Tandem Cycling - technique for hills on a tandem
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My wife and I ride a tandem and successfully rode RAGBRAI last year. Does anyone have any suggestions on technique for climbing hills? We spin as much as possible but would like to know if there is any suggestion to keep our momentum up. Some hills seem to be too much granny ginding.
04-05-01, 01:20 PM
Dunno if I can give you any help, especially since my wife's and my motto on the tandem is "We May Be Slow, But We're . . . Slow." When we are confronted with an extended grade, say 2 miles of 10% or 10 miles of 5%, we find that gravity puts us into the grannie pretty quickly and we just find a "zone" where we can get to the top while still breathing. Our combined age is 108 years, last year we put in 4600 miles and 222,000 vertical feet on the tandem, and we pretty much assume that our grannie will get the biggest workout in the hills. Just last weekend we sucked our chain and bent the grannie beyond use on one hill. After a hundred yards of being out of the saddle in the middle ring, we said the heck with it and pushed it up the remaining mile of that 11% grade.
So what am I saying? Maybe to embrace the grannie as your friend. And then to do as much climbing as you can, because the best way to get better at climbing is to climb. Earlier on the ride where we bent our grannie we went up a quarter-mile 17% wall that we could not have done two years ago.
Thanks for the reply. I always look for a secret (easy way out). I guess the best is to just work harder and get stronger. We have done alright on the hills before. My wife went from wondering whether she should be on the back of the bike to "I want to cruise faster". We only logged about 700 miles on the tandem last year. But we only walked a couple of hills. One at the end of a seven day tour ( We were just pooped). The other one we shucked a chain half way up, fixed it and decided it would be easier to just walk up rather than get started on a hill crowded with other riders.
Thanks for your voice of experience. Our combined age is only in the low 80's.
04-08-01, 08:43 PM
Originally posted by dakema
I always look for a secret (easy way out).
You aren't alone! This weekend my wife and I went to the Central Valley Tandem Rally in Visalia, California, where we rode with two tandem couples that we knew from our home base. One of these couples was able to test ride a Calffee carbon fiber that a vendor had brought, taking it on the 28-mile Sunday warm-up ride before breakfast. The dang thing weighed 28 lbs, and they scooted out of there like a bat outta hell. When I looked at our 46 lb beast, I did have a bit of bike envy, calculating how much nicer the hills would be. Unfortunately, this easy way out costs in the neighborhood of 8000 $US, so I guess I'll have to look for some other secret!
my advice is use the lowest gear and try to keep
going my wife "honks out of the saddle" this helps
but this loses some momentum
I think maybe the best answer now is for me to get stronger rather than look for some technique. I'm not sure there is a substitute for being stronger.
Use the tandems weight and momentum to your advantage. This works best on rollers (short hills) but also initially on a long grade. Gain speed and momentum on the down hill and stay seated for as long as you can when starting up the hill, at least until the tandem slows to the point of the aero advantage being nullified. Shift up the cogs and try to maintain the momentum you have created on the downhill. Then when under about 18 mph you can begin alternating standing and sitting. This strategy can completely overpower single bikes that attempt to stay with you as their advantage is climbing but your advantage is the aero and down hill weight. If a single passes on the uphill it will be a mistake for them because you can go by them so fast on the down hill they can not jump into your draft fast enough.
When climbing choose a hand postion that is high on the bars and slide to the back of the saddle. Push with your heels down to use your maximus glutemus over the tops of the crank/bottom bracket, pull with the upper body. This will give you the power of one more cog.
Develope your standing muscles to alternate muscle use and aid circulation.
When you legs are burning- stand up
When your lungs are burning - sit down
When the whole house is on fire- slow down.
05-31-01, 04:06 PM
Had a chance to work on rolling hills last weekend in Pendleton. Most of what we do has been stated already:
· Carry your momentum as you enter the hill - good shifting selections are needed
· Maintain a high pedal speed 90 rpm if you can
· Spin smooth circles and keep the heel down
We played around with both of us standing, but still have to work on smooth shifting going from a high rpm spin to a standing climb and back again while on the hill. I hate the sound of the derailer shifting under load. :irritated
my advice is use the lowest gear and try to keep
going my wife "honks out of the saddle" this helps
but this loses some momentum
Your wife has to sit at the back of you so consider the wind factor and honking especialyafter you have eaten the beans
02-20-02, 02:30 PM
All the previous advice sounds good to me.
