This post won’t be some simple “How To” about riding a tandem bike. There are hundreds of posts out there that cover the simple basics on how to start.
Well, maybe one point… That crap about starting out with the stoker clipped in? Yes, it’s vastly more efficient and awesome to start out that way. It is. If, however, you’re new to this, the stoker is likely to feel incredibly uncomfortable starting in the normal fashion. Don’t sweat it. Both of you can push off and clip in. It’s no big deal.
With that one out of the way, let’s get into some of the more intricate ins and outs.
1. Starting is tricky. Figure out something you can repeat. Same way every time.
2. Captains, pick a good gear to start in. You’re not riding a 16 pound solo bike. A tandem takes a minute to get rolling.
3. After your first, maybe second, ride and you’re pissed at each other because your stoker kept trying to coast at the worst possible time or your captain forgot to warn you about the tenth bump he/she couldn’t avoid, remember one thing: It’s a frickin’ bike ride, dude. With two people who have presumably been riding bikes their own way for quite a while. Dude, this takes a minute to get used to everything that’s going on. Stick with it. My favorite little saying applies… Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.
4. Communication isn’t just key, it’s almost as important as pedaling. My wife and I took a few weeks before we really started working together well without communicating about everything. “I need some gas”, “That’s enough gas”, “Coast”, “Shift” (my wife knew based on cadence which way I was going to shift), “I need to adjust” (the stoker can’t just shift in the saddle without preparing the captain, one small shift throws the whole bike off), and so on.
5. Other than adjusting in the saddle without communicating and/or trying to peek around the captain to either side (you’ll pull the entire bike into the ditch), the stoker makes no mistakes. Captains the world over will hate and look for ways to discredit this golden rule. In the end, the sooner the captain accepts this rule, the quicker the couple can find, and ride in, harmony.
6. The captain’s job is to make the stoker’s ride as comfortable as possible.
7. Riding a tandem fast comes down to working together, efficiently. Efficiency is a must, and my wife and I are still working on it. I thought that I would be strong enough to will our tandem down the road. I was mistaken. On the other hand, when my wife and I work together, let’s just say riding the tandem is exceptionally fun. As enjoyable as the single bikes but for different reasons.
8. There is a very steep learning curve to riding a tandem, even for experienced solo cyclists. The more experience the two cyclists have on solo bikes, the shorter that climb is.
Riding our tandem started out pretty shaky for my wife and I. Our test ride was great because we had no expectations. The second ride though, that’s where we learned how tricky working together really is… We had a long talk after that ride and I did wonder if we were actually cut out for it. After that discussion and mutual commitments to communicate better, the magic happened, and it was good.
That tandem has been an excellent addition to our stable.