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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 03-15-14, 07:44 PM   #1
AmandaMike
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Short Captain, Tall Stoker?

First off, this is my first post so - HI!

The Mr and I are in search of a tandem bike. Budget wise we are probably looking at a Raleigh (sp?) or Tandemania.

He is much taller than I am - 6'2" vs 5'3". But I have to ride captain. He's blind. When he was a teenager and into his early twenties (he was once sighted) he was a competitve cyclist. I know he misses it. This is meant to help us get back part of something he has lost.

Are there any good options out there for a couple with our height difference? I've been reading other threads on the topic and I genuinely don't think we'll have issues with balance or control. I lead him everywhere as is - so the trust is there. And I can keep the bike balanced. He doesn't outweigh me, either. It's just about the height.

Is it possible to get something like a "Medium" or an 18 inch both up front and in the rear, and add a much taller seat in the rear for him? Wouldn't it just be incredably awkward for him if his seat is high but the handlebars are below my seat (which would be low)?

All input and help is much appreciated. It's been 7 years since he's owned a "good" bike and this will be my first bike that didn't come from a department store. All new territory and I'm learning as I go!

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Old 03-15-14, 08:30 PM   #2
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I would worry more about the distance between the stoker seat and handlebars. You can get a custom stoker stem that will get the handlebars higher (up to a point). Simultaneously, you'll need a frame with a short enough front seat tube. I suspect no stock frame is going to work really well for this arrangement, but some will more than others. I had a look at KHS frame geometry diagrams. The Milano is probably too tall for you in the front in the medium, so you would have to get the small. The Alite comes in small and medium and it appears, oddly enough, that the small has a longer rear top tube than the medium, so that would actually work better for both of you. The rear seat tube height of 43cm means you're going to need a very tall seatpost, which could pose its own challenges. There are 400mm seatposts readily available, but it's not clear to me whether that would be tall enough. Perhaps a trip to a bike shop is in order just to get measurements for both of you, which can then be used to determine whether a particular tandem is workable.

Last edited by qspencer; 03-15-14 at 08:40 PM.
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Old 03-15-14, 09:32 PM   #3
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Your post reminded me of this tandem:

daVinci custom tandem

They mounted the stoker handlerbars on a separate tube (instead of the captain seatpost) to allow for a shorter captain. Sounds like a custom frame would be best for you, but it won't be inexpensive.
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Old 03-15-14, 11:40 PM   #4
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Greetings,

I think you might have a problem buying an "off-the-rack" frame because of your height difference...Most frames are designed to put the larger person up front. Consider talking to some custom frame builders. Ask about a telescopic stoker seat tube and maybe look into stoker stems with a steep angle (to get the bars higher).

Have you looked into a recumbent tandem?

Good luck
(Fellow blind stoker)
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Old 03-16-14, 02:02 AM   #5
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Are there any good options out there for a couple with our height difference? I've been reading other threads on the topic and I genuinely don't think we'll have issues with balance or control. I lead him everywhere as is - so the trust is there. And I can keep the bike balanced. He doesn't outweigh me, either. It's just about the height. I
How do you know that you can balance the two of you? Have you tried a rental? FWIW I have a blind stoker. She is 5'6" and I am 5'10". She is a bodybuilder and therefore not light in the upper body. I figure she is 140's and I am 190. Your guy should outweigh you by a huge amount. Even if no, there are leverage moments and he will not have the instinctive balance of a sighted stoker. I got a flat-bar tandem to start and I got the widest handlebars I could find. After years we upgraded one tandem to drops and 44cm wide drops are SCARY after having had so much leverage for so long. Its something you should at least try before you commit to a purchase. Try a few times. I don't think the suggestion another poster made to consider a recumbent to be that off base. It's brilliant actually. You really are looking at a custom rig otherwise. I mean... you could get a flat-bar road tandem, and I strongly recommend you start out that way. The effective top tube will be short but that won't matter that much because of the upright seating position. Seat-posts are available in very long lengths these days. 6'2" is tall but not gigantic. You will outgrow that setup though, and when you do... a recumbent sounds like a reasonable plan cost-wise. They are even harder to balance though. I will deny ever having said this but... ... maybe you two should consider a tandem recumbent trike!

