Tandems have been bringing together the mighty cycling power of two since the late 1800s, and Bike Friday has been building tandems since the co-founders’ very first in 1987.
As a mom of two kids, functionality and reusability are often paramount when I look for new products. I had been on the hunt for a tandem that could accommodate my 11-year-old daughter, Darby, as a stoker over the next few years, then have the honor be passed down to her younger brother. Bike Friday’s Traveler XL seemed like a good choice, as it is designed to fit a captain’s height range of 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-5, and a stoker height range of 3 feet to 6-foot-5. Not only could my kids join forces with me on adventures, but my hubby and I could also ride together.
I’m 5-foot-7 with a 28-inch inseam, and the captain’s chair fit me fine. If you are below 5-foot-8 and are concerned about fit, you may want to consider the Family Tandem Select, which offers a height range of 5-foot-2 to 6-foot-5 for the captain and 3 feet to 6-foot-5 for the stoker.
Like all Bike Friday bikes, the Traveler XL has the ability to get compact for storage and travel. In this case, the bike can be broken down into four separate pieces—front triangle, rear triangle and two connection tubes—simply by loosening a few Allen bolts and cable connectors.
On a side note: I’m not confident in my mechanical abilities and was apprehensive about disassembling the bike. I knew I could take it apart… but could I get it back together again? It took some practicing at home to get it right, but there was triumph!
Once disassembled, the Tandem XL fits in two Bike Friday travel cases, which each measure 29.5 by 20 by 12 inches. These cost $460 for the pair and include specially prepared packing materials, so if you plan on flying with the bike more than once it may well be worth it. Breaking the bike down also means you can forgo having to purchase a tandem rack for your car.
Darby and I rode the Traveler XL mostly on mixed-surface rail-trails and city bike paths. Right out of the gate, the bike was super-easy to manage. I didn’t have much experience riding a tandem, and Darby had none, but we were able to get up to speed easily and maneuver well without incident. The 20-inch wheels combined with the low-slung frame made for a super-low stand-over height, which was totally user-friendly. In fact, the bike also fits my six-year-old son—he has to lean forward a little, but is still able to pedal and experience the awesomeness that is tandem riding.
Stability is a key component here. Because the bike is so long and low, the center of gravity is also very low, making the Tandem XL handle easily, even with us newbies piloting. However, the bike still corners like a big bike. Plan ahead, look where you want to go, leave room for the long rear end and everything will be fine.
Bike Friday specializes in customizing bikes and builds every one from the ground up per order. Our 36-pound Traveler XL was built with touring H-bars with Microshift bar-end shifters, Kenda Kwest 20×1.5 tires, Shimano V-brakes, a Sugino triple crankset (54-42-32 tooth) and Alex DMR 18 rims. All of the components performed well. I have bar-end shifters on my road bike, so was familiar with the setup.
The custom H-bars took a little getting used to, as the comfortable hand position was on the bar ends, while the brake levers are mounted to the straight, inner portion of the bar. All in all, the setup is just fine; I never felt panicked about not being able to grab the brakes and the H-bars offer a variety of hand positions.
The 24-speed drivetrain offered more than enough gears to get over short hills and long climbs alike. Darby and I consistently made it up grades that surprised us and could hit some really good speeds going downhill and on flats. We added two mini Porta-Pack frame bags, a handlebar bag and four water bottle cages for longer rides. The Traveler is equipped with front and rear racks and can handle a total load of 400 pounds. Fully loaded tandem touring, anyone?
Since I could use this tandem for an extended amount of time with both of my kids as they grow, it’s an investment I am willing to make. I can only hope that one day I will be able to put them together on the Traveler XL for some sibling teamwork bonding… or tormenting.
The Tandem Traveler XL begins at $2,350 and can be further customized from there. If that is too steep for you, Bike Friday is in the process of redesigning its base model Family Tandem and plans to offer it for a much more digestible $1,300. All the bikes are hand-built in Eugene, Oregon, and come with a lifetime warranty.