Tandems can be a lot of fun, especially if the two riders are quite compatible. But a tandem is a very specialised bike and it's subjected to significant and unique stresses. This demands a proper design and specific materials. Having worked in the past in a bike shop that hand made custom tandems, I am quite familiar with all this. It means a very special set of wheels are needed as well, especially if you plan to do extensive touring. Much higher spoke counts are required to keep those wheels true and capable of supporting the weight of two riders. The forces of hill climbing create very real demands on both wheels, and if the tandem has panniers loaded with lots of camping gear etc, then bomb proof wheels are a must!
The choice of rims, spokes and tires need to be made carefully to insure that they are up to the task. The hubs design must be made for tandem use and spacing. Disc brakes will probably be the order of the day for better braking, especially on long descents.
What hub options are out there? At present there are a few excellent hub manufactures who have designed top end tandem hubs. From California, Phil Wood has a few different tandem hub options. They make a hub for standard disc brakes as well as one for the Aria drum brake. Zero dish can be obtained when using the 145mm or 160mm Arai brake. That offers much greater overall strength for the rear wheel. Spoke hole counts of 36, 40 and 48 hole are on offer. 135 and 145mm rear spacings are available with typical flange spacing and canting for tandem use. If you own a Santana tandem, Phil Wood has a special hub that enables the disc brake to engage properly. Santana, who have specialised in tandems for many years have enlisted the help of Hadley to make them a special tandem hub which uses a 160mm spacing. This unique spacing enables the wheel to be built up without any dish, therefore offering increased strength and reducing spoke fatigue dramatically. A great idea for a rear tandem wheel! This 160mm standard from Santana also provides plenty of space for 11 speeds and disc brakes.
Another company that steps up to the plate in the tandem world is Chris King. Their rear tandem hub comes in 3 widths, 140mm, 145mm and 160mm. There is also an option for a stainless steel freehub which may be recommended for heavy tandem use. The maximum spoke count is only 36 holes which may come up short for loaded tandem use.
Another USA made hub to consider would be from White Industries. Their tandem rear hub is made from 6061 alloy with a 15mm cro mo axle for added strength. They offer typical spoke hole counts of 36, 40 and 48 holes. One of the things that I love about their hubs is their titanium freehub. A single width of 145mm is on offer.
Another hub that provides several solutions for typical problems on tandems is a Rohloff Speedhub 500. 14 evenly spaced gears with no overlaps. A perfectly straight chain line and everything tucked away inside the hub that requires little if any maintenance. The ability to shift effortlessly under load and disc brake friendly. Certainly something to consider if you are thinking of a new tandem.
What about spokes? With tandem loads often exceeding 300 lbs minimum, a tandem friendly spoke gauge is absolutely necessary! There are a few triple butted spokes that will do the job nicely if the spoke count is high enough. DT Swiss has the Alpine III which has a profile of 2.34mm/ 1.8mm/2.0mm. This would be suitable for a 48 hole rear wheel with an average weight rider. Sapim makes the Force spoke which is also triple butted with a profile of 2.18mm/1.8mm/2.0mm, which would be great for the front wheel as long as it had a minimum of 36 spokes. Some wheel builders have opted for even heavier gauge spokes like the DT Swiss Champion with a 2.34mm continuous profile. These choices are dependant on the weight of the two riders and their intended use for the tandem. A robust brass spoke nipple like the Alpina ABS HEX head would be ideal for tandem use.
Rims also need to be considered for the weight demands of tandem use. More robust and heavier models with stainless steel eyelets would be preferred. Their external and internal widths must be compatible with tires suitable for a typical tandem load and of course they need to be spec'd for higher spoke counts like 36 to 48 holes! Rim manufacturers like Velocity, Alex, and Mavic make such rims.
Alex have the DH19 which is a robust triple box section alloy rim with 48 holes. The sidewalls are machined and have a wear indicator. 48 hole rear wheels offer real piece of mind when cycle touring on a tandem, especially if you are in remote areas where obtaining tandem parts is impossible.
Velocity offers the Chukker, which is available in 40 or 48 holes. It's 32mm deep and is 24mm wide. That deeper V shaped design increases its strength and durability. Available in a black or silver finish.
Much can be said about the ultimate rear hub for a tandem but there are unique options for front hubs. Touring cyclists might consider a SON Dynamo front hub for the lighting options afforded by such a hub. The ability to charge other items like an Iphone are handy when on the road.
SON offers two different hubs that could be a welcome addition to anyone's tandem. First off is their SON 28 Tandem front hub. It comes in either 40 or 48 hole versions which build up to an invincible front wheel!
The other SON hub worthy of consideration would be the Standard SON 28. It offers a 6 bolt disc brake interface and comes in spoke hole counts from 32 to 48 holes.
So, if you are planning to join the world of tandem riders you might be thinking of an appropriate set of wheels. As you can see there are more than a few options to consider. Give me a ring if you have some questions!