La Verne Magazine
Two Wheelin': Changing Gears for the Life Cycle
by Tom Galaraga
photography by Juan Garcia
The next step to constructing a Santana Cycle after the welding is done
is to grind and polish the welds. Daniel Bautista, who has worked at the
shop for a year, is responsible for this step. The factory has the capacity
to build 10,000 cycles a year.
Their relationship to the machine draws them closer into a world they
are yet to fully comprehend. At this exact moment strength bends to sensitivity,
and trust becomes all that matters and their only means to stay safe. Their
combined efforts are translated into motion as their legs simultaneously
turn the three-piece cranks that power their cycle. This is more than a
Saturday afternoon cruise; this is a lifestyle. Welcome to the world of
As a 15 year-old, Bill McCready, founder of Santana Cycles, watched
in amazement as two of his friends sped away from him on a tandem bicycle
that they had borrowed. Quickly learning that his single bicycle was no
match for the now speeding away tandem, McCready realized one thing: he
had to have one. "It was exactly what I had to have," he says,
comparing tandem bicycles to a hot-rod version of a single bicycle. "It
was about going as fast as I could."
As an adolescent, he may not have realized at this moment that his new-found
love for the tandem cycle would lead into an undeniable passion, and ultimately
the founding of Santana Cycles, the premiere tandem cycle company in the
world. What started out as an adolescent's lust for adventure and excitement,
became a driving force behind an entrepreneur.
Before founding Santana Cycles, however, 16 year-old McCready honed
the skills and knowledge of his craft while working at Bud's Bike Shop in
Claremont. It was there that he spent his free-time and continue to work
while he attended Claremont-McKenna College. It was just before his 1974
graduation from CMC, that an eager McCready took a series of tests to help
decide on a career; at that moment, he was ready to make his first step
toward founding Santana Cycles.
"I found out that business was the test I scored highest on, which
was depressing to me because I had hoped to do better on the others,"
recalls McCready. "Given that I was going to be a business person,
I looked at all my options and decided to buy-out my boss." And that
he did. Three months before his graduation, McCready became the new owner
of Bud's Bike Shop.
A year later, he would become upset with Bicycling Magazine. Determined
to speak his mind, McCready went out of his way to travel to the magazine
headquarters and barge into the office of the head editor to voice his complaint.
Her answer was to simply pull out a pencil and say, "If you think you
are better at this than we are, why don't you go ahead and give it a shot?"
Eager to take on the challenge, McCready, took her up on the offer and assumed
the role of associate editor of Bicycling Magazine. Immediately, he began
to write articles and stories that focused primarily on the tandem world.
Like embers in a fire, he began to stir up interest in this once stagnant
"lifestyle." As time went buy, he wrote more articles. As he wrote
more articles, the fascination grew.
"Power of the pen being terrific, all of a sudden there were hundreds
of people who wanted these things [tandem bicycles], and the bikes didn't
really exist, and the bikes we were getting were in pretty poor shape,"
he says. At that point, McCready had stumbled onto a life-defining opportunity.
Realizing his potential for marketing this product, McCready began to
approach tandem manufacturers to purchase these bicycles for interested
customers. Manufacturers and custom builders were reluctant to believe a
that a high demand for tandems existed. Much like the success of a tandem
team that relies heavily on the trust between the captain and the stoker
(the person who rides in the back), entrepreneurship needs a stable and
trustworthy platform to build upon. This platform, in the eyes of the manufactures
and builders, was not there. McCready, however, knew that one could be built,
just as simply as a tandem.
At that point, Bud's Bike Shop was selling double the amount of tandems
that could be produced by Jack Taylor, a small, England based cycle maker
who worked with his two brothers, Ken and Norm, producing tandems. At that
time they were the best-selling tandems on the market. McCready, once again
fueling his passion, decided to enter the world of tandem manufacturing.
"It was pretty clear I couldn't get anybody interested in building
any number of good bikes, and that it was going to be up to tandem enthusiasts
to produce better tandems if these things were to exist," says McCready.
"Santana was started out of desperation out of one hand, having lots
of people ordering bikes from me, and on the other hand, having no builders
who wanted to accept the orders."
With no other options, McCready started Santana Cycles and began to
have custom tubing companies provide him with the materials needed to build
his tandem. In doing so, he demonstrated to custom builders his determination
to build a "better tandem."
With freshly produced custom tubing brought in from overseas, a fistful
of orders, and the designs and specs of what he had wanted, McCready had
proven that tandem bicycle building was an endeavor much worth the effort.
