Today I came across a bike I initially perceived as an abomination. I soon discovered this side by side bicycle was the Buddy Bike.
I was intrigued and began itching to take it for a spin. As my mind flipped through possible partners, I took a step back and did a bit of research instead.
The history of the Buddy Bike
The Buddy Bike or side by side bicycle is a concept that dates back to the end of the 19th century likely originating in England though there have been different iterations throughout the years. Fledgling versions of this bicycle built for two were often used by young men to court women of interest. Proximity to one another was naturally intimate and conversation was easy, thus coining the term “sociable” bike.
Robert C. Barrett invented the modern version in 1979 and sold the patent, where it was manufactured in the 80s and branded under the name ‘Bike Buddy.’ Unfortunately the company went under and these bikes are no longer commercially produced. However variations continue to emerge at a grassroots level thanks to homemade engineering.
Riding side by side
When it comes to riding, both passengers pedal using cranked pedals arranged on opposite sides. Steering and braking is controlled from the left while the person on the right holds onto a stationary handlebar. Opinions among some suggest that passengers should be of equal weight to minimize any chance of tipping over. Situations of severe weight discrepancy may transform the bike into a trebuchet. However patents would suggest otherwise as seats and handlebars can be staggered to different heights allowing riders to inter-fit transversely while still maintaining a center of gravity between them.
Does the Bike have a future?
It be would interesting to see a reincarnation of this type of social bike but there are a few drawbacks. The obvious is that they are marginalized since two people are required to ride them. Which means you’re screwed if someone decides to end the joy ride and walk away. Also unlike tandems, they can never be geared towards performance when considering the wind resistance factor and the intricacies of an uphill battle.
There is also the danger factor if you plan to hit the city streets. Attempting to ride one along Queen Street in Toronto would invoke a death wish. In some countries the bike they may not even be street legal. In Argentina for instance, traffic laws require bikes to ride in single file, one behind another such as in the use of a tandem.
Buying one may need some strong persuasion from your partner rather than from a salesperson. But there are still options available if you want to ride one. In Berlin, two can rent a stylish Buddy Bike with the motto of “Endless fun for the lover or the beloved.” What better way to roll towards the Brandenburg Gate while being hand-fed slices of bratwurst. If even relegated to sight-seeing or a city tour, the buddy bike is worthy addition to any cycling community.
Join the discussion 26 Comments
Hi, Gus! I loved this article, especially because I own a Buddy Bike. I agree it is best ridden by two people, although one solo rider can do it… I’ve done it… but it’s scary… Keep up the good work, reaching out in your writing, even to avelopes (people who don’t cycle) – poor things!
Hey Colin, thanks so much for the kind comment! That’s cool you have a buddy bike, I’d would love to ride one.
Recently had a Buddy Bike given to our Bike Shop. I am going through the bike to basically overhaul it. If you ever get to Lawton, Oklahoma, ours will be here ready to ride.
I’ll keep that in my mind if I’m ever out that way ;)
Hi there from Maple Ridge, BC Canada.
I recently came across a Buddy Bike at our bike shop that was brought in for repair.
I was thinking of buying the bike from the customer for my personal winter project up here in the rainy and cold winters we “enjoy” here in South West Canada.
Do you still have the bike? Were you able to source Parts fo the unit?
How did the overhaul go?
The bike is in reasonable shape but shows lots of rust and since it was stored in a barn for about 20 years so I am sure a lot of the running gear parts are rusted shut.
Appreciate any comments or observations you might have.
Thanks a lot,
I own one in Denver, CO. All original except one pedal. My wife is always sketched about riding it, so it up on my garage wall. A couple more years and I will be able to ride it with my kids.
I most impressed that you were able to hang it on the garage wall. Should be fun to ride with your kids once they’re old enough.
Rented one of these when on holiday in Majorca 30 years ago and rode it successfully with my wife and also with my 12 year old son. We found ourselves in many people’s holiday snaps as it looks very difficult to ride and they must have thought that we must be a circus act. However it was remarkably easy to ride once you started moving even with the weight difference between me and my 12 yr old. With a significant weight difference thebike must be ridden at an angle in order to keep the centre of gravity between the riders. Great fun but have never seen once since.
