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  1. #1
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    Stoker effort on Tandem compared to Stoker's same effort on single bike?

    I'm new to riding (started in September). In the fall I got a hybrid bike with slick, fairly narrow tires. I worked up from 3.5 miles per ride to about 15-ish miles per ride. When I rode 15 miles even on a slight (1% or 2%) uphill grade back home I was DYING and really couldn't get over 10 mph on the way home. Then I started riding a tandem with the DH who is a strong rider and immediately noticed that 30-40 miles was no problem, even on the same "hills". I wasn't tired when I got home either. Now I KNOW I was putting in effort and pedaling on that tandem. I was not "soft pedaling". Now about 4 or 5 months later I have not ridden my single bike and easily did a metric century on the tandem with no leg soreness or weakness at all. I am definitely putting in effort pedaling and climbing, etc. I know the tandem is supposed to be easier for those with different abilities, but what can I expect now that I've ridden the tandem 64 miles ? Does that mean I could do 30 on my single bike without dying? How does tandem effort and success translate to single bike effort and success? I don't really understand the physics that make the tandem easier for the stoker, but apparently more work for the captain even when both are putting forth effort pedaling.

  2. #2
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    I doubt anyone really understands it, but it is a pretty universal effect noticed by unmatched teams. My best guess is that it's harder for the captain because the bike doesn't accelerate away from a pedal stroke the way a single does. Also, the effort needs to be measured in hours rather than miles. We do 64 miles in about the same time it takes me to do 80 on my single.

    I think you would notice an improvement on your single, mostly because you have now ridden many more hours at a time than you ever did before. This will have increased your endurance and probably your speed. Another noticeable effect of consistently riding stoker is that you lose your single bike instincts. When coming to a corner, you forget to steer. When approaching a stop sign, you forget to operate the brakes. When stopping, you forget to put a foot down. This is also fairly universal.

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    You will find, as CFB said, that your endurance will be better, if only for the fact that you are used to spending more time in the saddle, but you will probably find that you will still tire after riding the single and will not be able to equal the distances that you have done on the tandem. Your single riding skills will also deteriorate after riding exclusively on the tandem. The best thing that you can do for your captain, is to continue to push your effort on the single and build on the foundation that you got from the tandem. It is good to mix the two. When your effort starts to get closer to that of the captain, you will both find riding the tandem very exhilerating.

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    You are going faster and further simply because the captain is doing the bulk of the work. However your fitness will obviously be improving due to the riding you are doing, and you will find out how much when you get on the single bike again.
    I find riding a tandem (as captain) very hard work when the stoker is not a strong rider. You tend to put in a lot of effort to get the bike going something like the speeds you are used to and it is hard to ease up because then it feels like you are getting no where.
    I certainly enjoy riding the tandem more now that my stoker (wife) is strong enough that we average speeds similar to what I do solo.
    So keep doing your best and be glad that you have a Captain who doesn't mind working hard, and going slower, so that they can ride with you.

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    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    The tandem is somewhat faster on the flat than I am on my single, but much slower climbing and I'm working harder. I'm also working harder anytime we're getting the bike moving or cresting hills. My average speed on anything other than flat would be higher on my single, but I enjoy the tandem and the downhills are a good deal of fun My wife and I are going to start riding our singles one a week doing some climbing so she'll have the opportunity to get stronger; she's got plenty of endurance for longer distances and tends to be in better shape than I am at the end of centuries. Per the advice, above, don't stop riding your single as this will be the best measure of your cycling condition.
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    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    I wouldn't concern my self with anything other than enjoying the ride. Analyzing may become cumbersome. I'd just take comfort in that as others have said, that while you ride your tandem, you will for sure be a stronger rider when on your single.

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    My wife and I both find that we ride faster and easier on the tandem than on our singles.

    Take your single out for a ride and check it out. You'll probably ride better than in the past, but likely will not be able to approach what you and the DH can do on the tandem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    I don't really understand the physics that make the tandem easier for the stoker, but apparently more work for the captain even when both are putting forth effort pedaling.
    On a tandem each rider puts in the amount of effort that they choose. Most tandems have both people pedaling at the same rate (cadence), but each person chooses how much force to exert on each pedal stroke. Although you weren't deliberately 'soft pedaling' you were probably pedaling much softer than your DH.

