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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 01-25-07, 01:43 AM   #1
moleman76
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How slow can a tandem go uphill?

Question from a "single" bike rider:

On pavement,
What's the lowest practical gear for a tandem to be ridden by two cyclists of average, or above, ability?
Another way of asking that is "how slow can you go uphill before you simply tip over?"
(I'll do the math for connecting gear size, cadence, and speed)
thanks
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Old 01-25-07, 06:55 AM   #2
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Using your premises and rationale, it's same as they would be for a single bike... somewhere between 0 mph - 3 mph, maybe even 4 mph for very inexperienced riders, all subject to slope, tire width, team size, bike handling skills, levels of fatigue and the weather.

Many experienced cyclists and tandems teams have mastered the skill of trackstanding, i.e., balancing their bicycle on two wheels with little or no forward or backward movement for anywhere from several seconds to several minutes if so inclined. Therefore, on flat to moderate or even severely steep terrain, they can maintain their upright position at just about any speed in a variety of gear inches and cadences.

Other cyclists and teams simply lack an understanding of how a bicycle stays upright in the first place and/or lack the skills to even start and stop smoothly, weaving and wobbling at speeds under 5 mph, regardless of terrain, gear selection or cadence.

Enjoy the math or feel free to play around with Sheldon's calculator..
http://sheldonbrown.com/gears/

Last edited by TandemGeek; 01-25-07 at 08:03 AM.
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Old 01-25-07, 08:45 AM   #3
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Practical answer is below about 2 1/2mph, you might as well be walking.
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Old 01-25-07, 09:03 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandemGeek
Many experienced cyclists and tandems teams have mastered the skill of trackstanding, i.e., balancing their bicycle on two wheels with little or no forward or backward movement for anywhere from several seconds to several minutes if so inclined. Therefore, on flat to moderate or even severely steep terrain, they can maintain their upright position at just about any speed in a variety of gear inches and cadences.
Our slowest speed uphill is 4.5 mph even on the steepest hills. Approaching a red traffic light (we always stop), we can go very slowly. However, as we approach zero, the stoker gets nervous (she is cleated in and stays cleated at stops) if i do not stop and put my foot down. She has no interest in a track stand in busy traffic situations and I completely agree. We am very conservative when handling a tandem.
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Old 01-25-07, 09:16 AM   #5
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I think we've done 3 mph on some really steep hills west of Boulder.
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Old 01-25-07, 09:26 AM   #6
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Last summer, riding by myself on a fully loaded triplet with a trailer (1st part of the trip done with two other stokers), I was very happy to use my 18/32 on steep hills. I was climbing some hills at 3.5 or 4 km/h and most of them at 5-6 km/h. It might not look fast, but I would NOT have walked those 15-18% grades at the same speed if I had pushed the bike. No stability issues, except maybe when I hit spots of even softer pavement.

Speaking of soft pavement, here are two shots. One of highway 180 in Northern New Brunswick, with its wonderful pavement made of tar on gravel, and one with the effect on my 700x128 tires.
BTW, the "tracks" you see in the first picture are about 5 mm deep.
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Old 01-25-07, 09:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lordoftherings
We am very conservative when handling a tandem.
A good strategy, to be sure.

Trackstanding, very tight U-turns, riding no-handed, and bombing the descents are clearly things that can unnerve even a seasoned stoker. Again, Debbie is a very petit, stable, and trusting stoker who allows me a lot of leeway in the pilots seat, which are invaluable to precision bike handling and stupid tandem tricks like the aforementioned trackstands, etc...

I firmly believe our off-road tandem riding has gone a long way towards building both our on-bike teamwork and trust as well as eliminating some of the anxiety regarding falls. Knock on wood, we've never gone down on asphalt, but have lost count on the number of times and ways we have "augured it in" or "dumped it" while tackling the single track.

Off-Road Tandems: Lots of Fun Even When You Crash
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Old 01-25-07, 09:44 AM   #8
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Somewhat related. I heard a story of Santana having built a 5-person bike. A full team showed up at the annual LA Fargo Street (35% grade) hill climb. As the tale went as soon as they got onto the slope they stripped the teeth off of either the chain-ring or cog.
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Old 01-25-07, 09:55 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandemGeek
Many experienced cyclists and tandems teams have mastered the skill of trackstanding
Yeah, I can trackstand with my wife on the back if she locks her elbows straight. Not much of a hill climbing technique though
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Old 01-25-07, 10:32 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by waterrockets
Yeah, I can trackstand with my wife on the back if she locks her elbows straight. Not much of a hill climbing technique though
No, but it does demonstrate the extent to which balance can be controlled on a tandem even on flat and level pavement while at a dead stop.

