Tandem Cycling Then and Now

Mockridge and Cox
Russell Mockridge and Lionel Cox win gold in the 2000-meter tandem event at the 1952 Games in Helsinki

The bicycle built for two, made famous in the 1892 song “Dasiy Bell”.

Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy, All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

Did you know that bicycles built for two were also vehicles for Olympic competition? Tandem racing over 2000 meters was an Olympic event from the first modern Games in 1896 in Athens, to the 1972 Games in Munich.

In 1952, at the Helsinki Olympic Games, two Australian cyclists, Lionel Cox and Russell Mockridge, decided to compete in the tandem cycling event despite never having ridden on a tandem bike together. In fact, not only had they not practiced together before arriving in Helsinki, they didn’t even have a tandem bike to compete on. They eventually took on a discarded bicycle from the British team. They had to actually assemble it on their own before practicing for the first time.

On a tandem bike, one cyclist can ease off the pedalling while the other pedals hard, but if both cyclists pedal hard, you can generate speeds significantly greater than a cyclist on a single-seat bike. In one of the heats prior to the finals of the 2000 meter competition, the Australians were leading when Mockridge, who was seated up front, eased up at the end. The result was a photo finish that took considerable time before the judges declared the winner of the elimination heat. Mockridge and Cox went on to win gold, in fact the second one for Mockridge that day. (He had won gold in the men’s 1000 meter time trial.)

Although the tandem cycling event was discontinued, it still exists in the Paralympics where a blind or visually impaired person is seated in the rear seat. In the front seat is a sighted person who is not a professional cyclist.

tandem cyclying_Scott and McGlynn
Great Britain’s Helen Scott and Aileen McGlynn during a training session at the velodrome in the Olympic Park Photo: PA