The 8 awesome advantages of having a tandem bike

Guest post by Pemcat

My husband is the kind of person who, when faced with an escalator and a set of steps that both stretch as far as the eye can see, will ALWAYS choose to run up the stairs. I have been known to get out of breath walking up the few flights of steps to our flat.

We both love spending time outside in the countryside, and going for walks is one of our favourite pastimes. I wanted to get more active with him, but when it came to finding ways of spending time together that satisfied my husband’s love of endorphins, we were a little bit stymied. Either I just couldn’t keep up, or it wasn’t really exercise for him.

A few years ago we found the solution — a tandem bike that we’ve name Daisy. She is a beautiful green second-hand (or possibly third-hand) Dawes Galaxy Twin touring tandem.

There are so many ways that she is amazing…

Tandems are more efficient than single bikes, at least on flat ground (you get the same amount of wind resistance, but have two people peddling). Even though I am slower than my husband on my own, together we are faster than he is alone. We both contribute, and we both get a good workout. Plus, we go fast, and going fast on a bike is fun.

It’s great for logistics. We don’t own a car, and for several years I lived in a different city from my husband (then my boyfriend), visiting him at the weekends or vice versa. On a Friday he often picked me up from the train station on the tandem, using it instead of his single bicycle during the day and saving us both a long walk in the evening. Apparently, when he rides it without me, bystanders helpfully shout to inform him that he has lost his girlfriend.

People notice tandems. Small children point and exclaim, and couples smile at us. Cars give us extra room when they’re overtaking.

We’re close enough together that we can talk during a cycle ride if we yell (my husband is considering acquiring tandem walkie-talkies so we won’t even have to shout).

We’ve learned a lot about communicating. He rides on the front and I can’t see if there are potholes ahead, so he has to tell me what is coming and what he is planning. We’ve become used to reading each other’s body language on the bicycle, and we’ve learned to apply power and manoeuvre together.

Daisy has been our ticket to travel. She’s taken us for rides with the local cycling club. We’ve visited my parents (a twenty-five mile ride). We’ve cycled to places to go for walks or for tea and cake, as well as just pottering into town to do the shopping.

The tandem has been useful to the community. Daisy has been lent to friends who love cycling. And she has been used to carry people videoing rowing boat races along the towpath (it’s a lot easier to hold the camera steady on the back of a tandem where you’re not worrying about steering than it is from your own bicycle).

It’s a green way to travel. She’s come on holiday with us — traveling on the train and on the bus (the latter dismantled and wrapped in bubble wrap) to use as transportation. She’s been our packhorse when we’ve gone camping, loaded up with pannier bags on the front and the back. She has zero fuel costs, and I married my mechanic so maintenance is pretty cheap, too.

What once started out as a simple solution to the problem of our disparate fitness levels has become a source of adventure, exercise, and fun. I thoroughly recommend it.

Comments on The 8 awesome advantages of having a tandem bike

  1. Yes! One more (From a fellow tandem-lover): When we got out tandem (the Red Light Express), we met a few other couples who ride tandem bicycles. More than one told us that they are “relationship accelerators”. That is to say that couples who work well together and can learn to cooperate and stick it out for the long haul will do well with a tandem, but it becomes apparent when that is not the case much more quickly on a wobbly bicycle powered by two willful, uncompromising riders.

  2. Can anyone talk to me about tandem theft? I just wonder if it’s more or less common. (People steal bikes here ALLLLL the time.)

    And do tandem bikes make riding easier? I can’t ride a bike at all, but I feel it would be so much easier without having to deal with that wibbly front wheel.

    • My husband feels that tandem theft is less likely, because people can’t just get on and ride it away if they haven’t ridden one before. Also, it’s probably less easy to sell on as the market is smaller.
      Riding on the back is definitely easier than riding a normal bike, especially if you don’t ride already.
      In fact, people who don’t ride can find it easier to start with than people who do – as the stoker (person on the back) you have to let the captain (person on the front) do the steering otherwise confusion ensues and random directions are achieved. Most of the steering on a bike is actually done by shifting your weight, not with the handlebars.
      If you are used to steering a bike being told “get on, SIT STILL and turn the peddles”, is hard. If you are not used to bikes, it seems to be a lot easier.

      • Agreed. Tandems stick out, they’re a pain to throw in the back of a pick-up truck or van (even more so for a fully-loaded touring tandem — then it’s heavy as all get-out as well as long and awkward!), and if you’ve locked the bike at all, simply riding it off isn’t going to be an option. Still, be sensible about it — keep your bikes locked, don’t leave them outside overnight if you can help it, and so on.

        Being stoker is definitely easier than riding a single (captaining is harder, though, since you’re steering a heavier bike, and you have to hold it up while the stoker gets on). As stoker, you’re pretty much free to do other things with your hands, so long as you don’t throw your weight around too much or distract the captain (yes, I know, their bum is right there, but now is not a good time to cop a feel). You can take photos, prepare snacks, whatever. Usually, in my family, the stoker would have the directions (generally in a ziplock bag binder-clipped to the captain’s back jersey pockets) and would be responsible for telling the captain where to go, since the stoker can read things without worrying about having their eyes on the road.

