Thursday, October 27, 2016

How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle - the right bike shop

The final step is to find a bike shop that handles tandems well. When shopping for a first tandem, expertise is more important than price.

First, ask about selection and floor bikes, the first sign of commitment to tandems. A surprising number of shops will try to sell you a tandem from a single floor model, or from the catalog alone. Also find out if they offer a choice in tandems lines.

Tandeming DALMAC in 2009.
When a shop shows more than one tandem line, the better for you. Be especially aware of this phrase. “We only carry tandems from single bike maker X, since they fit everyone’s needs”. Regardless of the merits of tandem X, this is a self-eliminating statement, especially if they carry 3-4 lines of singles! Just as with singles, there are differences across tandem lines in bike fit, handling, and suitability for what you want to ride.

A shop with multiple lines of tandems is going to offer you more sizing options as well. This can be very important for couple that don’t fit the “norms” of a 3” or 7” difference in height. If don’t fit this normal distribution, and a particular brands design assumptions, you may have to choose between a tandem to large for the captain, or too small for the stoker. Different brands, or a custom sized bike, can greatly expand your sizing options and getting a tandem that fits both of you.

The second question for your prospective dealer is about a test ride appointment. There are a lot of reasons for you to expect an appointment. Your time is valuable, and you want someone’s undivided attention. There are twice as many things to adjust, and many more questions to consider when looking at a selection of tandems.  When I was selling tandem full time, I had appointments scheduled for about an hour, but was not surprised when they ran 2 hours or longer!

Another benefit of getting an appointment, is this hopefully means you are getting the shops tandem enthusiast or specialist. A good tandem sales persons takes interest in both of you, and is more than just a hardware driven gear head. The best will sell you on tandeming, and then let you select the tandem.

This three-step process is sound advice for any big-ticket item; know what you want through the self interview process, get advice from an experienced friend or tandem team, and find a good source. You may find a dealer that is a mentor, or you may not. Or you may find a tandem mentor that helps you compensate for the lack of good nearby dealer, or helps with a used tandem purchase.

The most important thing to remember is that tandem buying should be just like your future tandem riding. Build it on the T’s and C’s of Teamwork and Trust, Communication and Compromise. If you are both involved in the process, you will both enjoy the end result that much more.

(This is adapted and updated from a series of articles I wrote for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine a few years ago.)

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle - Find a Tandem Mentor

Part 3 in my How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle series.

If you and your (potential) tandem partner can find a tandem mentor, or a near by tandem group, they can be a tremendous resource and great encouragement.  I was fortunate to come across such a couple early on and they be came longtime friends.  Over the years since, I have always tried to pay it forward and share our tandem experience with others.

Tandems were very much a rarity I began riding. While I had seen casual or cruiser tandem around the the lake I grew up on , the only road tandems I had seen were books and magazines. It was on my first DALMAC in 1974 that I encountered my first road tandem. (It was being captained by a 20 year-old women, and the 40 something man on the back had his arm in a shoulder cast!)

Bob and Em Harrington, with their Assenmacher custom tandem - 1981
The first tandem couple I met and regularly rode with were Bob and Emily Harrington of Lansing, Michigan. Bob and Em were a fixture mid-Michigan rides during the 70’s, ’80 and early `90s. On one of first tours as a couple,  Linda and I joined them on one of their annual overnight rides to Matt Assenmacher’s bike shop near Flint.

The fun Bob and Em had was itself and inspiration, and Linda and I also saw how a tandem could keep a couple of different skills together. Bob and I also started to chat about tandems, tandem parts, and keeping them up and running. Getting to know tandem enthusiast was a great resource in the pre-internet “Dark Ages”.

While the internet makes tandem information more readily available, having another tandem couple to show the ropes can be a great asset. It is great introduction to the couples fun of tandem riding.

Finding your tandem mentor is easy. If you have been riding awhile, somewhere in your circle of cycling friends is a tandem couple. They are good resource on a number of counts. First, if they are typical, they are going to be enthusiastic evangelists for tandems and tandeming.

