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The Viking Report

Posted By: Dave Walker
Date: 25 June 2007

K and I have just returned from our maiden tandem holiday in North Yorkshire, on our 300 Ebay Viking Saratoga. These have been under discussion recently on this forum so I thought a brief review would be worthwhile. I might write this up for the TC magazine too.

1. Gears. North Yorkshire is a daft place for a first tour! We climbed quite a few 20% and 25% hills, which are rare even in my native Derbyshire. K did not like this and consequently I didn't much either. However the Saratoga's bottom gear of 22x30 - 19" - got us up them with full panniers and a bit of swearing. The top of 42x11 - 99" - came out occasionally and was plenty high enough for us. Strong fast teams may want something bigger but on a starter tandem I thought it was fine. A Rohloff range! The change at the back was Shimano fine, but going down to the granny ring at the front was sometimes sluggish. Quite normal but not ideal. Shimano Acera, 8 speed, twist-grips. All fine in the modern way, upgradeable when they wear out, just like anything else.

2. Brakes. Those hills and the panniers tested the Alhonga disc brakes (160/140, cable) fully. They were indeed a bit feeble and I was glad of our added Suntour self-energising cantilever on the back. A better front disc is high on the list of desired upgrades. More worryingly the man from Fibrax told me that it's difficult to get pads for Alhonga discs.

3. Wheels. 36-spoke machine-built wheels are not ideal but carried K and I and full panniers over some rocky off-road and lots of on-road with no problems, and are still true. They are partly protected by big 2.3" Kenda Kiniption 'street' tyres at 65psi (ish), which were grippy and have not punctured. A bit slow but I've grown to like them.

4. Frame. Aluminium, with a hefty steel fork. Laterally fairly stiff but I've nothing to compare it to directly. Disc mounts & rear cantilever bosses. Front eccentric. Replaceable rear hanger. 2 sets bottle mounts. Mudguard eyes f&r, rack mounts on forks but some racks will foul the disc brake. I used Limpet panniers at the front and a Topeak disc-specific rack at the back. Have not measured the frame but it was fine for me 5'11" and K 5'5". Quite roomy for her too.

5. We added and changed: saddles, to ones preferred by us from bits box. Originals a bit squodgy and not great for either of us. Pedals, ditto, from flats unsuitable for toeclips but with reflectors. K's seatpost, to a 20 KAlloy (?) suspension post, which she likes a lot. Added bar-ends from my bits box. Added Suntour SE cantilever (Ebay SJS, 3) and lever from bits box. Added SKS 60mm mudguards, 20. Added Topeak Super-Tourist expedition rack, 28. Added 4 bottle cages, 2 with strap-on mounts. So we probably spent another 100 on stuff in total.

6. Conclusions. Thrilled for the money! As I've said before, I don't consider 300 to be a lot of money for a bike but K does and we just wouldn't have spent much more on a tandem. Since this tour the idea of having and riding a tandem doesn't seem so mad to her so perhaps in the future 1000+ for a new tandem would not seem so ridiculous. However she will argue, and to some extent I see her point, why spend 1000+ when our 300 Viking is so capable? We could have a new one every few years instead! It did everything we asked of it in Yorkshire and I'm well happy. Long-term longevity may be an issue of course.

The competition is something second-hand, probably 20 years old, possibly quite worn out. I will guarantee that the gears will not work as well on the s/h tandem. The wheels may be 48 spoke but 700c or 27" and probably not freehub. The brakes may be better if you get an Arai but not much otherwise. Racks and bottles and braze-ons may be better. The steel frame will last longer but only if it's been looked after, and it won't be stiffer. Lots of bits will need upgrading sooner rather than later. I'd definitely veer towards the Viking.

Best has been the positive reactions from other people. Kids tell us it's a 'big look' and a 'phat bike', which I'm taking as compliments. Other people including some of our friends have been genuinely interested in the possibility of riding a tandem and when you tell them it's 300 it stops being a pipe-dream and becomes ACCESSIBLE, AFFORDABLE, and ENTIRELY POSSIBLE. This is why it's not crap, and why such comments are not helpful. It's a bike that rides well straight out of the box, will fit most people and looks modern and good. You're in a mad lottery buying a 20-year-old Claud Butler off Ebay, and most people won't do it. But 300 for a new, shiny, capable tandem? That's quite do-able. Several people have said to me they haven't seen a tandem for years, and I've been wondering why. I think it's because tandeming is viewed as esoteric, old-fashioned and expensive. The Viking Saratoga is none of those things, and I hope lots of people will buy one, and I expect they'll be as happy with
it as K and I are with ours.

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