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  1. #1
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    Pilot steering technique

    I had my first go on a tandem yesterday when I was assessed by a visually impaired cycling club member as a pilot. The stocker was very experienced (and an excellent navigator) but Im not sure if there was something wrong with my technique or the bike.

    Are you supposed to steer the bike to make it turn, or lean it and use steering to correct the lean?
    I ran off the road twice after trying to avoid raised speed bumps in the middle of the lane, steeply cambered gutters and slippery white paint. Fortunately I stopped before crashing but it was a bit unsettling.
    The forks may have been misaligned since the bike did not track well.

    What is the correct technique for getting around road obstacles?

  2. #2
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    It varies with speed but, in general, you initiate a turning manuever by countersteering with the handlebars, e.g., apply pressure to the right end of the handlebar, which turns the fork and wheel to the left, causing the bike or tandem to move right while you simultaneously adjust your upper body weight left or right of center to center your weight through the bike or tandem. The combination of countersteering & upper body shifting causes the tandem to lean and change direction in a smooth and controlled arc. As soon as the turn is initiated you then guide the tandem through the turn with subtle handlebar inputs to control the arc or to straighten up the tandem. As you progress from simple turns into more aggressive cornering you bring your saddle and inside thighs into play and put more pressure into the handlebar inputs to "torque" the bike into the turn, with postive pressure on the outside pedal.

    Most of us who learned to cycle as children or who have been cycling for many years do this subconsciously without thinking about the mechanics involved. The best way for anyone who doubts they are actually turning their handlebars left to initiate a right turn when travelling at speed (or turning them right to go left) is to pay attention to which elbow tends to bend more when taking a corner.

    Now, since this is a tandem, the other things that factor into handling include the stiffness of the frame and the weight and height of the "team". The more stiff the frame is the better it will resist twisting under the weight of the two riders and the better it will track through turns. A "noodly" tandem will have what's sometimes referred to as "stoker lag" or "tandem lag" where the back end of the tandem flexes each time a turn is initiated and "lags behind" the front of the tandem with respect to the real wheel track. Even on a stiff tandem, taller and larger stokers can cause the same effect, making the handling a bit more sluggish and heavy-handed to control.

    If the frame or forks are not aligned then, yes, the handling will also be adversely affected.

    As for manuevering around obstacles, the key is to anticipate them early so that you can use as wide of an arc as possible when steering around them. Using the wider arc reduces the aggressiveness of the steering inputs, lean angle, weight shifts, and any stoker lag. Stokers also appreciate the more gentle manuevers. If an abrubt evasive manuever can't be avoided, be sure to tell your stoker which way you're turning so they can anticipate the tandem's movement instead of being caught by surprise and going rigid on the back of the tandem... something that will exacerbate any normal "stoker lag" felt on your tandem.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 10-30-05 at 04:31 PM.

  3. #3
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW
    I had my first go on a tandem yesterday when I was assessed by a visually impaired cycling club member as a pilot. The stocker was very experienced (and an excellent navigator) but Im not sure if there was something wrong with my technique or the bike.

    As a new pilot, you have already found that a Tandem handles differently. One point mentioned is that stoker height and weight can affect the handling. One reason I am a stoker is that my pilot is 40 lbs heavier, and stronger and I could not control the T with him as stoker. We now make a good team, but I think you may have problems with a visually impaired pilot.

    Any movement made by the stoker will affect the steering, although he is an accomplished stoker, does he sit centrally on the bike, does he help balance the T, and any power put in by him- is it at the right place. I always warn my pilot if I am about to look behind, change position, or even reach for water bottle. This will make him prepared for the swerve that I will be causing.

    On the few occasions that I act as pilot- I find that I tend to keep the bike upright in corners, and steer the thing. This is due to the novelty for me, I am certain, but my experienced pilot will lean the Tandem through corners. Does make for a more stable ride, but we are still perfecting this on the high speed tight corners.

    It is get out and ride time- And then more riding. If you get the chance, try riding the Tandem solo round the Town a few times. Practice makes perfect so keep riding and just try to stop the stoker from screaming too loudly.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  4. #4
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    Michael, Welcome to the tandem world.

    TandemGeek gave you some insights. For me, asking whether you lean or steer to turn is like asking whether the chicken or the egg comes first. However, a tandem is longer than a single bike and doesn't steer the same way. You need to plan your road around potholes and speedbumps a little bit ahead of time and you may even need to go on some of them whereas you would have avoided them with your single. And since the tandem is longer, it means you need to turn the wheel more than on a single for the same turn. On wet or icy ground, it also means that you need to slow down more! In difficult terrain or under difficult conditions, the tandem is not as manoeuvrable as a single.