H
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Old 03-16-14, 04:52 AM   #6
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Wow, I'm really glad I joined and posted this. Some great points to consider --

qspencer - the front and rear seat tube lengths had not yet occurred to me. Or if they had, I had not thought in depth about why. But after talking it over with Mike it makes perfect sense. Thanks! We'll watch for that as we try out bikes. We're supposed to try out this one today (it's an 18 captain 16 stoker so we are not optimistic):
FOR SALE: Tandem Bicycle, Adult
As shown in those pictures it is obviously not set up well for us, we'll see though!

Custom stoker seat - high handlebars - got it.

Abram - cool link. Interesting. But I can imagine the dollar sign on something like that! lol

LastKraft - We're trying to start with something we can afford right now and if we're using it enough and saving up all the whole we can go for something custom. In the meantime we'll hit the helpful bike shop in town and look at telescopic seats and a captain seat that will bring the bars up higher, thanks! We did talk about a recumbent - haven't tried one yet. But I think we still have grand visions of upright biking that we haven't let go of yet!

Leisestrum - We do currently rent a tandem. It's a Connandale (AWESOME) and the captain is a Large (about 20 inches in this brand) and the stoker is a 16. It's a BAD fit. The front tube length is ridiculous, and never mind how far I have to lean the bike to set my feet on the ground. But we adjust as much as we can, swap out for different seats and handlebars, and we get it upright and moving forward. This is what has us thinking it's time to find a frame we can live with! What's a drop and how does 44 cm play into that? Sorry for the naive question! I'm learning as I go. But I'm having trouble understanding what you had before and where the leverage comes from!

Balance issues - etc - we currently ride a mostly straight trail along the Truckee River in Reno. No big hard left or right turns. If we have to make a hard turn we stop, make the turn, and go from there (say, to cross a bridge and turn around). Otherwise if I need him to lean at all I touch the corresponding hand. If I need to stop I just call back "stop." Not exactly the most high tech notification system, but all in time with practice should improve.

Any examples of flat-bar road tandems to consider?

Thanks all for new information!
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Old 03-16-14, 08:21 AM   #7
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I'm 5-7 and Mrs Mono is 5-9 with a longer reach and inseam. Not so extreme as your situation. Santana said they could fit us on one of their stock frames. Co-Motion said a custom frame would be best.

We got a custom frame for our second tandem.
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Old 03-16-14, 09:28 AM   #8
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Glad to hear you are already riding a tandem successfully. I understand that teams with vision-impaired stokers are not uncommon.
We rode a Tandemania Comp for a decade before graduating to a recumbent tandem. KHS sizing is very limited - ours would have been bad for short captain/tall stoker, as a ginormous seatpost would be needed.
Our RANS would probably accommodate a tall stoker but not sure about a short captain's feet comfortably reaching the ground at rest.
I imagine there are some stock frames that will fit you as a starter tandem.
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Old 03-16-14, 09:38 AM   #9
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Wonder if the upright/recumbent tandem style might be better for this situation since the stoker size is determined by how far the front boom tube is extended and is independent of the height of the rear upright captain's portion of the frame. The Bilenky Viewpoint and similar bike by Hase are a couple examples.
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Old 03-16-14, 11:56 AM   #10
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My wife (5'6") rides captain while I (6'2") ride stoker. Our first tandem was custom build back in '88 and was designed so that either of us could ride in either position. It has a separate tube for a stem for the stoker so that the captain can lower her seatpost all the way and the stoker can independently raise his handlebars. (Oddly enough, with my gorilla-arms and my wife's preference for sitting a bit more upright on those rare occasions when she stokes, I adjust the rear bars lower than she does.) Our second tandem, also custom, has a more traditional stoker stem clamped to the captain's seatpost. This bike also has a lower top tube to allow for this and has a longer stoker compartment which is much more comfortable for me. I didn't mind the shorter stoker compartment when I was young, but it's nice to be able to stretch out.

