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We Need to Talk About Tandem Racing

By Christopher Ashley

My wife and I considered getting a tandem for long country rides and touring so I put in the research. The great thing about tandems is that while you achieve about the same power-to-weight ratio of a normal bicycle, you almost halve the wind resistance. You can see why this makes it attractive for competition.

Not only do tandems reduce drag but the Paralympics have a specific competition for visually impaired cyclists with fully sighted “captains” – the captains being in front and in control of steering and braking. This gives access to a sport that would otherwise be tricky for the blind.

A brief history of tandems

A bicycle made for two is nothing new – you only need listen to the 1892 smash-hit “Daisy Bell” by Henry Dacre to realise that the invention of the bicycle was quickly followed by the invention of the tandem. And in true Victorian fashion, the next sensible thing to do was start racing them.

The popularity of tandem racing fades in and out of popularity but in the early 90s, you can see that tandem racing was serious business. But, for now, if you want to see top-level tandem racing, you really must rely on the Paralympians to bring you the best competitions on the track.

Tandem squared

Quad tandem racing is still an outsider sport. But those putting on the races are doing a good job of making the sport exciting – and they’re at the cutting edge of bicycle technology. While the bikes are essentially reinforced frames, there’s more power going through the drive chain and the knock-on effect on the mechanics causes regular problems that need to be overcome.

Here we see Team Canada vs Team GB, 11 days into a race, and experiencing the trials and tribulations of the mammoth task they’ve undertaken. And not only are they pushing the envelope of component technology and team co-ordination – they’re supporting mental health charities too.

The future is downhill

Tandems aren’t just for roadies, tourers, and the track. Off-roaders are starting to realise you can take things to the next level in their sports too. This inspiring video tells the story of a New Zealand couple Jackson and Rose Green. Jackson was persuaded to “muck about” in the shed and build a tandem-MTB for NZ$4K.

Now, I think this would be fun for my wife and I but, truth be told, we’re both roadies. And given my wife’s habit of challenging me to sprint to every road sign she sees, I don’t think we’d do well in coordinating our efforts. But if your relationship is more co-operative than competitive, why not give tandems a go?