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Tandem Magazine summer '98

Burley Rumba S+S

Text from photograph




If you've been shopping for a take-down tandem, beware of the Burley Rumba S+S. The sticker shock could floor you. Starting with the same proven 700c road frame that either comes dressed up as the Duet or ratcheted down a couple of notches as the Rumba, Burley then added new welded S&S couplers, said a little hocus-pocus and--poof--out comes the most affordable travel tandem in existence.

Burley is known for producing a very well-made tandem frame, decking it out carefully and offering it for sale at an attractive price point. As a result, many cyclists have gotten their start in the wonderful world of tandeming on a Burley. So, while it may have been a shock for competitors, we weren't that surprised last fall at Interbike when Burley unveiled the Rumba S+S.

In capitalizing on the surging popularity of S&S tandems in such a value-oriented fashion, Burley upped the ante in the game of luring tandem buyers. Twenty-six hundred and fifty bucks gets you in. Granted, you could buy the same tandem for a grand less without the couplers. But... if it must travel and you are on a budget, this is the place to start looking.

And we are unabashed S&S advocates. S&S couplers make sense on just about any tandem (or single, for that matter). Outside of aluminum (unavailable), titanium (prohibitively expensive, but possible), a super light speed-racer (too heavy) or some other esoteric tandem, S&S couplers are solid and reliable and they just plain make sense. In most cases the weight penalty is negligible and the benefits substantial.

If you are unsure about S&S couplers, just imagine that they are to tandems what ferrules are to a fishing rod: That well integrated and that necessary. You wouldn't pack around an 8-foot fly rod, would you? So why wrestle with an 8-foot tandem? Put joints in them and break them down. Simple.

The Rumba S+S brings take-
down tandems to the masses.

The only rub--until now--has been a combination of expense and the scarcity of production tandems equipped with the joints. The introduction of the Rumba S+S brings take-down tandems to the masses.


Like other Burleys we have seen in the last few years, this frameset is crafted more like a custom tandem than a production model. An advantage to a Burley frame is this quality workmanship. The Rumba is identical to the pricier Duet, lacking only the more expensive componentry. (An S&S Duet is available for another $550.)

The Burley-exclusive, custom-butted True Temper 4130 chromoly frameset is joined with clean, tight tig-welds. This is a new tubing spec for 1998, and is made up of "proprietary," oversized and double-butted tubes and larger diameter fork blades.

The S&S versions differ from the one-piece models at the bottom tube, using a round tube rather than the ovalized one on the one-piece tandems. That just makes it simpler to use the couplings. On some custom tandems and CoMotion's Co-Pilot (the only other production S&S tandem we know of) the bottom tube is round at the coupling and oval in between.

The seat tube is attached to the seat post.
The seat post is attached to the....Actually,
what we have here is a prototype of the
actual welded S&S coupler, a double-
bolt seat clampand adjustable stoker stem.

Like most full-length top-and internal-tube tandems, the Rumba is aligned well. I have toured the manufacturing facility and viewed frames in various stages of construction. (See "The Ideal Business," T&FC Summer '97). The miters and pre-welded joints are amazingly well done. The main thing to separate this frame from a custom is a lack of the fine detail and finish work found on a boutique tandem.

But that's a somewhat unfair comparison. This is a production tandem, and as such, it's exemplary. It's also the first tandem we have seen with the new tig-welded couplings. Instead of stainless steel couplings brazed to the frame, these are plated steel endpieces with a stainless nut. A rubber sleeve covers the ends and protects the welded joint.

These are not necessarily cheaper than the originals, just easier to work with for many companies. However, they don't look quite as nice to us, and they aren't fully stainless steel. We don't know how well they will hold up or if the gasket and plating are adequate to eliminate corrosion. That doesn't mean we are worried about them: S&S Machine has the coupler business pretty well figured out, and the Rumba comes from a reputable and established company with a lifetime warranty.

"The welded couplers fit into our manufacturing process better than ones that are brazed. They don't cost any less, but we couldn't use the other type and keep our price where we want it. These are more efficient for us and work great--and I think they even look more modern..." said Matt Purvis, Burley's liaison tot he the outside world.