Something to consider: unless you go with 26" wheels (or 650B), you're going to have either quite a bit of toe overlap with the front wheel or you're not going to have much trail. Trail makes the bike more stable; toe overlap is fine, but does have its risks and those risks are compounded on a tandem. Both of our tandems have 26" wheels for this reason. Also, with off-the-shelf geometries, your stoker is going to be a bit cramped. The short stoker compartment will force him to sit more upright than he might otherwise do, which will raise his weight and make him a more difficult load to keep stable.

A custom tandem can be had for a reasonable price. R+E lists their custom-built tandems starting at $4700. For us, having the bike fit us is worth the added trouble/expense of having it custom built. However, if we were forced to choose between finding a way to make a stock tandem work or doing without, of course we would find a way to make the stock tandem work.
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Old 03-16-14, 11:07 PM   #11
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Leisestrum - We do currently rent a tandem. It's a Connandale (AWESOME) and the captain is a Large (about 20 inches in this brand) and the stoker is a 16. It's a BAD fit. The front tube length is ridiculous, and never mind how far I have to lean the bike to set my feet on the ground. But we adjust as much as we can, swap out for different seats and handlebars, and we get it upright and moving forward. This is what has us thinking it's time to find a frame we can live with! What's a drop and how does 44 cm play into that? Sorry for the naive question! I'm learning as I go. But I'm having trouble understanding what you had before and where the leverage comes from!


Any examples of flat-bar road tandems to consider?
I hope I can attach it properly but there is a picture I have of a Dutch Tandem called a Gazelle. Gazelles are still made but not like the one I have as a picture. I think they still use the same stoker stem though. It allows the rear handlebars to be set WAY higher than the Captain's seat height. The Dutch like to sit very upright when riding. It's hard to find a modern tandem that doesn't have sloping top tubes. I suspect your Cannondale does. That is why you can stand over it. You can stand over it right? I don't know... all that stuff about leaning it over... how does that work? I think it is easier to fit a tall person to a too small frame than to fit a small person to a too large frame. The ideal tandem for the two of you will be one that fits you well. Do you know what that would be? There are websites like the Competititve Cyclist website where you can input a lot of information about your body (dimensions) and it will suggest good frame sizes for you to try. In addition to the Gazelle stoker stem I mentioned are seat posts with extra set-back to open up the stoker compartmen. Mind you, this often happens by default. As the seat rises it is also moving rear-ward because of the ~73* angle of the seat-tube. This is often enough by itself.

Drop handlebars and the regular racing kind with the forward bend . Flat bars are the upright flat or curved or squiggly bars on cruisers, etc. We have a cruiser type of tandem called a Kent Dual-Drive. It is sold through Wal-Mart. It is a one size fits all type of rig and it does this by having relatively compact dimensions for both the captain and stoker compartments. The top tube slopes but I don't find dismounting easy. Getting off the saddle is fine but getting your right leg over the top tube does require a lot of lean... ...ahhh... that's what you probably mean with your Cannondale. The handlebars are 28" wide. Tip to tip. The Captains stem is 120mm. Even if I don't count the last two inches on either side and consider my effective lever to be the point at the center of each of my hands, I have an effective handlebar length of 24" on that tandem. I'm not metric, so I Googled it. That's 60cm. Drop handlebars, the kind that come on most better bikes are usually sized to the riders shoulder width. That's 42cm in my case. 38cm for my stoker. It's hard to find drop bars much wider than 44cm... that's 16". From 24" to 16" is a huge amount of leverage lost and you feel it when the bike starts to go one way and you move to correct it. Riding a bicycle is making hundreds, thousands of those tiny corrections more or less unconsciously, a phenomenon that some call balance. If I was a 5'3" stoker I would want as long a lever as I could find until I knew that I could get along well without it.