    Usually the captain is the stronger rider and tends to put in more effort than the stoker - so in that case the stoker finds the ride to be easier and the captain finds it to be harder than on a single bike. But I've ridden my tandem with stronger stokers as well and then the effect was reversed. And when the pair is evenly matched they may both find it a little easier than on singles due to the aerodynamic advantage - at least on moderate terrain.

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    So then how can a stoker determine when they are getting stronger?

    The comments make sense, and prathmann's comments help me to understand a bit better, so how can a stoker deliberately contribute more, and how can a stoker tell if they are getting stronger/better? I get all kinds of stats on the bike computer, but none of that tells me if I am getting stronger and assisting more. If I pedal harder, it feels like the times I've been told (on my single bike) "you're pedaling in too hard a gear...". So how do I learn to do a better job at this? I want it to become more even.

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    You can take note of how long certain rides take, what speed you climb hills etc. As the times/speeds improve you can be sure that is mostly due to you.
    If the captain is already a strong cyclist that has been riding for several years his ability will probably not be changing much.
    You could also wear a heart rate monitor. This would help you gauge your effort better and make it easier to quantify things rather than guessing.

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    It is also possible the captain is a more technically involved person, and ensuring better gearing selections, greater corner speed, and just overall more efficient use of the power being applied.

    Consider also, if you are riding your single in paired group ride with your captain, your effort could be huge while he is on cruise control, this will tend to make your rides shortened with great efforts. Pretty typical for us, on single bikes I constantly remind her to ride her own effort / pace.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dean V View Post
    You could also wear a heart rate monitor. This would help you gauge your effort better and make it easier to quantify things rather than guessing.
    I second the vote for a heart monitor. It is the only way to get a good reading on the effort you are putting to the pedals.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    , so how can a stoker deliberately contribute more, and how can a stoker tell if they are getting stronger/better?
    The simple answer is, work harder on the tandem and make a point of riding your single bike on a regular basis to see if your average speed / time to ride a regular training loop is improving. Ideally, the best way to check your progress is through some type of a time trial, where you make a point of going out on a specific ride route that has very few stops (none is ideal) and putting forth a maximum effort dolled-out over the entire ride and make note of the time it takes to cover that course and of your average speed. Do that once a month and if it's taking less time and getting easier to ride each month, you're getting stronger.

    You could also add a heart rate monitor to measure your effort input in terms of cardio performance, but it's not essential for recreational riding. At the competitive levels, most cyclists will combine a heart rate monitor with a power meter to measure and compare effort input (HR) and power output (Watts). Again, that's way off the mark from where you are today.

    Now, it's probably worthwhile to ask if you (and your pilot) use some type of toe clips and straps or cycling shoes with a quick-release clip and pedal system? If you do, that's a good thing. If you don't, it's not the end of the world, but it helps when you're learning how develop a more efficient pedal stroke. After all, your body powers a bike by using your legs as pistons, and if you're only pushing down on one pedal at a time and not thinking about what your other leg is doing you won't have an efficient pedal stroke. Having a smooth pedal stroke as a stoker on a tandem is essential to delivering more power. If you pedal in squares, pushing down hard on each stroke, the pilot (or captain, if you prefer) will feel your increased effort through the pedals as surges on each pedal stroke and through the handlebars as a slight twitch in the steering: neither of these thing are good over the long haul.

    Concentrate on your pedal stroke with a goal of making sure you are pedaling in circles... focus on pulling up: imagine that you're trying to scrape mud off the sole of your shoe as it passes through the lowest part of your pedal stroke. Once you learn that movement -- which involves a little ankle movement and brings the calf muscles more into play -- you should find that you can spin your cranks with less effort while generating just as much power. What you're doing is eliminating most of the resistance you were getting from the leg that was being pushed back up to the top of the pedal stroke instead of being pulled up.

    Anyway, once you learn to "spin" your cranks smoothly you can shift your focus to adding more power to your output effort during climbs, fast flat sections, etc. If you do this, you should find that you are a bit more tired after a hard tandem ride. If that's not happening and you're always climbing off the tandem feeling fresh, then you're not really putting out the kind of effort that will build strength.

