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Can you get a tandem in a wee little car?

(Edited August 2007 - see last paragraph)

When we first arrived in New Zealand in 2002, we spotted this cute little Honda we had not seen in the US, known there as the Jazz. It looked ideal. It was small on the outside, but practically cavernous on the inside, thanks to well designed versatile interior that allowed the seats to be configured in many ways, and most importantly for us, had a lot of interior vertical space. We test drove one and loved it, but then picked a house at a price that left not much money for a car. And once we decided not to stay permanently, we couldn't really justify buying a new car that we'd have to sell in a year. But when we returned to the US, I wanted that car. But alas Honda didn't import it into the US yet, so we went car-free! They finally brought it in this year, under the name Fit.

We theorized all along that a tandem would FIT inside, but had not tried it. The floor was lower than similar cars like the Toyota Matrix, and the additional vertical space combined with the way the back seats split and folded flat (the base of the seat folds down, so the seat rests on the floor) and the front seat folded back down flat on the back, made us think this would be a great rental car for hauling bikes or a tandem inside - upright and secured by fork mounts, and still have room for two people. One of the ads for the Fit shows a surfboard in the position where we imagined the tandem could go. There advertising says space for objects up to 7'10" in length!

Now, if we owned a car, we could just put a tandem rack on the roof and be done with it, but as we just rent occasionally, the solution would either involve a trunk rack (which works fine for singles, but not so well for non s+s tandems) or getting it inside. And we wanted something with good fuel economy, and vans just aren't meeting that goal. The bike shown in these photos has neither rack nor fenders. So, Yes, we could remove both wheels and carefully cover both chains and get the bike into most any hatchback, but removing the rear wheel and dealing with chains on both sides is a bit of hassle. Also our other tandems sports full fenders and a rear rack, removing the rear wheel doesn't help. We have carried our s+s tandem (the one with rack and fenders), by popping off the front third. Then the front part typically goes inside and the rear goes on a trunk mounted rack. We've done this with lots of rentals. So technically we can carry two of the tandems in small fuel efficient cars with a bit of disassembly and care about greasy chains. We haven't actually reassembled the mountain tandem since returning from to the States, so I can't really complain about taking it places, now can I?

But if there's something out there that makes hauling a tandem around easier, that would be great.

Well Zipcar recently added 4 Fits to the fleet, so we got the chance to try my theory and look....

We have a glider board with fork mounts that we've used for years to secure bikes with front wheels off inside vehicles. The first test was with two single bikes, which fit fine in this manner. This eliminates concerns about paint and knocking things out of adjustment. Also having the bikes upright means greasy chains aren't making contact with anything.

So the real test was the tandem. We removed the captain's seatpost with stoker bars to make it easier to maneuver the big bike in. Note that the stoker seat and post is still on. With a bit of twisting this tandem would go in with the captains seat post and stoker bars, but it was just easier to remove that one post. The twisting involved laying down the rear seat and then putting it back up, as well as covering it with a blanket to not have chains contact upholstery. Having chains on two sides makes it far more likely! And remember one of my goals was to eliminate the sideways part of the task. With a shorter captain or narrower stoker bars, this might not be necessary. But as it takes 2 seconds to pop out the post and another 2 to put it back, not a big deal.

Since the rear has a 40/60 split, we load the tandem on the right side and then sit in tandem (one behind the other) in the car. We folded the back seat flat, and the front seat back and flat and then put a blanket over the upholstered front seat, popped the tail gate, popped out the captains seat post and the front wheel and slid the tandem in along the side, and attached the fork to the glider board. We tossed in the wheel, seatpost assembly, bags and riding gear, John hopped in the still upright back seat and we headed off. We also had plenty of room for our bags and could have hauled down quite a bit more.

I mentioned that the other tandem has racks and fenders. The front fender means we need to put the glider board up on something a couple of inches high, so the front fender clears the floor. This bike also fits easily, again, just removing the captain's seatpost. These are both medium Co-motions. John has a 34 inch inseam, so his saddle is a bit high. There is room for a longer bike. There is still a few inches to spare at each end of the bike, and having it kitty-corner would add more. (Next time we rent, I'll get some photos of the other tandem and the singles inside).

We have had the opportunity to try quite a few other cars and vans. We got the tandem inside a Mazda 5 upright, but just barely. Since the seats don't fold down as cleverly as they do in this Honda, we had to place the tandem down the middle in between the two front seats. The rear wheel rested on the side of the gear changer in the middle. John had to lift up the rear wheel when I shifted out of park. Fortunately it was an automatic. There was plenty of space in the back, but the timing rings had to go between the middle seats forcing us to have the bike further forward in this car. This car was also located at the top of a big hill and it poured rain every time I reserved it!

We have also rented a Toyota Matrix several times. (I can verify a large "L" shaped Ikea desk won't fit inside a Matrix either!) It looks similar to the Fit, but slightly longer. The floor isn't as low, and the seats don't fold as cleverly, so the inside isn't as big as the smaller Honda! My single bike will fit upright with front wheel removed, but John's (larger bike won't). The tandem definitely won't fit upright.

As mentioned above we have carried our s+s tandem, by popping off the front third, and using a trunk mounted rack. We've done this with lots of rentals, including a Prius. We have put the tandem in an Honda Element. We liked the idea of this one because of the plastic upholstery - no worries with chain grease. But the rear seats fold up to the sides and use up valuable cargo space. We were able to get three people in the Element, but the single bike had to go on the rack. The first time we tried this, the vehicle belonged to a friend who offered us a lift home from a very long ride. The second time was accidental as I made a mistake with zipcars online booking. We had friends over to visit and needed something that would work for four people, a tandem and two singles. I thought I had selected a van on that occasion. By the time I realized my mistake, all the vans were booked. With four people, we had to take the tandem apart and use the rack as I described above. Given this, we could have selected a much more environmentally friendly car - the Element gets half the gas mileage of the Fit. Any of the station wagons or hatchbacks would have worked as well.

The small Scion is smaller than the Fit, and the interior design is like the Matrix. I couldn't even get my single in it upright. The Boxy Scion looks big, but had a platform under the rear seat making it not work at all. It didn't handle skis well either.

This brings us to bigger vehicles like minivans and the dreaded SUV. Yes, we did own a minivan for years and it was great for hauling lots of bikes and people around, but why is it in 20 years, the fuel economy on these has not improved? And while I feel less guilty using one only for limited trips and only with a full load, I just prefer to be a bit more conscientious about what I drive even if it is less than once a month. The great thing about renting is you can select the vehicle according to need. If I need to carry 6 passengers one weekend, I can get a van, but otherwise I can rent something smaller...

If I were to buy a car, it would be the Honda Fit. It's a small car with good fuel economy, great versatility and the ability to carry (inside) bikes or tandem and one (or two really friendly or small) passengers plus drivers. The car is short (as in not tall) enough to make loading a tandem on a roof rack relatively easy, and it seats 5, with lots of room for bags behind the back seat, so it can also work for the family when they come to visit once a year, or a trip with friends.

Well, I'm certain this article helped sell a few of these cars, but Honda didn't offer me a discount when I finally went to our local dealer and asked to take one home. Yes, I we are going to buy a Honda Fit. If I need something bigger when the Bayley clan comes to visit, I'll rent it! The experience should have been easier though.