    Even though I had 3 years experience with my daughter on a trailercycle, my first rides were 2-3 km long and quite frankly, that was enough! Enough to fine tune my position on the bike, enough to learn about handling (I was in traffic), and enough to get sore shoulders. But after that, everything went fine.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  5. #5
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    In more than ten years of ridding the tandem we have never fallen... knock on wood! We had several close calls, the great majority of them at very low speeds and usually arround cars that cut you off, traffic lights that force you to stop while uphill, doing U turns in narrow roads, etc.
    I learned about countersteering in this forum a few months back but I was doing it all along. It only works at relatively high speeds.
    My advice is to slow down, particularly on unfamiliar territory, until you fell more confident and have good control of your rig. The only two close calls at relatively high speed have involved equipment malfunctions: bars breaking and tire blowup. Make sure that your equipment is in top shape... especially those forks!! Steering a Tandem is hard enough.

  6. #6
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornucopia72
    It only works at relatively high speeds.
    Ok, here's a question: If you have safely mastered riding your regular solo bicycle or your motorcycle at relatively low and moderate speeds without your hands on the bars, i.e., sitting upright and making steering corrections by shifting your balance on the saddle or pedals/pegs, what is happening that causes the bike to move left or right? Oh yeah, and if you say it's leaning the bicycle, which way to the handlebars move on their own when you lean a bike to the left and which way do they move when you lean a bike to the right?

    How about an experiment: When coasting down the road at any where from 10 - 25 miles an hour gently start weaving your bicycle back and forth left to right, paying attention to which way you are turning your handlebars as you lean the bike back and forth under your butt. Now, run a pseudo slalom course -- perhaps using the broken centerline of a quiet back road for your "pylons" crossing through the unpainted breaks and without touching the stripes -- that requires more aggressive direction changes at around 10 - 15 mph. Again, pay attention to which way your intuitively turn the bars as you change the lean angle of your bike.

    Note: I do not recommend doing the weaving or slalom course on your tandem as it will likely draw some complaints from your stoker.

  7. #7
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    From http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~fa...g/Steering.htm:

    ''How you steer a bicycle
    If you attempt to make a right turn on your bicycle before first leaning your bicycle over to the right, centrifugal forces will cause you to crash by falling over to the left. (These centrifugal forces are the same ones that throw you to the left when you drive a car around a hard right turn.) Leaning the bicycle to the right allows gravity to cancel the centrifugal forces. But how do you get the get the bike to lean to the right? By countersteering, i.e. by turning the handlebars to the left. In other words to make a right turn, you first turn the handlebars left!''

  8. #8
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gregm
    Actually, the better part of that particular article to extract as it relates to the original poster's question and issues with the steeply crowned road was this one:

    "Countersteering shows up in many ways. For example, you may also have noticed that it is surprisingly difficult to ride clear of a close, high curb. The difficulty occurs because you have to steer into the curb to get away from the curb."

    Moreover, the further off-camber the riding surface the more dramatic and counter-intuitive the steering inputs need to be. For example, take a ride on a velodrome or around the high-banks of a stock car track and you'll find that -- regardless of your speed -- to ride up the track you steer towards the bottom of the track. To get back down you must steer towards the top of the track or the wall.... as we experienced first hand at the '04 Southern Tandem Rally in Concord/Charlotte, NC, when Humpy Wheeler gave the OK for the rally participants to ride around Lowes / Charlotte Motor Speedway. We and one or two other teams tempted fate and decided to explore the upper reaches of all four highbanks on our last lap: I believe that is us in the middle of the photo near the wall and under the Hardees sign and, no, that's not the steep part.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 10-31-05 at 05:16 AM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    After a bit of practice on the tandem, steering becomes intuitive.
    Have ridden with blind stokers, including a lady that raced in the Para Olympics . . .

  10. #10
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    It really is about seat time, and getting in tune with your stoker. After a awhile its second nature. We've gotten to the point that we can ride our tandem no handed, probably not the brightest stunt, however.

  11. #11
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    Maybe it's just me, but it's a bicycle. Reading will get you just as far as it did when you first started to ride a single bike. Get out and ride some more and it will fall into place.

  12. #12
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElRey
    Maybe it's just me, but it's a bicycle. Reading will get you just as far as it did when you first started to ride a single bike. Get out and ride some more and it will fall into place.
    Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't... Yesterday's post from one of our S2000 club members who decided to take up riding two-wheeled cycling, a motorcycle in this instance.

    I think I did fairly well until one incident. When I got to the curve part (slow 65 degree), i couldn't get the bike to turn more right...so i slowly veered, unintentionally, to the left towards the oncoming lane. There was a minivan coming from the other side, honking like crazy at me while i was literally riding on the double lane. that was scary as ****. she didn't pull to the right or anything, but she just kept coming at me...and i turned the bike as close to my lane as possible and barely missed the van...

    Classic case of reverting to "car mentality" while riding a two-wheeled cycle and steering towards a hazard instead of away from it. This lack of knowledge vs. driver instinct kills a lot of motorcyclists and is also what gets most adults who take up cycling later in life in trouble.

