Tandems were expensive, nearly double the price of solo machines and needed more storage – makers seemed to mention them in their catalogues but not bothered to show pictures. ‘Made to Order’ was the comment. Nevertheless racing teams used them and young couples noticed a freedom not available elsewhere…
– ‘THE TANDEM: An Illustrated Guide’, by James Peatling
Tandems were favoured by racing cyclists because of the speed two riders could achieve. As well as setting records they were also used as pacers for solo riders.
In the early 1900s, tricycles and tandems represented less than 5% of the total output from the cycle industry. The majority of tandems were built for a male and female rider. Most of the double male tandems ordered were built for racing, though this style also became more popular as a road-going machine in the 1920s.
Not many racing cycles survived because their lightweight tubing made them fragile and they had a hard life. After being repaired a few times they were invariably scrapped. A racing tandem, however, was much more sturdy, with thicker tubing, because it had to support two riders. The photo below (from James Peatling’s book) illustrates an Eadie tandem on the right and a Rudge-Whitworth racing tandem on the left (it’s pre-1900 so does not have the larger rear chainwheel like the 1904 model featured on this page).
1904 Rudge-Whitworth Racing Tandem
Model No 36
Frame size 22″ Front, 21.5″ Rear
26 x 1 1/2″ Wheels
Fixed wheel, 5/8″ front chain; inch pitch rear chain
Brooks Champion B17 racing saddles
A surviving early 1900s racing tandem is a very rare item in the 21st century. My friend James, author of the book ‘THE TANDEM: An Illustrated Guide’, remembers seeing this one in 1990. When I bought it – recently excavated from the seller’s shed – it had the remains of a blue repaint. It has now been rubbed down to bare metal, and I’ve added an appropriate 26 inch fixed wheelset plus matching dropped handlebars and racing saddles.
Luckily it retained its original 5/8″ chain, as this was exclusive to Rudge-Whitworth, who were, in this era, the leading cycle manufacturers. They manufactured all their components in house and in unique styles and sizes to avoid counterfeiting. The machine is ready to ride. It may soon be repainted in Rudge racing green.
1905 RUDGE-WHITWORTH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
Opening quote and illustration with thanks to ‘THE TANDEM: An Illustrated Guide’, by James Peatling (Vols 1 & 2)