We hear the same questions from many of our customers and it’s likely that you share the same concerns. To help you understand some tandem bike basics, we’ve included our list of the most commonly asked questions.

Tandem Bicycle FAQ

We hear that tandems are divorce machines. Is that true?

This one makes us chuckle! People come into our shop and tell us that friends say buying a tandem is sure to result in divorce. Well, after more than 16 years of tandem riding, we sure haven’t found that to be the case! We can assure you that NONE of our customers has EVER come back and blamed their tandem bike purchase for their divorce!

Do you think the couple in this photo is having a bad time?! On the contrary, we believe that tandems enhance marriages and relationships, and we know this firsthand! The vast majority of customers who buy tandems from Tandem Cycle Works do so as a way to ride together, to get fit together, and to spend quality time “two-gether.” This is hardly the formula for divorce!

Do tandems come in different sizes?

Just like single bikes, tandems come in a variety of sizes. Many customers assume that they need a custom-sized tandem and shops that don’t know tandems may encourage you to purchase a custom-sized bike. While some tandem riders do need a custom-sized bike, most do not. It will cost you more money to purchase a custom-sized tandem and this is money that you may NOT need to spend.

Because most shops are not familiar with the nuances of tandem fit, they try to fit tandem riders the same as those purchasing single bikes. There are different concerns when fitting a tandem and these are specific to the rider in the front (the captain) and to the rider in the back (the stoker). Any shop that attempts to duplicate your fit on a tandem from your single bike is NOT fitting you properly! This is one reason why it is so important to work with Tandem Cycle Works for your tandem purchase. The bike should fit YOU — you shouldn’t have to make yourself fit the bike!

How do you size a bike for 2 people?

Perhaps the most important step in selecting a new tandem is ensuring that it fits correctly. Tandem Cycle Works has more experience fitting tandem teams than anyone. Like singles, tandem bicycles are fully adjustable, so fitting the tandem to you is easily achieved. With years of experience, we’ll see to it that your tandem’s fit will be just right.

One difference between singles and tandems is that the captain requires more standover clearance. Since the captain holds up the bike at stops, straddling the bike with more clearance than on a single is required. On the other hand, the stoker doesn’t need to be so concerned with standover clearance, because this rider usually remains seated while the captain holds up the bike during starts and stops.

Of particular concern is handlebar reach for both riders. New captains need a little different riding position than on a single, due to bike handling and weight distribution differences on the tandem. At Tandem Cycle Works, we can recommend the appropriate settings for new captains. It’s an easier adjustment for stokers, as all of our tandem bicycles are equipped with adjustable stoker stems that allow for fine-tuning the reach to the bars for the rear rider.

The best way to gauge tandem fit is to visit Tandem Cycle Works and take some tandems for test rides.

Should I buy a coupled tandem for travel?

Couplers are an optional feature on tandems that allow for bicycle frames to come apart for packing ease. Frames like these are engineering marvels. We sell more tandem bikes with couplers than anyone, anywhere. This is the main reason why customers return to Tandem Cycle Works to buy their SECOND tandem: they fall in love with riding together, then decide they want to travel with their tandem.

While it is possible to fly with a non-coupled tandem, taking one on a flight can be very expensive. Our manufacturers’ coupled tandems (by Calfee and Co-Motion) are designed to fit into two cases that are “airline legal.” To date, we have never been charged to take our coupled bike with us on planes.

BEWARE! Other tandem builders DO make tandems with couplers, but they may NOT fit into the cases that are “airline legal.” This seems ridiculous to us — why buy a bike with couplers if it will only fit into oversized cases?! You may get charged oversized luggage fees, which can be several HUNDRED dollars, each way!

If the idea of tandem travel appeals to you, we hope that you will speak with us about a coupled tandem before making this very important purchase.

Do we both always need to pedal?

