any other tandem that might meet your needs and make your offer accordingly. I’d probably pay almost $1k for a really nice and iconic Ibis tandem frame in great shape just to hang on the wall… but I wouldn’t pay that much for one if I actually planned to ride it.
For $200 I was expecting a beat-up bike with a lot of miles on it that I could strip, repaint and build up to my own specifications. What I found was a bike with a few scratches but with what appears to be all of the original parts and not much wear. (Even the tires may be original, they are disintegrating but still have some tread on them.) The paint is sparkly metallic and fades from a dark grey at the top to a light grey/silver on the bottom and it is in good shape – probably better than that on our two-year-old Rodriguez. The chain rings were really bright and clean and for some reason it has a second chainring on the inside of the one for the stoker’s timing chain. The chains themselves were both sticky but tight. The saddles were big cushy cruiser type seats – but they may actually have been original since they have Specialized logos. The bike was covered with dust and something like a milkshake had been spilled on it. The woman who sold it to me said it was a ’97 – but I am guessing that it is a little older than that. The seller said that she was the original owner and that she was selling it because she couldn’t get anyone to ride with her and that it had been in her garage for a couple of years. I expect that there was a guy involved. It came with both front and rear racks as if it were set up for touring. There are no mid-fork braze-ons for a front rack so they’d used clamps, but they’d protected the paint with electricians tape, suggesting that they knew something about bikes. On the other hand, it also had lights everywhere – inner tube stems, bar ends, seat post – suggesting otherwise. If she purchased this bike new for what it sold for back then, I can’t imagine that she would have started out only asking $200, so maybe he wasn’t honest with her about how much he spent? (not that I would ever do anything like that.)
Bikepedia only shows listings for the Ibis Forte in 1995 and 1996. That may be right since neither the 1994 nor 1997 catalogues that I can find online mention the Forte while the 1995 spec sheet lists it as their road offering with 26-inch wheels (Cousin It being the MTB version.) I can’t find a 1996 catalogue online. Here is the Bikepedia listing for the 1995 model:
1995 Ibis Forte’
Bicycle Type Tandem (road)
MSRP (new) $3,499.00
Sizes Captain 18″/stoker 16″, captain 20″/stoker 18″, captain 21″/stoker 17″, captain 22″/stoker 20″
Colors Black, cobalt blue, forest green, orange, red, silver, tan
Item ID 35035
Frame & Fork
Frame Construction TIG-welded steel
Frame Tubing Material Ibis custom
Fork Brand & Model Tange Durango
Fork Material Tange chromoly, unicrown crown
Component Group Unspecified
Brakeset Dia-Compe 987 brakes, Dia-Compe 287 levers
Shift Levers Shimano SL-BS64 600 Ultegra bar-end 8-speed
Front Derailleur Shimano XTR, bottom-pull/clamp-on 31.8 mm
Rear Derailleur Shimano XTR
Crankset Specialized Tandem, 32/44/54 teeth
Pedals SR/Suntour SP-100
BB Shell Width
Rear Cogs 8-speed, 12 – 32 teeth
Chain Union 915, 1/2 x 3/32″
Seatpost Control Tech Control Post, 28.6 mm diameter
Saddle Specialized Prolong/Specialized women’s
Handlebar Scott Drop LF
Handlebar Extensions Not applicable
Handlebar Stem Ibis custom chromoly
Headset 1 1/8″ Ritchey Logic Expert
Hubs Hugi cassette, threaded for drum brake
Rims Mavic M261, 36-hole
Tires 26 x 1.25″ Specialized Fat Boy
Spoke Brand Wheelsmith stainless steel, 2.0 mm straight gauge
Spoke Nipples Brass nipples
This list of components matches up pretty well with what I see – Shimano XTR derailleurs and Shimano bar-end shifters, Specialized 32/44/54 chainrings and a Shimano 8-speed cassette, Dia-Compe brakes & levers, Scott drop bars, 36 spoke Hugi hubs with Mavic rims and Control Tech seat posts. Number 3589 differs from the 1995 listing in that it has a Shimano Deore LX headset, the tires were Specialized Nimbus III and the pedals were Sakae CTP-170 with Specialized toeclips. The 1996 Bikepedia listing shows Shimano Deore LX brakes (with Dia-Compe levers) and Salsa TTT handlebars, which are different from this bike, but it lists the Deore LX headset which matches. (Unlike Bikepedia, the 1995 Ibis tandem spec sheet I found lists the Deore LX headset. At the bottom of the spec sheets Ibis says: “As usual, everything is subject to change, so check in with us once in a while to eliminate these aggravating surprises.”)
