A Bike for Two . . . or More?
Tandem bicycles are ones that are built for two or more riders, although the riders must ride in a line from front to back rather than side-by-side. The term "tandem" thus describes how the riders are arranged, not the total number of riders (BikeforTwo.com, 2010, accessed 2012-08-22).
According to Archibald Sharp in Bicycles & Tricycles: An Elementary Treatise on Their Design and Construction, with Examples and Tables [(London: Longmans, Green, 1896.) Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized 2005-07-07. 536 pages.], tandem bicycle designs often end up being significantly more difficult than those for single rider bicycles. This is mostly due to the increase in weight and in the distance between the centers of each of the two wheels (Sharp 1896: 327).
The above drawing, found in Sharp (1896), page 161, is of the "Rucker" tandem. It was made in 1884, and, according to Sharp, was one of the first successful tandem bicycles. The drawing below is of another Rucker tandem bicycle (page 162). The Rucker Company began designing tandems in the 1880s, with the first design having both riders working together on both steering and balancing. Later designs included a smaller front wheel that gave more control to the rear rider but had significantly less stability while riding. An 1887 design by a different company had both riders pedaling the front wheel (Jeremi Davidson, "Tandem Bicycle History," Livestrong.com, 2011-03-31, accessed 2012-08-22).
As illustrated with the "Regent" tandem tricycle (pictured in the drawing below, again from Sharp (1896), page 180), a significant number of tandem bicycle designs came about as a way for women to ride bicycles in a "lady-like" fashion. These designs also became a part of courtships, as they allowed men to "take a lady" somewhere while remaining free from a chaperone (Sharp 1896: 291).
With a two-person tandem bicycle, the rider on the front is called the "captain" while the other rider is called the "stoker." The back rider does not have to worry about watching the road ahead and is therefore free to concentrate on other things or merely enjoy the scenery as they ride by. According to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cycling by Vic Armijo (New York: Alpha Books, Macmillan General Reference, 1999), "with a few quick pointers, most anybody can ride a tandem," but the more experienced or the larger riders should take on the role of the "captain" in the front seat (312). Certain competitions for the disabled, such as the Paralympics allow "blind and visually impaired cyclists" to participate in races, acting "as stokers with fully-sighted captains" (BikeforTwo.com).
After Joe Breeze and Otis Guy's fourth win at the Davis Double Century race as a tandem team, the following year's race (1979) was slightly altered to be more conducive to tandem riders, involving less hill climbing than before. Breeze wanted to encourage more tandems in the race "to challenge them."
[The following images of tandem bikes, as well as the one at the top of the page, are courtesy of the University of California Davis, part of the Pierce Miller Collection]