The answer to this is yes. On most tandem bikes, the pedals move synchronously because you are connected by what is known as the timing chain. Would-be tandem riders think this is a drawback, due to such things as differences in fitness or pedaling style. But ask any couple who rides a tandem regularly and they will tell you that these differences are quickly forgotten after the first few rides.

When you ride together on a tandem bicycle, you quickly become a team and differences in ability, coasting, or riding styles become unimportant. Once you realize that it’s a team sport, your goal will be to work together, to enjoy the effort, and get a good workout all at the same time!

Who sits in front?

First of all, the person who sits in front and controls the tandem is called the captain. The one who sits in the back and does nothing but pedal is referred to as the stoker. We often hear that tandem riders are “sexist” because the guy usually rides in the front or captain position. While it is true that usually the guy sits up front, this is due to physiology, not psychology!

Tandems handle much better when the heavier, larger rider is in the captain position. By putting the larger rider up front, the weight is better distributed on the frame. All modern tandems are designed for the bigger person to sit in the captain’s position.

When you get up close to a tandem bike, you’ll see that almost all tandems are taller in the front position compared to the rear. Manufacturers build their bikes this way for many reasons, which include important considerations such as frame stiffness and aerodynamics. As such, this places the taller rider in the front and the smaller rider in the stoker position. Unless a couple is very similar in height, it just makes sense to fit the taller rider up front and the smaller person in the back, as the tandem fits each rider much better this way.

We are guessing that you probably know this, but men and women are different! This is especially true when it comes to muscle mass and strength. Captaining a tandem bicycle requires more strength than riding a single, since the captain must control a heavier bike and the combined weight of two people. For most couples, it makes sense for the man to captain the tandem.

The bottom line? The guy acts as the captain and the gal finds herself stoking. While it is possible for some couples to switch positions on the tandem — and sometimes necessary for the woman to captain, as in the case of sight-impaired men — for most teams, it really comes down to size, stature, and strength.

Finally, ask any stoker you meet if SHE minds riding on the back. Chances are pretty good that she LOVES it!

Are tandems hard to ride?

If you know how to ride a bike, you’ll quickly learn to ride a tandem. It’s not difficult to ride a tandem, but it IS different! With two of you on the same bike, riding a tandem is like dancing together. It takes a little practice! When you visit Tandem Cycle Works, we will happily give you “dance” lessons! This is something that sets us apart from other shops and we encourage you to read the first ride tutorial. We’ve been riding tandem bikes for quite a while, so we’ll make sure you have a great time!

Do we need disc brakes?

For most couples, the answer is a resounding YES! Our shop is located at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, so at Tandem Cycle Works every bike we sell is equipped with disc brakes, front and rear. Even if we did not live in Colorado, we would still choose to have disc brakes on our personal bike. The added stopping power of disc brakes is a must for tandem bikes.

Disc brakes provide the very best stopping power available. Rim brakes simply do not have the same stopping power. And while you may have heard of drum brakes, these are no longer made. Disc brakes are far superior to ANY other braking system we have ever seen on tandems. Unless you are racing or live in a place that is flat and have no intention of riding elsewhere, disc brakes are a “must-have.”

What are the most popular bikes sold at Tandem Cycle Works?

At Tandem Cycle Works, the most popular bikes sold are the Co-Motion Carrera Co-Pilot and the Co-Motion Supremo Co-Pilot. We think both of these tandems are truly awesome bikes. Because we enjoy traveling with our tandem, we must have a bike with couplers. We can equip the Co-Pilot with racks and panniers, and ride off into the sunset for a self-supported tour. Yet, when we are looking to ride a century or more, these beauties can hammer out the miles.

Are there bike tours specifically for tandem riders?

Yes! Each year, TandemBicycleTours.com offers domestic and international tours, just for tandem riders.

How do you travel with a tandem bike?

Coupled tandems allow you to take your bike almost any place you can imagine! From planes, trains, and boats, to taxis, buses, and rental cars, our coupled tandem has allowed us unlimited freedom in going where we want, when we want.