They can tune you into the local tandem scene, other tandem couples, the best resources in local shops, and maybe even a used tandem or two. Some may offer you a test ride, or even a bike for the weekend, since many teams hang on to their first tandem after upgrading. A tandem team can also reassure a hesitant partner about the couples aspect of tandems, in the sometimes male dominated cycling scene.

If you are new to cycling, look on the web for a bicycle club near you. You may also find a nearby tandem club through the Tandem Club of America ( You will find a variety of tandem resources on the web. Just know that almost any tandem couple is approachable and glad to answer questions.

Next - Finding a Tandem Dealer.

(This is adapted and updated from a series of articles I wrote for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine a few years ago.)

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Friday, October 07, 2016

How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle - The Interview

(Continued from  How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle - Part 1)

When I met my wife Linda, I was already an avid cyclist with a half dozen years of riding.  And I already owned a tandem.  While Linda was new to cycling, it soon became our common activity, and her interest grew with our relationship. We tried a few rides on my first tandem, and quickly knew we had out-grown it.  We sold that first tandem, and had a quality road tandem before our first wedding anniversary.

Where will your tandem take you?
While it is not a hard and fast rule, many new tandem couples are starting later than Linda and I, after family and careers are established. And it is common for the there to be an avid rider in the mix, looking at the tandem as way to make their riding more inclusive with their partner.  That difference in interest is what makes your tandem interview so important.

A tandem is unique a form of togetherness for a couple.  Having a conversation of what you are both looking before your first ride is the first step in your successful tandem adventure. It is part of what I call the T’s and C’s of tandem riding; Teamwork and Trust, Communication and Compromise. Whether they know it or not, that is what keeps the best teams together year after or year.

Your tandem interview starts with about a dozen questions.  You may have asked these already, or you may assume you know the answer.  Don’t be surprised if these questions result in even more questions. The most important thing is for you both to vocalize and discuss your answers.

Why are you looking at a tandem?

Are you looking for an equalizer for two cyclists with different paces?

Is your partner new to cycling? (Or, are you both new to cycling?)

Are you two strong riders looking for a fast bike?

Are you planning on tandem riding with children (or grandchildren)?

What type of bikes are you riding now?  (Road, recumbent, hybrid, or off-road?)

Will it be your exclusive bike, or just another bike choice? (Or the exclusive bike of one the team?)

Are you thinking of touring?  And by touring, do you mean carrying gear and tent, or a professionally led and catered trip, or something in between? And do you both agree on a definition of touring?

Will your travel with your tandem involve airlines?

How will you transport your tandem to rides?  (Or home from the shop?)

Where will you store the tandem?

What shoe and pedal system do you use?

Do you like matching outfits?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, they just give you insight, and help avoid bad assumptions. Hang on to your answers, and keep revising them throughout your shopping process.

Another benefit of the tandem interview is to help you avoid unexpected sticker shock items, like a tandem car rack, or to avoid buyers remorse; for example, not having picked a tandem (or accessories) ready for air travel.

Later down the line, your tandem dealer may well ask the same questions*, so having answers will save time, and avoid distractions while you are trying out different bikes.  (*Yes, this list was my typical tandem test ride interview.)

Part 3:  Find a Tandem Mentor

(This is adapted and updated from a series of articles I wrote for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine a few years ago.)

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

How To Buy a Tandem Bicycle

In looking back, I have many memorable “first” tandem rides. The first “first” was during the summer of 1975, when I took possession of a used Gitane Interclub tandem. I began riding it around the neighborhood with any friend or family member I could persuade to ride with me. One of my brothers was the likely first stoker, and I probably took a dozen friends and family out for rides over the first couple of summers. The next first is when Linda and I went out on that same tandem while we were dating, on a ride that ended in near disaster from a loose stem. A few years later, newly wed Linda and I took delivery of our own first new tandem, a Santana Classic, for a chilly ride in December of 1981. And, of course, we had first rides with both our boys, each riding within months of their third birthdays.

