We ordered our HASE Pino Tour from JD Tandems in November/December 2010 and received delivery of it in February 2011, then set off travelling on it at the start of April 2011. We have explained why we chose a tandem and why a Pino on our About Us page, so if you want to read that, go there. This page is more of a technical review of the bike. Whilst we love the Pino, it should be noted from the start that in our first 24,000kms of travelling we had 3 frame failures and are now riding our 4th frame – this issue is discussed more fully below in a section headed Points of Weakness. We have now (January 2015) covered nearly 44,000kms altogether and frame number 4 is still in one piece after almost 20,000kms of service, so perhaps HASE have addressed the design issue, but it is sad to think that I visually check the frame nearly every day and constantly live with the thought that it will break someday soon.
Ride & Handling
Typical speeds (while fully loaded for touring)
Riding The Pino Alone
On Rough Roads
Frame Design Splits Bike in Two
Components and Custom Design Changes
Our Personal Tweaks
Points of Weakness
Value for money
Pino Maintenance Log from new
The Pino handles great. It takes a little bit of getting used to at first for the pilot. The steering is quite sensitive (when travelling slowly especially) because your hands are so far apart (reaching around the shoulders of your stoker) so you have to learn to not lean so much on the handle-bars as perhaps I was used to on my solo bikes. As said, this is mostly only an issue when you are travelling more slowly, for example when going uphill. At first I found it tricky to take one hand off the handle-bars to either signal for a turn, or to take a drink from my water bottle – when I would lift one hand off, the bike would veer to the side. It also takes a while to develop the skill of being able to move off from a standstill, in a straight line with no wobbles, especially when fully loaded. But all of these problems were quite easily overcome (within a week or so) and now it is just like riding any other bike. The bike handles confidently at speed and on twisty descents both short & long, and we have ridden plenty of descents. The bike can be leant over in the bends wonderfully, but the limiting factor on how far over you can lean it is the front panniers sticking out, and I regularly rub the ground with the panniers – this doesn’t always please my stoker however. We travel with the BOB-trailer behind the bike, and it also handles great. We have managed a maximum speed of just over 100km/h (over 62mph) on a long descent in Kyrgyzstan and I can report that the whole rig was as solid as a rock and a joy to ride. The bike is also comfortable and steady on flat roads.
It should also be noted that the Pino has a shorter wheelbase than a traditional tandem, so you can do a tighter u-turn in the road should you need to. Turning very tight corners (such as in a u-turn situation) can be tricky. Because the front forks are connected to the handle-bars by a long connecting-rod down the side of the bike, it means that you cannot turn the front wheel through 180 degrees, left to right – it only has about 120 degrees movement and it has firm stop points. If you were turning tightly on a normal bike, and you went a bit too slow and the bike went to fall inwards, you would just steer more extremely and that would keep the bike from falling inward. With the Pino however, if you go at a u-turn too slow and the bike goes to fall inwards, you cannot catch it by just steering harder – you have to try to speed up to scoop the bike out of the fall. It’s hard to describe, but when you ride one, you’ll see what I mean. The first time I test-rode the Pino on my own at JD Tandems, I tried to turn a tight circle in their yard, and had to quickly dab my foot on the ground to stop me from falling over.
Typical speeds (while fully loaded for touring)
On the flat, on a well surfaced road, with no notable wind, we will cruise at 20 to 24km/h. With a headwind, that can be reduced to 16 to 20km/h, but conversely with a tailwind, we can glide along at 30 to 35km/h (and of course particularly strong winds have even greater effect). Side winds are no more (or less) an issue with this bike than with any other, but as the front wheel is partly hidden by the fixed-in-place front panniers, the steering doesn’t get hit by gusts in quite the same way – there have been one or 2 nasty cross-winds though, where when you are leaning against it, and then a big vehicle passes you and steals away the wind that you were leaning against, that can cause a wobble, but just as it would on any bike.
Any tandem is slow uphill and when you are touring fully loaded, you are even slower. Big highways in China have long, long hills (perhaps 20 or 30kms or more) and at just a 2% gradient our speed will drop down to 14 to 16km/h. Up the gradient to 4% and our speed is down to 10 to 12km/h. Gradient of 6%, we are doing 6 to 8km/h, but without having to heave on the pedals. 8% and over, it’s a real heave-ho job and you have to work hard to keep 6km/h, but the bike can’t really go any slower than that. And of course, if these climbs are at significant altitude, then it can be even harder. We had a climb of over 10kms at 8% in Kyrgyzstan taking us up to over 3600m – that was hard. We had a climb in China of over 26kms at about 6% taking us up to over 4100m – that was really hard. We have however got the bike up shorter, steeper climbs – in England in April 2011 we rode part of the Pennines Cycle Trail from New Mills (Cheshire) to Gargrave (Yorkshire) in one day. While it did nearly break us we managed short climbs of nearly 20%, but over that and we had to get off and push. But on the really steep climbs, you’re putting so much strain into the transmission that you really do fear breaking something – thankfully though, we haven’t suffered any such breakage yet though.
Downhill has already been mentioned. The bike is a joy downhill. As with any tandem, they are fast downhill as you only have the frontal area of one person and the weight of 2, and if the 2 of you tuck down and make yourselves as aerodynamic as possible (as we often do) then get ready to be grinning from ear to ear.