There are a number of flat-bar road tandems available. Alas, the one that we have, the Raleigh Coupe is no longer made I don't think. You'd have a blast on a Coupe. Its set up to be very fast, 700C wheels, disc brakes and it is very, very light for an entry level (but high quality) ride. We ride regulary with Co-Motions and Santana's and Cannondales and we coast faster than a lot of our club mates pedal! It is quite disconcerting to be coasting behind a team that is pedalling madly ahead and be gaining on them without any energy input at all. If you see one used, buy it. Other flat bar road tandems? Well Raleigh still makes the Companion which has 26" wheels and upright handlebars. Electra makes a tandem in that style as well. I can't recommend either one. You will be spending close to a grand and I just don't see that. Our Kent Dual-Drive is the same beast and is $250 shipped to a Wal-Mart near you. Don't let them assemble it. You can spend another $200 and have a much better bike than either the Raleigh Companion or the Electra tandem for half the money spent. The Fuji Absolute was a fast flat-bar road tandem that was competing with the Raleigh Coupe for my $$$. Either one could be converted to drop bars down the road. I don't know what happens if you put "flat-bar road tandem" in Google or Bing, but you could do worse than try it.

H
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Old 03-17-14, 12:40 PM   #12
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Catching up and making sure I take notes on all the things we should be considering.

The goal, down the road, is a custom bike. But it's not in the finances right now. But we aren't going to say - hey, no custom, fine, we won't ride at all. Psht, no way. We'll find something we can make comfortable. And of course, he's that guy that really wants a lightweight, high quality frame because he knows the difference between riding mediocre bikes and riding really well built ones. It's a compromise. We're working on it! lol

We're hoping to go try out a Trek this weekend. It's a few years old, but in okay shape. Most importantly it's 18/18. In that respect it's similar to the Kent Dual Drives or the even cheaper Pacifica dual drives - the matched height makes it a good "non elitist" type just get it on it and figure it out sort of option. Add specific seats, handle bars, maybe pedals and we'll work up to something we can get a lot of practice on until we're ready for the dream custom bike! On this Trek the front top bar is much shorter than the back and I tend to sit much more upright than he does. It could work.

After reading everyone's input and trying to learn as much as I can about the various measurements, how they will impact us, seats and handle bars, etc I think the most important thing for us is to get on a bike and have it be more comfortable than the Cannondale. It's a (----) shame Cannondale doesn't make even height tandems, at least not that I've found. If we can find something we can make work and get out on a few times a week for 10-15 miles than, hey, it's something! All input thus far is much appreciated. I've learned a LOT. So has he.

We face some things that don't come into play when you have 2 sighted riders. Balance is a whole new ball game for us. And the verbal cues we use to let each other know something is up, while similar to many beginning teams who just don't "know" each other yet, are a really big part of our partnership. And yes, I really have to work to balance us. That's okay. I'll build the strength and the skill, just like any other captain (and then some!) Leans and turns will be a learned and evolved practice for us too. He's really great about not making unpredictable movements or weight shifts. And I try to be good about avoid quick movements, warning him of up coming issues, and communicated leans and stops. But again - all should improve with practice right? Let's hope!

We're been exploring groups, non for profits, and competitive circles of teams with a blind stoker. There are seemingly endless couples like us which we find to be really encouraging! The resources are great, too.

Riding tandem with visually impaired partner:
Bicycling Blind | Connecting blind cyclists with sighted pilots.
Tandem Bicycling: Tips for Bikers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired - VisionAware
Eyecycle of Colorado
InTandem | Providing access to bikes for the visually impaired or otherwise disabled.
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Old 03-17-14, 02:07 PM   #13
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A couple of ideas that may or may not be helpful to you:

It has been my (limited) experience that even-sized tandems are much more common among the "vintage" bikes, say before the '80s. Seems that tandem teams back then were more likely to be competitive teams with two male riders. In fact different-sized couples specifically looking for vintage tandems have experienced difficulty finding older bikes with an appreciable difference in captain/stoker sizes.