Now taking the captain's seat on this trip, McCready had earned the trust
of his stoker, which resulted in the birth of the nation's premiere tandem
cycle company: Santana Cycles. Named appropriately after the hot dry winds
that sweep down California's Cajon Pass, McCready's new endeavor swept over
the tandem world like a storm. McCready's philosophy in tandeming that states
"the stoker makes no mistakes," applies in this situation too;
his new endeavor would succeed or fail on the merit of its captain, McCready
"It depicted Southern California," laughs Jan McCready, secretary
of Santana Cycles and McCready's wife. "It couldn't be called smog
tandems could it?"
Carrying with him years of experience as a tandem cyclist, bicycle mechanic
and salesperson, McCready was determined to build the best tandem possible.
Not wanting to ride into the tandem world alone, he needed someone who shared
his passion of the cycling world. Enter Steve Lesse; current sales manager
for Santana Cycles, whose introduction to the tandem world was a little
less than a "legal" activity and more like a "felony."
Originally a single cycle racer, Lesse was invited by friends to participate
as the third rider on a three-person tandem. The ride was the 100 mile Mojave
Night Bike Ride, that started in Calico.
Lesse's friends said, 'Hey, we have this great deal; there is this three-person
bike we can take. You ride on the back, and all you have to do is ride until
you pass out. We are going to try to do 100 miles in three hours.' I should
have been suspicious when they started going in through a window to get
the bike; it didn't occur to me that it probably wasn't their bike,"
recalls Lesse. His friends were workers at Bud's Bike Shop and had "borrowed"
the three-person tandem against McCready's will. They figured that they
would ride all night long and return the cycle in the morning. At that time,
they did not realize that the bike would be damaged during the ride.
Ruining the wheels and tires of one of the first two triple-tandems
built by Santana Cycles has its price. Lesse's friends, Dave Jenson and
Miles Rank, had to pay for the repairs that the cycle needed. "I felt
an obligation to take care of the costs too, so that's why I got a job at
Bud's working for Bill," recalls Lesse as he describes how he first
met McCready. Lesse became a metaphoric tandem partner for McCready on his
trip to founding Santana Cycles and would eventually work his way up to
Sales Manager. Santana Cycles was now on its way to solidifying itself as
a provider of enthusiast level tandems. Over a span of two years, McCready
built a total of 14 prototypes for his company. In 1978, his first production
bicycles were available on the market, and by the year 1979, the company
was the largest producer of enthusiast quality tandems.
Originally stationed in Claremont's historic orange packing house, the
factory now resides on Arrow Highway in La Verne and will soon celebrate
its 10th anniversary. The factory has the capacity to build 10,000 cycles
a year and supplies 4,009 bicycle shops nationwide. "As large as it
gets in this business, I am not interested in competing in other niches,"
says McCready confidently. "The tandem bicycle is to the bicycle industry
like motor homes are to the car industry."
McCready proudly says that his company produces more tandems than mountain
bike company icons Trek and Cannondale, and that his bikes sell for a substantially
higher price. McCready says he is not in this business to be the largest
bike provider in the United States, nor is he out to conquer his competitors.
His dream is to provide enthusiasts with the best tandem possible, and it
is that dream that is directly translated into the quality of his product.
The higher prices reflect the quality. "Most people see color and decals,
but if they are really discerning, they will see that our bike has better
equipment on it; it actually has a better weld-quality and higher quality
paint. But it's really the features and the components that make our bikes
more exceptional," says McCready. These features include ovalized and
double-butted tubing that is not only thinner and lighter, but also has
a larger diameter that equals more strength. These factors attribute to
the Santana Cycles tandem's superior ride quality and lightweight design.
It is, as McCready says, the best tandem out there.
Santana Cycles' "Best Value Tandems" begin at $2,795 and scale
upwards. McCready stresses these are "enthusiast level tandems,"
and are not designed to be a ride once and store in the attic type piece
of machinery. Like aforementioned, this is a lifestyle.
"Bill founded the company because there wasn't a bike in the world
that met his quality standards," says Lesse. "It was out of his
own selfish motivation." "If you talk to an enthusiast about the
tandem they want, the word Santana is going to be their first choice,"
McCready says, defining Santana Cycles as the premiere choice of serious
tandem riders. "It's a passion, not just a drive. It's a passion to
build better tandems for people who appreciate riding tandems."
Santana cycles do not call for mere riders, they call for investors,
investors of time, trustworthiness, energy and sensitivity. It is that dynamic
that allows for people fortunate to ride a Santana to get twice as much
back, than they put in. "The key thing about tandem riding is that
it is like the best sex ever: if you are a couple, you start and finish
together-every time," laughs Lesse.