Of course, describing a fully loaded Pino as being in any way aerodynamic is stretching the definition just a bit. Those big long Chinese climbs that are so debilitating when going up, are great when going down. One such descent took us from 1800m above sea level, down to about sea level (in the Turpan Basin Area which has a low-point of 154m below sea level) over the space of about 50kms – we covered this distance in just over an hour, cruising the whole time at between 45 and 65km/h. 50km/h is achieved quite easily on any hill; 60km/h is also a regular occurrence; 70km/h however needs a good hill and a bit of tucking down; 80km/h or above though is somewhat more rare and takes a definite tuck and a good run-out at the bottom of the hill (for the stoker’s nerves). I think we have been over 90km/h only twice. But the handling is just so confident and steady, it is just a joy. Jan-2015 addition – over the last year, we’ve often been using cheap rear tyres and on fast decsents, you can feel the difference from the more stiff Schwalbe Marathon tyres and it’s not a good feeling. The cheap tyre will wallow and flex making it harder to take a steady line through a bend while the stiffer Schwalbe allows a smoother, steadier line. 70km/h on the cheap tyres is not so reassuring.
Riding The Pino Alone
Sometimes, it is helpful or necessary to ride the bike without a stoker. Having owned and toured on a traditional tandem previously, I will state that riding the Pino alone, is much, much easier than the trad-tandem. On the Pino, the pilot is sitting more on top of the back wheel like on a solo bike, so when you wobble the handle-bars, the bit of the bike in front of you wobbles, but you don’t so much. But on a trad-tandem, you are more-so sitting on top of the front wheel with the back wheel a long way behind you, and if you wobble the handle-bars on it, then you wobble from side to side quite a lot. On a trad-tandem, having a stoker sitting on the back, stops you being able to “wobble” the bike in the same way and so steadies the bike a lot. So riding the Pino alone, is easy (although not so easy when fully loaded) and it feels agile and swift. You can pop to the shops from the campsite with ease, with just one pannier or a rucksack which you can then transport back resting on the stoker’s seat. Tamar doesn’t enjoy piloting the loaded tandem so much (TC – Mostly because I’m loathe to relinquish my comfy seat), but is more than happy to go off to the shops on it alone.
The Pino is confident and sure-footed and handles rough roads just fine, but when you are touring with all of your kit on the bike, rough roads are not good for the bike or your kit. Something is going to break – wheels, spokes, pannier-racks, panniers, bike-frames, or you’ll just get punctures – so you just ride them as slowly and gently as possible, or better still, avoid them completely. If you want your kit to last as long as possible, you avoid battering it, so take the rough gently. On the other hand however, there have been times when riding the Pino, without luggage, when it feels agile and nimble (yes, even with 2 people on it) and I’d just love to dart off down some dirt track (just like the pictures on the HASE web-site), but my stoker may need some coaxing and she also has her own brake (2nd front brake for emergency use only) which she may find it necessary to use.
Frame Design Splits Bike in Two
When we went shopping at the end of 2010 for a tandem, we didn’t know then that we were going to buy a semi-recumbent, but we did know that whatever we bought, it would have to be able to be broken down into smaller parts.
Whole tandems (traditional or otherwise) are just too big for easily getting onto most forms of public transport and we knew that we didn’t want to find ourselves one day, somewhere in the world, needing to get onto a bus or a train, and being completely unable to because our bike was too big. With trad-tandems, we were looking at incorporating S&S-Couplings into the frame so that it could be split (expensive but brilliant bits of engineering). But when we saw the Pino and were told that it could also be split into two, that immediately made it an eligible contender for our hard-earned cash. If you are reading this, you are probably already aware that the aluminium Pino Tour can be split in two by way of some ingenious couplings under the stoker’s seat. To split the bike takes about 10 minutes … but can be done in about 4 if the bus-driver is about to drive off without you (Crimea, September 2011). To put it back together again isn’t too tricky either but maybe takes about 15 to 20 minutes just so that you can double check you haven’t left anything loose that shouldn’t be. On many occasions throughout our touring, we have made use of the bikes ability to be split in 2, and indeed, it would have been a serious problem had the bike not been splitable – there is no way you would get a full sized tandem onto a Russian train, or into the luggage bay of a Crimean coach. Note however that the steel version of the Pino cannot be split in two.
Components and Custom Design Changes
JD Tandems know more than a thing or two about tandems and so when you go to them saying you want one, they immediately delve into your inner being to work out what you want the bike for, what you are likely to do with it, and where you are likely to take it. Armed with this information, they straight away suggest which items of manufacturer’s standard specification should be upgraded. So I’m not actually too sure which bits of the spec on our bike are HASE standard, or are JD Tandems influence. But there are lots of options that can be chosen with the bike.