A frame builder could build a stoker stem for you similar to the one shown on the Gazelle in an earlier post.

Brent
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Old 03-17-14, 02:14 PM   #14
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It has been my (limited) experience that even-sized tandems are much more common among the "vintage" bikes, say before the '80s.
I think you're right, but most of the ones I've seen for sale would probably be too tall for a 5'3" captain.
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Old 03-17-14, 02:41 PM   #15
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Agreed. I have seen some pre 80s even sized tandems, but all have been in the 20'+ range which is too tall for me.
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Old 03-17-14, 05:57 PM   #16
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Not a sizing issue, but something to consider...If your stoker is a former rider, and especially if he is/was into data like "how fast are we going" and the like, consider a Sport-IIII (pronounced "4 eyes") and a speed/cadence sensor like the Garmin GSC-10. The Garmin unit will send speed and cadence information wirelessly (via ANT+ signals) to bike computers and other devices designed to connect to ANT+ sensors. The 4-IIII is the beauty of the system, it is a small device that attaches to the arm of your sunglasses. It has a number of LEDs on a small flexible boom designed to be seen in your periphial vision. For the blind (although it was not initially intended so), it has an audio output that can be programmed to give speed, cadence, and power and heart rate if you have those sensors, either when the device is tapped with a finger or in preset intervals. Keeps me from constantly having to ask my pilots how fast we're going all the time. These units are now used by the British Paralympic cycling team (at least the blind tandem teams), and their website is
www.4iiii.com
Not every stoker really cares about the numbers... Sure helps me pass the time, and regardless of the team's riding goal, I can dose my workouts (heart rate zones) and get in some productive workouts.
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Old 03-20-14, 09:03 PM   #17
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One lady that stoked for me mentioned that she had to ride with tall captains, otherwise, it wasn't possible to adjust the stoker handlebars high enough, and that's an issue mentioned some above. The shorter cockpit in rear would be the other issue.

When I bought my CoMotion, you could get custom geometry for $500 extra. However, that is custom "geometry", ie, tweaking the dimensions, and not custom construction like putting extra handlebar posts in.

One issue I and my current stoker face is that I put my right foot down and lean right, and she puts her left foot down and leans left. So it's just "wrong" when we get on the same bike. The way we've worked around that is that she just doesn't put her feet down until we're at a full stop. That works fine for us, she's not tiny, but I can hold the bike up fine while she's clipped in. But that would get awkward if the stoker was larger.

It would be worthwhile, I think, just to contact CoMotion or the tandem company of your choice, explain the situation, and get their input.

Also, I'm thinking there is an association of blind stokers, that matches stokers up with captains, and I imagine they run into that quite a bit- see if you can look them up.

A tandem works best if the person up front is bigger, stronger, and a better rider/more experienced. However, you work with what you have, and there's a lot of tandem teams that don't match that ideal and do just fine. So don't be afraid to go for it.
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Old 03-20-14, 09:35 PM   #18
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One lady that stoked for me mentioned that she had to ride with tall captains, otherwise, it wasn't possible to adjust the stoker handlebars high enough, and that's an issue mentioned some above.
If the stoker is using MTB bars you can compensate with rise.
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Old 03-20-14, 11:28 PM   #19
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A tandem works best if the person up front is bigger, stronger, and a better rider/more experienced. However, you work with what you have, and there's a lot of tandem teams that don't match that ideal and do just fine. So don't be afraid to go for it.
We've set ours up both ways, and, at least for this team, that statement does not ring true. For us, a tandem works best when the stoker is strong and skilled (as in doesn't move the bike sideways when he pedals; the kind of rider who rides rollers without leaving the center inch of the drum and doesn't need to stand on every single incline). It sounds like the OP may just have such a situation. Think of it this way: Who's happier, the small female captain who puts a CAT 1 racer in the stoker's saddle or the guy who puts a weaker-riding woman in the stoker saddle?