    Here are some links to Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Website with plain speak on fitness and training in that may be of some value:

    Start and Exercise Program: http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/1550.html
    The Meaning of Fitness: http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/1049.html
    Understanding Maximum Heart Rate: http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/9156.html
    Principles of Training: http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/8700.html
    Spinning / Cycling Efficiency: http://www.drmirkin.com/public/Ezine022507.html
    Cycling Cadence: http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/cycling_cadence.html
    Efficient Cycling Cadence: http://www.drmirkin.com/archive/6219.html


    Bottom Line: Enjoy the ride and ride often. If you want to get stronger, you need to understand how you build strength and endurance, set some goals, push yourself to where your muscles hurt, your heart pounds, and you get a little short of breath when you're "training". Again, read some of Gabe Mirkin's short articles and you'll gain a lot of insight into how this all works to build strength and fitness.

  14. #14
    Senior Member ScottCarney's Avatar
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    Might seem a bit obvious, but total wattage output for the combined team should lower over the same distance as compared to two singles simply because of the aerodynamic advantage a a bit of reduction in rolling resistance. So even in a slightly mismatched team, the stronger rider may find total work reduced (for equal distance).

    Of course stoking should offer a break from steering which may or may not be significant depending on your upper body strength/conditioning.

  15. #15
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    The comments make sense, and prathmann's comments help me to understand a bit better, so how can a stoker deliberately contribute more, and how can a stoker tell if they are getting stronger/better? I get all kinds of stats on the bike computer, but none of that tells me if I am getting stronger and assisting more. If I pedal harder, it feels like the times I've been told (on my single bike) "you're pedaling in too hard a gear...". So how do I learn to do a better job at this? I want it to become more even.
    You make an interesting post. Most of us are competitive in some sense. It's in our genes. If we don't compete against others, we compete against ourselves, trying to do better. As you can see, there are at least two schools of thought on the subject of tandem riding. I think most of us agree that we tandem couples use our tandems to enhance our relationships. So then the question morphs to, "How is this best done?" The answer will vary with the dynamics of the relationship. However that works for you, you evince a desire to contribute more. Good for you, IMO. Both I and my stoker feel the same way. We both want to get better at this team sport.

    Tandem Geek has it right, as usual. We do all that, and go a little further. I, the captain, have a cadence readout and watch it all the time. Stoker could have one too, if she wanted, but she relies on me to set the cadence since we both enjoy similar cadences and I have the shifters. We both have heart rate monitors (HRM), which are the coded type, meaning that each HRM receiver only gets the signal from its associated transmitter. We each watch our own receiver. I set the HR goals for various sections of the ride, since I have more experience, then we both try to comply with those goals.

    We've tested both Stoker's and my lactate threshold HR and found they are fairly similar, so if our HRs are the same, we are both working at about the same fraction of our capacity.

    So to get to the point of this long story, every few minutes, or when the grade changes, we each tell the other what our HR is. Then the high person can come down a bit, or the low person come up a bit, or whatever is appropriate. This works really, really well for us. We notice that our HRs are more apt to differ near the start of a ride. Once we have settled into it, we are usually pretty close when we call it out, though that behavior may be peculiar to us.

    By doing this HR thing, Stoker is usually a little more trashed then I by the end of a ride because I have a lot more miles behind me than she, but this has become a lot less noticeable as her endurance has increased over the past year. I will always put out at least twice her watts, but that really doesn't matter to either of us, though it's the main reason we ride tandem rather than two singles. I'm just happy to be able to share this marvelous sport with her.

    If it feels like you are pedaling too hard a gear, try to get your captain to gear down to increase your cadence. To add to TG's advice about pedaling circles, you can feel your captain's pedal stroke though your pedals. Maybe he hammers on the downstroke and doesn't pedal circles! IMO, it's more important that you both pedal the same style, than that you alone have a perfect pedal stroke. A team member can waste a lot of energy trying to accelerate the legs of the other person. If you are pedaling in sync with the other person, and you are pedaling in phase, you shouldn't be able to feel the other person pedaling at all.