We have one of those dang Carbon Calfee tandems and darn it, we still have to pedal uphill!
We work the momentum game on rollers but on long climbs we generally find a comfy cadence and pedal seated for the most part. We'll occasionally do a standing (both) interval for a butt-break. This got us up the big climb (about 10 miles duration) in the Grizzly Century last fall. I believe our low gear for that ride was a 32 x 30.
Our everyday wheel sports a 27 big cog.
02-21-02, 07:53 AM
Something I wrote a few years back:
More fodder on hills, aka my $.02 from an empirical perspective.
I believe that perhaps a good many solo bike riders perceive tandems to
be "slow" going up hills since this is where they pass them (or, in the
case of tandemists reading this post it is where they get passed).
However, why is that? In a good many cases, it's because that's where
the faster solo riders caught up with a slower team on a tandem -- it's
inevitable that they will catch up somewhere and hills are the great
equalizers when it comes to vetting out climbers from non-climbers. In
other cases it's where the faster solo riders who were sucking the rear
wheel of a tandem across the flats or rollers for the past 10 miles
decide "this is where we get off" and assume that the tandem team
intended to "hammer the hill" and couldn't keep up rather than, "we just
happened to be going the same way when you rabbits jumped on our wheel
for a 20 minute tow". In either case, it doesn't represent a model for
comparing "apples to apples" unless the solo riders & tandem team are
truly equals when it comes to riding abilities. The latter supports the
basic claim that, on average, tandems are faster than solo bikes which
-- with the exception of hills -- is probably true when you are talking
about comparing riders of equal abilities. In some cases, it may also be
true for teams of lesser abilities on tandems who hold their own on the
flats & rollers with the hammerheads only to be vetted out when they hit
All this gibberish leads me to what I consider to be the three or four
things that have a bearing on the hill climbing efficiency of tandems:
1. The "team's" combined ability to work together efficiently
2. Your particular goal and strategy for each hill climb
3. The management of your power curve to achieve your goal
4. Your equipment
Let me elaborate on these four considerations... NOTE: Assume an
average hill of 6 - 9% grade; not some 15 - 20% monster in the
(yes, it's after cocktail hour and the Braves aren't playing yet)
1. Everyone who's ridden a tandem has marveled how some teams are just a
lot faster or can ride much longer than their outward appearance or
perceived fitness would suggest. I have a personal philosophy that
suggests tandem performance has more to do with the team's ability to work
together and to manage their combined use of energy to achieve a higher level of
performance/endurance than a simple mathematical model would suggest
(OK, Duh! Not quite an epiphany). Conversely, merely taking two strong
cyclists and putting them onto the same bike will not necessarily yield
a high performance team unless they can blend their riding styles and
energy utilization into a cooperative team - not something that will happen
over night and, with really strong riders, sometimes never. Therefore,
it's the subtleties of tandem riding technique -- a bond between the pilot &
co-pilot, good communication and cooperation, compromising on riding
styles, techniques, and managing the natural performance advantages and
disadvantages of a tandem -- that will yield a team who, ON AVERAGE,
can ride on a par with solo riders of relatively equal or slightly
superior abilities. Hill climbing puts this cooperative effort to the test.
2. Assuming you have a tandem team of "well matched" riding partners
who are riding with solo riders of similar riding abilities, a hill
represents first and foremost a question for the riders approaching it;
what do I hope to accomplish here? This is where the goal and strategy
for each hill climb comes in to play.
-- If your goal is to intimidate you storm at the bottom using your big
gears and the momentum coming off a downhill or the flats & pray you run
out of hill before you run out of power.... In our experience, this
strategy works great on the small to medium size rollers but you eat
crow on a real hill. It is also our experience that this is how most
folks who talk about having a hard time with hills seem to go at it.