    • I’d always hoped a tandem would be less likely to be stolen. I was caught off guard when my vintage Schwinn Twinn was targeted and stolen out of my garage (nothing else was stolen). But it just so happened that I lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood that had a long, deep culture of bicycle riding, with a premium on vintage, rare bikes. So I never saw it again, but 10 years later, I STILL look closely at any tandem that goes by, looking for her. It was in a locked garage, but in retrospect I would have U-locked it to a sold surface within the locked garage, which is what I do now.

      My advice for any bike, buy the most expensive U lock that you can afford, bolt on the wheels or lock them with a kryptonite cable and U lock.

    • Being stoker on a tandem can be a great way for someone new to or uncomfortable biking to bike with their partner. I never really learned to ride as a kid and am super wobbly/unsure on a bike, but my husband loves biking and has commuted by bike before. The tandem is the way we can enjoy biking together. I don’t have to worry about the cars or falling over and he gets a partner and second engine. But trust and communication is key.

    • Funny you brought this up–my parents have an aqua green classic old tandem that they adore and ride all over together (everything you’ve said about being noticed on a tandem is what I’ve heard from them!). Last year it was stolen right out of their locked garage, in a surprising rash of thefts in their otherwise very safe & quiet neighborhood. They were absolutely heartbroken. We shared their photo online and it had been shared so many times by all of our friends and neighbors (and my dad’s cycling community) that the police found it abandoned about a week later and returned it to them (they had filed a report). They said that it had probably been an inexperienced thief looking to resell and didn’t realize how rare & easily recognizable it was, so they gave up & left it. This seems to support the theory that tandems are less likely to be stolen… or, to stay stolen 😉

  3. I love tandeming! My parents got a tandem when I was 17 or 18, and that’s what got me back into cycling — my bike had… issues… and I was always the small, weak member of the family, so I had rather grown to dislike riding my bike with my family. When my parents got their tandem (a custom Bilenki touring bike which they would later ride across the country), usurping my mom’s spot on the back of the tandem let me ride with my parents without holding anyone back or getting left behind. A few months later, my brother and I bought a (used Santana) tandem as well, and our family went on a self-contained tour around the Finger Lakes for a week. It was my first experience with cycle-touring, and my brother and I had barely tandemed together at all previously (he was away at university), but we had a blast! It’s a lot like dancing — you can feel the other person’s movements through the frame of the bike, and if you’re paying attention, you can “follow” without needing words.

    That being said, tandeming isn’t for everyone. My husband and I tried riding my brother’s and my tandem a couple times, and it just didn’t work for us. Now, partially this may have been because my brother is 6’6″ and my husband is 5’10” so the tandem didn’t fit him/us as well (my handlebars had to be lower because his seat was lower, and I felt cramped), but also my husband didn’t like calling bumps and shifts and feeling responsible for another person on the same bike. He doesn’t like dancing, either, and I think there’s a correlation there. My husband and I happily ride our “singles” (regular bikes-built-for-one) together, and went on a 3-week bike tour for our honeymoon, but tandeming just isn’t for us as a couple.

  4. Awesome post! I always wondered how people worked together to ride a tandem bike.

    Speaking of weird bikes, I had the chance to ride one of these over the summer. It lets people with visual impairments ride a bike, groups of people get exercise while having a meeting, etc.

  5. My folks had a tiny tandem as newly weds in Germany. It was a take a part model for bus & train travel ease but perfect when the kiddos came along as it was the height of a kid bike so as elementary age kids we could ride. It was a novelty bike in the 1976 town parade in rural California, decked out in red & white crepe paper woven in the spokes, the body was blue. My Daddy drove, I was 2nd seat, next sister was in a child seat on back and baby in baby seat on front. When we moved back to Germany, it pretty much became the kids bike. Daddy finally bought a full sized tandem & as we grew we rode that one too. Moving back to the USA and getting a bit older, Daddy bought a recumbent tri wheel tandem. This summer he & Mom (70 plus young) rode it in their neighborhood bike parade. It’s been a staple of their marriage as Mom doesn’t enjoy solo biking & now with hip problems, she sometimes lets Daddy do all the work, while she relaxes for a bit. Thanks for the memory prompt. PS the grandkids like to ride the tandem with Grandpa.

    • That’s really cool! Your parents sound amazing.
      I find it funny/annoying that sometimes when I tell people we ride a tandem their immediate reaction is ‘Ha ha, he must do all the work, do you just sit there?’…er, no, I don’t. For one thing, the pedals are chained together, so if he’s pedalling mine are going up and down, which would make it very uncomfortable to just sit there without pushing. For another, it would entirely defeat the point.

  6. I loooove the idea of tandem bikes except one thing: my partner is 6′ 3″ and I’m 5′ and *almost * an inch tall. Does anyone know if they make tandem bikes for tall+tiny people to ride together?

    • Yes! When you buy a tandem the front and the back have different sizes and if you buy new you can choose the sizes independently. The guy we got ours second hand from was a tall man, and used it on the school commute with his children. It works for us too, although we’re both average size so the back is a bit smaller for me and the front is a bit larger for my husband than would be ideal.

  7. There is one thing that tandems can do and solos cannot. They allow people with poor eyesight or even blind to enjoy riding and the outdoors. Here in Israel there is a team of riders who do this and give extraordinary pleasure to many that is not possible any other way.
    Consider that as a possible contribution with tandems in your community?

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