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  1. #1
    Legs; OK! Lungs; not! bobthib's Avatar
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    Tandem team performance expectations...

    Should a tandem team expect to perform better overall as a team on a tandem vs the average of individuals on "half bikes?"

    On a somewhat related question, exp if the above answer is yes, why don't the pro tours have some tandem phases?
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    I'd rather be riding DKMcK's Avatar
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    Generally speaking, your team performance will be about average of your individual performances. You will get some benefit from stoker being in a very good draft position on flats and downhills. You may loose some pedaling efficiency if you have different cadences. I tend to spin more than my stoker, so to compromise i have to slow down a bit and she has to speed up a bit, each of use not in our "sweet spot". I ride 3 to 4 times a week for about 4000 miles a year. My stoker rides 3-4 times a month on the tandem. When we ride the tandem, we cannot hang with the groups I normally ride with on my single. We're riding about 3-4 mph slower averages. The good news is I get to be with my stoker and I actually get a better workout!

  3. #3
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    The answer all depends on the strength of the two riders. Two riders with equal power to weight ratios (and power to surface volume ratios) will be faster on a tandem on the flats, and descending than they are on their single bikes. They'll be just about as fast climbing as they are on their single bikes, with a slight efficiency penalty, and just how big that penalty will vary with how well the team works together (for example do they climb out of the saddle well)

    With a team of mixed abilities, their speed will fall between the speed of the fastetr and the slower rider. The mixed team will tend to do well on the flats because of the aero adavantge, and depending on the precise power to surface volume ratios may be as fast or even faster in some cases than the faster single rider. But they will be slower than the faster single rider climbing, because the aero advantage of the tandem becomes less significant climbing.

    As for Tandem stages in professional races, why don't they also ride recumbants?
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    Same on flats, faster downhill, slower uphill.
    I am a much stronger climber though so I am doing more than my share of work uphill.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jnbrown View Post
    Same on flats, faster downhill, slower uphill.
    I am a much stronger climber though so I am doing more than my share of work uphill.
    I would disagree... if all riders are of the same strength & weight, the tandem is faster on flats, much faster on downhills and equal or slightly slower up hills.

    Usually, however, the stoker is weaker than the single riders.
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    We have never come across a team than climbs as fast on the tandem as the average of the two riders on single bikes. Here I am talking about a prolonged, longer than 1/2 mile, and some how steep, >5%, climbs and not little humps or rollers where momentum can play a huge role.

    Another situation where tandems do not do as well as singles is responding to accelerations in a fast paced ride. To close a gap in the pace line on a single is a lot easier than on a tandem. I can not ride my single in a flat course as fast as we can ride the same course in the tandem. But I can hang on with a faster group in my single because I can draft better, particularly if the guy in front does not care who he drops.

  7. #7
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornucopia72 View Post
    We have never come across a team than climbs as fast on the tandem as the average of the two riders on single bikes. Here I am talking about a prolonged, longer than 1/2 mile, and some how steep, >5%, climbs and not little humps or rollers where momentum can play a huge role.
    I'd say our climbing speed is pretty close to what our average power would suggest. My w/kg is 3.6. My stoker's is 2.6. Thus according to Kreuzotter, I should climb an 8% grade at 7.6mph, and she should climb at a 5.5mph. Together we should climb at 6.9mph. Based on experience I would say that we're pretty close to that 6.9mph, maybe just a tick slower.

    Another way to look at this, Six Gap is a century with 6 climbs and 11,500 vertical feet. I've done it in a little over 6 hours. Together on the tandem, we did the course last summer in a little over 7 hours.
    I would expect that my wife would likely take over 8 hours, to do it herself. Thus our tandem performance climbing is pretty much the average of the two of us.

