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The Bicycle

The Buddy Bike

By July 21, 2013August 14th, 202011 Comments

The other day I came across a bike for sale that my mind initially perceived as an abomination. Upon further inspection, I discovered that this oddity was a Buddy Bike. I was intrigued and was soon itching to take it for a spin. As my mind flipped through possible partners, I took a step back in my excitement and decided to learn more about them first.

The Buddy Bike

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.

While never reaching common status, the bikes were 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.

Buddy Bike For Sale

Riding the Buddy Bike

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?

Man and woman on a MalvernStar abreast tandem bicycle

Man and woman on a Malvern Star abreast tandem bicycle, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

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.

For anyone interested in the patent for the Buddy Bike, you can download a copy of it here.

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Colin Hope says:

    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!

  • Daniel Kite says:

    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.

    • Gus says:

      I’ll keep that in my mind if I’m ever out that way ;)

    • Dwight says:

      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,

      Dwight

  • ARTSTAR says:

    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.

    • Gus says:

      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.

  • Chris Meeds says:

    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.

  • Pete says:

    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.

    • Gus says:

      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. If I find it I will post it for reference.

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