The frame is only available in a 22/19.5, medium. That's too bad, but I wouldn't be surprised if that changes soon. Double-eyelet dropouts are an easily overlooked bonus, and the frame will accommodate racks, fenders, four bottles, drum brake and a pump. The uni-crown fork is made from more of that Burley-exclusive True Temper chromoly and has an externally butted, oversized steerer. The blades for '98 are beefed up to 1 1/4 inches from 1 1/8 inches.

One thing that can't be overlooked is the striking Sapphire Blue finish. Burley uses a two-stage powdercoat technique that results in anything but the dull powdercoats you may have seen before. These are brilliant and very durable. For an S&S tandem, scratch-resistance is important, and this finish is something to crow about.


Spec'ing tandems is not easy when you start trying to trim away excess cost. Something has to give. The Rumba S+S has been stretch and pulled, but has come out of it in surprisingly good shape. Such good shape that we thought we better compare it head-to-head with its upper-end alter ego.

In fact, as we began to examine these two tandems (Rumba/Duet S+S), we saw that the spec is so close that if your budget is important, it would be tough to justify paying the difference for the Duet. And if you haven't even considered S&S couplings, but have come to grips with the price upgrade from a normal Rumba to a Duet, then your big gain would come by paying the $450 more to get S&S coupling convenience at the expense of some higher-end components.

Where are we going with this? Let's just say that this is one smokin' deal on a tandem--S&S or otherwise.

Cantilever brakes. Mishap or wise choice?

And what don't we like? The brakes on both tandems are Shimano LX cantilevers. In the age of V-brakes, they don't cut it any longer. However, Burley believes that safety is at issue. After testing available units, Burley concluded that cable failure is possible with any of the current inexpensive V-daptors, due to fatigue from cable movement on a small pulley. Let's just cross our fingers when Purvis tells us that Shimano may remedy the cable-pull STI lever V-brake dilemma.

The Rumba S+S comes with a 7-speed 11-28 cassette matched with Burley alloy cranks and 52/42/28 chainrings made in Taiwan by Tracer. These are good-looking cranks, very similar to a Sugino Fuse 500. This is entry-ish level, so that's fine. The Duet has Shimano 105 cranks, 53/42/30 chainrings and an 8-speed 11-30 cassette. Again, in the price category, good stuff. The Rumba shifts with RSX levers and the Duet uses 105. Both use 105 front derailleurs, and the Rumba has STX RC in the rear where the Duet upgrades to an XT.

Both sport 48-spoke Matrix Vapor 700cm rims with Shimano tandem hubs (LX on the Rumba and XT on the Duet) and smooth-rolling Ritchey Tom Slick 700x25 tires. The Rumba has generic alloy pedals with clips and straps, the Duet uses an SPD clone. Drop bars in front and bullhorns in the back are no-name alloy, as are the 300mm seatposts. Both use Burley brand stems that have a strikingly Taiwanese look about them. Adjustable stoker stems are extra.

Either way, Duet or Rumba-equipped, the quality of craftsmanship and performance of the parts are easily in line with the asking price. But for our hard-earned money it's tough to pass on the Rumba.


Manufacturer: Burley Design Cooperative
PHONE NUMBER: (800) 311-5294
MODEL: Rumba S+S
PRICE: $2650
TOTAL WEIGHT: 42.5 lbs.
FRAME MATERIAL: True Temper Burley-Exclusive custom double-butter oversized 4130 chromoly.
FORK: Unicrown. Chromoly oversized True Temper Burley-Exclusive tandem blades, butted steerer.
RIMS: Matrix Vapor 48-hole
HUBS: Shimano LX tandem
TIRES: Richey Tom Slick 700x25
DERAILLEURS F/R: Shimano 105 front/STX RC rear
CRANKSET: Burley Alloy (Tracer)
CHAINRINGS: 52-42-28
COGSET: Shimano 11-28 7-speed
SHIFTERS: Shimano RSX STI Dual Control
BRAKESET: Shimano LX cantilevers
HEADSET: Tange Avenger 1 1/8" (NOTE IS THIS 1 1/4" FOR 1998)
HANDLEBARS: Drop front/bullhorn rear
STEMS: Burley chromoly front/adjustable Burley chromoly rear
SEATPOSTS: 300 mm alloy
SADDLES: Vetta Comfort Torino
PEDALS: Alloy with clips and strap