37 years after our first tandem ride, still smiling.
Also along the way, I was a part of hundreds of first rides for the teams we introduced to tandems over the years since. We hosted many test rides, many more than we sold in our dealer years and since. During a test ride appointment, both captain and stoker would get rides stoking for me on two or three different tandems, before heading off on their own. Many of those teams are still out there, some still riding the same bikes, almost 30 years later.

First tandem rides are important, since they build the foundation for what is to come. They establish the trust and communication that are essential for long-term tandem team.

Before we get to the first ride, here are three steps that will help get you started in building a good tandem experience:

• First, interview yourself and your tandem partner, and ask yourself what you are looking for in a tandem, and from tandeming.

• Next, find a tandem mentor, another team that you can talk to about tandems and tandeming.

• Finally, find a tandem dealer (not just a bike dealer), to help you find the right tandem.

Part 1:   How to Buy a Tandem Bicycle - The Interview

Part 2:  Find a Tandem Mentor

Part 3: The Right Bike Shop

(This is adapted and updated from a series of articles I wrote for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine a few years ago.)

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Winter Bonus Miles and Comfort Food

The Bacon Trainer photo bombs our start.
Linda and I just completed another spontaneous weekend overnight. After checking the weather Saturday morning, Linda made a few calls for a hotel while I hooked our Burley Nomad trailer to the tandem. We each packed a duffle bag with a change of clothing, the next day’s cycling gear, and extra layers for the variable weather. After a quick lunch, we dropped our bags in the trailer and we were off.

Of course, the most unique thing our latest getaway is that it is February, which is not a traditional bike touring month for the Midwest. While a late afternoon high near 70 (F) was the treat, the stronger than expected west winds almost derailed our trip. So, just a few miles from home, we re-evaluated our destination, first calling a hotel in the opposite direction, and the canceling our first reservation. (How did we ever bicycle travel before cell phones, let alone smart phones?)

With the change in direction, our riding immediately went from a thigh-burning struggle to relatively easy rolling. The roads were all familiar, with the exception the lack of crops. Some of the roads closer to Tipton were almost unrecognizable without the green walls of corn coming right to the edge of the edge of the pavement.

No corn, and no beans, but still flat.
Shifting from Lebanon (on Interstate I-65) to Tipton was possible because we had found a small private hotel (no reservation required) via the Internet. Arriving in the late afternoon, we checked in, rolled the trailer into the room, and we went back back out on the tandem to scout out dinner (and breakfast) opportunities. After reviewing the options along the mile-long strip that is Tipton, we put the bike the room for the night, showered and walked out of our hotel, across a parking lot, into an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.

After a restful night, we woke to clear skies and cooler weather, in the high 30s’, but still above normal for a February morning. The wind had shifted to the north overnight, and while it was chilling, it would be a tailwind for the ride home. We leisurely prepped for the day, before rolling the trailer and tandem out of the room. Linda checked us out of the hotel, while I reconnected the trailer, and we mounted up for the quick ½ mile to our next meal, this time an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

Rolling luggage.
While we ate breakfast, three other diners’ asked about our riding. One friendly gentleman, looking to be at least in his 70’s, asked if we had ever ridden the Nickel Plate Trail. We shared with him that it was one of favorites, and he told us that he and group of friends on trikes met to ride it many times every summer.

Our late breakfast put on the road a little after 11 under sunny skies. Our first 15 miles were almost car-free, working our way gradually south and west toward Wilson’s Farm Market. One of favorite summer destination, we were excited to learn it was now open year round. We didn’t need lunch yet, but there was plenty of room in the trailer for a warm loaf of their famous pretzel bread and few other essentials.

It was another easy hour on the bike for the last 16 miles home, with one more stop at Quaker Park for restrooms and basking in the sunny, February warmth. We rolled into our driveway just a little over 25 hours after we had left.

Just like our trip over Labor Day weekend, we again enjoyed fun riding on quiet roads, sharing each other’s company, and a break from everyday cares and hassles. Neither Tipton or Lebanon, Indiana is likely to top anyone’s list as travel destinations. While grand adventures to dream locales are the daydreams that make everyday life go by, don’t overlook the simple pleasure of a quiet weekend full of riding with comfort food in a small Indiana town.
Sunning in February.