A bicycle made for two was all the rage in the hard-pressed 1930’s when most could folk not afford a horseless carriage. One of the first signs of a couple’s commitment was buying a tandem to enjoy the freedom of less crowded roads. With cars becoming more affordable in the 1950’s, tandems dwindled in popularity but since the 1980’s the sight of a tandem is no longer quite such a novelty.
Why choose a tandem?
Tandems are an ideal solution for partners of different riding abilities (and disabilities such blindness) who want to ride together, or two strong riders who want to cover ground. Twice the motive power but much less than twice the weight of a single cycle means tandems really fly on flat, rolling terrain and hill descents. Climbing is considered to be more difficult, but a well co-ordinated tandem team can climb amazingly well.
Tandems are also great for loaded rides or touring because the extra weight is less noticeable than on a single.
Brands to look out for
Mainstream cycle manufacturers such as Cannondale and Dawes are joining specialists like Santana, Helios, Orbit and Co-motion in tandem production. If a couple takes to the tandem experience on rented machine, there are specialists who will build a tandem to order.
This guide provides a run-down of components, easy to buy through eBay. It will help you specify a tandem that suits you and your cycling partner’s individual requirements. It will also assist tandem owners in upgrading their existing machine, or a newly acquired pre-owned tandem.
The differences with a tandem
Tandems do not differ hugely compared with regular bikes in terms of equipment, but before detailing the anatomy of a tandem, it’s important to clarify terms that are tandem specific and keep cropping up in relation to components.
Captain or pilot
The rider in front who controls the bike when travelling and steadies the bike when stationary
The rider in the rear who keeps on pedalling right from the start
Sync., timing or cross-over chain
The chain that connects the captain’s crankset to the stoker’s crankset
Sync., timing or cross-over rings
Chainrings typically found on the left side of the tandem
The part which allows the long timing chain to be adjusted to maintain tightness
Brake threaded on to the rear hub, typically used to curb speed on long descents without overheating the rim (a tandem plus riders makes up a weighty ensemble)
It’s important to choose components that fit both the purpose and the people. The choice of wheel size relates to what the tandem will be used for. 26” wheels for tandem equates to a mountain bike and 27” for the tandem equivalent of a road bike. Combine the appropriate wheel size with a good handlebar option (straights, drops or butterfly) and the tandem can be the perfect partnership transport.
There being two people to take into account makes frame sizing slightly more involved than sizing for a regular bike. The front of the bike should fit the captain, so he or she can straddle the bike with both feet planted firmly. Because the stoker’s handlebars attach to the captain’s seat post, the captain’s seat cannot go all the way down. A couple of inches are required for the stoker’s stem clamp. The captain's reach should be the same as on his or her single bike. Typically, the rear stem size should be adjustable to be 1 or 2 inches shorter than the front. Of course, the stoker must be able to reach the pedals when on the saddle.
The naming of the parts
There are lots of different frame designs and materials in lots of different sizes. Steel is still one of the most popular materials, but tandems can also be found in aluminium, carbon-fibre and titanium. Then there is the wheel size difference. You can get 26 inch wheels or 700C. For strictly off-road, the 26 inch wheels and maybe some form of suspension are a good idea. For strictly road riding, 700C may be the obvious choice. For a mixture of road and trail, or expedition touring, 26" wheels offer great versatility and strength. Smaller captains may need to consider 26" wheels to get a good fit.
After the frame, good strong hubs are one of the biggest investments. The spacing on a rear hub will most likely either be 145 mm or 160 mm. People who already have a tandem should note that Santana and a few others prefer 160 and Co-Motion, Burley and Cannondale prefer 145. Hubs with larger axles tend to hold up to tandem abuse better. Due to the added weight and stress, tandems may also have more spokes - 40 and 48 spokes are common. Rear hubs may have threading for a drum brake. Shimano tandem hubs are good for the budget minded. And there are loads of others.
Choose sturdy ones for the extra weight. Given that a wider tyre may be required the rim should be wider, too. Again because of the issue of spoke count, rims with 40 and 48 holes are available.
Standard cranks normally have chainrings on the right side and no chainrings on the left. Timing cranks, the ones on the left with chainrings have reverse pedal threads, as does the captain's right crank.
The eccentric goes into the front bottom bracket shell. The front bottom bracket goes inside the eccentric. As the name suggests, it has a non-round axis, and by rotating it, the timing chain can be made tighter or looser.
On tandems the chain is long. Any chains will work, roughly one and a half one joined together.
This attaches to the captain's seat post. Therefore it must match the captain's seat post in size. Some are adjustable, so the reach can be changed easily. If no adjustment is necessary get a non-adjustable stem in a specific size and save some grams.
The tandem issue here is being narrow enough to stay clear of the captain's hips. This is highly dependent on relative positions and varies considerably from team to team. In general, go for wider bars for the stoker. A stoker also may not need or want a full drop bar. Bullhorns, like those found on time trial and triathlon bikes are popular.
Wider captain's handlebar
While this is not a tandem-specific issue, a captain may choose to use a slightly wider bar than on a single, simply to gain more leverage, or control.
