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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 04-25-11, 04:05 PM   #1
Fasteryoufool
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I Know Jack **** About Tandems

But I wanna know more.

A little pertinent info:

Me: Car-Free, avid recreational/commuter-type cyclist, I do about 3,000 miles/year on a bicycle, and it's increasing over time.

Wife: Working on being Car-Light, likes cycling, wanting to be in better shape and looking forward to more bicycle miles.

We think we might like to try tandem cycling, but we don't have a hell of a lot of money to spend, so I've got a few questions:

1. Would one of those cheap department store tandems do short-term for deciding on whether or not tandem cycling is for us? Or would they simply be horrid enough to convince us that it's not?

2. My wife is nearly as tall as I am - she's 5'7", I'm 5'10"; can we get a tandem that'll allow us to trade back and forth for Captain and Stoker positions? Is there any reason why we shouldn't do that?

3. If we do get a cheap department store tandem, It'd be possible to upgrade the components and improve the thing overall, wouldn't it?

Educate me, please. If there's anything I haven't asked that I should have, let me know.
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Old 04-25-11, 06:57 PM   #2
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1. Probably better to find a quality used tandem if you can vs new Walmart model.

2. You are close enough in size, assuming similar proportions that soe frame might allow you to switch, especially if you are able to adjust or change stems. However, it sound like you have much more experience riding and it woold be wise for you to captain, unless you wife is the clear boss in your relationship.

3. Assuming frame was stiff enough, you could upgrade soem components but it is way more costly.

Many feel that a used Cannondale is a great first tandem if you can find one as they have good components, good frame and are good value. If you can't find on or its out of your price range, then the department store model is better than nothing but make sure you go over it and make sur eall is properly adjusted, tightened, etc.
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Old 04-25-11, 07:03 PM   #3
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If she's got the upper-body strength to hold you up when you're stopped, and if you are OK with surrendering all control and you trust her to keep you both safe, no reason at all why she can't skipper the bike. Three inches in height translates to only 1 - 1.5" in inseam (since women typically have longer legs than men of the same height, and tall women often have legs that go on forever!) so switch-fitting should not be a problem. The conventional arrangement of male forward flows mostly from the statistical preponderance of the guy being the more experienced cyclist -- and the less willing to give up command -- in the couple that decides to buy a tandem so manufacturers tool up accordingly. If the woman is a Provincial Champion and her mate a couch potato, or even a swimmer, she will probably be happier on her own racing single than toiling away in the backseat of a tandem where she can't control how tight the turns get carved. But if neither of you has ego or control problems I don't see why it couldn't work -- only you two can answer that question. It's more of a guy-girl thing than a cycling thing.

Regarding what to buy when your budget is tight, that's a tough one. Tandemgeek's most recent blog discusses the shortage of new good-quality tandems at the introductory price level and I'd suggest you have a look at it. I've never ridden a really cheap and nasty bicycle since bikes have always been a priority spending item for us, ahead of cars and houses, but I've helped people whose c&n bikes have broken down on the road and it ain't pretty. I'd "second his emotion" that good used beats cheap new. Try to get a good relationship with a good LBS though, unless you are really handy with tools, since you will be relying on them to help you fix something they didn't sell. (This is probably even more true in the case of a cheap and nasty tandem and at least good bikes are satisfying to work on no matter how old they are.)

Other than that, I'd just echo the sentiment that wherever your relationship is going, it'll get there faster on a tandem. My wife and I were instantly hooked on our first tandem test ride in 1990 and our strategy for vacations ever since has been If we can't take the tandem, we don't go. Not everyone gets the same rush so try to rent one, even a crappy amusement park rental if that's the best you can do, for a few test rides before you start looking for used ones to buy.

Edit: And no, don't bother upgrading parts on a cheap and nasty tandem: that's just throwing good money after bad. One nice thing about buying a c&n bike to start out is that when you do junk it and buy a really good one, the escalation in perceived quality per dollar spent will be greater than any future upgrade you will ever make. (Because you are starting out so far to the left on the "diminishing returns" curve.)

Last edited by conspiratemus1; 04-25-11 at 07:13 PM.
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Old 04-25-11, 07:29 PM   #4
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1. Probably better to find a quality used tandem if you can vs new Walmart model.