  16. #16
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    There have been a number of very well presented and interesting points made out by members in this thread and would broadly agree with what has been said. But as someone with a visual impairment who is only able to ride in the stoker position would make the following observations.
    I obviously can't comment on how riding in the stoker position may affect riding solo in terms of handling and breaking, but I do believe there are a number of benefits to riding tandem in either position for both riders.
    I spend a lot of time thinking about how I pedal in relation to whoever is riding up front. I personally believe that optimal performance for similarly matched riders over reasonable distances (more than 1000 m say) on a tandem is attained by both riders exerting the same force on each pedal at every point around the pedal cycle. This in itself I believe is virtually impossible but it is what i spend all my time trying to achieve with each pilot I ride with.
    If you consider both riders pedalling on a tandem as opposed to a solo, if either rider is exerting more force than the other at any point in a pedal cycle, that rider is trying to accelerate the entire weight of the bike plusboth riders for that instant. This may only be for a split second but no matter who you are, over time these tiny discreppencies in pedalling action add up and lead to increased fatigue and the feeling that a tandem sometimes feels heavier or harder to ride than a solo. And I believe this effect is exaggerated up hills when both riders pedalling action changes.
    I like to think I have a very smooth pedalling action and try to distribute power equally around the pedal cycle and try to encourage pilots I ride with who may have a more punchy style to focus more on pedalling round, rather than pushing and pulling. This may not always be a good thing for every pilot as some may just have a punchier style that works for them. But on the whole, feel this is a good thing and my constant nagging to thinking about pedalling in circles when i feel them slipping into punchy pedalling helps them improve their own riding.
    This tends to lead to riding at a higher cadence which I also believe is a good thing.
    I also believe that the inevitable instances throughout each pedal cycle when either rider is exerting more force than the other, no matter how small or imperceivable, develop strength and improve endurance for pilots who then go back to riding solo.
    And as has been pointed out by others, riding more smoothly makes it easier to steer which in itself improves performance.
    Also, provided both riders are of a similar mind set, neither rider wants to let the other rider down and if you feel the other rider working harder, it motivates you to ride harder.
    I'm sure there are also some disadvantages and would be interested to hear from pilots in this regard, but generally feel any downside are far out weighed by the benefits as described above.

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    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    The ideal situation may be two well matched riders with very comparable pedal strokes. Certainly, the one time I persuaded my 200 lb. cyclist son to get on the back of the daVinci I found his pedal stroke to be so smooth that I couldn't tell when he was OOP.

    The norm is, of course, a significant different in strength. In that sense one cyclist is always working "harder" at a given level of effort. I'm not an experienced cyclist having only returned to cycling a bit more than two years ago, and I don't ride my single much, but I know we're climbing much slower on the tandem than I do on my single. This produces a natural tendency to work "harder" climbing than my stoker measured as a "relative" level of effort. In addition every shift which causes a small loss of momentum causes the captain to put a small surge in to recover the momentum, at least with the daVinci. My wife has no desire to wear a HRM and is really only interested in speed and cadence; I'm fine with that since that's how we roll. I don't tell her my HR, but she can hear my breathing through the intercom (very annoying BTW) and on climbs adjusts her effort accordingly.

    Once a year I'm somehow going to blackmail my cyclist son (I have twins) to get on the back just to feel the power and loaf for a few hours.
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    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    I think IanS has it exactly right. I think differences in pedaling dynamics are what cause teams to be more comfortable riding slightly out of phase. My stoker has to remind me to pedal more smoothly at times, and I try to return the favor. I think she reminds me more often than I remind her, but I'm working on it.

    I know one couple who broke up over a HRM. Every team is different.

