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The Paul Smith + Mercian Tandem is a £20,000 piece of art

17 Aug 2020

For a mere £20,000, the limited edition Paul Smith + Mercian tandem collaboration is quite possibly the world’s coolest tandem bike

Words Peter Stuart Photography Alberto Strada / Wallpaper* Handmade

Tandems may not be your thing, perhaps neither is steel, but we should all gather round and enjoy the unique beauty of the Paul Smith + Mercian Tandem.

The bike was originally built for the Wallpaper* Handmade project in 2019, but somehow escaped our attention back then. Since that initial showcase it has recently found its way onto Paul Smith’s website with a price tag of £20,000.

Admittedly, in these troubled times £20,000 may seem like an awfully large sum for a bicycle, even one built for two. However, a close look at the Paul Smith + Mercian bike has convinced us that it may well be worth the outlay.

The frame is, of course, handmade by Mercian, with oversized Reynolds 853 frame tubing and bedecked with Zipp 302 wheels and an Enve finishing kit (though with the stickers removed we could be convinced that the pictured wheels could be Enve, rather than Zipp 302s).

Taking a closer look really reveals why this bike could be considered a rare piece of bike art.

Devil in the detail

While a black frame can look a little muted on a stunning steel build, subtle accent panels with Paul Smith’s iconic pastel colourways render it quiet yet colourful.

Paul Smith and Mercian have shared the seatstay as a spot for their respective logos, just where the seatstay joins the intricate seat tube lug. Fitting, as Paul Smith has a longstanding relationship with Mercian – the racing bike of choice in his youth, and this frame matches Paul’s similarly specced handbuilt fixed-gear Mercian.

A similar understated flourish is the steel cable guides, which have been affixed with beautifully smooth brazing, rendering them literally seamless. The cable itself almost seems to be part of the frame.

Indeed, the entire frame is a showcase of impressive steel bike craft, with subtle, classic and smooth welds mixed with modern oversized tubing.

Tandems are not often equipped with aero road componentry, and we’re intrigued to see Enve’s aero road bars and stem on both cockpits. We especially like the inverted aero stem for the rear rider. The jury is out on whether it will be aerodynamic when faced backwards, however.

The tandem design was inspired by the theme of the Wallpaper* show – love.

‘It reflects the love of cycling, but also the idea of going out for a cycle with your loved one,’ said Paul Smith at its unveiling. He commissioned it with his wife Pauline in mind, and we’ll certainly be scouring the fastest tandem 25-mile TT times from last year’s H25/8 course in search of a certain P & P Smith.

In terms of tandem design, the bike uses a Middleburn crankset as its crossover drivetrain, and of course being a tandem that means there is drivetrain on either side of the bike. The shifting is all handled by Sram’s Red eTap AXS groupset.

For aesthetics, we have to applaud the use of rim brakes, with classic external cabling. Though, we’d advise caution when descending quickly on these carbon wheels. We'll also have to excuse the forward-facing front skewer – strictly against style conventions.

There’s certainly no denying that twenty grand is a hefty bill for a bike, but the Paul Smith + Mercian Tandem is really two high-performance handmade road bikes in one.

Yours, if you can find someone to share it with.

Buy the Paul Smith + Mercian Tandem from Paul Smith for £20,000