Which tandem bikes are best?
The concept of a tandem bicycle for two riders goes back almost as far in history as the bicycle itself. Since then, users have treated these “bicycles built for two” as casual touring bikes. However, modern tandem bikes often feature the same complex gear systems as mountain or racing bikes, and oversized tires allow riders to go off-road or take on rougher terrain.
Tandem bike riding can require coordination and communication between front and rear riders, since maneuvers such as sharp turns or evasive steering must be performed in unison. Experienced tandem bike riders often praise the bike’s additional speed on flat terrain and power on hills.
If you are interested in pursuing tandem bike riding as a change of pace from traditional riding, consider our helpful shopping guide. At the top of our list is the Schwinn Twinn Adult Tandem Bicycle, a model from a well-respected manufacturer that excels in both cruising and off-road applications.
What to know before you buy a tandem bike
Size and adjustability
As a general rule, tandem bike sizes are determined by the proportions of the rider in the front “captain” position. He or she must be able to support the bike with both feet on the ground while the rear “stoker” rider mounts. The stoker can be shorter in size but must be able to reach the pedals comfortably.
To accomplish an ideal fit for both captain and stoker, the tandem bike should offer adjustable seats and handlebars. Each rider should be able to complete a pedal stroke without losing contact or feeling unbalanced. The handlebars should be easy to raise or lower according to each rider’s reach.
Some tandem bikes are designed primarily for casual cruising on steady terrain, which means the handlebars will be at a raised, flat angle. Models designed for off-road or power riding often have drop-down handlebars that lower air resistance and improve shock absorption. Some riders find that a drop-down handlebar provides more hand positions than a flat cruising handlebar.
Tandem bikes are usually produced by the same companies that produce standard single-rider bikes, so the same construction materials are in play. Some models use an aluminum alloy because of its lighter weight and lower production cost. Durability may be an issue, however. Steel is also a popular choice because of its inherent strength and durability, but a steel frame can be more expensive overall.
Other construction materials include carbon fiber, which is also lightweight and rustproof, and titanium, which is stronger than steel and resistant to corrosion. Both carbon fiber and titanium can be expensive, however, and repairs are not easy. We recommend comparing aluminum and steel framed models for beginning riders, with carbon fiber or titanium models as a future upgrade.
Riding a tandem bike successfully does involve a learning curve. Two riders must learn to coordinate their efforts in order to avoid potential accidents. Communication between the captain and the stoker is critical. Turns, braking and gear shifts must be completed in unison. The more experienced rider may want to consider taking the captain position because of the added responsibilities of steering and braking. The stoker does not necessarily have to be the stronger rider in order to power through hills or rough terrain.
What to look for in a quality tandem bike
Most tandem bikes offer the same gear options as single-rider models, but some offer even more gears to account for the additional stress of two riders. Tandem riders who intend to cruise on level terrain may not need to change gears at all, but off-road riders will want the ability to power up a hill or increase speed on flat terrain. Some tandem mountain bikes feature up to 21 gears.
Because a tandem bike must accommodate two riders, the wheels are typically reinforced with additional spokes. The tires are also wider and thicker than standard single-rider mountain bikes. The rear wheel of a tandem bike is usually stronger than the front wheel, and both wheels use disc brakes instead of rim-mounted caliper brakes for stopping.
How much you can expect to spend on a tandem bike
Most tandem bikes will cost more than single-rider models simply because of their additional size and specialized design. A basic cruising model with few gear options can cost between $200 and $500. Bikes with more transmission and seating options should retail between $500 and $1,000, while higher-end titanium and carbon fiber models with advanced gearing systems can cost up to $3,000.
Tandem bike FAQ
I’m a larger man, and my wife is very petite. Can we still ride a tandem bike safely?
A. As long as both riders can reach full stride on the pedals, relative size should not be an issue. The heavier or taller rider may want to sit in the rear or stoker position to provide maximum power, however. During a tandem bike ride, both riders need to coordinate their braking, accelerating and steering efforts.
Why should my son and I use a tandem bike instead of two single touring bikes?
A. One major advantage of a tandem bike is additional power and speed. When both riders are in sync, they can generate more speed on flat terrain and power through a steeper grade of incline. A tandem bike is also lighter in weight than two touring bikes.
What are the best tandem bikes to buy?
Top tandem bike
Our take: The brand is well-respected, and this tandem model is ideal for those who want to venture off-road from time to time.
What we like: Handlebars and seats are designed for comfort. Very lightweight, easy to transport. Tires designed for both on-road and off-road terrain.
What we dislike: Can require professional assembly and maintenance. Powering through a turn is not recommended.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top tandem bike for money
Our take: A bargain-priced fixed-gear tandem with an eye-catching color and design.
What we like: Single-speed gear is great for laid-back cruising. Easy backpedal braking. Vintage-style half-wrap fenders in front and back.
What we dislike: Heavy frame can make steering difficult for some.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: More experienced riders should appreciate the 21-gear system and the ease of assembly and maintenance. Seats use both gel and spring-powered cushioning.
What we like: Seats are exceptionally comfortable for longer rides. Gear system makes hilly terrain easier to handle. Stylish design.
What we dislike: Complicated gear system could be challenging for beginning riders. Original tires are not durable.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Michael Pollick writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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