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Review of Tandem Bikes

Tandem bikes require a bit of practice to master, but the fun of riding around with a partner can be well worth the learning curve. These bikes are designed with stout frames and wheels to handle the weight of two riders and can accelerate to higher speeds with greater stability than a bike with a single rider, since they have twice the leg power and a longer wheelbase.

Stoking the Furnace

A tandem bike lets two riders of different strengths and skill levels ride together on a single bike. The rear rider, called a stoker, has no control on the steering and merely aids pedaling with his or her own chainring and pedals. The front rider, called the captain, controls the steering and braking and sets the pace for pedaling. A very long chain runs between both riders, giving the front rider the ability to choose the speed, while the rear rider provides a boost. Syncing up your pedaling correctly takes some time to master, but the additional rider gives a tandem bike a substantial increase in speed, easily out-pacing single-rider bicycles on downhills and flat roads.

Tandem Frame of Mind

The frames of tandem bikes need to compensate for two riders and a substantial increase in power, so the best tandem bikes have thick tubing and struts to reinforce both seat tubes and the front head tube. Tandem bike frames are most often made of steel and aluminum, but some tandem bikes can be built with more expensive materials -- like titanium or carbon fiber -- for reduced weight and higher stiffness. A tandem bike designed with frame couplers can be taken apart for storage and transport, which eliminates the bike's size as an inconvenience.

Real Wheels

A tandem bike's wheels are built extremely strong, with high spoke counts and wide, powerful rims. Tandem bikes can use the same wheel sizes as traditional bikes, with 700c being the most popular road size. These wheels can have spoke counts of 40 or more spokes, which provide tension evenly throughout the rim to prevent bending under the increased stress of a heavier load. On the best tandem bikes, wide and durable tires reduce your chance of a flat and provide good traction.

Double Features

Tandem bikes can be tailored to the preferences of each rider. Both the captain and the stoker can choose their own seats and handlebars for a custom fit. Because the rear rider is placed closer to the back wheel, a suspension seatpost can reduce jarring and vibration for greater comfort. Tandem bikes can also be loaded with extra features, like more powerful disc brakes, fenders, lights and mirrors to make your ride as safe and convenient as possible.

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About the Author

Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.

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