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The best advice we can give to anyone exploring a tandem purchase for the first time is to try as many tandems as possible. It is unrealistic to assume that the most popular, most expensive (choose your category) or most available tandem is the best one for your needs. Active cyclists who have owned top-quality bicycles for years will be disappointed in cheap tandems, but first timers who are out for some casual recreation may not be. It doesn't take an $8,000 tandem to make bike path tandem cruising fun. Obviously, a cheap cruiser tandem won't be suitable for century rides or racing either.
When you begin shopping for your tandem, approach it as you would any major purchase. Give some thought to what you'd like to do on a tandem, and what your budget can hold up to. Read reviews, ask for advice here, and get some hands-on experience. Find out if there's a local bike club with a tandem group or even a tandems-only club. They can be valuable resources. Bike shops that keep tandems in stock are a rarity and need your support. Find them and ask for their help in selecting a tandem that suits your needs. Most are happy to let you take test rides so that you can compare various manufacturers' claims with your own feelings. Because of space and expense considerations, most shops will have to order- in your size and color, so impulse purchases are unusual.
Compare the qualities of tandems as you would compare cars or computers. Take notes to help you organize your thoughts. Divide your findings into categories, like handling, comfort, weight, sprinting performance, climbing performance, etc. Captain and stoker observations on these categories can vary greatly. Make sure that you're both going to be happy.
Remember that changes can be made in componentry, but you're going to have the frame for a very long time. Make the frame the most-scrutinized part of your search. Often mass-producers of bicycles make a lousy bike look good by specifying a few high-profile components, gambling that consumers will assume the bike is great because it's got X,Y+Z. If the brands you're interested in are not available in your area, call the manufacturer and find out where the nearest dealer is. It's worth a trip to ensure that you're making an educated purchase.
Trust your instincts and don't let the high-tech jargon intimidate you. If you're persistent in your search, you'll be able to narrow your choices down quickly. When it comes to writing the check, you'll know that you made your choice intelligently. That will make all the miles ahead more fun.