TOP TUBE: 35mm
DOWN TUBE: 38.3mm


FRONT SEAT TUBE (CT): 23 1/2" (to top of dual bolt collar)
WHEELBASE: 68 3/4"
CHAIN STAYS: 17 1/4"
HEAD ANGLE: 73 degrees
FRONT SEAT ANGLE: 73 degrees
REAR SEAT ANGLE: 73 degrees


Choosing a tandem all comes down to where the rubber meets the road. The ride. That's when you know if the Rumba/Duet S+S is for you. There's no such thing as a good deal on a poorly-fitted tandem or on a tandem that doesn't handle the way you want. So the ride is all important.

Our testers found the Rumba/Duet S+S to be an easy-going tandem, one that is comfortable from the start. Not harsh and not mushy, either: milk-mannered and predictable for the most part.

At just over 42 pounds, this is not a light and sprightly tandem. And the 48-spoke wheels take a while to accelerate. But this is a fun tandem all the same. Smooth on the flats and at home descending long sweeping turns and straightaways, the handling leans toward straight-ahead stability rather than nimble performance.

Some testers felt the Rumba/Duet in S+S incarnation handles slightly differently than the previous Duet we tested. In some cornering it felt as if it couldn't decide if it wanted to be leaned or steered. It's hard to pinpoint what caused these comments, with different testers and constantly changing perceptions among the test crew.

Tandem handling is one of the most personal--and difficult to assess aspects of tandem testing. Some swear by slow and steady handling, while others demand a quicker, higher performance feel. The Rumba seems to fall in the middle of this range and that might explain the slight hesitation and "diving" sensation felt when pressed hard into corners or when descending twisty, narrow roads.

Regardless, this is a minor consideration. The handling is fairly neutral. And, I think you get used to what you ride. If the bike requires a slightly different touch, you adjust. After a few rides and maybe 100 miles I didn't notice it much any longer. But, if you are concerned, ride more than one tandem before you buy.

As for the shifting, the Shimano RSX STI was actually very good. There were occasional hang-ups shifting onto the big ring, but for the most part, and with the rear derailleur in particular, the STI shifting was as good as any we have ridden. The 1998 models have been redesigned and front shifting is improved. On the 105 and up, the front shifting is quite a bit better with the ramped and pinned chainrings.

Braking is excellent--for cantilevers. It used to be that cantilevers were just fine for tandems. They still work fine. But V-brakes stole the show. The only problem is standard road levers (STI/Ergo included) don't pull enough cable to actuate the new brakes. That's where the V-daptors come in. A pulley wheel is used to take up some of the extra cable.

Burley's tests show the possibility of cable breakage with V-daptors. That would be bad news on a single, but potentially disastrous (legally and physically) on a tandem. Burley called in Shimano, showed the tests and results. And that's why Shimano won't permit, stand behind or whatever, the use of anything but V-brake levers with V-brakes. Hopefully an official fix will arrive soon. If not, then all of us V-daptor renegades are condemned to exile.

An actual production version of the welded S&S
coupler. The nut that connects the two halves is
stainless, while the adjoining ends are plated
steel covered by a protective rubber sleeve.

Climbing on the Rumba is sure and steady. You don't get the same surging feel as with some resilient, lightweight tandems, but you get up the hill just fine. The frame is plenty stiff front to back. I prefer a lower top tube and this frame felt slightly tall and top-heavy for me, but climbing out of the saddle was still good. Other testers also gave it high marks here.

This tandem felt most at home out on the open road, spinning away the miles. It is comfortable for long rides and would make a fine touring, sport and rally tandem. Our only reservation would be screaming fast descents with tight turns. And then only because we've been able to go faster on other tandems. But, then again, those tandems cost a lot more.


Cost is a definite issue when buying a tandem. But the purchase should be considered a long-term investment. When you buy a quality frame you are ensured of lasting value. Upgrades in componentry are easy. And a quality frame will hold its value in the used market, something to consider if you might upgrade in the future. The Rumba S+S would be perfect for many teams with this philosophy.


This tandem screams value. If you need a take-down tandem at a more-than-reasonable price, the Rumba S+S will have you dancing in the streets.

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Additional photo of the Burley Rumba S+S

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