    Moreover, unless you have encountered a lot of off-camber riding in a velodrome, off-roading, bmx'ing, or live in a place like San Francisco and find yourself riding across the fall line of steep roads, riding on a seriously off-camber road or shoulder as described in the original post is one of those things that can throw off even a seasoned cyclist as it pits your knowledge of two-wheel cycle steering against your instincts as a motorist which kick in and make you try and "steer away from" the hazard instead of into it.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 11-01-05 at 12:59 PM.

  13. #13
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    I would agree about getting out on the bike. If you are having trouble "getting it" after all these posts, you probably should ask for help locally. Get out with them in a parking lot or on a grass field if you think you will take a tumble. If you can't get the confidence up to captain, then by all means don't. In the end you likely will not get it until you have some time and practice on the bike. I think it is very unlikely that you will have your eureka moment reading through these posts, but hopefully they will start you on your way to having that eureka moment on the bike.

    I am pretty amazed at your motorcyclist story tandemgeek. The story reads that this person is not licensed and has no business commanding a motorcycle on the road. He not only put himself at risk but others. I care less about them endangering their own life but it could have easily turned deadly for an innocent. There is no excuse for that. All my motorcycle friends are strong advocates of local motorcycle safety courses. I hope someone strongly recommended this to the rider.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek
    Moreover, unless you have encountered a lot of off-camber riding in a velodrome, off-roading, bmx'ing,
    Reading earlier bits of this thread got me thinking back to how I used to ride through those tall, earthen berms back in my BMX days... I seem to recall exiting most of those turns under power, usually turning while the front wheel's off the ground (I did say "under power" -- yanking hard on the bars w/ each pedal stroke) by leaning way over to the inside to get the bike to "fall" back down out of the curve and onto the next straightaway.

    Making the final exit of those turns seemed to have very little to do with rotating the front wheel, as best as I can remember.

    Not sure if I'm describing it clearly, but I can sure feel it. Pedal pedal pedal go go go! Grrrrrrrrrr!

    -Greg

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    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by masiman
    I am pretty amazed at your motorcyclist story tandemgeek. The story reads that this person is not licensed and has no business commanding a motorcycle on the road. .... I hope someone strongly recommended this to the rider.
    Actually, that's a bad assumption. In the state of Georgia, and many other places, a six month learner's permit is granted based on passing a written exam. The permit carries with it prohibitions on riding after dusk, with a passenger, and on limited access highways. The individual was STRONGLY encouraged to take an MSF course before buying the motorcycle and signed up for the first available class... in January.

    Do I think he's placing himself and others at risk? Sure. Have I told him so? Sure. Did he go ahead and buy all the gear and motorcycle anyway? Sure. Why? Because there were a lot of other folks out there suggesting he "get on the bike" and "just get in some seat time" and "practice, practice, practice" instead of erring on the side of caution and not assuming too much about what he knows or doesn't know about steering a two-wheeled cycle and how to handle hazardous or unusual situations, like... oh, I don't know, off-camber shoulders.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 11-01-05 at 02:09 PM.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by gregm
    Making the final exit of those turns seemed to have very little to do with rotating the front wheel, as best as I can remember.
    You know, I almost remember pointing the front of the front wheel up/outside -- even with the spinning wheel in the air -- while trying to muscle all of my weight back down off of the curve.

    Whew, been a long time. And it was never anything you talked or read about, you just bumped elbows and shoulders and pushed pushed pushed as hard as you could. Pedal pedal pedal!!!

    -Greg

  17. #17
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    You're right, that was a bad statement. I thought I had read through the post more thoroughly. I should have substituted the unlicensed with "woefully inexperienced". I do recall my first days on the motorcycle and how against the system I was for making me take a written and practical exam before getting my license. Maybe it saved me and others a world of hurt. My reaction was not focused on you but a more visceral one given an experience I had with another motorist just last night. All my kids were in the car when this happened. The sad part is the other motorist acted purposefully. I got a good enough look before they drove over a sidewalk and into a parking lot to get away to see that they were kids. I was thankful that no injuries were sustained, but the next vehicle may not be so lucky. What a way to end a nice Halloween night.

  18. #18
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    I agree with the comments that Tandemgeek has been making. I've been learning to ride a motorcycle, and found the same turning issues identified by MichaelW at the top of the post. I studied the root cause, and found to be this a common problem. At anything higher than a few mph leaning, not steering, a two wheel vehicle dominates its turning direction. It has to do with the inertia of the rider(s) and bike, and the position of the contact patch. I got back on my road bike and intentionally steered the handlebars in a certain direction while going straight, and the bike moved in the opposite direction! Same effect, but I had been trained over the years to countersteer briefly before initiating the turn, and didn't even realize it. Whether a tandem or motorcycle, the extra weight forces you to be more conscious of this effect: countersteering to initite the lean. Once you realize it, You will be more proficient on all two-wheel vehicles. I am.

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