8: Tandems

“Girlfriending” is a verb that most guys who ride bikes know and have experienced, even if they’ve never heard the actual definition.

To “girlfriend” is to ride a fixed distance behind your boyfriend, usually about 25’–50’ no matter how fast or slow the boyfriend is riding. You can go so slow you’re nearly falling over, or hammer way past you comfort level, but when you look back, she’s still the same distance behind. Girlfriends claim it is never done on purpose, but there’s not a guy alive who believes it.

The lesser known and seldom witnessed version is of course called boyfriending.

Girlfriending (although we didn’t know the term at the time) was the reason we started making tandems at Ibis.

The first Ibis tandem was built when Scot wanted to go on a bicycle tour of Europe in the summer of ’87 with his wife (we use the terms wife and girlfriend interchangeably in the case of “girlfriending”). For some reason, no matter how fast or slow he rode his bike, his wife always rode an annoying distance behind, too far behind to talk or have any sort of conversation, but always close enough not to lose contact.

So they decided that building a tandem would be one way they could actually ride together. Having no experience building tandems, Ibis enlisted the expertise of Rick Jorgensen, who was known for building the best performing tandems anywhere, due mostly to Rick’s engineering expertise. Rick made Tango Tandems, and they used a unique frame configuration called an Uptube.

Tandems, before the Uptube, were long and not made with particularly big diameter tubing so they flexed quite a bit. This made for interesting handling in corners as the stoker’s inertia ‘wound up’ the frame through excessive flexing.

It was far worse when you added panniers in a loaded touring situation. Rick’s Uptube came to the rescue. Ibis also applied techniques and componentry they had been developing in the mountain bike world to build stiffer stronger bikes. The result of this unique collaboration was a predictable, high performance bike.

Scot built the first Ibis Uptube, and took it to Europe with his wife. That winter he wrote a small side bar in the Tour de France story in Cyclist magazine (RIP) about their experience riding the tandem.

As mentioned in the story to the right, we flew into Zurich. We assembled the tandem on the front curb of the airport, and rode away on the bike path that led straight to and from the airport. Wow!

When we rode into Zurich at the end of our trip, we had no bike box. I simply took the pedals and panniers off the bike, checked the panniers and wheeled the entire tandem up to the check-in counter. They looked a bit sideways at me, and then readily accepted the tandem (no excess baggage charge either). I figured if it got damaged on the way back, I could repair it once I got home. Turns out that they treated it well, probably more carefully than if it was in a box. The tandem made it home without a scratch.

On another tandem touring trip in Europe, Joe Breeze once watched his tandem box go flying down the taxiway after it was set atop the baggage cart and driven behind an idling jet engine. The box tumbled down the asphalt, but he packed it well and it wasn’t damaged.

The success of this tandem tour led to the start of a run of building tandems for about 9 years.

We built Uptubes, and then added more traditional configurations.

Ibisians built themselves tandems, and then we started going on road rides around Sonoma County.

Tandems, when piloted well, are very very fast on the road. There’s a bit of a wives tale that they don’t climb, they actually climb fine if you have compatible riders, and a sufficiently stiff tandem.

For a few years, during the Wine Country and Harvest Century (in Santa Rosa), a group of 5 Ibisian tandems would do the centuries, but always start last. We could do 100 miles in 4 hours, so that meant passing a lot of people. The more we passed, the better we felt about ourselves. Five colorful tandems zipping along the flats or rollers at 30MPH was quite a sight. We’d get big trains of people behind us, but even the fittest riders had a hard time hanging on.

For a couple of other perspectives, check out Joe Breeze’s side story about his 5 wins at the Davis Double on a tandem. Joe’s story appeared as a part of a larger and excellent article on our tandems that appeared in the truly excellent Bicycle Guide (thanks Ted!). This story was written by John Derven, and sums up the essence of why we love riding tandems.

Speaking of fast people on tandems, Scot wants to digress and hijack this post with what he claims is a special treat, so here’s a note from him:

As we were scanning magazines and photos and memories for this tandem story, we ran across a picture of Andy Hampsten a few pages away from the side bar I wrote (above) for the Dec 1987 Cyclist Magazine. Check out the picture of the mag.

It was a pleasant surprise to see us both in the same magazine, back in our heyday.

