Thorn Me’n’U2 tandem triplet review

I’ve had the Me’n’U2 for a few weeks now, so time for a review.

As I’ve mentioned before one key reason for buying the bike was Robin Thorn’s huge enthusiasm for it. Another key reason was the first rule of boat owning – you’ve got to like the look of the thing regardless of how practical it is.

Overall the bike does the job very well. The kids love it – they feel secure and enjoy riding it. At this time of year (late November in the UK) it is hard to get opportunities to get the kids outside and exercised; this bike makes it easier. It can also replace car travel to some extent.

Thorn kindly made some changes to the spec of the bike for me to accomodate our needs. Checking the spec on their website for this review it looks like some of those changes have made it into the standard spec.

Hills – up and down

In this area the hills are steep – 20% or 1 in 6 is common enough. Hauling 50kg of kids up that is hard work even if they do a bit of peddling. Thorn fitted a 12-36T cassette giving us an 18.4″ bottom gear. It would be possible to go lower but at 18″ I get slight rear wheel slip on wet steep hills so I suspect that a lower gear would just slip more. I’ll just have to get fitter. Note that the wheel slip isn’t a problem – there is enough grip.

I have pondered adding an electric motor – if I do it will be on the front hub to minimise the load put through the rear wheel.

Going down steep hills is one of the key reasons why I bought this bike and not, say, a trailer bike. A steep hill with a trailer bike swinging around on the back would be scary. The rear disk and V-brakes are fine going down hills. Wide handlebars with easy access to brakes are also important. My older child – just behind me – has a habit of jumping from side to side to see what is going on ahead and this makes the bike lurch around somewhat. However with the overall stability of this bike I cope fine.

Fitting the smaller rider

My kids are 5 and 7. The Me’n’U2 in standard form wouldn’t quite fit, particularly the middle position. Key issue is reducing the middle saddle height.

Firstly Thorn replaced the stoker stem and handlebars for the rear position with a crossbar mounted ahead stem. This means that the middle saddle can be lower. Thorn supplied the double drilled 115/140 child cranks in both rear positions.

Crossbar mounted rear stoker handlebars, with tape to protect the paint. Also ‘bottle’ seat post for middle stoker.

To make the middle saddle height comfortable I replaced the middle seat tube with a ‘bottle’ seat tube and old-fashioned saddle clamp mounted upside down. We’ve now got a good fit.

The rear saddle post came with a ‘bottle’ seat tube and an upside down saddle clamp, making it easy to get a good fit.

As the kids get bigger I’ll need to change seat posts, stoker stems and probably handlebars. However that won’t be hard and shouldn’t cost too much. My other half (5’2″) can fit in the middle stoker position ok – there isn’t loads of space but there is enough.

The kids are happy climbing on by themselves – I just hold the bike steady.

Pedals

The bike isn’t supplied with pedals. I bought some secondhand MKS pedals from EBay for me and some small toeclip pedals from Decathlon for the kids. It is important for the kids’ feet to stay on the pedals so they don’t get clobbered by me turning the cranks. However feet do come out from time to time – mostly going up steep hills for some reason. To aid getting feet back in I’ve bungied the stoker pedals together – this makes it a lot easier for them to get their feet in.

Bungy holding pedals together. Note mud showing lots of use!

The toeclip straps can be caught round the cranks, particularly when the position isn’t in use, which results in the bungy getting wound up round the pedal. To avoid this the straps need to be tied up when not in use.

The Decathlon pedals are fine. Cheap, nice and light and about the right size. They aren’t perfectly smooth but are ok.

Gears

The gears work well. The twist-grip SRAM shifters are a bit plasticy but do the job well. Shifts are accurate and easy, even under load. In this area gear shifts are needed all the time! I haven’t used many of the higher ratios but the lower ratios are well-spaced and just about low enough.

Racks

The bike comes with a rear rack. I added Thorn low-riders to the spec for the front so I can fit my old Carradice SuperC paniers. With the length and strength of the bike I don’t expect problems when I load it up.

Assembly

The bike came stripped down and required assembly. You’d need to have worked on bikes a bit to put it together, but since everything is adjusted for the bike it isn’t hard to do. FItting mudguards is normally a pain as nothing lines up. On the Thorn the mudguards just needed to be dropped into place and bolted on. Help from Thorn was great – the only caveat was that they work business hours so if you’ve got a query over the weekend you’ll need to wait for Monday to get an answer.

The packaging of the bike could be better. The box could do with some kind of cardboard structure under the bottom brackets and around the rear dropouts for better protection. However, it is all together now and Thorn were good at resolving the issue with the dropout.

The timing chains (the ones that connect the pedals together) were delivered a bit tighter than I’d like. Apparently this is so they don’t fall off as everything beds in. I’ll slacken them off in a week or so.

Pilot comfort

I’m used to drop bars so I’m still getting the hang of straight bars. I also prefer a relatively short distance between saddle and handlbars as I don’t bend too well.

It became clear that I had bike fitting issues – I had wrist pain following each ride.

So far I’ve:

  • Moved the saddle as far forward as it will go to reduce the distance to the bars and take weight off my hands. Fitting a shorter stem would be better but moving the saddle is cheaper while I work out what I need to do.
  • Rotated the brake levers round to line up with my arms so I’m not flattening my wrists as I ride.

I’ve got some secondhand butterfly bars being delivered from EBay – being used to drops I like the idea of multiple hand positions. I can also try the stoker bars if that doesn’t work. I’m sure the fit can be fixed – it is how to do it without buying lots of extra handlebars and stems!

I bought a mirror from Decathlon. It is a bit lose in the handlebars but fits adequately well. In practice it works very well giving a good view behind. I haven’t noticed any vibration. Definitely worthwhile, although I don’t think it will work with butterfly handlebars. I might try a glasses-mounted mirror.

Lights

I bought an AXA HR traction dynamo plus front (AXA blueline 50) and rear (AXA slim steady) lights from SJS. The setup works well and the AXA dynamo doesn’t drag. However without street lights trying to start a triplet in the dark is hard – it isn’t easy to balance. I’ll probably need a battery front light too just to ease starting.

Note that the dynamo lights do have a standlight feature; however the front standlight isn’t bright enough to see by.

We might also need extra lights so the stokers can find their toe clips in the dark – if you can’t see what you are doing and you are not familiar with toe clips then it isn’t easy! Something like a couple of red LEDs fixed under the crossbar should do the job.

Storage and transport

This isn’t a small bike. It takes a lot of space to store it. I’ve no idea how I would transport it by car. For the current use this doesn’t matter but we might need to figure something out in future.

Conclusion

Single word summary – awesome.

Most important thing is the kids love it and look forward to riding it. I can cope with hauling them up hills and downhills are fun rather than scary.

I was concerned that this would a single-use bike i.e. only for me plus two kids. However it is fine for me plus one child (either one – just leave a seat empty) or me plus my other half, with or without a child at the back. I’m also happy cycling it on my own which I need to do to get to school to pick them up. I could also see making up cargo boxes to replace the rear seats. So overall it has good flexibility and I can see it getting a lot of use.

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