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A bicycle built for three

Tandem-plus lets the family join the ride

By Christina Harper
Herald Writer

     Shoppers look on curiously as Tina Appling of Snohomish and her two children, Jason, 9, and Janice Aurora, 8, load a week’s worth of groceries into their vehicle.

    The Applings don’t draw a crowd because their vehicle is a humongous Hummer or a snazzy PT Cruiser. It’s much more awkward-looking than any car around. 

    What Appling and her children use for transportation is a tandem bike that’s almost 16 feet long.

    Appling has been riding bikes since she was a child and a tandem since she was a teen. She and her Mother, Marilyn Graves of Monroe, completed the Seattle to Portland ride six times, three of those trips on a tandem. 

    When Appling and her husband, Leif, were married they went shopping for a tandem.
“It was one of the first major purchases we made together,” Appling said.

      During the next 10 years the Applings had limited transportation. Leif Appling works full time and is taking a full course load in college, which means he uses the family’s only car.

      Tina Appling decided to add a single-wheel trailing bike to the two-seater tandem and attach a trailer to the back so that her two children could pedal with her. It is what Appling and her children use , weather permitting, for everyday transportation.

      Appling has researched, via the Internet, to see if there is anyone who has a longer tandem than hers. To date she has found a family of five in Switzerland with a 21-foot bike and a family of four in Vermont with a 15-foot tandem.

      “To the best of my knowledge there’s only a few of them,” Appling said.

Riding a tandem, as with any other bike, should be done with great caution. Appling rides about a foot away from the edge of the road to allow for wobble.

      “Going downhill on a tandem you can reasonably break 60 miles per hour,” said Estelle Gray, co-owner of R&E Cycles in Seattle. Gray explains that a tandem is faster than two single bikes because it has the power of two people riding with the wind resistance of one.

     Tandems were popular in the 1970”s and early 80’s because of their price, Gray said. Then the mountain bike came along and changed bicycle-building technology. That technology helped make the tandem more affordable too. “A nice tandem now is about $2,000,” Gray said. “A deluxe about $4,000”

     People were buying more tandems in the 1990’s and Gray has seen the trend increase in the past two years. The Northwest Tandem Rally in Port Angeles last year brought about 400 tandems to the area.

     Tandem buyers at R&E Cycles were mostly couples, but now Gray is seeing more adults with children interested in the bikes, she said.

“Most folks have never been on a tandem,” Gray said.

     If they venture to hop on they will see just how different it feels from a single bike. The person in front is called the captain and the back rider is the stoker. Coordination is the key since the stoker has no brakes. 

     It’s common for people to mane their tandems, Gray said. She calls hers “Old Faithful.” Appling fondly refers to her tandem as “the monster” because it can be hard to handle.

      “It takes longer to turn,” Appling said, adding that she was quick to realize that she is responsible for her children riding behind her. 

      The family is very aware of how difficult it can be for cars and trucks to pass the tandem. Drivers of semis and dump trucks have thanked Appling for pulling over, and she hopes that all drivers are cautious when they see the tandem on the road.

     “I have to sometimes use smaller roads, but I avoid them if I can,” Appling said. She likes the highways because there is a shoulder to accommodate the tandem sway.

      If Appling has a choice she will drive a car. It’s safer because it doesn’t wobble like a tandem, and it’s easier to keep the children still.

      When riding around, she gets to hear the good and the bad in people, Appling said. Passersby ask questions and comment on how great they think the bike is. But on one trip, drivers yelled to the Applings to go out and find another road.

      “We were hot, tired,” Appling said, “It was discouraging.”

       Marysville is the farthest Appling and her children ride. Getting the tandem out of the garage without it tipping over is hard enough. It’s a team effort getting the bike up a hill, Appling said.
       Appling would like to do the Seattle to Portland ride with her children on the tandem, just like she did with her own mother. So far, the longest ride the family has taken was last year when they ventured to Monroe. The 22-mile ride took five hours. 

        A mile and a half one-way trip to the grocery store that takes about five minutes by car is 20 to 30 minutes by bike. 

        Once they get to the store, Appling has to park the bike in a two-vehicle space. “I hope and pray that someone doesn’t run it over,” she said.

         In the event that anything happens to the bike while they are on the road, Appling is prepared. 

        “We always carry all our tools and snacks, and we are very, very safety conscious,” Appling said. “I ride as if I were driving”

You can call Herald writer Christina Harper at 425-339-3491 or send e-mail to

Side notes on Riding:

    R & E Cycles, 5627 University Way NE Seattle, offers Saturday morning classes on tandem riding. For times and costs call 206-527-4822

     The 2001 Northwest Tandem Rally will be May 25 to 28 in Pendleton, Ore. For information and a registration packet, contact Pat Kennedy at the Pendleton Convention Center, 1601 Westgate, Pendleton, OR 97801; call 800-863-9358; or e-mail The Web site for the 2001 rally is

  For information on the Tandem Club of America, write to Bruce and Judo Bachelder, 306 W. Union St. Morganton, NC 28655-3729, or go to the Web site at 

    For information on cycling for fun and excersize in Snohomish County, contact BIKES, P.O. Box 5242, Everett 98206, or on the Web at The 2001 Seattle to Portland bike ride will take place on July 7 and 8. For registration information go to

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