    Thus a team that works well together, can climb out of the saddle, and is riding a lightweight tandem should be able to climb at or close to the pace predicted by their averaged w/kg.
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    I'd say our climbing speed is pretty close to what our average power would suggest. My w/kg is 3.6. My stoker's is 2.6. Thus according to Kreuzotter, I should climb an 8% grade at 7.6mph, and she should climb at a 5.5mph. Together we should climb at 6.9mph. Based on experience I would say that we're pretty close to that 6.9mph, maybe just a tick slower.

    Another way to look at this, Six Gap is a century with 6 climbs and 11,500 vertical feet. I've done it in a little over 6 hours. Together on the tandem, we did the course last summer in a little over 7 hours.
    I would expect that my wife would likely take over 8 hours, to do it herself. Thus our tandem performance climbing is pretty much the average of the two of us.

    Thus a team that works well together, can climb out of the saddle, and is riding a lightweight tandem should be able to climb at or close to the pace predicted by their averaged w/kg.
    OK, you team is a tick slower than the average of the two of you.

    Too many variables in place here and your wife may or may not ever atempt that century by herself.

  9. #9
    Senior Member WebsterBikeMan's Avatar
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    As far as I can tell, if you find a team for whom peak output (over whatever length of time the hill is) happens at the same cadence, that's a team for whom the hill climbing speed should be pretty darn close to the average of the two individual climbing speeds, other than any difference resulting from the difference between the sum of the two single bike weights and the tandem weight.

    But if you're not climbing much that day, you get the advantage of very close drafting, making the team faster than the average of the singles.

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    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    I've never compared actual numbers but I feel I climb pretty good on the tandem. I've always been pretty happy with my speed and I think it's an par or pretty darned close to my single bike speed. Of course it helps to have a strong stoker and a very light tandem.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  11. #11
    Legs; OK! Lungs; not! bobthib's Avatar
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    This all makes good sense. Again the wisdom of the BF crowd shines.
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    Another situation where tandems do not do as well as singles is responding to accelerations in a fast paced ride. To close a gap in the pace line on a single is a lot easier than on a tandem. I can not ride my single in a flat course as fast as we can ride the same course in the tandem. But I can hang on with a faster group in my single because I can draft better, particularly if the guy in front does not care who he drops.
    Agreed. Closing a gap on a tandem is harder than single. I also give more of a cushion when on the tandem with the rider in front.

    Although at times, on tandem we can drop singles riders on flats that I likely could not on a single.

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    We are certainly the average of our speeds. I can go faster than we do, be it flats or climbs. Climbs is a no brainer. I ride all the time, she only rides on the tandem. I do some racing, she watches me race. We have been doing the local TT on the tandem, and averaged 21 MPH last week, an improvement from the previous week. Nothing spectacular compared to others here, but decent for us. I would be doing 23-24 MPH. A general average for us is 16-17 mph, me 18-20. We went out on singles last week, which she never rides. it was a rigid mountain bike, with street tires, and she did 12+ mph. First time in about 9 years that she has ridden something other than the tandem on the road. I have had 2 strong cyclists on the back and we were very strong, and out climbed the singles we were riding with. We let them get close, than we took off. a lot of fun! Closing a gap in a paceline that is not running a steady pace is the hardest thing for us right now. Other than climbing.

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    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    After 34+ years of tandeming we have exceeded all our tandem performance expectations . . .
    Time to slow down a bit and enjoy riding TWOgether!

  15. #15
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    I certainly agree that on downhills, a tandem is faster than single bikes. On the flats, our experience is that we can be a bit faster than either of us on our single bikes, particularly if there is a headwind.

    When climbing, we had hoped that we would be the average of our two climbing speeds, but unfortunately we seem to struggle to not drop below the speed that my stoker usually rides uphill by herself. I measure climbing speed as vertical meters gained per hour. When going up with a decent gradient, in the range of 7-10%, I can maintain 1100 vertical meters per hour for up to one hour. My stoker is in the 700-800 meter range. On the tandem, we just about manage to maintain 700 meters, even though I feel like I'm working at least as hard as I am when doing 1100 on my single, and my stoker doesn't have much to spare either (and our tandem weighs about the same as our two single bikes added together).