- Wheels –
I think the HASE standard are about 36-spoke front & rear, but for serious touring, JD’s recommend 48-spoke and we’ve got that front & rear. The front wheel is a 20” (BMX size wheel) and that size of wheel, built with 48-spokes, is one seriously strong wheel. The back wheel is again 48-spoke, laced 4-cross, and is again, a very strong wheel – just what you need when you put the weight of 2 people & luggage onto it. We have had various problems with our back wheel, but that is nothing to do with the HASE Pino. We initially set off with an Alex DH19 rim on the back, but they cracked about every 4000kms, and the problem that we experienced was not unique to us – on the forums of the CTC (UK’s Cyclist Touring Club) website people with solo bikes were experiencing the exact same manner of rim failure with the spoke holes pulling through and cracking the rim. We did some of our own research on stronger rims and then asked JD’s if they could source a “Sun Rhyno” for us (even though we believe they are now no longer made) and JD’s came up trumps and got one for us. The Sun Rhyno has now been on our bike for about 30,000kms and is still rolling delightfully. Our 48-spoke front wheel has never broken any spokes and on the rear, we’ve had 5 or 6 spoke failures – over the course of 44,000kms.
- Brakes – I believe the standard issue (when we bought our bike) was the Magura Louise (2007) hydraulic disk brakes coupled with lovely big 203mm rotors, and they are just the best bicycle brakes I have ever had the joy of using. I’m used to racing bikes where even if you have good brakes, you have to be aware of the fact that with little narrow tyres, you don’t actually have much rubber touching the road at any one point, so you can’t just grab a fist-full of brakes when you need to, but with the tandem, on big 1.75” wide tyres and the weight of full luggage plus 2 people on board, you actually have a lot more rubber touching the tarmac so you can actually grab the brakes and the stopping power is phenomenal. If you really get enthusiastic with the brake levers, you will be able to lock the back wheel on a dry road, but that just proves the power of the brakes. Without the luggage and trailer however, the rear brake can lock up quite easily so a little caution is necessary especially on a slippery surface. With any braking system on a tandem though, you must be mindful of the problems caused by heat and holding the brakes on for a long time on a long descent will generate a lot of heat. If you have rim brakes, then the heat generated will cause your tyre-pressure to increase and could potentially blow the tyre off the rim. If you have disk brakes, then you will damage (or glaze) the disk (and/or pads) if you let them overheat. On our old trad-tandem, we had a drum-brake on the back wheel and it was great as a drag-brake for use on long descents because you could leave it on for a longer period of time – it was designed with lots of metal and big air-scooping flanges to dissipate the heat, but some would argue that drum-brakes also got too hot and cooked the grease in your bearings. Either way, with disk brakes on long descents, you must not just coast along holding the brakes at a gentle “keep-me-going-slow” sort of position – it will cook things. So you have to let the bike speed up, with no brakes, and then apply the brakes for a short time, but hard, to slow down to get around corners etc, and then release the brakes completely to let them cool down again. Even going down hills in this way, do NOT touch the disk when you get off the bike, as your finger will stick to the hot metal of the disk. Our Magura Louise brakes have been great. We had to get them topped up with fluid and bled after about 18,000kms of use – before getting them topped up, they were getting very spongy and we were heading towards the mountains, so I found a good mechanic (in Almaty in Kazakhstan) and after his work, they were back to being just dynamite. Then in Thailand after about 30,000kms I needed to repeat the process but this time finding a good mechanic was a bigger problem and the best I could find could only advise me to fit new brakes. One helpful mechanic did however give me a bleed-nipple and I bought a bottle of mineral-oil brake-fluid and in a chemist I got hold of two 50ml syringes, so now I have my own bleed kit which I have used successfully 3 or 4 times (you can work out how to do almost anything on You-Tube). Normally though, the brakes have a great, positive feel, and never snatch at the wheel – they can be applied gently and smoothly, or wonderfully firmly. One odd thing about any brakes (or brake-levers) on the Pino, when you consider the configuration of the handle-bars, rather than using your index-finger & middle-finger to apply the brakes, you are using the pinkie & ring-finger (and perhaps middle-finger) to apply the brakes, and that takes a little getting used to … but only a few minutes really. Another JD Tandem custom upgrade is the addition of the extra front brake – a vee-brake onto the rim, for emergency use, should there be any problem with the disk brakes. Because the rim-brake hardly ever gets used, the problem with it is that it seizes up over time and so you have to lubricate it a bit more than you would expect. On some very tough hills in northern Laos (May 2013) the vee-brake was used extensively to try to give the disk-brakes more time to cool and avoid them glazing over. Jan-2015 update Our disks when new are 1.9mm thick and the manufacturer advises they should be replaced when they get below 1.8mm (info from our rebuild & major overhaul after 12,000kms). One new disk was fitted at 10,000kms and another at our 12,000kms overhaul but they have now completed over 30,000kms so they are probably thinner than the manufacturer would recommend. As a result, stiffening up our brakes is a bit trickier and at the last brake-bleeding I had to slightly overfill the oil to get the feel in the levers that I wanted.
- Hubs – The front hub has had the sealed bearings replaced once (during big overhaul after 12,000kms). The rear hub takes much more abuse. The first freewheel body on the rear hub exploded after just 4,000kms. Luckily JD’s had sent us off with a spare and so I was able to fit the spare in our wild camp on that wet fateful night. That had us worried that the same thing was going to happen every 4000kms and as we were about to leave western Europe at the time, we armed ourselves with not one, but 2 new spares. These have never been used since, although when a new complete hub was fitted (during the big overhaul after 12,000kms) that did include a new freewheel body.