Similarly, a team that works well together can also crawl along at very slow, near-stall speeds in a controlled manner while climbing or by intentionally "loading up the drive train" with pedal pressure applied against rear braking while on level ground such as when executing U-turns or manuevering in tight quarters.
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Old 01-25-07, 11:12 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandemGeek
No, but it does demonstrate the extent to which balance can be controlled on a tandem even on flat and level pavement while at a dead stop.
Yeah, I need the road crown to help me get the roll-back. Completely flat and level, and I'm putting some feet down. Skills = limited
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Old 01-25-07, 12:16 PM   #12
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The slowest we have ever been on a climb is 3 MPH. On the flat near to zero wating for a traffic light to turn green
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Old 01-25-07, 12:25 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moleman76
Question from a "single" bike rider:

On pavement,
What's the lowest practical gear for a tandem to be ridden by two cyclists of average, or above, ability?
Another way of asking that is "how slow can you go uphill before you simply tip over?"
(I'll do the math for connecting gear size, cadence, and speed)
thanks
You now know that tandems can do a track stand, go very slowly and climb hills effectively at slow speed without tipping over. We probably have teams that can do amazing tricks as well. We just do not tip over. It is an interesting question but out of curiosity, why do you want the info? You may want to provide some context to your question to improve the results.
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Old 01-25-07, 01:09 PM   #14
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another way to ask the question

Ultimately what I'm after is an understanding of what a reasonable low gear size is.

For my road bike, and with a 5-speed freewheel, 42x24 works for any hills I might choose to ride. I am fitting a 6-speed, however, and will use the ability to spread the cog teeth around to get down to a 42x26. (We're talking about a bike from the early 1970's, here)

I don't presently have a tandem, but am thinking about adding one to the stable of bikes. So, as I've been looking at common triple chainring and cassette combinations, and seeing things like 32x28, or roughly a 31" gear, I'm wondering, 4.13 mph at a cadence of 45 (per Barry Masterson's calculator) (laboring, uphill), is that low enough of a gear to keep forward motion going?

Trackstands, traffic lights, intersections . . . not part of the basic uphill question.

Or, maybe for those of you with cycling computers installed, what's the lowest speed you recall seeing on the screen as you were busting your guts on a climb?

thanks !
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Old 01-25-07, 02:41 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moleman76
I don't presently have a tandem, but am thinking about adding one to the stable of bikes. So, as I've been looking at common triple chainring and cassette combinations, and seeing things like 32x28, or roughly a 31" gear, I'm wondering, 4.13 mph at a cadence of 45 (per Barry Masterson's calculator) (laboring, uphill), is that low enough of a gear to keep forward motion going!
Again, that would depend on your team's level of fitness......

I've watched teams struggle on hills with 28t x 34t while others flew up in a 42t x 27t because, well, that's all the gearing they brought to the party.

Therefore, some teams that aren't strong climbers run triples with low-tooth count alpine/granny rings (< 30t) and 'Mega Range' 34t rear cassettes. Some teams that are lightweight, strong climbers may or may not even bother with triples. However, the VAST majority of tandem teams simply ride whatever came on their tandem which, for the most part, is fairly wide-range gearing with a 30t or 32t alpine/granny ring & 11x34t rear cassette.

Such was the case at last year's Tennessee Tandem Rally on Friday's long route... which included one long 8% climb with a steep (14%?) pop and another that was more like an average of 14% with a 20% pop. The strong teams flew up the hills in middle rings with a high cadence, while others found themselves slogging out the last "pop" at 4.0mph - 6.0mph in 32t x 32t, 26t x 32t, or even lower 28t x 34t gearing, while still others failed to gear-down soon enough to make use of their alpine gears and simply had to walk it....




Last edited by TandemGeek; 01-26-07 at 07:54 AM.
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Old 01-25-07, 02:56 PM   #16
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We have a 53/39/30 front chain ring with a 10 speed 11/34 on the rear. The 30/34 combination is used for the steep hills greater than 15% grade and we do not fall below 4.5 mph. We use 30/28 for climbing 7 - 8% grades on long climbs lasting several miles spinning 80 to 90 RPM.