Hey Chris, thanks for your input on riding one.
great piece. it might be worth noting that the company that fabbed these bikes purchased the patent from a man named Bob Barrett. who, in the late 1970’s was making these out of upstate new york. mr. barrett was close with my uncle and i happened to pull a “sociable” out of his basement in 2012 and have been using it since. the barrett side-by-side (as the headbadge declares) was built with phil hubs, suntour groupset with bar end shifters, and brooks saddles. its an absolute beauty. i hope the style comes back, they’re a trip.
Thanks Pete for your comment. It sounds like you have a real gem on your hands. That’s interesting about the patent. I think actually have it somewhere and will update the post.
Gus, I have a Buddy Bike in Toronto, Ontario that I am trying to sell. Do you know of any parties that are interested in buying one? It is in reasonably good shape. Let me know if you do. Regards, David
Curious, could this be the same buddy bike I have in the photo? I took in Toronto.
I don’t know of anyone off hand but will keep you in mind.
Hi Gus, I just bought a ‘Buddy Bike’ in Australia, it’s in great original condition. Mine is right hand drive. It doesn’t have a rear rack/carrier, are these original? Cheers Tim
Hey Tim, congrats on your buy. It’s difficult to say with certain if your bike is an original. I’ve never seen a right hand drive, but they may have been produced later on. The rear rack is just an attachment and would vary. Branding might give some indication. You could also compare it with the patent that’s available to view here for some answers. Have fun riding!
I have one pretty much identical to the one in the picture in California which we have had for 30 years. My wife bought it in Manhattan Beach CA after we rented one from the shop to ride along the beach. It’s always a kick to get out and ride. Unfortunately a couple of weeks back the bike took a spill and the steering arm broke. Does anyone know of anywhere to get some parts for this old girl?
I have an original bought in Manhattan beach 35 years ago! It’s in great shape and has new tires and tubes. The only problem is the drivers handle bars are loose and needs to be retightened, I would sell it but have no idea what it’s worth
Hi. Thanks for this informative article. I will share it with the people who often contact me seeking parts for repairs on this sociable bike. I’m afraid they are out of luck as those cranks are custom, unless they want to have some fabricated. They often confuse this side-by-side with my inline tandem, The Buddy Bike® which we sell primarily to special needs families. In 2005 when we founded the Buddy Bike company, our name and trademark searches didn’t turn up anything. Thanks again for this well organized article!
Hi Shelley, thanks for your very interesting comment. Great idea you have, I wish you the best with your company.
Hello Dwight, Did you find a Buddy Bike. I have one in my garage waiting to be rehomed. It is in fair shape, some rust. If you are interested please drop me an email.
Hi Gus! I have a buddy bike here at the shop that needs crank arms. Do you know of a place that would have buddy bike crank arms?
Hi Brian, unfortunately I don’t know of a place but perhaps someone here may know.
Hey Gus, I had one of these in the mid-80’s. I rode several versions of them. A bike dealer in Buffalo, Bert’s Bikes and Sports made a deal with Bob Barrett and imported a couple hundred of them made in Taiwan (it might have been China but more likely Taiwan). I had a blue and white one. They were fun to ride but not long distance. Great for around the park and such. Not hard to ride solo either so you could easily ride it over to your honey’s house to pick her up.
Hey Vic, thanks for sharing your comment. That’s interesting to note that you could ride it yourself btw!
I got the coordinates of your site from Shelley, whom I thank very much. I bought a Buddy Bike in the 90s, from a French importer who rented on the beaches in Brittany. When I entered his shop with my wife, we wanted to rent a tandem, and the rental company offered us this atypical bike. I refused at first, but he convinced me to give it a try, and then the magic happened. At the end of the season, we bought one!
I took it out of my garage a few weeks ago to renovate it, I have to find the bases on which the steering rod is fixed, do you know where I could find these very specific parts?
In any case I hope I can make it look like the photo on your site, with the saddle bar and the chrome handlebars. Wonderful.
The little extra that I would like to bring will be to equip it with a front wheel with an integrated electric motor, yes, we are no longer the same age!