Some tips please... newbies to tandem touring

Discussion in 'Tandem and Other Bikes' started by oliver, 9 Aug 2017.

  1. oliver

    oliver Senior Member

    Hi all, been away from this forum for quite some time but thought I'd come back in search for a bit of advice!

    Having a discussion last week with my girlfriend about what kind of (ultra) low budget holiday she'd be up for the idea of touring round europe on a tandem, this was a very pleasant surprise to me as she doesn't even own a bike at the moment....

    I've done a fair amount of touring, both solo and as a pair, both on-road and off-road so familiar with the merits of the kit and practicalities of what to take, but having only ridden a tandem for about 500m this is an area that's new to me!

    Part of the low budget part of the holiday(s) would be sourcing a cheapish bike, I already have the camping kit and panniers, plus and array of parts that could be used to upgrade whatever bike I end up with, but I have a few questions before I start trawling through eBay and gumtree....

    1) Any bikes/frames worth looking out for? E.g. are there any bikes that often come up good value that would be suitable for a bit of european road touring? I've seen a few dawes galaxys go for about £350 which is pretty much the limit of our bike budget, but also a few unbranded or older tourers go much cheaper which I could upgrade from my parts bin!

    2) Braking, being an MTBer, disk brakes are everything, but I imagine with the added load these are going to fade very quickly, what's best for road touring? (Asuming looking at the more budget end of the spectrum)

    3) Front panniers, do tandem with front loads handle as badly as road bikes with front panniers?

    4) Any bikes/frames to avoid?

    5) Any other tandem touring tips for a newbie? ^_^

    Thanks, sorry for the long post but wanted to get it all going before I start my bike search properly!
    Last edited: 9 Aug 2017
  2. MiK1138

    MiK1138 Über Member

    All I know about Tandems is I would need to position a mirror to make sure Mrs Mik was doing her share of pedalling sorry its not much help
  3. sheddy

    sheddy Guru

    Methinks you really ought to borrow or hire one (for a day or more) to see if you can both get along - the stoker needs to put their complete trust in the pilot:
    starting, stopping, ups, downs, braking, cornering, road postioning, junctions etc, etc
  4. OP

    oliver Senior Member

    Ah yes, I forgot to say, I have been offered a bike to try in a couple of weeks, but it's a full blown road race bike and worth about 10x our budget so only really usefull for the "Can you get on" element! :laugh:
  5. Dave 123

    Dave 123 Guru

    He's in trouble then if he needs my help!

    Have a look on eBay, that's where we got our first tandem, a Thorn Explorer.
    Cost us £350 with a Pendle roof carrier(which we still have). It was a bit too big for me so as we loved it, we purchased a new one. Both Thorn that we've had are absolutely built to be fully loaded front and back, they just sit beautifully exactly where you point them. They have 26"x 1.75" wheels and tyres which gives the ride a magic carpet feel. They are super comfy. The down side is that they're heavy and slow, but if you're not in a hurry....

    In July we did a 2 week tour with my brother and his wife. They were on their 30 year old, 2nd hand Dawes Galaxy tandem. 700c wheels and a slighter frame meant they were quicker than us up the many hills.

    We stayed in air b&b's etc as my sister in law wasn't up for camping. As a result we only used rear panniers and a bar bag.

    5- if the boss hasn't tandemed before and isn't a regular rider then my best advice is to bite your tongue! Don't ride like you would ride a solo.

    The stokers position can be bloody harsh. They may not see the approaching pothole/lump and she'll feel it if you hit it. Call "bump" before you get there so she takes some weight off her undercarriage. On our new Thorn tandem Jo has a thudbuster seat post- £100, but worth every penny.

    Brakes- not sure you'll get discs on your budget. You'll get rim brakes and a drag brake, that'll be fine.

    You will be steering and braking, the stoker will be ideally placed to be the navigator. Jo is my Google maps ninja.

    You could go to Grafham Water and hire one for the afternoon just to see if you both like it before you pull the trigger.

    If you have any more questions @oliver I'd be glad to help.
    User14044 likes this.
  6. srw

    srw It's a bit more complicated than that...

    A cheap one.