2. You are close enough in size, assuming similar proportions that soe frame might allow you to switch, especially if you are able to adjust or change stems. However, it sound like you have much more experience riding and it woold be wise for you to captain, unless you wife is the clear boss in your relationship.

3. Assuming frame was stiff enough, you could upgrade soem components but it is way more costly.

Many feel that a used Cannondale is a great first tandem if you can find one as they have good components, good frame and are good value. If you can't find on or its out of your price range, then the department store model is better than nothing but make sure you go over it and make sur eall is properly adjusted, tightened, etc.
I do have a huge advantage in the cycling experience department, but to get experience, you need saddle time. I trust her judgment and am willing to let her get the requisite saddle time. In fact, the reason we would like to be able to switch back and forth is that there is no boss in our partnership. And yes, her inseam is only a little shorter than mine, which is why I thought it'd be do-able to switch back and forth. She can ride my tall (for me) MTB/Urban commuter with only a slight seat post adjustment.

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Old 04-25-11, 07:37 PM   #5
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Since you are in the bay area, I'd highly recommend making an appointment at Crank2 in Pleasanton, and spend several hours test riding different bikes. I believe their least expensive KHS tandems start around $1000. Even if you don't want to buy new, you can get a good feel for what size and style you prefer, as well as get some great coaching for how to start, stop, and succeed as a team.

My wife and I bought our first tandem there recently, and had a very pleasant, educational, and satisfying experience.
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Old 04-25-11, 07:39 PM   #6
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If she's got the upper-body strength to hold you up when you're stopped, and if you are OK with surrendering all control and you trust her to keep you both safe, no reason at all why she can't skipper the bike. Three inches in height translates to only 1 - 1.5" in inseam (since women typically have longer legs than men of the same height, and tall women often have legs that go on forever!) so switch-fitting should not be a problem. The conventional arrangement of male forward flows mostly from the statistical preponderance of the guy being the more experienced cyclist -- and the less willing to give up command -- in the couple that decides to buy a tandem so manufacturers tool up accordingly. If the woman is a Provincial Champion and her mate a couch potato, or even a swimmer, she will probably be happier on her own racing single than toiling away in the backseat of a tandem where she can't control how tight the turns get carved. But if neither of you has ego or control problems I don't see why it couldn't work -- only you two can answer that question. It's more of a guy-girl thing than a cycling thing.

Regarding what to buy when your budget is tight, that's a tough one. Tandemgeek's most recent blog discusses the shortage of new good-quality tandems at the introductory price level and I'd suggest you have a look at it. I've never ridden a really cheap and nasty bicycle since bikes have always been a priority spending item for us, ahead of cars and houses, but I've helped people whose c&n bikes have broken down on the road and it ain't pretty. I'd "second his emotion" that good used beats cheap new. Try to get a good relationship with a good LBS though, unless you are really handy with tools, since you will be relying on them to help you fix something they didn't sell. (This is probably even more true in the case of a cheap and nasty tandem and at least good bikes are satisfying to work on no matter how old they are.)

Other than that, I'd just echo the sentiment that wherever your relationship is going, it'll get there faster on a tandem. My wife and I were instantly hooked on our first tandem test ride in 1990 and our strategy for vacations ever since has been If we can't take the tandem, we don't go. Not everyone gets the same rush so try to rent one, even a crappy amusement park rental if that's the best you can do, for a few test rides before you start looking for used ones to buy.

Edit: And no, don't bother upgrading parts on a cheap and nasty tandem: that's just throwing good money after bad. One nice thing about buying a c&n bike to start out is that when you do junk it and buy a really good one, the escalation in perceived quality per dollar spent will be greater than any future upgrade you will ever make. (Because you are starting out so far to the left on the "diminishing returns" curve.)
Hmmm.. Ok. The upper body strength might be an issue. Hadn't thought of that. As I mentioned, her inseam is only slightly shorter than mine (about an inch) and they do go on and on and on. I also wouldn't mind staring at her tush for hours.

