Why A Tandem?

One of the few things we squabble about are directions – whether it's tramping, driving or trying to tell the other where he/she left their glasses. The most recent incident came just yesterday, as we used the mapping system on Judy's cellphone to find the road out of a rural backwater near Rotorua and into town.

After 20 minutes, Judy insisted we were going the wrong way. She was relying on instinct, not the GPS in her hand which showed an arrow taking us away from our destination. But I can hardly blame her. It was the first time she'd used it, and I had given her the vaguest instructions as a I drove. We decided to share the blame.

But it did reinforce a problem we have. Give us a crossroad and we'll go in different directions. So what happens if we were on two bicycles in France, or worse, Laos and came to a crossroad? It would be the last we'd see of each other. We both tend to get a bit stubborn in these situations and neither of us would be giving in.

So the idea of a tandem seems quite smart. I'll steer, Judy can sit behind me with a GPS (we'll have lots of lessons) and jab me in the ribs with a banana – right side for right turn, left side for left.

Here are some other unconfirmed “facts” that indicate a tandem may be a good idea:
  • They are fast on the flat and downhill. About 8 kph faster than an ordinary bike on the flat and phenomenally faster downhill.
  • Tandems are said to be ideal for people of differing physical abilities. Surely, nothing can be more demoralizing than seeing your partner cycling into the distance ahead. And nothing can be more frustrating than constantly waiting for your partner to catch up. Judy's the first to admit I am the stronger of us, so I will act as the engine on the front. She will never be far behind.
  • We can talk to each other as we cycle.

Most cycle tourists load up their bikes with four panniers and a rack at the back, which usually carries a tent. In this picture I also have a plastic seat on the rack to provide a bit of comfort at campsites. There's room for two water bottles on the down tubes and attached to the handlebars is a bag with a map on top. A tandem offers no extra storage - our only option is going to be to load the rack with more than just a tent - probably our sleeping bags and sleeping mats in a drybag.

And here are some reasons why tandems may not be such a good idea:
  • There's no more storage space on a tandem than a regular bike, but there's two of you.
  • They are slower up hill than a solo because it's impossible to co-ordinate the pedalling of two people to get the best out of the machine.
  • They are long and cumbersome – less nimble in traffic and difficult to transport on planes and even some trains. (The tandem we have chosen uncouples to reduce its size.)
  • They attract attention (that may be a plus, depending on your personality).
  • They are expensive (often more expensive than two singles).
On balance, we feel we have no option but a tandem. The ability to stick together is really important. We want to be able to share the sights, sounds and smells. And if we do get lost, at least we'll be together.


  1. Somewhat makes perfect sense. Can't wait to read the updates of this crazy ride!

  2. First time that Jan and me exploring your blog more in detail. As I already told you: I love your way of writing. Hope you'll publish a book after your adventure? :)

  3. Hello,
    I'm really glad to see your travel is going well!
    Châlon sur Saone is not far from my "real" home!

    It was a real pleasur to meet you in Besançon for your breakfast!

    I'll follow your ride!!!

    Good luck


  4. Love the reasons for the tandems. Great info. I met a guy on the Cairo to Capetown road who had pedaled a tandem with a empty rear seat. He was picking up hitchhikers and locals.

    1. Hi Loretta, Thanks for your kind words about the reasons for the tandem. All this time later (10 months on the road) the Beast of Burden is working pretty well for us.The pluses outlined above really are pluses. But there are a couple of other disadvantages we weren't aware of back then and others considering the tandem option might want to take them into account. One is the weight of the loaded bike - we have to be careful never to drop it when we try to manoeuvre it into a parking spot. The handlebars have a tendency to swing from one side to the other if the captain doesn't keep a firm hand on them. Secondly, there is the extra wear and tear on a tandem caused by having two people and their luggage constantly on the bike. We've bust a few spokes and had to have the front wheel rebuilt after 7,000 km. We also seem to go through front wheel bearings quite quickly. To counter that Mr Rohloff's 14 gears continue to purr beautifully and we love all those plus factors of the tandem.The drive chains seem to be holding up really well - we thought that with two pedalling we might wear out chainwheels, sprockets and chains pretty fast but that's not the case. We've changed the rear cog once and it and the chainwheels have plenty of life left in them at more than 9,000 km. Perhaps it's the fact that with no derailleur, the chains in a straight line.Lovely to hear from you, and safe travels.


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