Specialized just revealed a super-cool prototype (it's been called a concept bike, but this seems very functional, nothing concept about it): a tandem version of the Shiv.
Wow! Photos stolen from BikeRadar:
Interesting phasing on those cranks. One of the cool aspects of this bike is the shaft drive:
Super-aero, clearly. But at what cost?
Any drivetrain has losses. Losses are generally considered to be proportional to transmitted power, although it's been experimentally shown that for a bicycle transmission efficiency is higher at higher chain tension than at lower chain tension. This is fairly trivial: aspects of drivetrain loss are not necessarily proportional to transmitted power, but rather proportional to chain motion. In any case, a fixed gear drivetrain, such as on the timing chain on a tandem, is quite efficent. For example, 98-99% is typically claimed.
An alternate for the timing chain on a tandem is the Gates belt drive. This also claims to be as efficient. Here's a friend's super-sweet custom Calfee with a belt:
So what about shaft drives? I looked up some references on shaft drive efficiency. Granted, historical numbers may not reflect the state of the art system used by Specialized! And of course efficiency may depend on drivetrain load with a shaft, as it does with a chain.
Here's the efficiency coefficients:
So it seems it's not even close. But of course my numbers are pulled out of the blue: I'm not counting the wind resistance from the length dimension of the chain, for example, and the timing chain is quite long. So maybe it's a wash.
Additionally, there's the weight factor. Shaft drives are supposedly heavier. But then again I don't know Specialized's design...
I'd love to see some real numbers. If the drivetrain efficiency loss could be kept to 1% or less, things become a lot more interesting.