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  1. #1
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    Tandem rider physical dynamics

    Been trying to figure this one out... been getting unusual leg cramps that I have only experienced on the tandem and only on organized rides.

    We have done some basically flat recreational rides on the American River Bike Trail up to about 50 miles with no problems. I have done the jump to higher mileage previously on my half bike without any trouble. But on organized rides with the tandem... I hit the limits of the rectus femoris quad muscles. These are real buggers when they cramp because cramps hit with the muscle in the shortened position and standing up to get off the bike IS the shortened position here You sit down on the top bar pretty quick to get out of *that* danger zone.

    I have hit this wall on level ground or climbing... back in February on the Rice Valley Tandem Ralley it was about 30 miles on flat ground and a couple weeks ago on Party Pardee we bagged it at 40 miles with some climbing. However after sending the stroker SAGing back for the car (nobody is prepared to SAG a tandem) I rode another 17 miles solo with no problems until I hit the 7% climb. Ever notice how the bike "comes alive" without a stoker? It was a totally different ride solo and I could pedal and get a response. For climbing I could gear it all the way down and take it easy and motor on up. The cramps were frustrating and the Jekyl and Hyde stuff was really playing with my head and I felt let down by my stoker. Personally I was on the edge of scaling back all tandem riding to just social runs. I probably said some things to the stoker after we got home that I should not have

    A week later on Bike Around the Buttes, we kept it short and limited ourselves to 40 miles of mostly flat and finished at about a 15 MPH average speed. I tried specifically not to push it and thus avoid cramps. I felt at the limit but without cramps threatening at the finish. The stoker took it as a challenge to keep our speed up to 15 MPH (using wireless we both have bike computers on our bars). A MUCH better attitude this weekend compared to the prior weekend.

    So are tandems just more physical to ride than half bikes?

    There seems to be a different feedback dynamic to pacing yourself on a tandem. Have others run into this and how did you figure out adjustments?

    How do you manage to match your partners effort rather than compensate (or over compensate) for it?

  2. #2
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    It takes a little practice to gauge your effort on a tandem.

    Some questions:

    Do you use the same shoes on the tandem and single?
    Do you use a slower cadence on the tandem?
    Is your position on the tandem and single the same? Seat farther forward?

  3. #3
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    To stretch that muscle if it cramps, kneel down and raise up as "tall" as you can (the most contracted position is with the hips flexed and the knees straight).

    Are your tandem and half-bike positions exactly the same? Are you pushing harder or more hills on the organized rides? Are hydration and nutrition relatively the same before and during the ride?

    Try, and this works best on the trainer, some single-legged pedaling...switching back and forth until the RF is tired. Also try standing knee and straight-leg raises, even some knee raise-kicks. I find this helps me, especially as to the RF flexing the hip.

    Otherwise, you may be working harder to stay with a group that maybe your stoker on a single bike maybe couldn't pace with. Then, you're taking up the difference and working a little harder.

    Most important, don't blame the stoker...You have a FTP, your stoker has a FTP, and together you have a team FTP, and together that's how fast the bike goes...If that doesn't match the group you still have a buddy to talk to.

  4. #4
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    Cramps seem to be somewhat random, but getting more fit helps as much as anything.

    My theory on the tandem: I pedal however hard I think I should be pedaling, stoker pedals however hard she thinks she should be working, and whatever happens, happens, whether that means going 10 mph or 30 mph. Staying with groups works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  5. #5
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Going from a single to captaining a tandem, especially with a stoker who is not as strong as you are, is a huge difference. I was a strong single rider, but when we started with the tandem, 20 miles just slaughtered my legs. IMO the biggest difference is the momentum of the big bike. When you push down hard on a pedal on your single, or the tandem when solo, the bike accelerates away from your foot. That limits the length of time that leg spends in a strong contraction. However add your stoker and the bike doesn't get out of the way of your power stroke anymore. If you both were equally strong and pushed equally hard in sync on the pedal, it would be the same as on a single, but that doesn't happen for many captains.

    We've been tandeming since '07, and riding tandem a lot since '09. This year we rode a hard 200k just fine and plan to ride a double Imperial. You both get used to it and get synced up better with practice. Don't give up on it, give it time and effort. I want to ride tandem with my wife. We both enjoy it. Thus I've quit riding my single outside completely. Why would I do that? Tandeming is a team thing and both team members have to play together or it's not happening. One thing we do to sync up better is that we both wear HR monitors. I see my HR and she sees hers on our separate monitors. As navigator, she also has the Garmin, which also displays my HR. She then matches her effort to mine. There's lag with this because it takes a few seconds for my HR to move, but I can always give a verbal if I need to.

