Recently, my wife and tandem partner, Mary Margaret, and I, Pat Flinn, decided that it was time to replace our old garage. Our home and garage had been originally built by Mary Margaret’s father, who was a contractor. He did this when she was just an infant, as a home for himself, her mother and their new baby girl. The home, the garage and its inhabitants have all graduated into the high maintenance category. The builder, Tallon Construction, that we selected had previously done a very satisfactory roof replacement for us, a couple of times. They followed our instructions and our town’s (Dearborn, Michigan), current strict building code. They did a fine job on the destruction of the old garage, breaking up the old concrete under the garage’s structure and the driveway. They also removed the old concrete steps leading up to the home’s back door. All of them had deteriorated badly. The total cost for the entire job was, probably, more than the land, the house and the garage had originally cost.

When all of the concrete work and the garage’s basic construction had been completed, with the assistance of a friend, Isaac Hubbard, we did the work to complete the job. We returned the torn up yard to its former glory by grading, reseeding, fertilizing and watering it. We replaced a chain link fence along the side. We did all the interior finish work.  The interior finishing and in particular, the storage of our bicycles, is the focus of this article.

We started the interior work by priming and painting the insulated plywood covered walls, the trim, the ceiling and epoxy coating the cement floor. Various shades of grey were used for these surfaces. We wanted to organize the interior better that the old garage. So, after the painting was completed, we installed Gladiator brand wall storage for our refurbished lawn tools, hoses and supplies.

Next, we moved on to the storage of our four bicycles. We currently have two tandems: one a Santana Sovereign and the second a recumbent RANS Screamer. We also have two single bikes, a Bianchi Milano comfort bike and a Huffy mountain bike.  In our old garage, we didn’t have any special storage arrangements, with the exception of a couple of bicycle hooks threaded into the ceiling joists. We used these to hang the single bikes up vertically from their front wheels. We had nothing for either one of our tandems. This meant that our biggest bikes took up a lot of valuable floor space. Mary Margaret was also unable to get either one of the single bicycles off of their hooks and down to floor level to ride them without my help.

In researching the available bike storage solutions, we came across the Racor bicycle pulley lift system. We found that the Racor system is sold by from several different retail sources. We found the lowest price at our local ACE hardware store. Because, we initially were unsure of how well this system worked, we initially only purchased one. We thought that we could try it out with all four of our bicycles and then either give up or if it worked well, buy and install three more.

The first task was to locate its position for mounting in the garage ceiling. We also weighed all four of the bikes. We did this because Racor has rated the capacity of the unit at fifty (50) pounds maximum.  Our bike’s actual ready to ride weights are shown in the chart below:

Unloaded Weight Distribution

# Bike Weight on Front Wheel Weight on Rear Wheel Total Weight (Pounds)
1 RANS Screamer 31 25 56
2 Santana Sovereign 14 27 41
3 Huffy Mountain Bike 16 15 31
4 Bianchi Milano 15 15 30

Since the steel framed RANS Screamer was both the longest and the heaviest of the four, we decided to start with it first. Also, since the tandems are both much heavier than the singles and are near or over the weight limit recommend by Racor, we decided that the tandems would go close to the back wall of the garage. This would locate the four (4) bikes above the front bumpers and hoods of our two cars, a Ford Aerostar tandem transport van and a Ford Escape Hybrid, and would result in having more available floor space. The bikes now occupy space that is typically unused in most garages. More importantly, about a foot and a half in from the wall was also right where a joist was located above the plywood ceiling. The brackets were located so that the hook pulleys would be spaced the distance between the handlebars and the back of the stoker’s saddle. We wanted to have the mounting screws for the two heavier tandem bikes go into some substantial structure overhead. We felt that an insufficient number of wood screws had been provided with the lift system for mounting the two lift brackets. So, we made another trip back to our hardware store to purchase additional screws. This enabled us to use one screw for each mounting hole in the stamped pulley lift brackets that had been punched by the manufacturer in its mounting surfaces. We were looking to do anything possible to remove any weak spots in the entire system.  So, wherever there was a hole, we filled it up with a screw!

When we completed the mounting of our first lift, we tried it out on all four of our bicycles. The original system turned out to work well on both of the lighter single bikes, as-is.  Both Mary Margaret and I could raise and lower the two single bikes fairly easily. We found that on the bicycles with racks on the back that using one of the rack’s cross bars provided a more secure location for the hook than the back some of the saddles. We also found that where the saddle did not seem secure and the bike lacked a rack, that simply rotating the hook 90 degrees and hooking it onto the tear wheel worked well too. However, when it came time to lift the heavier tandems, it was a different story. The effort to lift both of them was greater. We also found that the overhead pulley with the single pulley had less mechanical advantage than the one with double pulleys. In addition, we also found that the tandems didn’t have equal weight over their front and back wheels.  As you can see from the weight chart above, the Screamer has more weight over its front wheel and the Santana has more over it back wheel. On the Santana this is caused by the Rohloff geared hub.  This hub has proven to be the best part of a very good tandem bicycle. Depending upon which bike we were trying to lift and which way we had orientated it in relation to the single or double pulleys overhead, one end or the other would go up, or down, first. So, eventually, we wound up with the both of the tandem’s heavier ends under the bracket with the double pulleys. This didn’t present a problem with either of the single bikes, either because of their lighter overall weight and/or their more even distribution of weight between front and back wheels. In actual practice, when raising or lowering the tandems, it’s very easy to raise or lower either end of the bike with just a couple of pounds of hand pressure directed upwards on the end with the lowest wheel.