-- If your goal is to complete the entire ride and the hill is merely a
feature of the ride, you'll ride out any momentum and then pace yourself
up the hill by shifting into lower gears to sustain your cruising
cadence until you reach a balancing point where a slightly lower cadence
will allow you to motor up and over the hill without undue fatigue.
Again, in our experience, this is what the mature riders who are out to
enjoy themselves and their time together with other tandem teams will
-- If your goal is to dominate the hill and hang with the solos when you
go over the top you make sure you get out in front at the bottom, let
your momentum carry you as far as it can and maintain your cadence by
shifting into lower gears until you reach the balancing point described
in scenario #2 above. During this transition, many of the solo bikes
will in fact pass you -- at least for the moment. Once you hit this spot
you now focus on sustaining your cadence and begin shifting into higher
gears as soon as you begin to see your cadence rising, and so on as you
continue to climb. In fact, what you are doing is working rebuilding
momentum and speed so that as you reach the latter parts of the climb
you catch the riders who spent themselves at the bottom of the hill and
dominate them by accelerating past, even up shifting as you go by. If
you've managed your climb, you'll most likely be in front of your riding
peers when you hit the summit. As for the animals who you couldn't
climb with on your single bike -- WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN CLIMB
WITH THEM ON A TANDEM!!! Know your limitations.
3. In regard to managing your power curve, the last three examples
demonstrate a layman's view (my view) of three.
-- The first example is one where the power curve is skewed to the left,
leaving little remaining energy for the top of the climb, i.e., you're
gasping for air as you reach the summit.
-- The second example is one where there is little if any curve; rather,
it is a relatively flat level of effort throughout the climb. You feel a
tremendous amount of achivement as you finish the climb, talk about it
with your stoker, and are able to take a swig of Cytomax without
sneaking it in between breaths.
-- The last example is one where the power curve is skewed to the right;
energy is conserved at the beginning of the climb then gradually
expended in progressively increased amounts throughout the middle and
top end of the climb so that as you reach the summit you are able to
drive over the top. Who cares about taking a drink, it's time to catch
the hammerheads on the descent since we've got the advantage now!!!
4. Finally, there is the equipment and its inherent advantages and
disadvantages relative to climbing and descending. If your rig isn't
laterally stiff then it isn't going to climb like a solo bike. How bout
them tires? Big, cushy 32x622's at 90psi will not transmit power as
efficiently as say 23-622's at 130psi. How well do you manage your
momentum? Frankly, we never worry about being passed on moderate hills
because we'll always be back in the pack once the momentum of the solo
bikes gives way to our tandem team heft. Similarly, our acceleration is
also something that may hold us back when the solos jump off at the
start of a climb or from a dead stop; however, not being discouraged by
the momentary sight of our solo friends fannies, we know once the big
"mo" picks up we'll be right back where we want to be.
Well, that's about all the philosophizing that I can stand and probably
more than you wanted to read (thank goodness for delete keys!!!!). If
you did read all the way through, hopefully it was entertaining and
perhaps made you reconsider how you think about climbing with your
tandem to achieve your goals.
06-14-05, 12:48 PM
I would add that like recumbents, one of the speed advantages that tandems have is lower wind resistance to power ratio. This is less of a benefit the slower you are going.
09-24-10, 09:21 AM
I agree with most of the other posts about technique and would only add a few things. Another tandem friend showed us a breathing technique where you breath out forcefully and then inhale forcefully. The theory is that it gets more oxygen in faster when you need it. It ends up sounding a bit like panting. I don't know if this is sound science but we do it and it seems to help. The other is mental attitude. Even when you are in the granny and going up a steep hill it gets slow and thoughts of walking can creep in. Saying "Yes I can do this, let's keep going". Get a rhythm going and keep at it. Eventually the hill will end, if you can keep going. On tandems of course, it is a partnership. I remember one time when we were going up a steep hill at the end of a long hot day. I was saying "we can do it, we can do it". My wife was saying "no I can't, no I can't". Apparently I wasn't listening well enough to my stoker (bad news on a tandem). So she just stood and locked her legs. That got my attention real fast and I was able unclip just fast enough not to fall over. Listen to your stoker.
09-24-10, 05:48 PM
search and revive dead thread day
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