    Other things you can do: develop a rounder pedal stroke. Try not to push down at all. Push forward at the top, pull back at the bottom, and unweight on the backstroke. That puts less instantaneous load on any particular muscle. Both of you learn to pedal like turbines. You should be able to feel her pedal stroke and vice-versa. We remind each other from time to time, saying "circles!" It helps. Practice standing a lot. We try to stand for about 30 seconds every 10 minutes on long rides. That makes a big difference. We'll also stand to pop over small stuff where we can use our momentum. When you're standing, you are automatically in perfect sync and with practice the bike accelerates like a single.

  6. #6
    Senior Member geoffs's Avatar
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    We've been tandeming nearly 20 together.
    The thing that made the biggest difference for us was getting my lovely stoker a HRM. We both work to our heart rate and this helps our endurance. Stoker used to push to hard and blow up, whereas now that she keeps track of how much effort she is putting out, she knows to leave a bit in the tank going up hills, so that we cruise over the crest rather than her dying nearly at the top.
    Another thing is taking advantage of the momentum that tandems have when riding in rolling countryside. If you can keep the speed up on the downhills rather than just coasting it makes a huge difference to how much effort is required going up the next hill

  7. #7
    Senior Member DCwom's Avatar
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    The two mechanical things I notice most about tandem riding (for legs) are less standing and more pedal rotation (less coasting), the effort is all relative to the terrain, temp, emotional state of each rider.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
    Cramps seem to be somewhat random, but getting more fit helps as much as anything.

    My theory on the tandem: I pedal however hard I think I should be pedaling, stoker pedals however hard she thinks she should be working, and whatever happens, happens, whether that means going 10 mph or 30 mph. Staying with groups works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't.
    Hear Hear!!! We had smilar issues when we first started tandeming. Stoker was not a cyclists so had no idea how much effort was required to maintain the speed I like. When she started wearing a heart monitor it gave her a reference to judge the effort she was exerting.

    Let it be for her knowledge and don't keep asking what is your heart rate. What will be will be.

  9. #9
    Senior Member 1speeder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by apage4u View Post
    Hear Hear!!! We had smilar issues when we first started tandeming. Stoker was not a cyclists so had no idea how much effort was required to maintain the speed I like. When she started wearing a heart monitor it gave her a reference to judge the effort she was exerting.

    Let it be for her knowledge and don't keep asking what is your heart rate. What will be will be.
    I too started with a non cyclist stoker and did have the cramping issues as I tend to push too hard to keep our speed up. We both got stronger in the long run, which isn't a bad thing. What really helped my wife was when I wore the HRM transmitter and she wore the monitor, on the first climb she started yelling at me to slow down because my heart rate was at max, then she noticed, when she pedaled harder, my heart rate went down. Go figure

  10. #10
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    The captain wearing himself out quickly on a tandem is a common situation however the symptoms of exhaustion a rider feels should be very similar on the tandem and single. If the rider pedals to exhaustion on a single with no cramps but has cramps on the tandem then I think it points to a bicycle fit or food/hydration difference between the two bikes.

    Some captains tend not to eat and drink as much and as often on the tandem. Having the cleats slightly more forward on the shoe will tend to load the quads. Likewise having less saddle setback behind the crank will also load the quads rather than the glutes.

    The only exception may be saddle pain caused by standing less often on a tandem. The solution is simple, stand more of the tandem. It is really fun especially at good speed to maintain momentum over a small rise. Probably not very efficient given the aero losses but its fun.

  11. #11
    alpine cross trainer Ludkeh's Avatar
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    Last year, we'd ride our tandem on weekends and than I would switch to my Triathlon bike during the week to train for upcoming events. Thus limited tandem miles.

    This year, we decided to ride the tandem more during the week and forgo my singles training rides. I get a pretty good, hard workout on the tandem. I'm much more tired, legs and shoulders, after a 30 miler on the tandem vs my single. Hopefully, this way we can ride together, train and enjoy each others company.

    After significant time on the tandem, my Triathlon bike feels like a feather underneath me!

  12. #12
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    The captain working harder makes sense. I'm a Clydesdale class rider and my 11 year old daughter doesn't put out anywhere near as much power as I do so I've notice I get a lot hungrier a lot faster on the tandem. On the plus side I'm climbing a lot faster on my commuter.
    I've also noticed some fit and comfort issues but I think it's because the frame size is a tad small and I need to optimize the bar and saddle positions, plus I'm still using what came with our 3rd hand tandem and need to swap out some saddles grips etc.
    Last edited by SlowJoeCrow; 05-04-14 at 01:32 PM. Reason: more thoughts

  13. #13
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    Cramps can be caused by dehydration. Are you drinking as much on the tandem as your single? How about your bike fit? A slightly different position can cause the use of different muscles and cramping.