As far as the C/N goes, upgrades would cost me nothing, I've got bins full of bike parts. I was thinking of replacing brakes, stems, bars, saddles, and running gear with stuff I already have. And obviously that means I'm capable of wrenching on my own bike.
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Old 04-25-11, 07:40 PM   #7
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Thanks to both of you for your replies.
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Old 04-25-11, 08:34 PM   #8
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...
As far as the C/N goes, upgrades would cost me nothing, I've got bins full of bike parts. I was thinking of replacing brakes, stems, bars, saddles, and running gear with stuff I already have. ...
...if any of your stuff fits. And there is the analogy of the real-estate dictum that you don't want to have the most expensive house in the worst neighbourhood, the "neighbourhood" being your frame. But sure, if you could tackle such a project with free parts and you can value your time as occupational-therapy hobby time doing something for the two of you, then yes, it makes sense, especially if it's your only available route into tandeming. Just be sure to think ahead about how you will take being disappointed with the result even though you would learn a lot about tandem construction.
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Old 04-25-11, 08:37 PM   #9
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Since you are in the bay area, I'd highly recommend making an appointment at Crank2 in Pleasanton, and spend several hours test riding different bikes. I believe their least expensive KHS tandems start around $1000. Even if you don't want to buy new, you can get a good feel for what size and style you prefer, as well as get some great coaching for how to start, stop, and succeed as a team.

My wife and I bought our first tandem there recently, and had a very pleasant, educational, and satisfying experience.
Unfortunately, I'm moving to Arkansas on Thursday to join her.
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Old 04-26-11, 04:41 AM   #10
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I believe the point was not to get you to a specific tandem dealer but just to get you to a good dealer. What goes on at good tandem dealers is different from what goes on at good bike stores. Tandem dealers are not just in the business of selling bikes they are in the business of helping people learn to ride tandems which are a different skill set from solos.
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Old 04-26-11, 08:17 AM   #11
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1. Would one of those cheap department store tandems do short-term for deciding on whether or not tandem cycling is for us? Or would they simply be horrid enough to convince us that it's not?
If by cheap you mean Walmart and co, even upgrading components is going to leave you with a really rough frame, in a one-size-fits someone configuration. If you can get yourself to a tandem dealer and spend a few hours test riding you can find what you would like to save for and figure out what you can live with. And whether tandem riding can work for you. And you may wind up watching for something used after and then upgrading later at said dealer.
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2. My wife is nearly as tall as I am - she's 5'7", I'm 5'10"; can we get a tandem that'll allow us to trade back and forth for Captain and Stoker positions? Is there any reason why we shouldn't do that?
The challenge will be distance from captain's saddle to captain's bars. You have proportionately longer arms and torso, and therefore would normally want the bars further away. Having them too far away will make captaining no fun for her. If you have an adjustable stem (some cheap department store bikes) or a pair of different threadless-type stems, and long enough cables, you can change back and forth, and may have enough range. There are many tandem couples that do it "backwards". A few who switch back and forth, and then blind guys with sighted wives. I don't know of any on the forum, and by "many" I mean more than a handful, but not enough to affect the manufacturers biases.
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3. If we do get a cheap department store tandem, It'd be possible to upgrade the components and improve the thing overall, wouldn't it?
The first thing to go on an inadequately built tandem is likely the wheels. A well-built pair of tandem-grade wheels is hard to find for under $500. If you can build it yourself, you're still talking $400, since the tandem-grade rims, spokes and hubs cost that much.

The next things to think about are the bottom bracket and headset. If you're only hoping to get one season of light riding out of it they may make the trip. If not...

It just doesn't take that long to eat up the cost of a good used (insert one of many favourite brands that showed up on another thread recently), or a Trek, Hakatika (sp), or KHS grade bike.
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Old 04-26-11, 09:53 AM   #12
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But I wanna know more.

A little pertinent info:

Me: Car-Free, avid recreational/commuter-type cyclist, I do about 3,000 miles/year on a bicycle, and it's increasing over time.

Wife: Working on being Car-Light, likes cycling, wanting to be in better shape and looking forward to more bicycle miles.

