N-Person Bicycles

Gallery opened 1 May 2020

Updated 18 Sept 2020

More on 2-person bikes added

New link added in 40-person bike section

Index added

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This page grew out of the same idea as the N-wheel car page. Four-wheel cars are common, and one-person bicycles are common. But when you start changing the numbers, you can find yourself in some interesting places...

There is already a page on unusual bicycles.

TWO PERSONS

A two-person bicycle is called a tandem, and they are not that unusual. There's one somewhere around where I live; about once a month I see a couple go by on it. There's also a one-person recumbent I see now and then.

Left: Two-person bike or tandem: 2014

Not particularly unusual, but I though at least one picture of a tandem was mandatory. This is a Rodriguez Custom Classic Touring Tandem, by R+E Cycles of Seattle, USA. The starting price is $4,699; tandems are not cheap. See more here.

This machine has derailleur gears. These can sometimes be problematic on tandem and longer bikes because of the greater cable runs make precise gear-changing harder, and it is also not possible to look down and see what gear you're in.

Left: Unusual tandem bicycle: 188?

This demonstrates there is more than one way to build a tandem. Presumably the lack of crossbar at the front is to accomodate a lady's skirts.

The construction looks very light, and I wonder about the structural strength. The machine has not so far been identified.

It looks as though the rear pedals connect to the front pedals by a 1:1 chain running forward, and there is a conventional chain running back from there to the rear wheel sprocket.

Left: Malvern Star abreast tandem bicycle: 1930s

A tandem is not the most sociable of affairs, with one rider staring into the other's shoulder-blades. The Malvern Star had the solution; put the riders side-by-side. Malvern's main output was conventional bikes, and they are still in business today.

Both handlebars are connected to the steering, so there'd better be good agreement about which direction to go in. Even so, keeping a bicycle upright is accomplished by making continuous small steering changes, so looks as if it might be best to have one rider designated 'Captain'.

Further research indicates that the Malvern abreast bicycle was actually a replica of a machine built in 1897 called the 'Punnett Sociable'; the replica was constructed for Malvern's 50th anniversary celebrations.

There is a short Wikipedia page on sociable (side-by-side) bicycles. An inherent problem is that wind resistance is much increased over a conventional tandem.

Left: Original Punnett Sociable abreast tandem bicycle: 1897

This is an original Punnett Sociable restored. The idea was patented by Albert Weaver of Hamilton, Ontario, and manufactured by the Punnett Cycle Manufacturing Company of New York.

You can see that between the two saddles there is another mounting for a central saddle. If there was only one of you, then you moved one of the saddles to the central position, and off you went. Or did you? You would have to use the 'wrong' pedals on each side, but more of a challenge would be steering, which was supposed to be done by grasping the two inner handgrips, which would reverse the steering. In fact the machine could be ridden with just one person on one side, as confirmed by the replica below.

There are many pictures of abreast sociable bicycles and tricycles at onlinebicyclemuseum.co.uk.

Left: Replica of the Punnett abreast tandem bicycle:

This is a modern replica of the Punnett Sociable. There are full details of the construction process here. At the end of the page is a video demonstrating that it is possible for one person to ride the machine, which has no mounting point for a central saddle, with a bit of judicious leaning to the appropriate side.

Left: Modern abreast tandem bicycle: 20??

Here is another approach to the 'sociable' tandem. Here only one of the handlebars is connected to the steering, and it also carries the brake levers and gear shift. No doubt about who's in command here.

Note the elegant way in which two sets of pedals are provided on a single frame.

Source unknown

Left: Stunt tandem bicycle: 20??

Some people just have to do things the hard way. Here the two riders are not one behind the other, but one on top of the other. Both handlebars appear to be connected to the steering.

Oviously this counts as a freak bike and is in no way practical transportation. You might have to look out for low bridges.

Source unknown

Left: Giant tandem unicycle: 2005

You would need to keep an even warier eye out for low bridges with this machine.

  • Length: 7.8 m
  • Height: 3.7 m
  • Wheel diameter: 3.32 m
  • Weight: 150 kg
  • Construction 150 m of aluminium pipe

It is unusual for the rear tandem rider (often called the stoker) to face backwards.

It is claimed to be the largest (for some definition of largest) bicycle in the world. It was built by German artist Didi Senft in 2005. More info here, and also Didi Senft has a website.

Left: Giant tandem unicycle: 2005

Note the name 'Didi Senft' on the front. It all looks a bit of a risky business, cycling at that height on a wet road. Presumably out of shot there is a big step-ladder.

Left: Stunt tandem unicycle: 20??

So you have two riders, but who says you have to have two wheels? This unicycle presents the ultimate challenge in keeping two riders co-ordinated.