Based on a comment from a former-Ibis employee in an MTBR Forums thread, I emailed the serial number to the email address shown on the decal site and asked if they could give me any insight into the production date. I got this reply from Scot Nicol himself:
Sorry I don’t know any more than that.
I knew from the decals that it had to be newer than 1993 so his email narrows it down some more. My guess is that this bike was built either at the end of 1995 or at the beginning of 1996. It’s possible that it was purchased new from a dealer in 1997 but I’m going to think of it as a ’95.
Here’s an article on Ibis tandems from Bicycle Guide (1988).
So here’s the plan:
- I think I want to stick with 26-inch wheels. I thought about converting to 700c (like I did on the Rincon,) but other than proportion I don’t see any reason and this frame is small enough that I think it will look okay with smaller wheels. Who knows – we may even use it off-road where arguably there are some advantages to 26 inch wheels.
- I’ll have R+E build out the 36-spoke White Industries wheelset that I took off the new tandem with 26 inch rims and I’ll put knobby tires on one wheel set for rides on un-paved surfaces. I’ll need to get another 8-speed cassette, but then I can go from road to mountain with quick releases. (The White Industries hubs have 145 spacing and the rear fork on the Ibis appears to be 140 – but according to Sheldon Brown, as long as it’s only one size I can just spring the frame. In fact the rear hub seems to fit with no fuss – see the photos in the gallery with the bare 700c rim on the back – so that may just be my inability to measure while the wheel was still in the frame.)
- I prefer the look of a threadless stem so for cosmetic reasons I might do something there, particularly if I decide that I need more adjustability – the drops feel lower than I’ve got on my other bikes. (The Ibis stem is painted to match the frame and has Ibis decals, so even though I don’t like the skinny look I’ll most likely end up keeping it.) If I do decide to go threadless, rather than replacing the fork I would probably do something with an adapter like I did on the Rincon.
- I’ll stick with the aluminum Scott drop bars for now – I may upgrade to carbon bars eventually which would drive a move on the stem. I may want to do something different with the stoker stem but the existing one is fine for now. I probably need to re-tape the bars both front and back.
- I need to set up a drag brake with Stoker control so I’ll need to work out cables – and that might be the time to replace the handlebars (or at a minimum I need to do it when I put new tape on them.) Unless somebody comes up with a bolt-on adapter I don’t think I can do disc brakes. (I could probably have R+E weld a fitting onto the chain stay, but then I’d have to get it repainted.) I think I’ll buy a Maddox brake from TandemsEast. I’ve got to think through a way to work two wheel sets with a drum brake – maybe I’ll just spring for a second brake because I think it’s pretty easy to pull off the wheel with one attached but pretty hard to pull the drum off of the hub.
- I’ve got to think about regular brakes – eventually I think I’ll go to Rodriguez big-squeeze brakes but short term I may just put new pads on the Dia-Comps. I’ll leave the cables & housings alone for now – I may replace them eventually, but the braking didn’t seem sticky on an initial short ride and the difficulty I had shifting into the largest chainring was probably lack of familiarity with the bike or a need to adjust the derailleur.
- Someday I may replace the bottom bracket and chain rings but I’m not exactly in a hurry since the chainrings look to be in fine shape. (Precision Tandems sells an 8 speed 11-34 cassette that might be what I want for gravel grinding since what I really want is more bottom-end. Precision also sells those FSA carbon cranksets…) The Burley only had an 8-speed cassette, but it had 700c wheels so the gearing calculation was closer to that of the new tandem. It would be nice to have more than 8 cogs in the rear, but that would mean different derailleurs, which would mean different shifters…
- I’ll probably replace the chains – they look okay (just sticky) but that’s easy to do and I don’t want to get caught out on a ride with a broken chain. (Once I’ve gotten started on upgrades I’ll probably take it into R+E and I’ll likely have them put on new chains and adjust everything I’ve done.)
- I need to put new saddles on it (probably Terry Fly & Butterfly like on our new tandem.) I’ll put a Thudbuster in the rear.
- It looks like the large size Zefal classic frame pump is the right size to work with the toe-jamb. This frame can fit up to 8 bottle cages so I can definitely bolt on some accessories!
- I’ll probably put the back rack on again and I’ll mount a tail light. I’ll put together another wedge-bag for tubes and CO2 cartridges. I’ve got to find a Garmin mount…
Here’s a gallery with some (bad) photos before I did much to it. I’ve taken the racks and lights off at this point and it has speedplay pedals in the back. The captain’s saddle is something old off of a touring bike. The tires are new – 26 x 1.5 Continental SportContacts that I had in the garage.