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The Noob’s Guide to Riding Tandem Bicycles with One’s Spouse: How to NOT Kill Each Other (Or Wish for the Other’s Death) Before, During or After A Bike Ride.

My buddy, Mike, likes to say that a tandem is a marriage maker or a marriage breaker. This post will cover how my wife and I made riding tandem the former.

The person up front, the stronger rider is the captain. The person in the back is the stoker*.

Rule Number ONE: The stoker never makes mistakes. Ever. Was ever thus.

*Rule Number TWO: My stoker isn’t referred to as “a stoker”, even though I just wrote that the person in the back is “the stoker”. The stoker is really your Rear Admiral. My wife coined this just a few weeks ago and it shall stick. Because it is awesome. If I keep that perspective, I’m the captain and my wife is the rear admiral, that’s just about the patience humility needed to have the most enjoyable experience one can imagine on a tandem.

This is why my wife and I are awesome on a tandem. We compliment each other. And it was not easy getting here.

Beyond the BS on tandem riding, if you want to not only survive riding a tandem with your spouse, but love it, there are a few things I can pass along that will be helpful. Oh, and it took about two years of regular tandem riding to get here. See if you can do better.

  1. Get your spouse a Garmin so they can see how fast you’re going, too. They’ll be able to see if you’re slowing down and how that relates to their pedaling. This trick saved me massive headaches.
  2. Lower your expectations if you’re normally fast on a single bike. Tandems are about 30% more effort than a single bike and it takes effort to work together; more “want to” than you’ll likely think at first. My wife and I are quite fast on single bikes. I’m a 21 to 23-mph average while my wife is comfortable between 18 & 21. When we ride tandem, we can be anywhere from 16 to 20-mph depending on the ride. We did our first tour last week and we didn’t get above 17-mph for an average over the three days and I could not have possibly cared less… because, Number 3.
  3. Love your spouse like there’s no tomorrow. My wife and I do better the more we love and care for each other off the bike. I’ll make this simple; if you’re prone to fight and get upset if you feel the other isn’t performing up to your expectations, you’re too self-centered. Stop it. Trust me, I know how this works. It isn’t them, it’s you. Cut it out.
  4. Communicate. When your Rear Admiral pushes through a nice climb, tell them so. When your captain negotiates a challenging situation, let them know. My wife and I developed a series of non-verbal communications on the bike, too. I’ll rub her arm or wrist to let her know I love her. She’ll rub my right butt cheek to do the same. She rides with her hands on my back to signify playful happiness. I extend my left fist back for some knuckles when she powers us through a hill or a turn… and when my wife wants a QOM, she gives a gentle smack on the butt to get me moving.
  5. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
  6. REMEMBER THAT WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT!!! When it’s all said and done, love each other. If you want to ride well on a tandem, that starts off the bike. My wife and I have more fun riding tandem than should be allowed… because we care for each other immensely. The better we are off the bike, the more fun we have on it.

All of these points are important, but that last one is serious. My wife and I sleep so closely at night, you can’t slip a piece of paper between us. For me, the sun rises and sets on her and my wife treats me the same way. It wasn’t always like that – and that was reflected in how we rode on the tandem. In the end, and this is off the bike, I decided to just worry about “cleaning my side of the street”… and when I thought my street was clean, I asked God to show me if there was any dirt that needed tending to. What my eyes were opened to was shocking… and I went to work, cleaning that up. And we went from an occasional tandem riding couple to “I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be on a bicycle than being the Captain for my Rear Admiral”. We’re regularly moved to tears of joy with how much fun we have together on our tandem. And that’s how we know we’re doing it right.

If you want to ride tandem with your spouse, remember this: sometimes you want to throw them like a lawn dart, but you just have to love ’em. Do this and you can’t go wrong.

This post is for my most amazing wife. I love you, Jessica. There’s no place I’d rather be than on a tandem with you. You are my Sunshine.