Join Date: Nov 2005
Bikes: Univega Via Montega, Nashbar Aluminum frame/105 roadbike
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A quick rundown of what will be suspect on a $500 tandem:
Wheels are almost certainly not tandem specific. 26" mountain bike wheels will likely be ok for on-road duty though, so long as you make sure spoke tensions are good and run them at the upper end of the tire pressure range.
Good brakes are important for safety reasons. A Tandem has twice the inertia of a regular bike, but can actually stop much more quickly than a normal bike due to it's longer wheelbase, but only if the brakes are up to it. A disc brake on a $500 is suspect. A decent quality cable operated disc brake is around $100. The likelihood that 1/5 of the value of the bike is in the front brake, is very small.
The shifting performance won't be great as it's almost certainly got 'department store' level drivetrain. That means Shimano Tourney or such. This is compounded by the fact that the loads on tandem drivetrains are higher than on singles, and longer cable runs make for increased friction in the shifting mechanism.
All this to say, if you buy it, get it checked out by a tech at a real bike shop. Don't expect more of it, durability and performance wise than you would a $250 department store bike. But if it meets your needs, short rides on multi use paths and such, enjoy!
The option many people here would suggest would be to find an older, quality tandem in decent shape. They'll be made with better quality parts that will probably last much longer and work better than the stuff on that bike. The downside is having to wait around and keep your eyes peeled for a deal to pop up.