A blog friend asked of me the other day, “Question, do you work harder on a tandem or does it tend to even out, even if you may be a stronger rider? I’ve not tried it before and hubby is way stronger than I and I worry he might not want to if he thought he would have to work that much harder.”
I don’t think there’s a doubt about it, I work harder captaining a tandem than I will a single bike – but fully answering that question relies on several other factors that will muddy the water. And that isn’t even without the “does it even out” part of the question.
Clearly, most important is how exactly you plan on riding that tandem. I had high expectations when my wife and I bought ours. I envisioned the two of us putting the hurting on our friends as we rocketed down the road, the fellas lined up in our draft… on our 42 pound (19 kg) tandem.
It’s never quite worked like that for us. Our tandem is heavy and neither my wife nor I are lightweights, so we save the tandem for fun days (typically Sunday) because to “put a hurting on our friends” requires a lot of effort – and that absolutely is more work than riding on a single bike.
It shouldn’t be, you’d think, because you have the power of two riders with the wind resistance of only one… technically, we shouldn’t have to work harder. Every captain I know, and I know several, will tell you being the pilot of a tandem is work. I think it’s more rewarding work, though.
See, you’ve got a bike weight that’s worth a lot more than our two single bikes which weigh in at 33 pounds and some change betwixt the two. Then, my position up front is a little more upright. Then, we’ve both gotta be in sync to evenly distribute power (and that takes a lot of practice). Also, you’re a lot slower going up hills but you’re super-fast going down (the key here is to use the downhills to help on the uphills – if you can). The uphills on a tandem are a blessing for the single bikes that will ride with you, though. They’ll get a rest going uphill while you’re pedaling like a maniac (I always love riding with tandems for this exact reason). The hills can be brutal until you learn to climb together as a team (though they do equip many tandems with triple cranksets, and the triple on a tandem is bueno).
So, after all is said and done, if I look at our tandem as a fun time spent riding with the woman I love more than sunshine, I don’t have to work much harder at all. We just match power and go, and it is wonderful. The tandem is perfect for our Sunday Funday ride.
If I want to keep up with a faster group, say a 20-mph average – a group I can easily keep up with all day long on a single bike, I’ll be working my tail off and I’ll pop before 40 miles.
As to the balance between strong and less strong cyclist, the pedaling evens out because the cranks are synced up. I’ve ridden the tandem with my youngest daughter when she was just nine and we did fine. Did I work harder? Yes I did, but it was fun work.