    We've done a lot of big climbing days on the tandem this summer, and we seem to be slowly getting better at it - achieving a higher speed while being equally tired, while our climbing speed on the single bikes isn't changing as much. I therefore believe that climbing on the tandem is all about coordinating the power input, which seems to be largely dependent on finding a cadence range that both of us are happy with. When we first got the tandem last year, my stoker sometimes asked for gear changes so that we could use a lower cadence. I adjusted my gear choices to accommodate this, but I didn't feel that I could work quite as effectively at the lower cadence. Lately, my stoker has been asking for gear changes to use a higher cadence when climbing, and I am now going back to using my normal gear choices. I think this has made us more efficient and gives us a smoother pedal rate, and allows me to put the power in a way that is more familiar for me; this is starting to show in our climbing speed slowly picking up to be above what she achieves on her single bike. However, I doubt that we'll ever be able to achieve a climbing speed that is the average of us on our single bikes - there seems to be something inherent in riding a tandem that makes this extremely difficult.
    Last edited by Chris_W; 08-13-09 at 07:15 AM.

  16. #16
    Elite Rider Hermes's Avatar
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    I would expect that 1/2 of a bicycle does not work well at all.

    Pro tours follow UCI rules which dictates equipment. They could have a pro tandem race non UCI but who would be in it? Armstrong with Cantador as a stoker.

    My wife and I due both individual time trial and track pursuit. We climb on the tandem at the average of our times on our road bikes for a long climb. We are pretty close on our climbing rate of 3400 feet/hour on our singles on long climbs i.e. > 3 miles and 7% grade.

    In May, we were in southern California with our tandem and road bikes. We did back to back rides from Carlsbad, CA to La Jolla, CA climbing Torrey Pines Hill. From our Garmin data, I compared our times on the road bikes to the tandem and the average of our climbing times on the road bikes were approximately the same as the tandem.

    I think one important point that is not mentioned is the ability to maintain mental focus as individuals on a tandem producing power. IMHO, losing focus on steeper hills is the main reason tandems can be much poorer climbers. Losing focus on power production when at or above threshold power is pretty easy to do. On easier climbs and flat terrain, IMO, teams will run at endurance or tempo power and it is a LOT easier to stay coordinated at those power levels.

    As far as acceleration is concerned, as trackies, we can accelerate with the best. IMHO, big accelerations by tandems in the interior of a group is not a great idea. It is too hard to shut down fast once you wind up. Tandems in a group situation are great off the front or near the front on constant speed rides.

    Tandem aerodynamics are interesting and like wheel performance much depends on wind angle. The tandem has an aero drag that is approximately 40% greater than a single bike. However, that 40% can be highly variable. How far is the stoker from the captain. How big is the stoker i.e. frontal area compared to the captain. IMO, tandem aero drag increases in crosswinds (qualitative observation).

    Most people think that tandems are faster downhill than single bikes. I am not so sure. In recreational settings, my observation is tandems are faster. But a “good” tandem team chasing a P/1/2 racer down hill who can get in the perfect aero position may be another story. Add in a degree of technical difficulty in the descent and, IMHO, a highly skilled descender on a single bike wins. One may say, what about two p/1/2 racers on a tandem in perfect aero posture. Do not know. I do know that I would not want to chase down a pro racer as a stoker with a wild man captain in hot pursuit on a technical course.

    Generally, my wife and I are faster on the tandem on most courses. However, in windy situations and depending on the wind angle, we may be faster on the singles bikes. We can trade pulls and echelon potentially using the same energy but going a little faster.

