Any Dopers expert on tandem bicycles?

I and my wife are very experienced bicyclists. We ride high quality bikes and have done many long distance trips.

My wife has developed a medical condition that makes me concerned that she should no longer ride independently. Yet, bicycling is a passion for her. It invigorates her.

It seems the solution is to buy a tandem. While I know a lot about bikes I know little about tandems. I would appreciate knowing things to look for and avoid when shopping for a tandem.

What are the important factors to consider? Should the thing be custom fit? Any other factual information would be appreciated. Price is not a major consideration but I don’t want to go overboard because I don’t know how much longer she will be able to ride at all.

Back in uni in Texas, I had a blind friend who bought a tandem bicycle so he could bike ride. (He was the one in back, of course.) I recall it being just some beat-up second-hand bike he found somewhere, nothing special, but still It was a lot of fun. So I wouldn’t overthink it.

My wife and I bought a tandem about ten years ago and love it. We even have a special roof rack to take it to scenic places. Find a high-end bike store that has several in stock that will let you and your wife try them out. When we bought our bike the sales guy spent a lot of time teaching us how to ride a tandem. Sounds like a great idea for you. Good luck!

What exactly is the medical condition, if I may ask? If it’s a balance issue, she may be happier on a trike than a tandem.

My wife and I have a pair of recumbent trikes that can be coupled together. (One is a Hase Kettwiesel and the other is a Greenspeed Anura). This works well for us because we normally ride separately; we only couple them when we go on vacations. It also has the benefit of independent gearing & pedaling; normal tandems force both riders to have the same cadence. But if a normal (upright 2-wheel) tandem works for you, it will be faster & lighter than our setup.

You’ll find the main issues are wheel strength, and brakes.

Both these can put huge pressure on the hubs. I am not up to date on how useful disc brakes would be on tandems, but again the main issue will be the hub quality.

The stoker can get quite hot as they do not have the airflow around them. Tandems in general are much poorer at climbing so you need to look carefully at your gearing.

Tandems go rather fast downhill, again you need to make sure of your brakes - generally speaking, pretty much anything you do on a tandem takes longer than on a solo machine, from turning, to stopping to starting off.

You will go through a goodly few tyres, but since you have half the number of wheels as 2 solo machines, its not an issue - if you go out on a tour - tyres that you might limp home on a solo machine just won’t cut it on tandem.

One discussion you need to have before the first ride: Which foot are we putting down on the ground when we stop.
If you don’t have this discussion you will wind up doing a horizontal track stand.

It’s a memory issue. Balance is fine. Operating the shifters has become problematic. That’s not good when riding in hilly terrain. She sometimes forgets to stay together. Still, she loves being on a bicycle. A tri wouldn’t be for her.

My wife and I rented a tandem a few times before we bought. We have totally different decision-making and communication styles, and we wanted to make sure it would work with me in front making the decisions and having to communicate them back (you always let your stoker know what’s going on). Happily, we found it could work, and have spent many hours on our tandem, commuting, doing centuries and week-long tours, visiting grandkids, going to the farmers market, etc.

However, another couple we ride with tried out a tandem and didn’t get out of the parking lot because they could not find a way to mesh their riding and thinking into a single unit.

So definitely try before buy!

I’m interested in this subject as my wife has slight balance issues and can’t solo ride anymore. We’ve discussed renting a tandem to see it it would work for us.

I’ve noticed that newer tandems tend to have disc brakes and many have 36-spoke wheels.

Never road tandemed, but stoked an MTB offroad for several years.

I would also recommend looking for a shop that will let you test ride. Or better yet, rent one for a few hours to try it out and then test ride others. Tandeming can make or break you as a couple - if you’re still laughing and having fun after a few rides, you’ll probably be fine. If you’re not speaking to each other, I’d give it more thought.

You can get some awesome bikes on the high end of things, if you’ve got the cash, but I’d suggest starting with something decent (any of the major brands) on the low end. Riding a tandem is very different from a single; what fits on one may not work on the other.

How tall are you? How tall is she? There’s a fair range of sizing available but you may need custom if you’re at the extremes. Otherwise, I’d wait and buy custom after you’ve ridden for a while and know what you want.

JerrySTL, I’d be very careful with balance issues. Just because the stoker isn’t steering doesn’t mean they can’t take the bike down. I’ve done it.

Yes, riding a tandem requires a lot of communication and coordination. I think it’s actually more difficult if both riders are experienced cyclists, because they can have ingrained habits that aren’t compatible - things like pedaling cadence, how much they coast vs. pedal, how often to shift, etc. My wife and I were the same way on a 2-wheel tandem (recumbent), I like to keep my cadence high and within a narrow range while she prefers a much slower cadence. An independent pedaling system helps in this regard, but you lose the communication through the pedals (the stoker doesn’t know the captain stopped pedaling). I agree with “try before you buy”, or at least buy a used bike so it doesn’t depreciate much if you need to sell it.

As for brakes - rim brakes can be inadequate for hilly rides. We had issues with on our 2-wheel tandem recumbent, the rim overheated during long descents. We added Arai drum brakes. I’m not sure how disc brakes do, but they seem to be popular on tandems now.

tandems are really great fun, tips for riding, start on the flat first time, down hill will scare you silly and uphill you will simply fall off. Communicate, say when your going to stop pedaling, otherwise feet will fly off! same with starting at least till you get the feel.

tips for buying. Brakes! you need good ones, more brakes is good as 40mph is easy to reach…and horribly fast on a bike. Heavy duty wheels are good too. Tyres less so but they do need to be pumped up freekin’ hard so get good tubes. Gears, you going to do more slogging uphill (hard to stand up ) so low is good.

My guess is if you can canoe together without arguments, you should be able to ride tandem together as well. The issues are different, but fall under the tent of cooperation. If cooperating is more important to everyone than … um, being right or whatever, then it’s all good.

I don’t have much to add here, but the neighbors had a tandem we all used to ride as kids, and I don’t remember any particular difficulties. But then, kids are used to arguing, working stuff out, or just strong-arming. I do remember having fun riding it alone, sitting in the back seat. What I can’t remember is how I would get started! :slight_smile:

From The Onion:
New Tandem Mobility Scooter Released

I’m sure this is relevant, and important. :slight_smile: