This tandem (pictured) sat in a garage, and then a storage locker for 25 years. It was repainted and “repaired” by a bike shop 12 years ago, and put back into storage when the young couple who didn’t want the bike gave it back to me.
One day last month, a neighbor offered to take on an odd job, as he was looking for holiday money. I gave him this bike to fix.
The frame was house paint red, the fenders were rusty, the brakes were wrong, and the frame was compromised.
You can see what a beautiful job neighbor Jarrod did.
My tandem is a cheap American tandem with the frame prototype first unveiled in 1970 by Columbia. The problems? Durability, handling, gearing, braking, the skinny frame and the coaster break. But I bought a piece of American biking history in 1995 back at a yard sale.
In 1887, Col. Albert Augustus Pope of Hartford, Conn., began to import bikes from England and sold them. Since he was a mechanically minded person, he approached a friend at the Weed Sewing Machine Co. and said, “We can make bicycles.” And Pope did, and formed the Columbia Mfg. Co. He was cognizant, way before his time, of centralized manufacture, and opened a plant with facilities to make tires, tubular steel, bike parts, with a factory in Hartford and offices in Boston.
The main office burnt down in 1896, but by then Pope had a flourishing bike business in Massachusetts. Like Starbucks today looks for corners with other brand name coffee houses, a bike company named Lozier opened a factory in Westfield, Mass. The Lozier and Pope bike enterprises merged in 1900, and by 1903 Pope owned all the bike brands on the East Coast.
Remember the lyrics, “Daisy, Daisy; give me your answer true. I’m half-crazy over the love of you! It won’t be a stylish marriage. We can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet, upon a seat, of a bicycle built for two?”
Pope was picking up on something; the twosome (we call it the Tandem) bike. Pope made his first American tandem in 1887 which was an adult trike for two.
By 1915, Pope’s company went bankrupt after his death at 66 in 1909. But like any great firm it reorganized and discovered its great biking history and, after not making tandems since 1899, began again in 1961.
Columbia made tandems till 1991, when they went bankrupt again, and began to focus on the side business — tubular framed kid school furniture.
I am indebted to “The CABE: the Classic and Antique Bike Exchange,” which sets forth the timeline of Tandem Columbia tandems:
In 1887, a two-person trike, the first American tandem by Col. Pope, was produced.
In 1890, the first non- trike, with a front rider, was made. The ads of the day say, ”Front rider need not be experienced. The front is readily adaptable for a lady on the front seat by removing one brace.”
The handlebars were connected and downward facing. A dress guard was in place for the chains and sprockets to prevent contact with a lady’s skirt.
By 1895, the Columbia model 43 entered with a removable bar in the front for ladies. And in case you snigger, a Men’s Men’s tandem with TWO up-high bars entered in 1895 as well as a model with a permanent front lowered, for only ladies; no removable bar necessary.
Columbia Co. was famous for American tandems (which were not cheap then; $200 was a lot of money in 1890), but stopped tandem production because of bankruptcy in 1899 until the rediscovery of tandem biking in 1961.
Ironically, the company that had put the women in front and the men in back, now, in 1961, put the man in front and the lady in back, with a higher handlebar. This was called a “twosome bike for companion riding.” 1961 brought us striped enamel fenders and a marketing claim that the bike was a must for rental agencies.
1966 brought a single-speed tandem selling for under $100. However, you could buy a dual speed in green for more.
In 1970, the ads said, “This is the answer to America’s lack of family togetherness.” The tandem featured a white sidewall tire in a green or red frame.
In 1972, we see the frame in Surf White or Goldenrod. (The white one is a single-speed tandem.)
In 1974 we see a “mod blue” tandem in two speeds, in 1976; a “Sky blue’ with racing decals; in 1977, the color mod blue tandem is 5-speed.
And in 1979, the color was “radiant Ginger,” and the bike was a 5-speed.
In 1982, Columbia introduced an emerald green bike with yellow sidewalls. Just beautiful.
The first change since 1970 was in 1988 — Columbia’s Double Eagle 5, a white tandem with a blue fork at 26 inches and the kid’s model tandem matching at 20 inches with hot wheel-style handlebars.
The last Columbia tandem was in 1991 — the Double Eagle, with a pair of water bottles.
The value of my tandem, fixed by Jarrod, is $800.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.