The real problem that surfaced during the tryout of this first unit was with Mary Margaret being able to lift the tandems, complicated by her suffering a stroke that had left her partially disabled; she lost the full use of her right hand.  Of course, she was right-handed!  This was the reason that we originally started riding tandems TWOgether. When you find that you can’t use the fingers of your right hand, you are placed at a serious disadvantage with operating controls located on the right handlebar. So, like it or not, she was forced to become a lefty!  Pulling hand over hand on the rope to lift the lighter singles was within her capabilities, but doing so with the heavier tandems was much more difficult for her.

After suffering the stroke, during her rehabilitation, I proposed that we should try riding a tandem. That way, I could handle all of the controls and all she had to do was pedal and smell the roses as we went by!  At first, being an independent woman used to being in control of her own bike, she didn’t like tandem bicycling. It took her a while to trust that I wasn’t out to crash both of us. But as we became more skilled and accustomed to worked together, gradually her trust in my cycling abilities grew.

The single Bianchi is her bicycle. It has a Shimano four-speed geared hub automatic transmission on it. I also set it up so that the left hand brake lever, her good hand, controls both the front and rear brakes. So, she was again able to ride a multi-speed bike with hand brakes.  However, now when I ask if she would prefer riding either her single bike or the tandem, she will pick the tandem virtually every time. This is because we have found that we can ride longer, farther and faster together than we ever could separately. I’ve also found that no matter how hard I pedal, she’s always right behind me at the end.

So, pulling hand-over-hand on the rope to lift the singles was within her capability. But, doing so with the heavier tandems was much more difficult. We had to come up with an alternate plan. We talked about multiplying the force by adding additional pulleys. Another idea was to find a manually cranked hand winch and mount it on the adjacent wall in place of the Racor’s rope cleat. On a trip to our local Harbor Freight store we found to our surprise that they had several manually operated Haul-Master winches of various capacities in stock. In examining them, we found that all of them had more than enough capacity to handle the comparatively low weights we were looking to hoist. Many of them lacked an ability to be cranked in both directions or did not incorporate a ratcheting locking mechanism either. The original Racor bike lifts do have a locking mechanism that grabs the rope after lifting it up. This has worked well with the weight of the singles. We selected the Haul-Master 65688.  One of their smaller models, it still had a capacity of 1000 pounds!  This proved to be way more than enough to lift the heaviest 56 pound tandem. Before trying it out, we fabricated some steel mounting brackets. We drilled two extra holes in the back mounting surface of the winch so that there were four 3/8 inch diameter holes to match the four in the two mounting brackets. These permitted us to mount the winch solidly and far enough away from the wall surface so that there was sufficient clearance for our hands while cranking. We didn’t get the design of the brackets right on the first try. The ones shown are our second design. The first brackets were too long, and the winch wobbled when cranked. We shortened them up to allow 2 inches of knuckle clearance with the wall. We also enlarged the mounting holes so we could use 3/8 inch lag screws in lieu of the four mounting bolts to bolt the winch to the brackets.  We added a thick, solid wood board, screwed and glued vertically to the wall behind the winch. Taken altogether, these changes eliminated the wobble.

We also purchased at Ace another independent pulley with four mounting holes to attach it onto the wall. This was lag-screwed directly over the winch. This got the diagonal rope out of the way as it went up to the lift bracket with the double pulleys.  On the tandems’ winches, we bypassed the locking mechanism on the Racor lift and used the ratcheting locking feature on the winch to lock the mechanism and prevent the bike from tumbling down. We didn’t use the additional pulley on the stock Racor lift system for the single bikes. This is because of the way that its locking mechanism requires its rope to be moved to engage its lock.

The extra pulleys were mounted on the wall over the winches.  Both the single bikes were hung from the ceiling on lengths of 1 inch thick solid wood mounts. These were screwed and glued to the inch thick plywood paneling. We felt that this was needed because each of these selected locations lacked a 2 X 4 joist in the wall or ceiling behind it.   This allowed us to use longer 1-inch lag screws for more secure mounting.

During our tryout of the first set up we noticed that the 3/16 inch diameter rope provided felt barely adequate for the heaver tandems. The cable provide with the winch was made 5/32 inch diameter steel. This was overkill for our purpose. All of the pulleys have a larger radius groove in their outside diameter with a capacity of about 1/4 inch diameter. Later, as we purchased the three additional units, we found one of the ropes with this unit was frayed near its center. This didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, especially with the heavier tandems.  So we made another trip to the hardware store.  There, we found that they had a 1/4 inch diameter white nylon-polypropylene blend rope in 50 foot long lengths.  A working load limit of 124 lbs was given for this larger diameter rope. When compared to the similar 3/16 inch black rope provided with the lift systems, the rating on the similar Ace 3/16 inch rope was much lower.  So, we bought four packages of the larger diameter, higher-rated line. We, probably didn’t need it for the two lighter single bikes. But, the rope wasn’t very expensive and it does give the finished setup a uniform appearance.

After all of this development work on the first unit, it was just a matter of repeating it for the second, and then making two mirror images for the remaining bikes on the opposite side of the garage. You will notice that because of their lighter weights we did not feel that the winches were needed for the single bikes. So, this feature was omitted with them.  We are both very pleased with our new garage and with its bicycle storage system.