Also, we spin the 53/11 quite often. For the terrain we ride and our power output capability as a team, we need a wide range of gears. One can gear a tandem for specific rides. Many of the members of this forum use different solutions customized for their team and taste and some have different wheelsets set up for hilly versus flat terrain.
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Old 01-25-07, 03:00 PM   #17
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"Ultimately what I'm after is an understanding of what a reasonable low gear size is."
Our lowest gear is 22*34 (front*back) which is reasonable for us. Ofcourse we seldom use it but on the few occasions we did, we were so glad we could fell back on this emergency gear and stay on the saddle !
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Old 01-25-07, 03:20 PM   #18
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Nice pics T'Geek. One of the teams is missing a stoker . I do see her down the road. It reminded me of a post where a captain took off riding the tandem without his stoker on the bike.
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Old 01-25-07, 03:41 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lordoftherings
Nice pics T'Geek. One of the teams is missing a stoker . I do see her down the road. It reminded me of a post where a captain took off riding the tandem without his stoker on the bike.
Hijacked off of TandemRacer's Flickr gallery as it was his lovely (and powerful) stoker who along with a few other teams rocketed to the top in time to snap photos of the mortals (like us) struggling up to the summit. As usual, the photos don't give away the true grade... check out the upper body attitude of the captains pushing the tandems.

As for riding off without stoker, been there... but didn't get far.

Last edited by TandemGeek; 01-25-07 at 03:50 PM.
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Old 01-25-07, 04:47 PM   #20
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A 'reasonable low gear' will vary greatly from team to team; of course the elevation/terrain will also infuence that decision.
While climbing/standing at lower elevations is quite do-able on tandems, throw in thinner air in the 7 to 9,000 ft elevation levels, and the equation changes a bit.
While we no longer do the tough hi-elevation climbs like we used to, the memory of the accomplishment is still there!
Standing on climbs is quite do-able; on longer grades (did one that was a 30 mile climb up to the Mogollon Rim) you'll appreciate the seated lower gear climbing! Have ridden that road both ways, and the long descent was much nicer/faster!
Having said that, some teams are just more adept at climbing/standing than others.
Years ago we moved form 600ft elevation in MI to AZ, where we have elevations up to 9,000+ ft. We were not 'climbers' back in the Midwest; however AZ terrain is not as forgiving and you become climbers (and triple users) out of necessity.
So, go on out there and see how s-l-o-w you can climb.

Pedal on TWOgether!
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Old 01-25-07, 11:59 PM   #21
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Wow! Pictures and everything! What a great thread!

We've been riding our tandem since October. The slowest my captain has seen on his GPS is 3 mph, when on a flat, praying for a light to turn green before he had to clip out. On hills, as low as 5 mph. Mostly 7 and higher -- we're of the low gear, high cadence school of thought.

That being said, we don't count our cogs or know that "x by y" gear ratio. We see the road ahead and just go for it. Whatever gear we need, we find, and we gut it out. Among so many detail-oriented folks this probably sounds naive...for us (he's an engineer, I'm a realtor) it works. The numbers don't mean as much as the heart we put into our effort.

I'm the same way on my road bike -- I just find the gear that fits the climb & go for it. But then, I rather prefer hills...even sprint up them. Love the invigoration!

As an aside (or if the members prefer, I'll make it a new post): How important is it to know your gear ratio? Why should we care?
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Old 01-26-07, 06:30 AM   #22
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as pointed out above: slow enough to walk.
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Old 01-26-07, 07:26 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Rider
As an aside (or if the members prefer, I'll make it a new post): How important is it to know your gear ratio? Why should we care?
With the advent of 8 - 10 speed cogsets and multiple chain rings, it's far less important than it was in the past. Thus, if you're happy with the performance of your bike or tandem's gearing, there's no need to care. However, seeing that the OP is still using 5 and 6 speed equipment, it can be somewhat more important.

You can read A LOT more about gearing at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_gearing

For a somewhat more abridged version, here's my quick & dirty:

It's a carry over from the earliest days of the bicycle's evolution. As the velocipede was eclipsed by the "Ordinary" (aka, high-mount, high-wheeler, or pennyfarthing), the cyclist's inseam then established the upper limit for maximum diameter of the wheel he could use and, given the early velocipedes had a 1:1 ratio, the larger the diameter of the wheel the faster a cyclist could go (which was paramount at the time as racing = marketing); or, conversely the harder it would be for tourists and recreational cyclists to climb hills.