We think we might like to try tandem cycling, but we don't have a hell of a lot of money to spend, so I've got a few questions:

1. Would one of those cheap department store tandems do short-term for deciding on whether or not tandem cycling is for us? Or would they simply be horrid enough to convince us that it's not? No. Yes. Buy a bike that was designed for people who know the difference

2. My wife is nearly as tall as I am - she's 5'7", I'm 5'10"; can we get a tandem that'll allow us to trade back and forth for Captain and Stoker positions? Is there any reason why we shouldn't do that? No reason at all, so long as you're both happy to do a bit of 'learning to take control, learning to cede control'

3. If we do get a cheap department store tandem, It'd be possible to upgrade the components and improve the thing overall, wouldn't it? What was that , that was along the lines of 'pig lipstick?' Frame quality is all

Educate me, please. If there's anything I haven't asked that I should have, let me know. I know it's a way away, but there's a tandem expert in UK (Pete Bird) trading as 'the tandem experience', easily googled, who configures a really good tandem under the brand name 'Orbit'. I know him, but this is not a shill, just that I've found him honest and communicative. He's a good chap to talk to, as for over 20 years he's introduced a lot of people to tandeming
Good luck
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Old 04-26-11, 10:06 AM   #13
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I think it's much better to get a good used bike than a department store cheapy. The handling of a cheapy might very well be scary enough to make you or your wife not want to do it. Then they are useless if you want to sell them. I like the used mid-line bike idea much better. You can upgrade components if you want and the riding will be much better.
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Old 04-26-11, 12:00 PM   #14
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Wow, Wobbly! The UK is "a ways away" from Arkansas??!! Now THERE'S a bit of classic British understatement!!

Fasteryoufool:
1. Educate yourself - http://www.thetandemlink.com/LearningCenter.html

2. Find a bike:
a) New - Depending on where in Arkansas you're moving, you're going to be somewhere between Jack & Susan Goertz of Tandems Ltd in Birmingham, Alabama, and Mark Johnson of Precision Tandems in the Kansas City area. It might also be possible to find a local dealer that SELLS tandems, but try to find one that actually RIDES them!
B) Used - All the advice is spot on ... much better to get a used quality bike than new junk. It's all about the frame and sizing. I like to use Search Tempest to search ALL the classified and auction sites within a given radius at once.

3. Ride!

P.S. - It is NOT necessary to "hold the other person up" when tandeming. If you use the "stoker up" method of starting and stopping, it's about balancing, not pure strength. And if you both put a foot down at stops, balancing isn't even an issue. Find the method that's right for you.
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Old 04-26-11, 12:33 PM   #15
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I'd 2nd the advice of looking for a good (maybe older) used tandem over a cheap department store tandem.

Also, on the point of trading off stoker / captain positions: The stoker needs to be very trusting and the captain needs to be very trustworthy. These are quite different things. I've only been on the back of a tandem once and it scared the crap out of me. However, we've ridden 12,000+ miles with me as captain without any crashes. I don't know what might have happened if it were any other way. I think it is instructive for any captain to try being a stoker but the most careful rider should be the captain.
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Old 04-26-11, 04:59 PM   #16
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Wow, Wobbly! The UK is "a ways away" from Arkansas??!! Now THERE'S a bit of classic British understatement!!

Fasteryoufool:
1. Educate yourself - http://www.thetandemlink.com/LearningCenter.html

2. Find a bike:
a) New - Depending on where in Arkansas you're moving, you're going to be somewhere between Jack & Susan Goertz of Tandems Ltd in Birmingham, Alabama, and Mark Johnson of Precision Tandems in the Kansas City area. It might also be possible to find a local dealer that SELLS tandems, but try to find one that actually RIDES them!
B) Used - All the advice is spot on ... much better to get a used quality bike than new junk. It's all about the frame and sizing. I like to use Search Tempest to search ALL the classified and auction sites within a given radius at once.