Yes, I do realise that it is a unicycle and not strictly a bicycle.

Source unknown


THREE PERSONS

A 3-person bike is usually called a triple, though The Goodies of course called theirs a 'trandem'. Tridem and Triplet have also been used as names. Predictably, they are much rarer than tandems and a good deal more expensive.

Left: Three-person bike; the Goodies trandem: 1970s-80s

There were in fact three different triples used in the various series of the Goodies, as recorded by The Guardian.

Note the lower saddle for Bill Oddie.

Left: A conventional triple: 20??

Triples require rather more rider co-ordination than tandems do. There is some helpful advice here.

Left: Jim Gallant's Kid-First Trandem: 20??

Jim Gallent built this bike to arrange his children in order of size so everyone could see where they were going. The steering is firmly under the control of the third rider. You can see his home-built Human-Powered Vehicles (HPV) here.

Note hefty 2-inch tube along the bottom of the frame.

Left: Spotted in Bruges in March 2010

The bike has been identified as a Onderwater family-triple. A third child seat can be added to the rear carrier.

The name Onderwater can be seen on the rear of the frame. Unsurprisingly, it means 'underwater' in Dutch.

Left: Onderwater family triple in use.

The smallest child is excused pedaling.


FOUR PERSONS

A 4-person bike is usually called a quad or quadruplet.

Left: The Cambridge quad: 1895

Quads were widely used as pacing machines for racing bicycles. Judging from the caption, this is the pacing quad of the Cambridge University cycle-racing club.

The pacing issue was so important to bicycle racing because it reduced wind resistance. Wind resistance increases by the square of the velocity, so the effect is dramatic: a ten percent speed increase requires a twenty percent increase in power. Pacing used another vehicle running just in front to shield the competitor from the air. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when cycling was dominated by records, paced record attempts became an integral part of cycle sport.

The first pacers were cyclists mounted on the same type of bicycle as the competitor. They would be replaced at regular intervals, allowing the “stayer,” the cyclist making the record attempt, to travel at the top speed of his pacers. Even greater speed was realised by substituting solo pacers with multi-cycles – tandems, triplets, quads and even quints- that were specially designed for the purpose of track pacing.

You can see a steam-powered pacing tandem on the steambike page, with an illustration of the odd riding positions required.

Left: Pacing at Lancaster Park: ca 1890

A quad and a triple pacing a cyclist at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, New Zealand. The stadium was demolished after damage sustained in the February 2011 earthquake.

Source: Christchurch City Library, file reference: CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0073.

Left: A quad: 19??

Riding quads and quints is often a family affair.

Left: An unusual quad: 1948

This is clearly a freak bike rather than a practical transport proposition, but it undoubtedly carries four people.

It was reported in the 27 December 1948 issue of Life magazine, in an article titled "Hell on Wheels: Life on Mutant Bicycles" It was describing the projects of a group of Chicago bicycle enthusiasts.

It's not clear if the machine in this picture is moving or not. There is no motion blur, but a fast shutter speed would have eliminated it. There is no sign of external support to hold up the bike if it is stationary, but on the other hand there is no sign of it leaving tracks on what appears to be grass.


FIVE PERSONS

A 5-person bike is usually called a quint.

Left: A quint: 1950s?

Source unknown. From the clothing it might be Britain in the 1950's.

Left: A modern family quint: 20??

Note how the top tube slopes downward to the rear to allow for different heights of saddle.

The lettering on the bottom tube reads 'CO-MOTION CYCLES'


SIX PERSONS

There seems to be no enthusiasm for calling a six-person bike a sext. Can't think why.

Left: Six-person bike: 2014

This custom 6-person bike was built by Steve's Bike Shop in Altadena for CBS, to air in a commercial for their new fall line up.

Left: Six-person bike: 2014

This custom 6-person bike was built for family outings.

There appear to be auxiliary chains fitted so that the younger offspring have pedals they can reach, and so can deliver their quota of horsepower. R+E Cycles make a kit for this called the Kidback.


SEVEN PERSONS

Left: Seven-person bike: 1964

Left to right: Bud Brion, Roy Matson, Dick Ellifson, Doug Runkel, Java Bergerson, Arnold Gunderson, Bill Amundson

On Sunday, August 23, 1970, the St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, Wisconsin News, published the following article: "30,000 DUE AT STRUM FESTIVAL."

"This is the famous SEVEN MAN BICYCLE......a major attraction at community parades around the Strum area and west central Wisconsin. A Strum product! Built in Strum by Jewel Berge, our Blacksmith, and crew.

