This holiday season, beloved coffee chain Dunkin’ decided to sell a branded bicycle — and it took me for a ride.
The company formerly known as Dunkin’ Donuts has rolled out a line of merchandise emblazoned with its iconic orange and pink logo. Items ranged from the expected — hoodies and jogger sweatpants — to the less conventional — a dog leash and a duvet cover, for example.
Then there was the $500 tandem bicycle.
Online reactions to the unusual offering ranged from enthusiasm to befuddlement — especially as the bike remained available for purchase after other, perhaps more practical, Dunkin’ merch sold out.
The product description promises the bike to be “insanely fun” and “easy-riding,” but offers little else in the way of specifications. There’s no info on size, weight or gearing — details you’d hope to have before deciding to slap down a cool half-grand in the name of coffee brand loyalty.
The more I looked at the bike, the less I understood. While I’ve never ridden a tandem bike myself, I’ve seen a handful in my lifetime, and something about the Dunkin’ one didn’t add up. Could the back rider sit on it without tipping the whole thing backward? Did it make sense to have the back pedals on top of the derailleur? Was this really just a single-rider frame with some extras haphazardly welded on?
As GearJunkie’s Adam Ruggerio put it: “It reminds us of those renderings of bikes drawn from memory. They look almost rideable, just not quite — kind of like if M.C. Escher was a frame welder.”
The $500 price tag also seemed low for a tandem — or “sketchy as hell,” as one Reddit user on the site’s r/bikeboston forum wrote. A bicycle built for two can easily cost upward of a thousand dollars, like Trek’s $1,359.99 bike or Co-Motion’s $2,995.00 model.
But one cannot write a tandem takedown on assumptions alone. I reached out to bike experts.
“At first glance at this photo, this is not a tandem that is rideable,” said Zoe, a longtime salesperson at WheelWorks bike shop in Belmont, Massachusetts, who declined to give a last name. “The rear end of the bike is totally wrong, from the crank to the double chain, and we would not guess that it can work with the physics of this planet.”
The price, Zoe added, seemed low — “most single bikes start at about $500 — a two-person would start at four figures at minimum.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Kevin McCutcheon, owner of Tandem Cycle Works in Denver, via email. The rear seat’s position behind the rear wheel, he said, would make handling the bike difficult and possibly unsafe.
“In my opinion, this design would make rider weight distribution such that the front end could be very light and the steering could be potentially less than responsive,” McCutcheon said.
While the balance might be an issue, McCutcheon said he could see how the bike could work from a mechanical standpoint.
“There are two chains on the bike, which is normal on a tandem: the right side chain is the drive side where the gears can be changed, the left side is the timing side, where the chain connects [the two riders] together to keep them synchronized and pedaling in unison,” McCutcheon said.
Still, he pointed out that the timing chain going to the rear pedals and rear wheel was “odd.” Without being able to see the bike from the other side, however, he wasn’t able to determine exactly how it might work.
It was difficult to find a tandem bike for sale that resembled the Dunkin’ bike — suspicions confirmed by bike sellers I contacted. But it wasn’t the only one out there. A search for “tandem bike” turns up an image of this white model that looks identical to the Dunkin’ one.
I reached out to Macdeonia-based photographer Ljupco Smokovski, who created the stock image seen above, to ask whether the bike was real. In an email, he confirmed that it is a photograph of a real bicycle, albeit a unique one.
“Nothing is photoshopped,” Smokovski said. “It is a custom-made bike that we borrowed for a shoot from a friend of a friend who has ridden it and still rides it with a partner.” So, if Dunkin’ is selling a bike, it likely isn’t this exact one.
“How it came to be offered for sale by Dunkin Donuts I really have no idea,” Smokovski added.
When I reached out to Dunkin’ for more information, an outside public relations representative sent me specs on the “Micargi Sport tandem,” which features a Shimano derailleur, shifters, and 7-speed freewheel. It weighs 60 pounds and measures 81 by 27 by 7 inches. Measurements seemed promising — it meant there was a physical thing to be measured.
The rep said Dunkin’ began fulfilling orders on Nov. 23, and provided an additional photo of the bicycle.
A breakthrough! Another photo of the bike was what I needed, proof the mechanical wonder was indeed real and not just a cursed fever dream of 2020. I opened up the link.
It was an entirely different bike.
This just led to more questions: If this was the version of the bike that Dunkin’ customers would receive, then what was the clearly different one doing on its website? Why bother mocking up two bikes at all? Why can’t we just have nice things — among those an uncomplicated, simultaneously niche and outlandish gift for iced cappuccino devotees?
If this were the image on Dunkin’s online shop to begin with, I might not have started this mystifying journey at all. Shoddy photo-editing notwithstanding, this version is at least less brain-breaking to envision in our physical world, with a longer frame, higher handlebars and additional space between the rear pedals and the rear wheel. It looks like a tandem bike. I could actually picture two people riding this down a sun-dappled street to pick up a to-go cold brew order without imminent risk of bodily harm.
Googling “Micargi sport tandem” shows the same bike for sale on ChubbysBikes.com for $499.00. It can also be found on the Micargi brand website, although it’s sold out.
It’s unclear why Dunkin’ chose to use a different photo to advertise its bike. The company’s spokesperson responded to follow-up questions by directing me to the original photo that started it all.
But it is somewhat reassuring to think that anyone who adds the mythic Dunkin’ bike to their cart will hopefully, 10 or 15 business days down the line, receive a rideable bike instead of the confounding model advertised on its site.
And if the Dunkin’ model is being sold for just $1 more than a generic equivalent, some fans might find it worth the splurge. After all, the difference is less than a cup of coffee.
UPDATE: Nov. 30 — Dunkin’ has updated its original listing of the tandem bike, now including specifications in its description and featuring a different photo.