Non-coupled bikes CAN be taken on most major airlines as well, but things get a bit more complicated. Please see our extensive discussion of travel with tandems and travel cases.

What options are available for tandems?

One of the great things about modern tandem bicycles is overall improvement in handling and comfort. Captains have always been comfy because they sit in the middle of the long frame, which flexes enough to cushion road shock. In back, stokers are less likely to see the potholes coming, so a good captain always calls out bumps. Even the best captains sometimes miss bumps though, so we highly recommend a suspension seatpost for the stoker seat.

A great advantage of tandems is being able to mix and match components to suit both riders. For example, many models sport different handlebars in the front and rear so that both riders can stretch out and move around to stay comfortable.

Like other bicycle equipment, tandem components have come a long way. All of our tandems feature triple cranksets with low gearing that makes climbing easier. Recent innovations include high profile, low spoke-count tandem wheels; front and rear disc brakes; carbon forks and cranks; and even carbon fiber reinforced belts to replace chains! A relatively new option to consider is electronic shifting. A good quality tandem today is light, fast, and fun.

Should we buy a mountain tandem or a road tandem?

One of the first decisions is which wheel size to get. Tandems come with 26-inch or 700c wheels. The former is usually found on comfort, off-road, and all-around tandems; the latter is found on tandems made for pavement. Typically, the 26-inch wheeled tandems feature flatter handlebars for more upright body position, while 700c bikes include drop handlebars for a more aerodynamic riding style.

To help you decide on the tandem for your riding style, begin by asking yourselves the following:

Is riding comfort your number one priority?

Will you ride at least 25% of the time on graded dirt or rough roads?

When riding with others, is your goal to have fun without being first?

If you answer “yes” to any or all of these questions, a 26-inch wheeled tandem is probably for you. It’s important to understand that most 26-inch wheels work fine on pavement, too. More tire choices are available for these wheels, so you can easily install knobby tires for dirt use and slicks for the street. The 26-inch tires are fatter, too, so they also absorb some road shock, which smoothes the ride. For these reasons, you might prefer 26-inchers if you’re purchasing a tandem for all-around riding.

If your idea of tandem fun is century riding, long-distance touring, or racing, you should consider 700c wheels for the same reasons that serious roadies embrace them. The wheels are lighter, faster and more efficient, which means more of your pedaling energy goes into forward motion. If this is important to you, go with the 700c.

Do tandems have a lot of frame flex?

In the 1970s and 80s, when available tandems were few and far between, there were some flexible flyers that gave tandem bicycles a bad reputation. These bicycles were made of cheap steel and the frame designs were inadequate. Not surprisingly, these under-built machines tended to wobble and sway, and were difficult for the captain to control.

These early tandems served an important purpose, however, as they taught modern designers how to build sweet-riding frames. Today, tandems are efficient, stable, comfortable, and wonderful to ride. In fact, due to major improvements in tandem design, the bikes have gained in popularity, and more styles and options are available to fit your needs.

We feel strongly that to get a QUALITY tandem frame, you are best served by buying a tandem bike from a builder who has EXPERIENCE in building two-seaters. All the manufacturers we represent at Tandem Cycle Works have many years of tandem-building experience.

Where should we buy our tandem?

With all of these choices, selecting the right tandem may seem complicated. That’s where our expertise comes in. At Tandem Cycle Works, you can have confidence that you’ll purchase the right tandem for YOU. Since our knowledge and selection of tandems is greater than any other shop in the country, we’ll not only help you make the best decision, but you’ll also get the chance for a proper test ride. Once you’ve ridden a few, we’re confident you’ll be hooked!

Now that you know a little more about tandems, we hope that you’ll visit Tandem Cycle Works and see them in person. Check out our different models, compare brands, and let us help you decide which suits you best. We’ll be happy to send you out on a test ride and if you’re new to tandeming, we’ll teach you how to ride one. You’ll love it!