    Others have mentioned cadence and we think that is a critical matter in tandem performance. It is like the anti in a poker game. If you do not match up on cadence, it is hard to play in the tandem performance game. Coordinating cadence is not necessarily easy to train but it is a lot easier than the team maintaining threshold power mental focus on a long climb. As trackies as well as road cyclists, our spin is pretty fast. Our cadence on the tandem tends to be a little slower than the singles but we can ramp it up to track sprint cadence. The problem at the higher rpms is the same as the guy who wants to spin 90 and his wife wants 80. There is a cadence where my wife cannot keep up. So there is no upside to spinning really fast.

  17. #17
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermes View Post
    Most people think that tandems are faster downhill than single bikes. I am not so sure. In recreational settings, my observation is tandems are faster. But a “good” tandem team chasing a P/1/2 racer down hill who can get in the perfect aero position may be another story. Add in a degree of technical difficulty in the descent and, IMHO, a highly skilled descender on a single bike wins. One may say, what about two p/1/2 racers on a tandem in perfect aero posture. Do not know. I do know that I would not want to chase down a pro racer as a stoker with a wild man captain in hot pursuit on a technical course.
    With the possible exception of a very technical descent, I think 2 good descenders on a tandem are going to be faster than a good descender on a single bike.

    Couple of examples both from Everest Challenge. 2 years ago, I did EC on a single, Second descent, second day, I was descending with a Pro, who had been dropped on the climb (We were at the same place because the Pro's start last.) Working together we were pretty fast downhill. Got passed by the only tandem in the race, and we sprinted to get on the tandem's wheel, raising the speed by at least several mph. We rolled up a a few other singles on the descent, and set in the tandem's draft all the way down.

    Last year we did EC on the Tandem. On the first descent, I was expecting a similar phenomena, we would be faster, but we'd roll up people, form a group, and have help on the little bit of flat terrain to the next climb. In fact, we were so much faster than the singles that we were passing a whole bunch of people. Even when I would slow a bit, to allow people to grab on few even tried, and no one ended up staying up with us on any of the descents.

    Top speed we hit was 62mph.

    Admittedlt the EC descents are not very technical, with long straight streches between most turns.
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    Great discussion!

    Chris W, Hermes, Merlin +1

    The only thing that I might add regarding acceleration is that in non-race situations where you are stopping at red lights - down shift before you stop. Pet peev of mine. I know that most of you do this, but it seems to me that many riders will not down shift enough and then start in much too high a gear. I had fellow rider tell me that our steel tandem with couplers must be really light because we accelerate from stops so fast Use them gears - that's why you have them.

    And Merlin - 62 MPH! That's altitude for ya.

  19. #19
    Elite Rider Hermes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    With the possible exception of a very technical descent, I think 2 good descenders on a tandem are going to be faster than a good descender on a single bike.

    Couple of examples both from Everest Challenge. 2 years ago, I did EC on a single, Second descent, second day, I was descending with a Pro, who had been dropped on the climb (We were at the same place because the Pro's start last.) Working together we were pretty fast downhill. Got passed by the only tandem in the race, and we sprinted to get on the tandem's wheel, raising the speed by at least several mph. We rolled up a a few other singles on the descent, and set in the tandem's draft all the way down.

    Last year we did EC on the Tandem. On the first descent, I was expecting a similar phenomena, we would be faster, but we'd roll up people, form a group, and have help on the little bit of flat terrain to the next climb. In fact, we were so much faster than the singles that we were passing a whole bunch of people. Even when I would slow a bit, to allow people to grab on few even tried, and no one ended up staying up with us on any of the descents.

    Top speed we hit was 62mph.

    Admittedlt the EC descents are not very technical, with long straight streches between most turns.
    During the Giro D'Italia, Lance tweeted that they were hitting speeds of 70 mph which he thought was scary fast. Typically, tandems do not ride in the same general group as the Elite P/1/2 riders. That group, if there is one, is long gone. I have not done the EC, but I suspect that is the case there as well. Our data set for organized rides on the tandem is similar to yours. We pass and collect singles on the flats and downhills. But those single riders are typically higher grade racers or recreational cyclists looking to draft anything going faster than they are.

