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Home » Cycling » What Does It Take to Make It Work on a Tandem Bicycle Part One: The Captain’s Perspective

What Does It Take to Make It Work on a Tandem Bicycle Part One: The Captain’s Perspective

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This is going to be part one of, at least, two. Maybe three; I don’t know yet.

My wife and I have become quite the tandem couple. I didn’t see this coming, but I’m glad it did. I’m happier on our tandem than I’ve ever been on a single bike. Being on the same bike with her, while challenging at first, with a lot of work became a bright light in our relationship.

The following is how I approached going from a single bike and self-centered, selfish cycling to being a tandem captain to my wife’s rear admiral. And, as I’ve written here often, this is the proper way to look at the relationship. If I start thinking “I’m the captain and my wife’s “just” the stoker, I am going to create problems for us… because the second I don’t respect my wife and cycling partner is the second I might think she’s making mistakes. If we know anything about exercise, we know that when we start to get tired, our filter seems to let just about anything through and we become considerably more disagreeable. Those two together with someone else to blame are a recipe for disaster… and the tandem hanging on hooks in the garage.

Which is why the rear admiral never makes mistakes.

My wife and I started riding the tandem more during the pandemic because, well, with the government paying us to ride our bikes and everyone else too petrified to ride together, why not? We’d had the bike for something like four years but I had a tough time treating my wife like the rear admiral as I detailed in the previous paragraph. My behavior mixed with her misperceptions of my behavior and entire lack of decent communication had her falling out of favor with the bike.

As we rode alone, though, without my need to keep up with whatever group we normally rode with, I started to relax a little bit. I was getting a great workout and we had each other close by to talk to… and talk we did. I think that led to an opening up of the communication channels that benefited us massively. Then, as the group started riding together more often because we were tired of not seeing our friends (and it became glaringly obvious Covid didn’t transmit well outdoors) and rather than always trying to keep up, my wife suggested we try a Sunday Funday where we capped the pace between 16 or 17-mph for an average. With a few very fast exceptions, this worked a treat.

We’d ride the tandem when we rode alone and on Sunday and the single bikes when we were expecting a faster ride and it was quite fantastic.

At the beginning of last season, literally before the last of the snow melted, I had a complete change of heart regarding our marriage. I mean structurally down to my baby toes change of heart where I realized I had a lot of room to be less self-centered and selfish. I struggled along emotionally but the tandem always brought us together and I grew quite passionate about my wife and I riding it. We had an amazing time.

We took our tandem on our first tour in June, a camping trip up to a town I’d spent weeks every summer in when my parents would ship us off to our grandma’s house for a breather. Jess and I were the sweepers for the tour. She had work obligations to be there and we ran the registration, so after registration was complete and the riders were on their way, we’d suit up and ride. We spent most of the tour riding just she and I. We talked and looked around, and stopped every time the mood struck us to take in the scenery. We never topped 17-mph for an average on either of the three rides.

It was at that point I’d realized what I had been missing out on by being too rigid about keeping up and riding fast. I decided that the aggressive cyclist me had to go. My need to keep up was killing our good time on the tandem. And so it was.

From there it’s just a massive amount of communication – and by that, I mean I had to learn how to properly convey what I needed to in a way that was reassuring to my wife, under pressure, while tired and sweaty…

Once you learn how to do that, and to apologize when you don’t live up to it, then you’re a captain.

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