That new complete hub that was fitted after 12,000kms, was as a result of JD Tandem’s diligence when helping me with the grand overhaul. John stripped the hub, mostly out of curiosity I think, to see what 12,000kms of wear on the hub, would look like. At that point, he noted that it looked quite bad. He showed me, and we agreed that it needed a new one. That 2nd hub completed just over 26,000kms before being replaced in March-2014. It was showing signs of wear, but the bigger problem was the pitting on the drive-side cones & bearings and whilst these could have been replaced separately, we’d been carrying a spare complete hub for the last 14,000kms and I decided I didn’t want to carry it any longer and could resolve my cones problem in the process, so I rebuilt the wheel onto the brand new hub. I think the 1st hub may have suffered damage by the freewheel body not always being 100% tight. So we’re now on hub number-3 and I might try to service it more frequently to get more life out of the cones & bearings.
- Spinner Grind Front Forks – these suspension forks are the HASE standard issue. I think on the lower spec Pino, rigid forks are fitted, but we are very pleased with these. They are a fairly low-spec suspension fork, with just big coil-springs inside, but they work well and smooth out lots of the smaller bumps for the delicate derriere of the stoker.
- Gears – Shimano Tiagra triple (for 9-speed) on the front, coupled with Shimano Deore XT on the rear. Hard wearing, well proven, stock items. JD’s recommended 9-speed over 10-speed as it may be easier to find replacement parts in far flung parts of the world for 9-speed, rather than 10, but the gears work well.
One problem that we did encounter with our gears was very stiff shifting of the rear mech. It took me about 18 months to notice that our very long rear panniers, were crushing the gear-cable against the pannier-rack, thus the stiff shifting, but when I made the cable housing much shorter and re-routed it, the change was dramatic and I have enjoyed much easier shifting. We opted for derailleur gears over a Rohloff hub for a number of reasons: Rohloff don’t make hubs with 48-hole drillings and we definitely wanted a 48-spoke rear wheel; there are some reports of Rohloff breaking the flange when fitted to tandems; there are some suggestions that with the torque of 2 people pedalling on a tandem, in low gears on steep hills, it is possible to lock-up a Rohloff; and with derailleur gears you get a bigger range of gearing than with a Rohloff (unless you pair your Rohloff to a double front chainset). We’re currently on front-mech number-3 (first one was replaced at the 12,000kms overhaul and the 2nd broke after 28,000kms of use) and we’re on our 3rd rear-mech with both replacements being due to wear.
- Gear shifters – most Pinos that roll out of JD’s, are fitted with bar-end shifters, but I personally wasn’t comfortable with them. I didn’t like the idea that, when braking for a junction, or just slowing down, I’d have to move my hands forward to the bar-end shifter to change gear, and then move it back again to reach the reverse fitted brake-levers. Thus I opted for the grip-shift option (which is actually the HASE standard, I think). That way I could brake and change gear (just about) at the same time, but definitely without having to move my hands up and down the handle-bars. It also meant that the bar-ends were free to take in the bar-end fitting mirrors that I have. July-2013 update – grip-shifts with wet hands are a total pain in the backside, and in south-east Asia, if your hands aren’t wet with rain, then they are wet with sweat. At one point in Laos or Vietnam, I strained a muscle in my hand when trying to grip the shifter sufficiently tight to change gear. I still don’t want bar-end shifters as I think the bar-ends are the perfect place for rear-view mirrors, but I would like to consider how trigger shifters (finger & thumb) might work – I have seen this on one other, older Pino.
December-2013 update – I located and fitted new trigger shifters in September and while they are not an elegant solution (cables everywhere) they work wonderfully and simply. They have meant that the underside of the handle-bars is a bit congested, but it all fits in and is really comfortable to use – everything is literally right by your fingertips.
An added bonus of the trigger shifters is that it’s really simple to change just one gear (twist-grips sometimes made that difficult) and also when you operate the thumb-press to move just one cog, but the chain doesn’t actually move, it’s really easy to just ease a little bit more pressure without a full index-click, to get the chain to shift along one cog as you had initially intended – that procedure with the twist-grips was always a problem. The new shifters also meant a change of hand-grips on the bars, and so I got a pair of those nice big wide ones for added comfort and they work well too.
April-2014 update – The trigger-shifters have done about 9,000kms now and are still working well, giving reliable gear-changes much more than the twist-grips ever did, but the rear-mech gear-cable started to fray at the nipple a few days ago and so I needed to fit a new cable. I had an unused (non-Shimano) cable in my spares kit and so fitted that, but it just didn’t work properly at all. I stuck it out for one day before finding another good bike shop where I bought a new cable and new sheath (all Shimano parts) and now it works lovely again. I never before appreciated the problems that it might cause to put a non-Shimano cable, into a Shimano sheath – it was absolutely dreadful. When renewing the Sheath, I also decided to do a single length of sheath, running completely from the trigger-shifter to the derailleur, missing out the frame stops, and that works fine too, so hopefully keep the muck out of the cable sheath.
January-2015 update – Trigger-shifters on steep hills (China, December-2014) are lovely to use. It’s so simple to change just one gear at a time, swiftly and accurately. They are better than the twist-grips ever were and as mentioned above, all just at your fingertips.
