Just a note of thanks to everyone on the board for all the tips and suggestions that were given with regard to our ride across Iowa with thousands of others. It went pretty well for us and we learned a lot in the process. I saw some pretty nice tandems on the ride and after about day 4 of the ride was really eyeing a tandem trike recumbent....
Some of the issues:
We rode the 31st RAGBRAI on a 1999 Cannondale MT800 and a 2003 Raleigh Coupe. The original plan was to have the combination of father/8 year old daughter on the Cannondale and mother/10 year old son on the Raleigh. However, on day two, my wife suggested that we switch stokers as her upper body strength was not capable of handling the bike all day long with my 10 year old son who is going through a growth spurt that has him weighing equal to or a little more than my wife. So we swapped stokers on day 2 and things improved for my wife.
My previous fears of braking on the tandem in the hills of southern Iowa were unfounded. These hills are nothing like riding in the Alps, Rockies or other mountain regions where descents are longer and at steeper grades. I don't recall using my brakes while descending at all during the entire week of RAGBRAI. There were a couple of hills where we approached speeds of 50 mph, but they were shorter descents followed by an immediate rise out of a river valley.
No problems with having riders drafting behind us as I knew that with a child stoker on 26" wheeled tandems, any speed we built up would not be able to be maintained for too long riding with a cadence and style to preserve energy for an entire week's ride across Iowa. We did find that leaving a little later each morning we were able to avoid the crowded, shoulder to shoulder bicycle traffic. Leaving later allowed my wife to feel more comfortable handling the tandem than she felt if we left early and were jammed in with a lot of traffic. We saw many tandems on the ride and in no case did we see anyone riding out of control or doing the sort of things the RAGBRAI booklet suggested tandems had been known for doing in the past. We visited with many other tandem riders and my son and I quickly became known as the "big meat" or "fat tire" crew due to our Schwalbe Big Apple's.
It was a hilly route with a lot of headwinds all week long. We followed the rules suggested for RAGBRAI (Ride Right). Following descents where gravity allowed us to pick up more speed than single bikes, I quickly moved out of the way of quicker climbing cyclists for the next climb. I felt in control and never encountered a situation during the week that jeopardized the welcome that tandems should receive on this ride.
My wife, on the other hand, had an unfortunate accident. On one of the day's that had us starting out in the morning about 9 AM to avoid congestion on the road, she picked a spot on the highway to pull off on the right shoulder to give our daughter a granola bar snack. When she pulled off, no bike was in sight in front of or behind her for at least 1/2 mile. Due to the thin bike traffic, when she pulled off on the right shoulder, she was not too concerned with her actual position on the shoulder. Unfortunatley, about 6 inches or so of her rear tire was still hanging over the right shoulder line and was in the roadway. A few minutes later and after my daughter had finished the granola bar and was about to climb back on the tandem - along came 2 women visiting while riding. Without ever seeing my wife and in mid conversation, one of them plowed right into the rear wheel of my wife's tandem. The lady flew off her bike and ended up breaking her collar bone. The rear wheel of the tandem was bent pretty severly and required immediate repair. Luckily, my daughter had not yet climbed on the tandem, so she was not injured. My wife went down with the tandem and got a couple of bruises and scrapes from the gravel on the shoulder. It was an unfortunate accident and we feel terrible that it happened. We were able to speak with the rest of the team that this lady was riding with and nobody was really placing any blame on anyone. It was just one of those unfortunate things that happened.
Outside of that, we enjoyed the 450 mile ride from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River on our tandems. The kids are already talking about doing it again next year - or finding another ride like it in another state for some variety.