    I suspect 70 mph is getting to the top end of descent speed for either single or tandem riders. That is why I said, I do not know which technology is faster downhill. However, it strikes me it is all about the skill and risk appetite of the rider(s).

  20. #20
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    I pass tandems rather frequently on descents while on my single but, as reversegear will probably testify I have well developed descending muscles and I run big gears. I have to work to do it though. I've topped out at 71.4 on my single bike. I have yet to reach that on the tandem. I tend to be a little more conservative on the tandem though because I have someone else to worry about on the back. From experience I can tell you that it is not a good thing to make your stoker cry!
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    I pass tandems rather frequently on descents while on my single but, as reversegear will probably testify I have well developed descending muscles and I run big gears. I have to work to do it though. I've topped out at 71.4 on my single bike. I have yet to reach that on the tandem. I tend to be a little more conservative on the tandem though because I have someone else to worry about on the back. From experience I can tell you that it is not a good thing to make your stoker cry!
    I can testify that he is crazy!

    I believe I have said on this forum that no one has ever passed us on the tandem, and while that is technically true, I have let psyco Homeyba go ahead of us with no intention of keeping up to him.

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    Another interesting data set comparing tandems and teams in a sanctioned time trial race is the Berkeley Team Time Trial. We were 3rd out of 8 in the tandem division with all ages, race categories and gender combinations allowed. Our time was 49:49 over the 16 mile course finishing 800 feet higher than it starts. The winning time was 44:13 by a mixed team.

    In the mixed team group (man/women team on a road or TT bike) all ages and race categories our time would have been 9 out of 28 with the 7th and 8th place beating us by 6 seconds. The winning time was 41:48 and the slowest 101:24.

    The fastest times were by the P/1/2 elite males 38:55 to 43:54. I doubt that we, on our tandem, could hold the wheel of one of those teams on TT bikes on the descents.

    Would we be faster on our TT bikes as a mixed team and finish better? We have considered this and think the tandem is a better solution and more fun. And it is probably safer.
    Last edited by Hermes; 08-14-09 at 02:13 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    From experience I can tell you that it is not a good thing to make your stoker cry!
    Been There done that, and she still rides with me. Of course, it was more of a whimper.

  24. #24
    Legs; OK! Lungs; not! bobthib's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermes View Post
    The tandem has an aero drag that is approximately 40% greater than a single bike.
    Interesting! Why is that?

    From my OP I was hoping to find a significant advantage. Like many things in life, there appears to advantages and disadvantages. The climbing penalty was a bit of a surprise, but the acceleration disadvantage (and we use gears) and the down hill advantage were expected.

    And some of these top speeds! I guess we don't have to worry bout that here in So. Fla. We have 30 and 40 mile routes with less than 100 feet of climb. An overpass is a welcome challenge.

    Thank you for your input. This thread has become much more technical and quantitave. Thanks for everyone taking time to supply their experiences, facts and figures. Keep it coming!
    Last edited by bobthib; 08-17-09 at 06:49 AM.
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  25. #25
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobthib View Post
    Interesting! Why is that?

    From my OP I was hoping to find a significant advantage. Like many things in life, there appears to advantages and disadvantages. The climbing penalty was a bit of a surprise, but the acceleration disadvantage (and we use gears) and the down hill advantage were expected.

    And some of these top speeds! I guess we don't have to worry bout that here in So. Fla. We have 30 and 40 mile routes with less than 100 feet of climb. An overpass is a welcome challenge.

    Thank you for your input. This thread has become much more technical and quantitave. Thanks for everyone taking time to supply their experiences, facts and figures. Keep it coming!
    140% of the Aero drag is a very siginificant advantage. If you have 200% of the power, that's why tandems are faster on the flats (given equal power inputs)
    You could fall off a cliff and die.
    You could get lost and die.
    You could hit a tree and die.
    OR YOU COULD STAY HOME AND FALL OFF THE COUCH AND DIE.

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