    There are a fair few tandems out there which are basically token models built by solo-bike manufacturers. They don't have a good rep for anything other than short, unloaded rides because they're rather whippy. A touring tandem is like a touring bike - it's a specialist machine built for a particular purpose, and it's stiff. If you get the right one (we have a Thorn) it's a good-quality bike, optimised for cruising long distances with lots of luggage at a comfortable speed. If you get the wrong one, it's torture. I suspect you'll struggle to find a decent frame for your budget, I'm afraid. And you'll have to budget for high-quality strong wheels, good quality brakes (we have XTRs; discs are common) and parts that wear out several times more quickly than solo parts.

    As others have suggested, make sure you can get on with riding a tandem before even thinking about touring with one. And if you do go on tour, make sure you pick the route well. Unless you're incredibly fit, tandems don't do uphills easily.
  7. srw

    srw It's a bit more complicated than that...

    Adding to what @Dave 123 says...
    That's a bargain, and cheaper than I'd have expected (we bought our first tandem - a Thorn - new, and the second - a titanium Santana - for rather more than the first one cost, even though it was 10 years old). And the point about carriage is important - you can't get a tandem in the train, and unless it's got S&S couplings (which will add several hundred to the new price) it won't go inside a car.

    Yes. Absolutely. The Thorn is a stately galleon that goes perfectly as long as you've got room for a huge turning circle.
    Oh yes!
    We started with a carbon stoker seatpost, in the hope of absorbing some shock, but quite quickly moved onto a suspension job.
  8. Dave 123

    Dave 123 Guru


    It was such a bargain. The auction ended at 8am on a Sunday. I looked with about 2 minutes to go. Jo was asleep next to me in bed.
    She mumbled 'what are you doing?'
    My reply 'some bugger has bid the asking price on the tandem!'
    'It's me' said the exasperated Mrs Dave, 'I did it 10 minutes ago!'
    She was the only bidder
    We'd picked it up by 10 o'clock.

    And it was only 20 miles up the road!

    Our first ride on it was brilliant! We've never laughed so much.
    growingvegetables and srw like this.
  9. Dave 123

    Dave 123 Guru
  10. Milkfloat

    Milkfloat Veteran

  11. Dave 123

    Dave 123 Guru

  12. OP

    oliver Senior Member

    Wow, thanks for all the responses and links to bikes for sale, I'm currently on holiday with my gf (hence the discussions for how to do more cheap holidays) and will be to late next week so until we've tried one and seen that we don't want to kill each other I think we'll have to hold the search!

    I'm 5'11" and she's 5'4" so a fair height difference but the Dawes near birmigham definitely looks possible, as I'm normally based in Oxfordshire!
  13. rvw

    rvw Über Member

    As @srw 's stoker, here's my bit...

    You will have to pack light: you only get 4 panniers between you (rather than - potentially - 4 each on solo bikes). And make sure the weight is very evenly balanced: you are already steering the weight of two people, so if there is a mismatch, particularly in the front panniers, it doesn't help.

    On the 'comfort for the stoker' bit - especially for a less regular cyclist - make sure your stoker has a chance to lift out of the saddle every so often. Again, it can be hard for the captain if the stoker wriggles unexpectedly, so negotiate times for her to stretch/lift/generally faff about. (We have spd pedals and I stay on the saddle at junctions, which makes starting massively easier - but it does mean additional pressure on the nether regions. I speak from bitter experience!) Oh, and as well as calling bumps before you go over them, I find it much easier to brace/take the weight off if we aren't pedalling.

    But most of all - have fun!
  14. Tim Hall

    Tim Hall Guest

    Contrary to @srw 's statement up thread, I've taken a tandem on a train many times. I suspect the marvellous system of umpteen different train companies gives rise to umpteen different tandem/train experiences.
  15. Effyb4

    Effyb4 Veteran

    We recently toured London to Paris and part of the way back on our second hand Dawes Discovery tandem. We only got the bike in Spring this year. It was fantastic fun. We spent a fair bit of time getting used to riding the tandem before we set off. It is very heavy and Mr Effy did find the handling quite different with front panniers. We did manage to get the tandem back on French trains, after a bit of discussion with the guards and we have also taken it on Abellio greater Anglia trains. The tandem club website gives information about taking tandems on trains in the UK.
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