"This bicycle also appeared in the Fall 1964 Homecoming parade at the University of Minnesota. I was a student and resident of Frontier Hall Dormitory. I convinced my father to let me bring it to Minneapolis, that I had the guys in the dorm that could ride and manipulate this monster of a bike. Maybe a week before homecoming my friends and I and a Corvair with hitch made the trip to Strum, hooked up the bike and specially built trailer and made the trip back to Minneapolis. The stares along the way through Eleva, Mondovi, Durand, Prescott and then through the St. Paul-Minneapolis Metro area on U.S. Hiway 10........the stares were unreal!"

"Once we found a parking place for the bike back of the dorm, it was the local attraction around the dorm and Minneapolis campus for days. And then we practiced and the attraction grew. The bell, the air horn fed by that tank on the back of the bike.. A hit as you can imagine."

"This bike and our 7 guys, me being one, were the Frontier Hall entry in the Homecoming Parade. The parade angled down University Avenue on the Minneapolis Campus.....and we snaked this bike along the way, working hard to keep the back wheel on the center line and veering left and right with the front. It worked. We won first prize for all dormitory entries in the parade..........and the stares and hoots never quit!"

"What a great idea my fellow Strumites (or is it Strummers) had for promoting Steam Engine Days....and just about anything! Put a candidate for local or state office on something like this and the voters would never forget the person, just like the memory no doubt caused many a parade goer to never forget this entry in the parade and the NEED to get to Strum on Steam Engine Days each year."

"NOTE: my father, Roy Matson is the second man from the left in this picture. All of these men are well known in the Strum area. In this picture, they obviously are riding in a parade (probably other than Strum) to promote the upcoming Steam Engine Days probably during the mid to late 1960's."


EIGHT PERSONS: 2014

Left: Eight-person bike: 2014

This bike was found on the website of Lancashire Limousines who would like to sell it.

The website has a video of the machine in action, though sadly only with five riders.

There was once a giant 8-person tricycle, built to promote tyres.

Left: Eight-person bike: 2014

Another picture of the 8-person bike above.


NINE PERSONS

Left: Nine-person carousel bike: 2003

Finding a nine-person bike was never going to be easy, and so this is the best the Museum Staff can do for the time being. The Circular Bike was fabricated from nine salvaged bikes by Robert Wechsler in spring 2003.

Yes, I have noticed that it is not strictly a bicycle as it has nine wheels.

The bike is 3 ft high by 12 feet in diameter; it is modular and can be dismantled, transported and reassembled. It is normally left in public places to attract can attract riders and spectators. Nobody steals it because making a getaway is rather a challenge.

You can see more pictures here.

Left: The BusBike: Nine-person six-wheel 'bike': 2014

The BusBike was fabricated from nine salvaged bikes By Cleveland Motley.

And yes, once again I have noticed that it is not strictly a bicycle as it has six wheels. You will have to live with the fact that when you get up to nine people, the rules are going to get bent a bit.

The machine has Ackermann steering, as used on cars.

You can see more pictures here.


TEN PERSONS

Left: The Oriten ten-person bike: 1896

This ten-person bike was built by Charles Metz of Massachusetts in 1896 to promote his 'Orient' bicycle factory. (Oriten is an anagram of Orient) It is in the Henry Ford Museum.

The bike is 23 feet long and weighs 305 pounds. It was reported to be very hard to ride. It could reach 45 mph, which required some courage as it had no brakes, nor indeed gears.

Bracing wires can be seen running diagonally downwards from rear to front. The bracing was to improve lateral rather than vertical stiffness.

This machine is fairly well known.

Left: The Unicycle Factory ten-person bike: 2010

If you thought the Oriten was a singular aberration, think again. The Unicycle Factory built this 10-person bike. There are hydraulic brakes on the front wheel.

I am aware there are two wheels at the back, but as with nine-person bikes you have to be a bit flexible. Stability at parade speed was the problem, solved by the two rear wheels.

You can see more at sillycycle.com, and there is a YouTube video of it in action. (uploaded June 2010)

Left: The Unicycle Factory ten-person bike: 2010

Another view. Note the large top tube, which appears to be about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. The top tube is in compression rather than tension, and so needs to be strong enough to resist buckling.

The frame has been repainted at some point.

Image quality poor, I'm afraid.

Left: Unidentified ten-person bike: date?

Found on the Interwebs. Can anybody identify this machine?

Note the extra bracing. It looks intended to improve lateral rather than vertical stiffness, as in the Oriten above.

Left: Unidentified ten-person bike: date?

I think the clothing of the passers-by suggests the USA as the location, but that is speculative.

Left: Unidentified ten-person bike: date?


THIRTEEEN PERSONS

Left: Thirteen-person bike: 1968

This is a still from the 1968 film The Bliss Of Mrs Blossom.
In the background a thirteen-person bike rides by.

