BikeParts Wiki
File:TandemTurkey01 ST 05.jpg

A tandem mountain bike

File:Tandem loaded for touring.JPG

A tandem loaded for bicycle touring with front and rear racks and panniers


A large tandem, or more specifically, a quint (for 5 people)

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A very large tandem (for 10 people)

The tandem bicycle or twin is a form of bicycle (occasionally, a tricycle) designed to be ridden by more than one person. The term tandem refers to the seating arrangement (fore to aft, not side-by-side) instead of the number of riders. A bike with two riders side-by-side is called a sociable.


Patents related to tandem bicycles date from the late 1800s.[1] In approximately 1898, Mikael Pedersen developed a tandem version of his Pedersen bicycle that weighed 24 pounds and a quad that weighed 64 pounds.[2] Tandem popularity began to decline after WWII until Bill McReady at Santana Cycles instigated a revival.[3] Modern technology has improved component and frame designs, and many tandems are as well-built as modern high-end road and off-road bikes.


Compared to a conventional bicycle, a tandem has double the pedalling power with only slightly more frictional loss in the drivetrain. It has about the same wind resistance as a conventional bicycle. High performance tandems may weigh less than twice as much as a single bike, so the power to weight ratio can be slightly better than that of a single bike and rider. On flat terrain and downhill, most of the power produced by cyclists is used to overcome wind resistance, so tandems can reach higher speeds than the same riders on single bicycles. They are not necessarily slower on climbs, but are perceived as such, in part due the need for a high level of coordination between the riders, especially if the physical abilities of the two riders are very different, requiring a compromise on cadence.


On conventional tandems, the front rider steers the bicycle and is known as the captain, pilot, or steersman; the rear rider only pedals and is known as the stoker, navigator, or rear admiral. On most tandems the two sets of cranks are mechanically linked by a timing chain and turn at the same rate. As time has moved on so has the use of 'Captain' and 'Stoker' as terms for riders of a tandem.[citation needed] As both are seen as riders the use of the words 'front rider' and 'rear rider' are far more descriptive to modern Tandem riders.


Tandem bicycles are often used in competitions such as the Paralympics with blind and visually impaired cyclists riding as stokers with fully-sighted captains.


Independent tandem cycle.

File:Tandem recumbent bicycle.jpg

A tandem recumbent bicycle.


More than two riders[]

Tandems can have more than 2 riders — tandem refers to the arrangement of the riders one behind the other rather than the number of riders. Bicycles for three, four, or five riders are referred to as "triples" or "triplets", "quads" or "quadruplets", and "quints" or "quintuplets" respectively. One such familiar to UK TV viewers was the "trandem" ridden by The Goodies. Originally a 2-man tandem with an extra "dummy" seat attached, a full 3-man version was built for them by Raleigh.

Independent pedaling[]

Some designs such as the DaVinci allow independent pedaling through the use of multiple freewheels. In another design, the rear rider steers and propels the rear wheel with pedals, and the front rider propels the front wheel with both hands and feet.[4]

Seating arrangements[]

Tandems come with both upright and recumbent seating.

The Bilenky ViewPoint (originally the Opus Counterpoint) is a semi-recumbent tandem steered by the captain who sits upright in the rear, while the stoker rides in a recumbent position in the front. The Angletech Harmony is another semi-recumbent tandem. (Both also feature independent stoker pedaling.)

The "Buddy Bike" is designed to allow a child to sit on the front saddle with an adult on the rear saddle and steering with extra long handlebars.[5]

File:Hf tandem.jpg

hand & foot tandem trike .

Double steering[]

Both riders, in the case of just two, may be able to steer. The Star Cycle Company, of Woverhampton, England, marketed its "Combination Roadster tandem" in 1896. It had a link from the second set of handlebars to the front fork.[6]


Tandems are also available as tricycles; the conventional tandem trike has a small but devoted following in the United Kingdom, and is available in one-wheel and two-wheel drive designs. Recumbent tandem tricycles are also gaining popularity throughout the world[1].



An S&S Tandem packed into two travel cases.

It is possible to add couplers either during manufacturing or as a retrofit so that the frame can be disassembled into smaller pieces to facilitate packing and travel. Santana manufactures a "triplet (or quad) that can be transformed into a tandem by simply removing the center section of the frame."[7]

Tandem specific components[]

Tandems are subjected to unique stresses caused by additional riders and weight requiring solutions specific to tandem construction. The phrase "Tandem Specific" was popularized by its use in Santana tandem catalogs during the 1990s.

Drive train[]

File:Tandem chain rings.jpg

The most popular tandem drive train. The red chain rings are the same size, so the tandem pedals can be in sync.

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Stoker doesn't necessarily face front or have drive train engaged

To transfer power from all pedals to the rear wheel requires a drive train. Typically, the frontmost crankset turns a timing chain, which in turn connects to the rear crankset, which transfers this power to the drive chain that connects to the rear wheel. This configuration is called crossover rear drive, and involves the rear crankset turning two chains.

The second most popular solution, due to being able to retrofit a singles bike into a tandem is called single side rear drive. The front crankset drives a timing chain which connects to the rear crankset. The rear crankset has another chain ring that connects a second chain, the drive chain to the rear wheel.

The least popular solution is to run a drive chain from the front crankset, to the rear wheel, then a timing chain from the front crankset to the rear crankset. This is less popular because it requires considerably more chain then either setup. Such a setup is called a crossover front drive.