- Rear View Mirrors –
I wouldn’t tour on a tandem without mirrors ever again. I did it on our old trad-tandem but my stoker was always nervous on the back, concerned that I wasn’t aware of the truck behind bearing down on us, and half the time, I wasn’t. But it is harder to look behind you on a tandem (trad or semi-recumbent) and it takes too long, and when you only have time to glance behind having a mirror is just a complete god-send. And having 2 mirrors is even better. So I’ve got 2 Busch & Mueller, long-arm, mirrors which fit delightfully into the bar-ends of the handle-bars, left vacant by not having bar-end shifters. And so with them being nice and high, I don’t have to move my eyes too much to take that glance behind when I’ve got a truck in front coming towards me and I need to see if the truck behind me has noticed me and has started to pull out to go around me, and I also need to spot the massive pot-hole in the road which has appeared at just completely the wrong time (as they do in Russia).
- Link-Chain (or Cross-over chain) – The chain linking the stoker’s cranks to the pilot’s cranks, is just under 3 times the length of a normal chain. That in itself isn’t a problem, but the problem is trying to get the chain to run though the plastic guide tubes (or grease-guards) without it rubbing, or chaffing, or just making a grindy, rattley noise, all day long, every day, for as long as the stoker continues to pedal. When you are in a deserted place with not a car for miles – like the middle of the Kazakhstan steppe – this grinding, can become, well, a bit grinding. Try as we might, we’ve never been able to fully resolve this, and if you do manage to move the clamp into that ‘sweet’ spot and enjoy a period of quiet, then next time the chain needs to be tensioned, the sweet spot will have disappeared again and the grind is back. A minor niggle though when all is said and done.
- Front Pannier-rack & integral stand – This item is made by HASE, specific for the Pino. The pannier-rack is a pannier-rack and it holds panniers in a pannier-rack type manner. Not much more you can say about that … oh and after 40,000kms, it’s still as good as the day we set off, so that’s good.
However, the integral stand is just brilliant and worth every penny of the extra £150 that I think it cost us. To be able to park the bike anywhere without if falling over and without having to find something to lean it against, is just excellent. And the stand is nice and strong too which is especially good when you park your Pino outside an eating-house and when you are inside having some lunch, some local oaf decides he wants to sit on the stoker’s seat and get his mates to take photos of him. To avoid the ‘local oaf’ problem, we have now taken to placing our cycling helmets on the saddle and then putting our seat-cover over the helmets.
We have two problems with the integral stand though. First problem is that our large front panniers stop it from going up fully. To deal with this, when we push the bike off the stand, I just hoick the stand up fully with my toe, and if we are going to be going over rough ground that will rattle the stand down again, then we have a piece of small bungi-cord attached to the bottom of the pannier rack, and we just clip that around the stand – bit of a faff, but easy enough.
The second problem is that the rubber feet on the ends of the stand wear through and then you just have the metal stand directly onto the surface under the bike, and when the surface is the wooden floor of the living room of your couch-surfing host, the scratches will not make you a welcome guest for much longer. Also on other super slippy surfaces such as polished tiles at shopping centres and the like, the metal stand just slides across the slippy surface and then it can be a pain to get the bike off the stand. For a while, we managed to find some half-inch rubber pipe covers that worked well, but each set would only last a couple of weeks, and trying to find more was time consuming. We also tried putting a coin in the bottom of the pipe cover but as you roll the bike onto the stand, the coin just cuts through the rubber after a while.
In March-2014 in Thailand, in a motorbike repair place with welding equipment, I got a guy to cut me two little metal plates (about 3cm wide & 6cm long, bent up at the front and the rear) and weld them onto the bottom of the legs. I then cut 2 small lengths of old bicycle tyre and glued and zip-tied these onto the plates. This fix has been in place for about 7,000kms now and is working well – it grips well on slippery surfaces, doesn’t leave scratch marks and doesn’t sink into soft sand or soil the way it did previously, so I’m really pleased with this fix.
- Rear Pannier-rack – This item is not made by HASE and you can fit whatever rear rack you wish and there are lots on the market. Ours came off our old tandem and was transferred onto our Pino when we got it. Our rack is a Tubus (sorry not sure which model). It has served us well, but after 24,000kms, when doing a full bike rebuild, I noticed that it was broken in one place and cracked in two others. A local car-repair shop (in downtown Chengdu, China) did a marvellous weld-job on it for me, and then sanded it down, resprayed it, and dried the paint for me, all for 50Yuan (£5) – excellent, it should last another 24,000kms now … I hope.
- Stoker’s Freewheel system – Most trad-tandems have the pilot & stoker’s pedals both synchronised (or in-phase) and locked together. A slightly unusual (but very likeable) feature of the Pino is that the stoker can independently freewheel while the pilot continues to pedal. This is achieved by a freewheel body on the pilot’s left-side crank-arm. The system works great and is another great point about the flexibility of the Pino. When we set off initially in April 2011, JD’s recommended that we take a spare freewheel with us as it is a rather unusual part (I think unique to HASE) and so might be difficult to source in far flung lands should the original fail. Well just this week (start of March 2013) the freewheel failed and as we were also carrying the necessary specialist tools, we were able to get the old off and the new on (with the help of a vice, a long-bolt, and a long tube to act as a lever, all sourced in a local car repair garage) in less than an hour. December-2013 update – the freewheel fitted in March 2013 is starting to sometimes miss-fire after just 10,000kms so for it, the end is nigh and a new one has been ordered. April-2014 update – I think the miss-firing may be linked to when I get the bike washed with a jet-washer and lots of soap, so I may stop that approach to bike washing. But a new freewheel has been sourced and fitted with the old one having done about 14,000kms.