Tandems are much longer than single bikes, so cables need to be longer to reach the back to derailleur and rear brakes. One can avoid the use of special long tandem cables by using a DaVinci In-Line Cable Splitter, making travel easier since one can decouple the cables and separate the handlebars from the rest of the bike, without having to readjust cables.
Derailleurs and shifters
Modern derailleur (or derailer) gears have become much better in recent years at handling the wide range of gears demanded by tandems. Tandem dynamics are such that it is easy to spin out of a top gear, or bog down in a low gear in the absence of a really wide range. The new Dura Ace front derailleur is designed for a 14 tooth difference in outer chainrings. This is great for tandems, which often require a really big outer ring, combined with a more moderate middle ring. If a larger than 27 tooth cog is required in the back, go for the off-road bike type of rear derailleur. Otherwise, the road models will work quite well enough.
Wheels do offer great versatility. There is a variety of tyres available from 1" narrow slicks to wide knobbly ones. Typically the clearance on frames built for 26" wheels is good enough to use any tyre. While wide and knobbly 700C tyres are available, most frames (for 700C) do not have the clearance for really wide tyres. Tandems tend to be better than singles in this regard, and many production models will take a 32mm tyre.
Good brakes are essential. Many tandems are now fitted with linear pull (v-brakes). When combined with an appropriate brake lever, these brakes are very good on a tandem, and their levers can be mated with bar-end gear shifters. Old fashioned wide cantilever brakes are designed to work with the cable pull of standard drop bar levers.
A drum brake
Threaded on to the rear hub is not an emergency brake; it is not really designed to stop the bike. It does perform quite well keeping speed under control on long descents. It is inadvisable to have both rim brakes on one lever and the drum on the other. Independent modulation of rim brakes is crucial, especially in the wet.
Two of many things.
Everything else is pretty standard, but doubled - bars, saddles, pedals. Just choose according to your preference. Captains and stokers may use different pedal systems, saddles etc.
The Value of Buying Used Parts
Buying used replacement tandem parts is the best way to get good value. Sometimes they are nearly new; sometimes they have never been used. Either way, market forces prevent the seller from asking anywhere near the original price. This provides a great opportunity to buy premium brands like Shimano and Campagnolo for less than the high street charges for new parts. It is also more sustainable to buy used parts.
Start by searching extensively for pre-owned parts on eBay and get to know market price levels well. Having made a short list, read through the product descriptions thoroughly to tell whether the parts meet your needs. Look carefully at the photos, check they are of the original product and not just a stock photo from the manufacturer’s website. If you are not satisfied with any of the details then do not hesitate to Ask the Seller to get clarification. You may also want to request further photographs if you want to see parts of the product more clearly or from an angle not shown in the listing.
Try to ascertain the reasons for selling. Many cyclists sell because they want to upgrade. This means that it is possible to get relatively new wheels in a good condition at very competitive prices. If you are not clear about the history of the parts, especially major components such as forks, frames and wheels, you should ask the seller. If they have been taken off a tandem belonging to the seller, was it kept indoors or outdoors and what kind of mileage has it done?
How to Buy Used Tandem Parts on eBay
Now that you've worked out which used tandem parts you want, find them quickly on eBay. While you shop, don't forget Vintage Parts and Wheels, Rims & Hubs. To start shopping, go to the Sports and Leisure category. Click the Sporting Goods portal and click Cycling.
The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links for Bikes, Bike Parts, Clothing, Footwear & Helmets, Cycling Accessories, Trophies and Other Cycling. As you refine your search you'll be able to narrow down your choice by subcategory.
Use the Used Parts Finder to quickly narrow down item listings by type brand, model and condition. (New or used)
Search eBay listing titles for specific words. For example, if you want to find used Tandem parts, type the keywords “Tandem parts used" (without quotation marks) into the Search box. Click "Search title and description" to expand your results. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more tips on searching with keywords.
If you can't find exactly what you want, try browsing eBay Stores or tell the eBay Community what you’re looking for by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a matching item becomes available.
Buy Used Tandem Parts with Confidence
Make sure that you know exactly what you’re buying and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.
Know your item
Read the details in the item listing carefully.
Remember to add delivery costs to your final price. If you’re buying a high value item, check that the seller will insure it until it is delivered to you.
If you want more information, click the “Ask seller a question” button on the seller’s profile or the “Ask a question” link at the bottom of the item listing page.
Always complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy it Now or Best Offer) otherwise you will not be covered by eBay Buyer Protection.
Never pay for your eBay item using an instant cash wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. These are not safe ways of paying someone you do not know.
Know your seller
Research your seller so that you feel safe and positive about every transaction.
- What is the seller’s Feedback rating?
- How many transactions have they completed?
- How many positive responses do they have?
- What do buyers say in their Feedback?
- Are they positive about the seller?
Most top eBay sellers operate like retail shops and have a returns policy.
- Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
- What are their terms and conditions?
In the very unlikely event that you do not receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection your purchase price plus original delivery cost.
Buying a new tandem can typically cost from £1,500 to £2,500 - and over £5,000 for a high-end carbon fibre model. But it’s possible to find a good new frame for under £700 and build up from there, buying parts separately. The investment in time and money is worth it. What else could revitalise health, relationships and sense of well-being, open up new worlds and a lifetime of fun, closeness and shared memories?