While this isn't going to be the case for the OP, it also allows us to have four eyes on the road, which has helped us see and avoid dangers like groups of deer and the occasional bears and cougars that were preparing to cross in front of us on more than one occasion. It also allows us to take some of the other responsibilities/hassles away from the captain and give them to the stoker, like shifting and applying the drag brake. It's hard to do that when all the stoker sees is someone's backside.
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Old 03-31-14, 06:55 PM   #20
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My wife is taller than I am and I can't convince her to captain the bike. My inseam is 30 inches, hers is 36 inches. She is about 6 feet tall, I'm 5 feet 9 inches. We bought a Cannondale L/M frame as our first tandem because it was as close as we could get with an "off the shelf" bike. After several years of riding, we knew we wanted something that fit her better. Last year, we bought a Co-Motion Java with a custom frame, sized to fit both of us. The happiness of the stoker has been multiplied 10 fold. You mentioned perhaps doing the same thing - buying a "best fit" tandem for now and then upgrading later. That's not a bad idea - and by the time you upgrade, you'll know exactly what you want in the custom bike. Oh, the biggest problem we had to tolerate with the Cannondale was the distance between the seats....and there's probably a technical name for it but I don't know what that measurement is called off the top of my head. You want as much distance between the seats as you can get if the taller person is the stoker. Otherwise, their helmet is in your back when the stoker reaches down for their water bottle. On the hand, because she put her camera, cell phone, kleenex, etc. in the pockets on the back of my jersey, she had everything within easy reach! I hope you're able to find a bike that meets your needs! Good luck!
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Old 03-31-14, 09:13 PM   #21
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I'm a little heavier than my stoker but . . . when something really tricky is about to happen, or we're doing a twisty descent at over 40 . . . she closes her eyes. That works really well. Yee-hah!

I had a much stronger male friend stoke for me once when my wife couldn't get out. We were a terror, dropped the strong boys on their singles. That was huge fun.

Sounds to me like this captain is a strong, capable rider. They're going to have a great time. I'm sure they can find a stock bike that will work. Older tandems had very short stoker compartments and they worked just fine. It seems to me a matter of finding a bike with a stoker seat tube that's tall enough to take a stock seatpost.

OP: The length of the stoker compartment is defined as the distance between the bottom brackets. That's a published measurement.
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Old 04-03-14, 09:32 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post

I had a much stronger male friend stoke for me once when my wife couldn't get out. We were a terror, dropped the strong boys on their singles. That was huge fun.
A couple of years ago my personal trainer, a 22 year old Cross-fit junkie, rode for a couple of weeks as my stoker. Huge fun. We could accelerate like a bat-out-of you know what.
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Old 04-09-14, 09:41 AM   #23
PedalPink
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Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Northwest Ohio
Bikes: 2010 Calfee Tetra Tandem, 2005 Co-Motion Primera Co-Pilot, El Conquistador de Montanas, Schwinn Twin
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I am a 5 - 1/2 inch stoker (99% of the time). I volunteer for a local group that believes everyone can enjoy cycling (vision impaired, missing limbs, balance issues ... Etc). They have a large fleet of bikes including many tandems since we start almost all new riders on a tandem as stoker. The group is called PEAC and is in Michigan. If there's a similar group within driving range, I suggest you contact them and ask to test ride some of their tandems. I was so excited to captain a variety of riders on some super adjustable Co-Motions (Periscopes), Bike Fridays and a special Bilenky designed for special needs stokers. I also taught some parents how to ride tandem - so had some much taller people behind me learning how it feels to ride stoker.

Ive considered adding yet another tandem to our garage designed for me to captain so I can do more as a volunteer captain. I've talked to Co-Motion, Craig Calfee and others and custom, when you have the budget, is a great option. In meantime, trying as many bikes as possible will help you refine what works best for you. I really like your "adjust/make it work attitude!" And the fun you are having. Hope there's a group near you with a similar fleet of adjustable tandems.

PS anyone near Detroit-Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor-Toledo that doesn't know about PEAC should check out their programs. A few hours volunteering will give you 100x happiness when you play a small role in developing a new cyclist.
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