- Stoker’s Seat – (or sometimes referred to as the deck-chair) is much loved by my stoker, to the extent that she won’t give it up. In 40,000kms, I have only coaxed her into piloting for about 10kms. Her mother once commented that she couldn’t imagine doing 80km/h down a hill on a deck-chair, surrounded by luggage! However, as far as recumbents go, Tamar finds the riding position to be quite upright, thus tends to set the seat to its most reclined position (although I then move that forward a tweak to give my knees a bit of extra space from my water-bottles). Even though the seat has the mesh cover, you still get a sweaty back … but then let’s face it, even sitting on the pilot’s seat if you’re working hard or it’s a hot day, you’ll also get a sweaty back … and if you’re in south-east Asia, you’ll probably have a sweaty everything!! A major benefit of the recumbent seat is that alleviates any back-pain and while Tamar would get a sore back on our trad-tandem, she doesn’t on the Pino. She does however get a stiff neck sometimes when working hard going up hills. From the pilot’s point of view, when working hard on hills, sometimes the stoker’s white helmet starts to look more like a metronome, bobbing from side to side in perfect time with the pedal stroke – you kind of have to concentrate on not letting yourself look at it too long!
- Pedals & Pilot’s saddle – choose as you wish with these items. There is nothing specialist about these. We fitted old pedals from other bikes of ours, and I took the Brooks saddle that I had on our old trad-tandem and put it onto the Pino. I guess Brooks saddles are about the hardest wearing saddle you can get, and certainly mine may look well worn after about 30,000kms of use (on old tandem & pino) but it’s not about to fail or need replacing any time soon. We both have flat pedals on the Pino, mainly so that we can wear normal or all-round shoes rather than cycling specific shoes, and on my pedals I have clips & straps as well just because I like them and have been used to them most of my cycling life. December-2013 update – after over 40,000kms of service, the Brooks is now definitely showing its age and the leather is starting to rip at the rivets so a replacement may be necessary sometime soon but they are an expensive item, so not sure if I’ll treat myself to another Brooks, or just get something local. April-2014 update – we met a guy recently who pointed out that you can get the Brooks with copper rivets, or the normal ones that I have, but the copper ones don’t rust which is a bonus when your sweaty backside deposits so much salt on them. But the same guy also suggested that Brooks saddles just don’t enjoy the constant dampness that they endure in the sweaty tropics (from either rain or sweat) so perhaps that will guide my future purchase whenever it is forced upon me.
January-2015 update – the Brooks B-17 finally fell apart in October-2014 with the leather stretching too far and ripping open. In a Brooks dealer in Singapore, I spotted the all new, rubber & canvas offering from Brooks, the new Cambium C-17 and was quite taken by the waterproof and maintenance free sales pitch so bought one. It’s just as expensive as their leather saddles but it should cope with the tropics better so I bought one.
After about 2,000kms on the Cambium, I’m quite happy with it. It’s just as tough a ride as the leather so your backside does need to go through a toughening up period – I was quoted one day saying that my backside was too painful to even fart – but once used to it, it’s fine and should last a long time.
- Water bottle holders – the Pino tandem – a bike for 2 people after all – comes with space for mounting only one water bottle.
Needless to say, the owners of every Pino that we have met, have addressed this slight oversight in various ways. Our method has been to put two bottle cages on the back of the stoker’s seat (using seat-post / triathlon type fittings) for the pilot, and for the stoker, our carefully selected Arkel RT40 front panniers, have a neat mesh pocket on the front for water bottles and these allow the stoker to reach their bottles at any time. Problem solved. My knees do come close to touching my water-bottles if I sit too far forward on my saddle, but most of the time, this isn’t an issue. We also have extra water carrying capacity on our trailer.
- Thud-buster seat-post – to protect the pilot’s delicate derriere and much more importantly to protect the back wheel from shock impacts from above when the bike hits a nasty bump, we fitted a short-travel Thud-buster seat post for the pilot. Works well, but was quite expensive.
- Flexible noodles on the extra front brake –
the extra front brake fitted by JD’s came with the usual quarter-circle, rigid noodle and that resulted in the brake-cable housing cracking just after the end of the noodle. This was easily resolved with some flexible noodles that will sit straight if needed and bend when required, so when you tip the stoker’s seat forwards, or turn the steering to full lock, the brake-cable doesn’t get damaged. It is advisable though to un-hook the cable before tipping the stoker’s seat forward as this action still generates quite a kink.
- Addition of a Bell –
very polite and handy way of announcing your presence to pedestrians on European cycle paths. Useless when competing with the barrage of other noises in places like China, but has since been replaced with a nice cycling horn which can also be used to entertain the local kids when passing by.
