July 1994:

Tandem Nomenclature

I, too, noticed the use of the term "half-bike" in the premier issue of TANDEM. While this term might be too demeaning to survive, an alternative to "single" would be nice. The word single, in print, is often awkward or confusing. Think about it: Single riders can be married. Tandems can be ridden by singles. A single bike rally could be a solitary gathering. And an unaccompanied tandem is a single bike.

Earlier netizens have wondered which is correct: boob-tube or boom-tube?

"Boob tube" goes back to the mid-'60s and was coined by Pete van Nuys, who made up this term when no one could tell him the proper name for the tube connecting the bottom brackets of his tandem. After deciding "bottom bracket tube" was too long and determining "B-B tube" was too short, Pete concluded "boob tube" was just right. Boob tube soon became a common term and achieved publication by the early '70s. In the mid '70s boob-tube was found on the framebuilding forms used by Bud's Bike Shop when ordering tandems from framebuilders around the world. In 1976 the Taylor brothers of Jack Taylor Cycles in England became the first foreigners to adopt this terminology. By the late '70s boob became a standard noun used by Japanese framebuilders and their suppliers to describe a tandem's special tube (and when Tange's engineers confer in their native language, "tandem" and "boob" are about the only words I understand). In Italy, too, this word is used by tube suppliers and frame designers when conversing in Italian.

"Drainpipe" is older British slang for the same tube. This term has never attained international usage.

"Boom tube" is a bastardization of boob tube that first appeared in a Specialized tandem ad published in 1991. Though someone at Specialized admitted this was a unfortunate typo, the term is easily understood by sailing enthusiasts who note the similarity of this tube's orientation to a sailboat's boom. Some prudish people have continued to use this word as it seems to them a less-crude variation.

Inside the Santana factory we use "boob tube." The word I prefer for our publications is "bottom tube." While the word "bottom" may still cause some prudes to blush, it is at least easily understood.

"Captain and Stoker." In the mid-'60s "Captain" and "First Mate" was a theme for kitschy his and hers sailing attire. Catalogs and novelty shops sold coordinated nautical-motif caps and shirts emblazoned with these terms. On a mid-'60s tandem ride that passed Knott's Berry Farm (a famous Southern California tourist trap), one tandem couple wore a pair of these Captain / First Mate T-shirts. Another team, Jim Hershey and Richard Fite, responded by getting a pair of sweatshirts custom lettered at Knott's souvenir stand. Their shirts said "Captain" and "Boiler Room Stoker." Richard claimed this was because he did all the work while Jim got all the glory. I believe this was the original use of captain and stoker for front/rear tandem riders. These terms were already in wide use by the time I reported them in my "Tandem Topics" column for BICYCLING.

"Stroker." Originally, stroker is southern slang for a race car driver. Unknowing editors have often mistakenly changed stoker to stroker. Like boom tube, stroker commonly reappears when someone is unfamiliar with the correct term. The obvious problem with captain and stroker (ships and race cars) is that it lacks the relationship of captain and stoker.

"Pilot." Along with half-bike, this term appears throughout the premier issue of TANDEM. Again, the problem with this terminology is the lack of relationship between the words pilot and stoker.

"Guide-rider". An alternative to captain or pilot used by Claudia Folska, founder of Eye-Cycle (a national group providing tandem riding experiences for the blind) in the original Eye-Cycle publications. When I asked Claudia where this term originated, Claudia admitted this was an adaptation of guide-dog (her preferred term for seeing-eye dog). After hearing the original story of captain and stoker, she now uses these terms instead.

P.S. Nearly 30 years after coining "boob tube," Pete van Nuys still rides his T. Parsons tandem. Jim Hershey traded in his Jack Taylor tandem and now owns a Santana Arriva. Richard Fite gave up cycling and became a race car driver (that's right--Richard, the original tandem stoker, gave up cycling to become a stroker).

PPS: (March 1995). A few months ago Richard sold his last racing car and bought a new Santana Rio--welcome back to tandeming, Richard.

By Bill McCready, President

Santana Cycles, Inc.
Sales and Customer Service

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