A rare solution to the requirement of coordinated pedaling is the use of a jackshaft plus two freehubs, thus allowing one rider to coast while the other continues to pedal. This also allows riders to select different crank postions, such as inphase (IP), or Out-Of-Phase (OOP), while pedaling together. Davinci Tandems use a unique "Independent Drive" whereby the intermediate shaft transfers the power from the stoker and captain cranks into a converter which allows up to for chainrings. This variant also allows stoker and captain cranks to freewheel (coast) independently.


The front crankset typically has only one chain ring. The rear crankset typically has many chain rings, sometimes on both sides. On a tandem where the pedaling is designed to be in sync, both cranksets will use a chain ring for the timing chain of the same size. The drive chain chain rings can be single gear or use a derailleur.

To maintain the necessary tension on the timing chain, many tandems use an eccentric that is placed in the front rider's bottom bracket shell. An alternate solution is to implement a pully, or idler, on the bottom of the timing chain to take up slack. Idlers add friction and a potential point of failure to the drive train.

Handle bars and stem[]

Stoker handlebars are typically connected to a stoker stem that is clamped around the captain's seatpost. The stoker handlebars are typically bull horns or very wide drop bars with "stoker pegs" instead of brake levers.


Because of the extra weight and stresses, tandem wheels may use a higher spoke count, sturdier rims, higher pressure tires, a stronger freewheel, dishless spoke configuration, or asymmetric wheels. Tandems wear out rear wheels faster than front wheels; therefore, they may use non-symmetrical wheel setups, such as more spokes or a sturdier rim on the rear wheel.

The dish of a wheel measures the amount of asymmetry between the rim and the hub flanges. To accommodate a large cassette, more space is needed on the drive side of the axle; this increases the complexity of manufacturing and truing the wheel. Tandem rear wheels tend to run a wider hub/axle to allow the right-side hub flange to be further right of wheel center and thus reduce the total dish of the wheel. Some modern tandems use a 160mm wide axle which allows a wheel that is completely "dishless" (i.e. symmetric). The disadvantage is this may increase the Q-factor of the stoker's cranks and may also cause "heel-strike" of the stoker's shoes on the chain stays. Others use shorter axles (often 145mm wide) thereby trading a little decrease in the strength of the wheel for the advantage of a similar decrease in the bending moment of the axle spindle. Rear hubs may also be threaded on the left side to allow the use of a drum brake.

Specialty wheels such as Aerospoke or Shimano"Sweet-16" may build "tandem certified" racing wheelsets. The Aerospoke tandem wheelset is built up more than their roadset with special tandem hubs that can be removed which facilitate stacking the rims flat into a travel case.


The Arai drum brake is used during long downhill descents where a rim brake might overheat the tire and possibly cause it to fail. The drum of the brake screws onto the left side of the tandem hub, which must be threaded for the drum. The shoe plate slips over the axle and a small reaction arm from the shoe plate engages with the bicycle frame to prevent the plate from turning. The drum brake is typically controlled by a friction shift lever like a BARCON or similar. The brake is designed to be engaged continuously during a descent to maintain a steady speed. The standard brakes can be used in addition as necessary.

Some modern tandems use disc brakes with 6 or 8 inch rotors. These brakes, modeled after motorcycle style brakes, offer increased stopping power with better modulation, heat dissipation, and weight savings. Tandems must be manufactured specifically to handle disc brake setups including rear caliper mounts and additional frame gussets to support the stresses created by the disc brake system.

Tandem specific riding techniques[]

File:Buddy Bike.jpg

A "Buddy Bike" tandem.


Triple pulling a trailer bike

The rear rider starts clipped in while the front rider holds tandem upright

For those who can get accustomed to the rear rider always being clipped in, the distinct advantage to this technique will become obvious when trying to start at the foot of a bridge or on a hill. If the tandem team does not practice this, then they often reserve this type of start for when they are faced with a bridge or hill. This technique allows the rear rider to apply continuous power as the front rider steadies the tandem during the initial take-off. This reduces the risk of the tandem toppling over due to starting on an incline. The rear rider will continue to pedal as the front rider attempts to get the foot used for steadying the tandem clipped into the pedal.

In-phase cranks vs out-of-phase cranks

In-phase (IP) versus out-of-phase (OOP) is a choice that can be made by the front rider and rear rider based on their perceived experience of riding the tandem. In-phase simply means that the cranks are set up so that both the front rider and the rear rider cranks are in the same clock position at the same time. Users of the traditional "two banger" approach say coordination between riders is better with the cranks in phase.

Out-of-phase has the potential for a wide range of variation. Some tandem riders arrange their cranks so that they are 90 degrees out of phase, the "4 banger arrangement". In practice, as noted on Tandem at Hobbes postings, OOP setups range from a mere two-tooth difference to a full 90-degree OOP setup. Generally, OOP provides the greatest benefits to the tandem team that has disparate leg-strength. When the tandem is set up IP it is possible, and often happens, that the stronger rider literally drops the pedals out from beneath the feet of the weaker rider. That gives the sense that the other person is "not pedaling". Using OOP makes a significant difference in gearing choice as each rider has the full mass of the tandem in their power stroke, so lower gears are preferred. However, using OOP can help develop leg strength for the very same reason. Some argue that this produces a smoother power stroke, or that it reduces stress on the drive train because the point of maximum power is reduced to roughly half and distributed over the chain rings.

In the end it is a matter of the preferences of the team. There is not an absolute right or wrong in this area, only what works best for a particular team.

Tandem bicycle manufacturers[]

Since the market for tandem bicycles is significantly smaller than the market for single bikes, there are far fewer tandem bicycle manufacturers than single-bicycle manufacturers. There are a few builders who specialize in tandems, as well as single-bike makers who offer tandem models. Current tandem bicycle manufacturers include:

See also[]


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External links[]

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