- Two speedometers –
speedometers die from time to time, especially when they get too wet – I think we are now on our 3rd or 4th speedo. So as we like to record our distances every day, we have gone for a belt & braces approach and we have a wireless one out front which the stoker can see while we pedal along and then we have a cheap wired one mounted at the lowest point of the handle-bars (sadly can’t be seen by the pilot while riding). That way if one fails, we still have the other.
- Pino Parking Brake –
when you stop on a slight uphill and put the Pino up onto the big stand, the hill will cause the bike to roll back and so will sit firm on the stand. However when you park on a slight downhill and put the bike onto its stand, the hill will cause the bike to want to roll forward and the slightest nudge with cause it to roll forwards and it will fall over as soon as it comes off the stand. To resolve this (and to stop people who insist on playing with the front pedals from also knocking the bike over) we have got ourselves a parking brake which is nothing more technical than an velcro strap from an old sports watch which we keep in the pocket on the back of the stoker’s seat, and then we wrap around the rear-brake lever when needed. We don’t however use this overnight or when the temperature is going to change a lot (to avoid undue pressure in the hydraulic system) and in such cases we will find a stone and chock the rear wheel, but it is very handy when you stop for lunch or stop outside a shop and very quick and easy to apply and remove.
- Space-Bar for Mounting Front Lights –
we have one of the HASE gear-mounts on the front of the bike, but by the time you mount a speedometer on it, there’s not much space left for front lights. We decided to fit our own lights rather than the HASE specific lights, so we needed extra space to put our lights and I like to have space for 2 lights, one strong and one flashing, so we fitted a Space-Bar onto the HASE gear-mount and with it reaching forwards, it also puts the lights quite far forwards and when we have the lights on, we don’t get such a bad reflection of the light on the stoker’s shoes every pedal stroke (a problem we had last year). The Space-Bar also gives the Meerkat a good look out point.
- Stoker seat cover –
it isn’t very pleasant sitting on a wet sponge, so to protect the stoker’s seat from the rain (when the bike is stationary) we bought a weather-proof rucksack cover. It lives tied to the back of the seat, and then when we stop (for lunch or to go into the shops) we just pull the cover out of its bag and pop it over the seat. It also hides our helmets from those who might like to try them on, and it deters ‘local oafs’ from thinking that it’s okay to perch themselves on the seat for a photo-call!
- Tarp to cover bike at night –
the footprint from our old tent is the perfect size to cover the front seat, the rear saddle & handle-bars (and gear-shifters & brake-levers) and the main transmission system, and protect it all from the weather when our bike is parked outside the tent at night. It also covers all the reflective bits so car-headlights flashing by don’t spot the bike just as easily and the brown colour of the tarp, helps us fade into the background that little bit better when we’re camping wild … or so we like to think.
- Mud-catching skirt –
For the most part, we haven’t really had to endure a lot of rain or prolonged heavy downpours, or at least not until we reached Cambodia in the wet-season (June 2013) where it would rain heavily for hours and the roads would have a centimetre covering of water full of sand & grit. The front wheel of the bike would just throw this water all over my feet (which were already soaked) but worse still, it would just throw the sand at both chains on the bike and all the transmission parts. They needed protection urgently.
So when we rode past an old nylon sack lying in the road, I decided that it would make a fine mud catcher. Cut to size and tied to the front of the kick-stand with some zip-ties, it is amazing how much cleaner my feet and the bike stay with this simple addition. Agreed, it’s not very pretty, but it is marvellously effective and so it stays. When it’s dry, it’s quite light and so the wind folds it up out of the way, but when it gets wet, it gets heavier and so hangs down lower and protects everything behind it from the crud on the roads. January-2015 update – the nylon sack degrades with UV and ultimately falls apart. A new sack was found & cut in March-2014 but it too fell apart by October-2014 so was replaced with a heavier bit of tarpaulin which will hopefully last longer. The concept is great though – our chains stay much cleaner & lubrication stays on for a lot longer, and my feet stay much drier and cleaner.
- Frame Breakage – as mentioned at the top, by the time we had completed 24,000kms, we had enjoyed/endured 3 frame failures and were onto our 4th frame.
JD Tandems tell us that we are their only customer that has experienced this problem. But other Pino owners in other countries have had the same failure as us, for example a French couple who have a blog called “Cycloterriens.Wordpress.Com”, in their equipment page, they detail the same failure as us.
And in early 2012 when we passed through Germany (on route to Russia & China), we visited the HASE factory near Munster and saw other frames that had broken or cracked and been repaired in the same place as ours had. Where the frame splits in 2, below the stoker’s seat, 2 plates of metal come together, one from the front of the bike and one from the rear. On the plate that is part of the back half of the bike, the cross-bar and the tube from the bottom-bracket are welded to this, and on the underside of the lower tube, a crack appears, and if not addressed quickly, the joint will fail completely.
Our first frame failure occurred after about 6000kms of western European cycle-paths and roads, so mostly reasonable quality surfaces. This frame was replaced free-of-charge by HASE, although not without a serious load of hassle (at our expense) because of Serbian Customs restrictions. Our second frame (after I did the bike rebuild) lasted about 3500kms but the roads it endured (through Romania & Ukraine) were rougher.