Andy is one of America’s greatest cyclists. He’s still the only American to win the tour of Italy, a win he earned in spectacular fashion on the Gavia in a snowstorm in June (poster below). He did the Tour de France 8 times. He won the Le Alpe d'Huez stage. He's enough of a friend that he even tagged his switchback sign on the Alpe d'Huez climb with an Ibis decal, check it out!

Now Andy splits his time between Boulder and Tuscany, imports olive oil, and runs a touring company called Cinghiale Cycling Tours. I put a bit of info about Andy’s touring company in a post in December of 2010, check out that post here. Makes me want to go to Tuscany!

Actually, I get to guide for Andy in Europe whenever he’ll have me. Here’s a picture of the two of us having a board meeting regarding an upcoming Tuscany trip, we decided to meet on neutral ground high above Crested Butte. He rides mountain bikes too.

Although he has his own bike company (Hampsten Cycles) he runs with his brother Steve, I’m proud to say he’s a proud owner and rider of a gorgeous Ibis tandem. The tandem was a gift on Andy’s wedding night in 2010 and we are lucky enough to have had sober people there who took a couple of pictures. Doug Emerson of University Bikes in Boulder gave him the tandem, and here’s a picture of the three of us. I had my shirt unbuttoned so we could show BikeSnobNYC my t-shirt selection for the night.

OK that's the end of the chuck hijack.

Andy penned us a quick note and we reproduce it here for you.

Hi, I'm Andy and I ride bikes. I should be able to limit my riding to the bikes I have, but I like lots of bikes and I can't bring myself to get rid of the old ones. I don't have a collection of bikes so much as favorite bikes I ride. Oh yeah, I also own a bike company, so lots of bikes from there, too.

I don't ride every day, but I ride around town every day on a 30-year-old (restored) mountain bike. I use my 10-speeders 100 days a year, and the ti shows no signs of wearing out.

Despite the bike habit, a wonderful woman deemed me socially acceptable enough to marry last spring. Elaine loves most of my quirks; my friends find me suitably unplugged when she is around; and I enjoy playing every day with her.

Our backyard wedding party was mostly party, with lots of good food and great friends. Doug from University Bikes restored an '80s Ibis tandem and gave it to us with a nice speech. He and I used to race together back when I would seriously fret over winning enough money to put gas in the car. Now Doug has America's friendliest bike shop at Ubikes in Boulder and gets to ride whenever he wants.

Elaine and I ride the tandem on roads and trails around Boulder. To Gold Hill, up Four Mile Canyon where we saw a mother bear and cubs on our last ride, to organic farms outside of town, as the family SUB with groceries or lumber on it, to bars and cafes, and always to friends’ houses for dinner. It rides like its tequila-sunrise fade paint job: smooth, fast and determined to make us have a great time.

Elaine lets me bomb through corners, but has no interest in crashing as we negotiate bike paths, trails and alleys. Our Ibis handles fine at low speed and loves to smooth out the bumps while cruising trails.

Ibis and I were big in the 80s, and I say we’re both better now than in our fast years. At least I’m half right. Thanks for the bike, Chuckie!


We organized a tandem tour where people came to our shop in Sebastopol, and then we we toured Sonoma County.

We started off building mostly 26” wheeled tandems, that was a wheel size we were more familiar with, and we knew that the strength was there for the rigors of tandem riding (see Joe’s sidebar as a reference). Soon we were building 700C based tandems as well, check out this page on our Titanium tandem that came a little bit later.

We really liked the 26” platform, we could use the Specialized Fat Boy tires one day and then put some big knobbies on the next. You could run drop bars or flat bars.

Off Road Tandeming

We did a number of fun trips on the Tandems off road. Here's one in November of 1991 we did on the White Rim outside of Moab.

There was also a fun trip on the south end of the Baja peninsula, only two pictures from this one.
First the tandem/birthing chair:

This by the way, is the same Uptube tandem that did the Tour de France trip in Europe the year before. Change tires and BOOM, off road tandem.

Here's the Sea of Cortez:

more off road fun-for some of us

Mountain Bike Action even put us on their cover. That’s Zap on the back of the Ibis, an avowed tandem hater after Chuck took him on a ride to Gary Helfrich’s house on hilly twisty terrain one day…

We had a lot of fun building and riding tandems. Still do have fun riding them, but don’t count on any carbon fiber Ibis tandems in the near future.

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