Enter the chain drive with its variable primary and final drive gear and cyclists can now tailor their gearing to match their local riding conditions, touring needs, or be optimized for racing, and in particular on the track. To this day, a very good track bike's component grouppo comes with a wide range of fixed cogs and several different chain rings to allow riders to optimize the gearing for different events or riding riding styles and an understanding of the gear inch development achieved with each different combination is pretty important.

Back to bicycle history and technology development, as additional gear options became available via the first flip-flop hubs, then internal planetary gear hubs and finally the changeable rear derailleur, racers and "bike geeks" could now tailor their gearing even further than before such that they could have a 100" "big gear" for flat out speed as well as a 30" gear for climbing. Obviously, making the jump from one to the other was a pretty dramatic change and over the years additional final drive gears were continually added to address that problem.

Again, enter the "bike geeks" who were always looking for something to fiddle with and analyze and something called half-step gearing became the rage once the front derailleur was developed that allowed the use of two different primary drive gears. Now, instead of having a simple, linear gear inch progression from rear sprockets of increased sprocket counts, the changeable primary gears created the ability to sub-divide the once linear progression by alternating the shifting of front and rear derailleurs. To ensure you didn't end up with duplicate gearing combinations required the use of a gear inch table; heaven forbid that you were discovered to only have a 9 speed instead of a true 10 speed bike, e.g., a gear combination of 39/14 is the same as a 53/19 and so-on.

Now, to ensure that you really understood how all of the gear combinations worked it became vogue to tape a small version of your gear table to the stem of your bicycle so that you could "learn" your gearing as you rode. To this day you'll see them mentioned in most of the really thick (and older) books on cycling, attached to a few bikes, and Sheldon Brown's bicycle gearing calculator will even produce them for you!!

However, as mentioned in my short answer, with the advent of cassettes with 8, 9 and now 10 sprockets + triple chain rings, every useful gear range is covered. The only reason to alter what came on a bike or tandem is to eliminate the combinations that are of little use, hence, you'll see folks like us who run a 12x27t except on those occasions when we head for the steep stuff and it gets swapped out with an 11x32t. If we were stronger riders or lived where the terrain was even less hilly than North Georgia we'd probably have a 12x25t or 12x23t cassette on our tandem because I happen to like short gearing steps, harkening back to my early days with my 6 and 7 speed straight block, aka "corn cobb" freewheels, e.g., 13-14-15-16-17-18. But, as noted, unless someone is unhappy with the gearing on a bike, there's really no reason to mess with it. Lord knows we've found ouselves with the 12x27t on new rides where we really needed the shorter gears of our 11x32t but, lacking them, we just toughed it out.

Again, if you're doing time trials or other racing events, gear selection can be cruical to replicating or achieving maximum performance and when working through the pain and suffering it's very important to know what size gear you're pushing so there is still good reason for certain cyclists to have these little cheat sheets while training until such time as it becomes second nature or intuitive.

It's also not a bad thing to use with new cyclists who haven't used multigeared bicycles in the past. Looking at the gearing it's hard to appreciate that the gear combination of 39/14 is the same as a 53/19. Once you see it graphically represented, it finally clicks.

Last edited by TandemGeek; 01-26-07 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 01-26-07, 10:39 AM   #24
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It really does depend on fitness. Generally, you'll want a lower gear on your Tandem than on your single, 1) because most teams tend to not stand as much (or in some cases at all) 2) difference in fitness between captain and stoker . Assuming your stoker is approximately your fitness, I'd be looking for a low gear one to two steps below what you like on your road bike.
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Old 01-26-07, 10:56 AM   #25
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Our lowest gear is a 22x28; we use it all the time here in the long mountains and short hills of Utah.

There's a particularly steep section of road a few miles from home that I like to hit at least once a week just to measure how our (mostly my) fitness is coming along. It's not unusual to look at the cyclocomputer and see it hovering between 2.5 and 3 mph early in the season.

Near the bottom of the hillclimb, there's one section that has a 216 foot elevation gain in 1056 feet of distance. I make that out to be 20.5%. The grade slackens off a bit then, to an average of 14% for the remainder of the climb, which is an additional 1/2 mile to the top.

It gets to be a real struggle to keep our balance at those speeds; I usually have to remind the kid on the back (whichever one it is for that day) to keep his/her body very still. My wife won't climb that road on the tandem, but the kids really enjoy the speedy downhill as a reward.

As to gearing, with the 22 on the front I can't imagine needing anything larger than the 28 we have on the back unless we're touring with full racks, etc. And if so, I wouldn't be tackling anything that steep.
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