3. Ride!

P.S. - It is NOT necessary to "hold the other person up" when tandeming. If you use the "stoker up" method of starting and stopping, it's about balancing, not pure strength. And if you both put a foot down at stops, balancing isn't even an issue. Find the method that's right for you.
Thanks for the links! The first one in particular is going to be very helpful.
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Old 04-27-11, 08:19 AM   #17
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With your situation a used tandem just would be best. You can find a pretty good used tandem for under 1K. Also this would allow you guys to try out the tandem world without a ton of cash outlay. You can always buy your dream bike later.
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Old 04-27-11, 10:49 AM   #18
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IMHO, The good used tandem route is smartest. I won't even comment on TSO (tandem shaped objects) other than to say that they are best suited for very casual use if at all. Since you are experienced and you want to expand on that in a positive way, going that route will likely lead to disappointment. In favor of the used route, You said you have lots of potential upgrade parts. If you are going to upgrade anything, to it to a Santana, Burley, Trek, Cannonade, etc. My wife and I were in pretty much the same spot that you are in now about five years ago. We bought a used Santana for $900. We rode it long enough to find our tandem groove and decide that we really wanted to get into it long term. We also discovered that she had Ulnar neuropathy and was extremely uncomfortable riding a traditional tandem on longer routes due to arm and elbow pain. This got us to try a recumbent tandem which has worked out well. The moral of the story is that we sold our Santana after two seasons for the same $900 that we paid for it. That would not have been possible on a wally-world tandem.
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Old 04-28-11, 09:22 AM   #19
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We just purchased a 1994 Trek T50 this past weekend.

I thoroughly researched the new low cost route; and the Mongoose AL Wander came out as my first choice. It is sold by Amazon, Wal-mart, and several e-bay dealers. Next, using Amazon as my source of upgrade components, I quickly doubled the price to get something that I would feel comfortable riding; not counting a 135mm OLD rear wheel that I recently built from a hub that I had laying around, Wheelsmith DH13 spokes and an Alex Adventurer XC rim. (that wheel is stiff, strong, and not very light). I had been leaning towards the AL Wanderer for awhile.....

The concerns I have about the Wanderer are addressed in the reviewers' section on Amazon. In addition, I prefer Cro-Mo to aluminum.

Then the Trek T50 showed up on Craigslist. Excellent CroMo frame, very good reviews, all of the first Trek tandems shared the same frame. One review I saw is particularly applicable to your situation - the Trek frame has more room for the stoker than most. The reviewer was comparing a Cannondale and the Trek. He found the Cannondale's stoker position very crowded. Overall, the Trek is going to cost us a couple hundred less than the AL Wanderer, and I expect that if in the future we decide to sell it, we will be able to get what we paid for it, maybe more (the seller could have done a much much better job with his ad).

IBIS tandems with independent pedaling have longer stoker areas to make room for the independent hardware. Sanatas are among the best, and if we upgrade in the future, will be what we will look for. The current Trek $1000- tandem is not any different from the $300- Wal-mart tandem.....

Read Peter White's site. I have purchase DH13 spokes from him, nice guy to talk to, and he offers DH13 spokes cut to your length specification.
http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/index.html

My recommendation: research (you are already doing that); and Craigslist.
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Old 04-29-11, 11:09 AM   #20
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We rented one from a bike rental place along a scenic rails-to-trails path. We wore our bike clothing and I took my pedals and shoes. We made a day out of it, and this was a good introduction to tandem riding. We both liked it, so we test-rode a used tandem that showed up within a reasonable distance. The seller brought his road bike along and he showed us some of his favorite local roads. It was fun but not the bike for us. The next season we test rode a completely different style tandem. This one we knew quickly into the ride that we had to buy it.

I think that after you ride a few, you'll know the one you want.
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Old 04-29-11, 12:09 PM   #21
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We have a similar story. Had friends with a tandem, and thought we might like it too. While on vacation we rented a tandem (a really crappy cruiser) and rode it for several hours. We decided we would enjoy it, especially on a better bike. Started looking on Craigslist and found 3 decent tandems within a couple of weeks. Ended up buying a used Santana for $600, and luckily the frame fit us. Rode it for about a year with DT friction shifters and a 6 speed cassette, and a rear wheel which needed truing about once a month. Have since upgraded to a 9 speed with new deraileurs and indexed bar end shifters. Also had new wheels built and replaced the captains stem, both seat posts and saddles. All told, I've spent $600 initially and another $1000 in upgrades. I'd definitely recommend a good used bike that you can either resell if you buy something better, or keep and upgrade.
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