We had that frame welded in Yalta, Crimea, and that saw us through until the end of our trip in October 2011 before we returned to the UK for family reasons. Once again, HASE replaced the frame free-of-charge in April 2012 and we did a full bike rebuild with lots of other new parts with the help of JD Tandems. JD Tandems told us that HASE had reported they had identified a problem in their welding process and that this had now been corrected for our 2012 frame.
True enough, the 2012 frame (frame-3) lasted much longer than frame 1 or 2, and we got as far as China (about 10,000kms of pedalling) before the same old crack reappeared. We got that welded in China (not always easy to find an aluminium welder) and rode on for another 2000kms. Once again at the end of 2012, we found ourselves returning to the UK for various family reasons (while the bike stayed in China with a friend) and JD’s asked HASE for yet another frame which was again supplied FOC. We transported that back to China and I rebuilt the bike again. The only visible difference noted on frame-4 was the inclusion of a big sticker pointing out the frame’s weight limit of 225kgs (which we are under even with all our kit). When we were in the factory in May-2012, we were told they produce about 500 units each year. Three frames have failed on us. We saw 2 other frames in their factory, and we know of the above French couple with a frame failure. We would be keen to hear from anybody else who has experienced the same problem. It is very disappointing that the model which is marketed as their “Tour” machine, breaks from time to time whilst on tour. We’d love to say that HASE are working with us to try to resolve this problem, but they are not. They have replaced our broken frames though, for which I am grateful, but I would very much prefer it if the thing didn’t break in the first place. December-2013 update – we now also know about an Australian couple touring in Central America that have recently had a frame failure just like ours. April-2014 update – frame-4 has now completed over 16,000kms (long may this continue) but following the Australian couple’s frame failure in December, I had an exchange of emails with HASE in Germany and drew their attention to this product review and asking them what they were doing about the problem. They replied by saying that in percentage terms, the failure rate was within allowable quality standards and only struck world travellers and not normal users, but despite that, they had gone ahead and improved their weld processes for the 2012 model (they had most failures on older 2011 models) and now they have very few failures. They also reported (in Jan-2014) that, “the area around the connecting plate will be beefed up with the next season of the Pino. They will be in the shops end of this year. The changes will be hardly visible, it will add nearly no weight but it will be more reliable. It won’t be indestructible but I think, it will be hard to find a stronger one on the market.” January-2015 update – frame-4 continues to serve us well and has now done over 20,000kms.
- Front seat sponge pad disintegrates –
the first seat pad in our first Pino, was a bundle of dust after just one year. The new one that we got though, which is now nearly 2 years old, seems to be surviving much better. I think the fact that we cover the bike at night with our tarp, and we cover the seat with our seat-cover when parked in the rain, has helped to prolong the life of the current sponge. April-2014 update – sadly the sponge is now not in such a good state and will be replaced if we find something suitable to replace it with, or perhaps even just removed. January-2015 update – it got removed and dumped months ago. Now no sponge in place but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.
- Front seat mesh cover stitching splits – we have had 2 new seat covers (at the same time as getting the 2nd & 3rd frames) from HASE. This was because the fabric had begun to fray where it was stitched and joining to the mesh. The manner in which it frayed, meant that it couldn’t be repaired easily by sewing.
- Wheel problems – though not a HASE issue because after all you can put whatever wheels you like onto your Pino, wheels are definitely an issue for any tandem. In my (limited) experience, the back wheel is the weakest link in any tandem and you should look after it with lots of love, care and attention. All the separate components of the wheel have their own problems. The hub, the freewheel, the spokes, the rim and the tyre (tyres will be discussed in the tyre review … when it gets written). In 6 months of touring, you are putting more miles (or kms) into these components, than bits on most normal bikes would see in a lifetime. On the back wheel of our Pino, we have had 4 rim failures (the Alex DH19 mentioned above), one freewheel body failure, two hubs retired from duty (one because it was about to fail very soon and the 2nd because the bearings were shot) and about 5 or 6 spokes break. I would recommend any tandemist (trad or Pino-rider) to brush up on their bike maintenance skills to both prolong the life of their equipment and to be able to fix things when they fail.
Since new, I have kept a log of what work I have had to do to the bike to keep it going. You can read that here if you wish.
Value for money
The Pino is an expensive bike, right up there with the most expensive brands (look on their website for the most up to date prices). Considering the amount it cost, it is extremely frustrating that it has broken and even more frustrating that it has broken 3 times. To ask if it is good value for money is difficult though as we would have spent the same amount on a trad-tandem and not enjoyed it as much. If we were in the market to buy a touring tandem again, we would probably buy the Pino again. But I think if I were still in the UK, I would buy it, and then find a man that is skilled & handy with an aluminium welder, and I would have the weak joint strengthened before setting off on another tour. This would probably affect my warranty from HASE but it can hardly be rocket-science to make a bike frame that doesn’t break every 5000 or 10,000kms – after all, motorbikes don’t break and cars don’t break. Okay, I appreciate that the penalty of a stronger frame is extra weight, but with a bike-weight of 25kgs, it would hardly take that much extra material to sufficiently strengthen the joint. January-2015 update – we are enjoying the fact that our current frame has covered more than 20,000kms and if I were to buy a new Pino today, I may not be so quick to seek out the skilled aluminium welder mentioned above.