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    Lots of interesting information for me, the OP, to ponder on this topic. To answer some of the issues we both are using clipless pedals and are trying to pay attention to making round pedals strokes. I think I am doing a decent job of that for a beginner, because I've found that if I don't do it then I get sore spots on my feet or numb toes. The Captain is not a stomper or a hammerer. As for the HRM, we both wear those as well. We have vastly different resting heart rates though. His is about 50 and mine is 80-90. I am seeing average heart rates of 130 at the end of my rides with occasional spikes up to 150. The captains average heart rate is usually lower, sometimes not even up to 120. His legs get much more tired than mine do, though. It sounds like we are doing the right stuff, we just need to keep doing it. Being a numbers junkie I'd really like to see cold hard facts that say "you've contributed X% of effort to this ride" and then see that percentage increase over time
    The only reason I'm really bringing this up is because it seems as if I just don't get as tired (leg-wise) as the captain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    Lots of interesting information for me, the OP, to ponder on this topic. To answer some of the issues we both are using clipless pedals and are trying to pay attention to making round pedals strokes. I think I am doing a decent job of that for a beginner, because I've found that if I don't do it then I get sore spots on my feet or numb toes. The Captain is not a stomper or a hammerer. As for the HRM, we both wear those as well. We have vastly different resting heart rates though. His is about 50 and mine is 80-90. I am seeing average heart rates of 130 at the end of my rides with occasional spikes up to 150. The captains average heart rate is usually lower, sometimes not even up to 120. His legs get much more tired than mine do, though. It sounds like we are doing the right stuff, we just need to keep doing it. Being a numbers junkie I'd really like to see cold hard facts that say "you've contributed X% of effort to this ride" and then see that percentage increase over time
    The only reason I'm really bringing this up is because it seems as if I just don't get as tired (leg-wise) as the captain.
    It's not too uncommon to get tired legs when you ride hard;-)

    Rule of thumb is if legs hurt, drop a gear and get the cadence up. If heart-rate is up (or you're out of breath)
    use a higher gear.

    You can do this when the symptoms start or try to plan and change your style for the whole ride.

    One caveat is that tandem transmissions tend to have a lot of rotating mass so typically tandem cadence is a little less than singles for comfort and efficiency. Also you would have to be happy with a higher cadence.

    Other possible things to try are seat adjustments (maybe up a little?) and concentrating on spreading the work around muscle groups eg try to pull up with hamstrings when quads are tired.

  21. #21
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    Lots of interesting information for me, the OP, to ponder on this topic. To answer some of the issues we both are using clipless pedals and are trying to pay attention to making round pedals strokes. I think I am doing a decent job of that for a beginner, because I've found that if I don't do it then I get sore spots on my feet or numb toes. The Captain is not a stomper or a hammerer. As for the HRM, we both wear those as well. We have vastly different resting heart rates though. His is about 50 and mine is 80-90. I am seeing average heart rates of 130 at the end of my rides with occasional spikes up to 150. The captains average heart rate is usually lower, sometimes not even up to 120. His legs get much more tired than mine do, though. It sounds like we are doing the right stuff, we just need to keep doing it. Being a numbers junkie I'd really like to see cold hard facts that say "you've contributed X% of effort to this ride" and then see that percentage increase over time
    The only reason I'm really bringing this up is because it seems as if I just don't get as tired (leg-wise) as the captain.
    If you really want to get into it, you need to do a lactate threshold test to see where yours is. Then you can better figure how hard to go at various points on the ride. Look over at the Training and Nutrition forum for advice about that.

    My guess is that you could go one heck of a lot harder. I'm a 65 y.o. guy with a lot of miles, a 49 resting HR, and I hit 157 with a 128 average on our 45 mile outing this past Sunday. And I was tired when we started. I wouldn't be surprised to find that you could hit 175 if you really wanted to. Females normally have smaller, faster hearts than males. If you have trouble getting over 150, it's possible that you need more muscle mass in your legs. That comes with time. It can be encouraged by weight lifting, but results from that are spotty. Best is just to ride hard on a long hill until they hurt pretty good. That'll stimulate 'em. See what your HR is when they are hurting. That'll be close to your lactate threshold. Then recover on the descent and try it again. This may or may not sound all weird, cruel, and just downright mean. It's how it is, though. Going fast hurts, but it also makes you high as a kite, so it's not all bad.

    It sounds like your captain is pretty experienced. You won't know exactly how much you contributed, but you will see your average speeds rise with time and experience. And you'll know that increase is mostly you. Manufacturers are experimenting with power meters that will allow stoker and captain to measure their power outputs separately, but that's not yet and will be maybe $2000, probably not worth it to you.

    Wiggle your toes and imagine that there is always a cushion of air between the bottom of your foot and the sole of the shoe. Pedal with your heels. Feel your heel solid in the heel cup.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikefor2 View Post
    Being a numbers junkie I'd really like to see cold hard facts that say "you've contributed X% of effort to this ride" and then see that percentage increase over time
    .
    The only way to capture that data woulb be with a pedal mounted power meter. Although I wonder if they will show negative numbers when you take a break.

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