It is not a well-known film, though the cast included Shirley MacLaine, Richard Attenborough, Patricia Routledge, and Bob Monkhouse.

Frank Thornton, Barry Humphries, and John Cleese also make brief appearances in the film.

Here is the relevant bit of video. The thirteen-person bike is unknown to Google.


TWENTY PERSONS

Left: The twenty-person bike: 2015

This monster machine is currently the record holder in the Guiness Book of Records. The frame is a big triangular girder, to obtain sufficient rigidity. The bike had to be ridden a distance of 100 metres without stabilisers to prove that it is "rideable" and so qualifies for a Guiness record. To make this possible the rear 'wheel' is more of a giant roller. The machine is 136 feet long.

It was built in 2015 by the University of South Australia, with support from the gas and oil company Santos.

There is an intriguing video of this monster on YouTube


THIRTY-FIVE PERSONS

Left: A thirty-five person bike in Holland: 1981

I am aware this is not strictly a bicycle. In fact. it's not at all clear how many wheels it has; the front section, carrying five people, is a heavy-framed tricycle. The rest of the machine consist of ordinary bicycles joined together in some way that is not visible; there looks to be one bicycle wheel per person.

There are (I think) eight pairs of stabilising wheels. There are certainly at least 29 people in the picture, though the count rather fails at the far end due to lack of definition. The placard in the middle is attached to the machine; it presumably carries sponsorship information; investigations are in progress. Schoonoord is the nearest town to the village of Wezuperbrug.

There is a Youtube video of this machine appearing in a Dutch television program De Eerste De Beste (Simply The Best) in 1981. There is a brief view of the machine in the opening sequence from 0:44 to 01:07. The audio is in Dutch.

Don't miss the dance routine at 13:28.

The notice at the front tells us this is Team Krikke, a cycling club from Wezuperbrug, which is a small village in the Netherlands with a population of about 180. Perhaps it was bigger in 1981, for it (and presumably the surrounding area) was able to come up with 35 young lads. A. Krikke of Wezuperbrug built the bike; this was the second attempt as the bike-building team was disqualified the previous year by the TV program because of some unclear regulations (according to Krikke) and they were beaten by a 31 meters long bicycle. There is a newspaper report here. In the last paragraph of the article Krikke says he likes constructing weird things and was brooding on something else.

After the TV-program A Krikke received several invitations to demonstrate the bike but the need for a truck and a bus to transport the bike and its riders made this too expensive. The bike was shown to a Japanese TV-crew.

There was a professional racing team from 1986 to 1992 called PDM managed by Manfred Krikke, which I thought might be relevant, but apparently not. There was an unfortunate doping scandal in the 1991 Tour de France.

Source: Further Transports of Delight by Spike Milligan. This is a collection of photographs with misleading captions that were intended to be humorous. They are not.

No source information was given by Mr Milligan, but the front of the book says it was Popperfoto. I have never met Mr Milligan, but I have met people who had, he said darkly.

Above: A thirty-five person bike in Holland: 1981

This picture comes from the Dutch TV program mentioned above. The same chap is steering as in the b/w picture above.

It doesn't add much to our knowledge of the machine.

Above: A thirty-five person bike in Holland: 1981

From the Dutch TV program mentioned above. It doesn't really add much more than proving that the machine really existed, while the video proves it could move and stop in an orderly manner.

Above: A thirty-five person bike in Holland: 1981

This pic from the video proves the machine could move along a road. So long as no corners were involved.

Above: A thirty-five person bike in Holland: 1981

Newspaper report on the bike. Note that it says it was a 39-person bike, not 35-person.

Translation:

"The Krikke family and neighbors from Wezuperbrug will swing themselves next Thursday with 39 men in the saddle of one bicycle. The intention is to take a shot under the eye of the TROS cameras; The construction with which the test was run last night is 40 meters long. A team of eight men worked on it for a month in the free hours. Last year, the Wezuperbruggers participated in the record attempt. At the time, the title was ignored because, according to Mr Krikke, some ambiguities had crept into the regulations, when a 31-meter bicycle took the credit. Krikke is convinced that the colossus can be moved and kept on the road."

Source: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden for 30-07-1981


FORTY PERSONS

Left: Possible forty-person bike: date unknown

This image comes from the Velovision website. The link on that site only goes to a 'not found' page in Japanese.

Whether this is a real machine or a Photoshop job is currently unknown. However, details like the bell on the handle bars and the extensive frame underneath that keeps the machine standing up incline me to think it is is real.

This website gives a length of 26 metres and confirms that there are forty seats on the machine, but no other information is given.

The Museum Staff are investigating, but I can tell you now that Googling 'forty-person bicycle', and variations thereon, yield nothing relevant.


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