Riding a tandem is a unique partnership that cannot be duplicated through
other joint activities. More often than not, partners engage in activities
that were either "his" or "her" hobby, and never really
adapt to engaging in the activities together. There is always, as McCready
says, an element of competitiveness that can spoil the fun. "Two people
can get on a tandem, and the bicycle doesn't know who is the stronger one,
and it doesn't care." "Togetherness is always going to be important
. . . if spending quality time with another person is important, then tandeming
It is that exact element of togetherness that has made tandeming such
a unique and successful sport, and Santana Cycles such a dominant tandem
producer. This spirit also brought Bill McCready and his wife Jan together
and ultimately led to their 1972 marriage. For Bill and Jan McCready, togetherness
has meant much more than founding the company, and much more than the weekends
spent on a tandem together. For the two of them, it is a bond that has kept
them strong, both interpersonally and in business. Having met and developed
their relationship on a tandem cycle, it only seemed fitting that the two
venture into the one sport that truly promotes togetherness: the sport of
"I came up to Ontario; we met on Euclid and Foothill, and I had
my single bike, and he had a tandem. I was trying to get away from an ex-boyfriend
who was riding a bike and wanted to ride with me-I didn't want to be anywhere
near him. Bill came up to me and said, 'I have my tandem. Would you like
to ride on the back of my tandem?'" Jan explains.
Together they went to Mount Baldy and rode along the Glendora Mountain
Ridge Road. For Jan, it was her first experience on a tandem cycle. For
Bill, it was the first time he had rode with Jan on a tandem, and for the
both of them, it was the beginning of their relationship. Arguably, it was
also the very first step toward Santana Cycles.
As with a relationship in general, there are certain elements that need
to be in order if that relationship is to succeed. Those elements include
the obvious such as caring, trust and communication, but also include the
less obvious, the act of negotiation and compromise. These elements are
needed for a successful tandeming team as well, and not only do they push
tandemers to the limit, but they also aid in the development of their interpersonal
"As time goes forward, I am interested in the benefits of the bicycle
that have nothing to do with the materials, but with what happens to people
as they spend time on the bicycles together," McCready says. Through
his observations, he was able to note which couples in the bicycle world
rode tandems, and which ones rode single bicycles. His observation suggested
that couples that rode tandems on a regular basis were able to communicate
and negotiate better.
"What happens if this couple that doesn't have trust buys a bike?"
laughs McCready. "She's going to find other things to do. The Tandem
teaches, men more than anything, to be more considerate. It also forces
couples to learn ways of negotiating things."
Trust becomes one of the most important tandeming rules. "There
is only one person who really should and can control the bicycle, and that
is the person who rides on the front of the bicycle," he says. "The
person in the back is going to let the person in the front do a good job,
and the person in the front is going to do a good job."
Before any team can become successful, it must have the essential emotional
ties figured out. Before these ties can be formed, trust must be earned.
From there, the accomplishments of any team are dictated on its ability
to grow together.
For the team of Bill and Francine Baker, proud owners of a Santana Cycles
tandem, the world of tandeming has been a means to travel the globe and
expand their own horizons. More importantly, it has also been a fun and
exciting way to spend time together and a source of motivation. Recalling
a trip that the two of them took with their tandem, Bill found himself completely
spent, out of energy and unwilling to continue on the bike. With no other
alternative, or means to return to the hotel, Francine stepped up and urged
her husband to continue. Together they made it the rest of the way. "We
had 10 miles left, and Bill wanted to quit, but I told him we couldn't.
I told him I would kick in more energy, and that we could make it,"
says Francine, who rides in the stoker position.
Teamwork has meant more than simply communicating on a tandem; it has
also been part of marriage. Tandems have provided the two of them since
1977 with exciting outlets. "It hasn't solved any problems obviously,
but it has enhanced our relationship," says Bill. "I don't sell
relationship tools, I sell bicycles. People don't buy relationship tools,
they buy bicycles," says McCready. "But, in fact, there is this
hidden bonus that I do not tell couples about, and that is that they will
actually discover more rewarding relationship with their partner and have
a better life together."
The tandem serves as the platform for trust, sensitivity, communication:
the tools necessary for any team and partnership to succeed. In the tandem
world, strength is not the only component necessary for a solid performance;
the tandem knows nothing of the stronger partner, nor does it care. This
With every turn of the crank and twist of the pedal, lifeless asphalt
is miraculously transformed into a lush and extravagant ballroom, allowing
the riders to engage in a dance like sequence that solidifies their status
as partners. Whether it be lifetime partners or simply friends out on a
ride, there is far more developing that the two will realize. Through their
interactions with cold-hard aluminum and countless components, these two
riders have found a third and silent partner: their tandem.
Jane and Bill McCready met while riding, and their first date was on
a tandem bike. Together, they founded Santana Cycles, today the largest
manufacturer of "enthusiast level" tandem bicycles.