  14. #14
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    Thanks for the responses.

    It is reassuring that others have noted similar challenges when starting out on tandems. It would be fair to say my wife/stoker is a beginner bike rider and I will admit that I do not have quite as much time on bike as I once did on the half-bike. I am wearing the same shoes on both bikes and measurements of riding position are quite similar. I believe cadence to be similar. I do run a HRM and the stoker gets to see the numbers too... not sure if she has figured out the correlation between my HR and her effort as mentioned but she is beginning to understand what the numbers mean.

    We are encouraged by our most recent ride. We rode the Folsom Powerhouse ride which had a fairly long out and back to a loop. This allowed us to scale the ride to what we thought we could handle. 50K seemed too short and 100K too long, especially factoring in the hill climbing. We ended up riding 45 miles from Folsom to Newcastle (about 900' gain) and back and felt pretty good about it. I continue to hold back a bit compared to the half bike and to keep the gearing (and thus effort) low while climbing. We managed some decent grades but did walk up the 10% pitch. I did flirt with the edge a bit on a downhill stretch on the ride because it was too much fun to fly at 35 MPH

    The current plan is to continue riding and gradually increasing a balance of mileage and climb.

  15. #15
    PMK
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1speeder View Post
    I too started with a non cyclist stoker and did have the cramping issues as I tend to push too hard to keep our speed up. We both got stronger in the long run, which isn't a bad thing. What really helped my wife was when I wore the HRM transmitter and she wore the monitor, on the first climb she started yelling at me to slow down because my heart rate was at max, then she noticed, when she pedaled harder, my heart rate went down. Go figure
    Ironic how the monitors show the truth. Our current setup on road is that I can monitor stoker HR and based on how the spin is, select the gear to effort for what we are capable of that day. When the stoker tries to help by watching MPH on her computer, the cadence is all over the place, she stomps the pedals, and basically it is just ugly, like two people with no experience or need to be on a tandem.

    For us there is a window of opportunity that works very well and is maintained for longer distances. It took a while to sort it out, but when the stoker learned to spin easy revs and keep it around 100 rpm give or take on the flats, everything syncs. Change the recipe, based on an erratic group, daydreaming while riding, asthma, you name it, anything that makes the stoker become a passenger and your legs will fall off. Feel the pedals, watch your heart rate, and if needed, watch the group ride away. Not everyone has the same fitness or goals when they ride, difficult to be kind and explain to your stoker.

    At this point, I would take baby steps to avoid parking the tandem. Ride the stokers ride. If the stoker wants to be a part of the group, she needs to step up the shortcomings. Either way, nobody is wrong. Just have fun.

    Group rides with single bikes is our demise. Our best rides are tandem group rides, especially with people we know, or solo. Our most fun rides, are often off road, on the Ventana tandem where the pressure of a group is often not there, and it becomes more about technical riding than spinning for hours.

    Choose your words carefully, I doubt it has anything to do with your machine.

    All the best with it.

    PK
    Last edited by PMK; 05-08-14 at 05:37 AM.
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  16. #16
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    Stoker is, well, stoked! We completed our first Metric Century

    Rode the Lodi Sunrise Century last Saturday. Mostly a flat ride around a box of a route with some rollers along the back side. It was billed as riding through vineyards... but the shady walnut orchard tunnel was the most memorable (although it had competition from the Cherry Festival parade we rode through).

    Raised the stoker seat about 1/2" and captain seat about 1/4". Stoker thought it felt better. No real cramps for captain although calves felt threatening. Kept cadence lower and did isometric stretches to keep things from locking up.

    I of course blamed our success all on the stoker getting stronger. She is still very intimidated by hills. Our next ride will be another of our fun runs down the American River Parkway. Keeping it fun... but hidden agenda to see how much difference then and now for curiosity and potential motivation.

    BTW Sunrise Century was a great ride with only 0.4% tandem participation (us and one other in a field of 500). The Bare Ranch finish was great. Hope to see more tandems next year.

  17. #17
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    I see I'm late to this particular party. But some ideas are timeless...

    My sweetie and I have been riding our vintage tandem for about 3 1/2 years, I think, and we've done 5000 miles since we started. I find riding the tandem much more tiring than riding solo. I outweigh her by 50lbs and my power/weight ratio is higher. Plus controlling the bike is just more upper-body work.

    Her preferred cadence isn't as high as mine, and one thing I've found to increase her power output is to run a higher gear than I might for myself. I can fell the difference and see it in our speed on roads we ride often. But I doubt we'll, which is to say I'll, ever be able to do the distances I can do solo.
    Real cyclists use toe clips.
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  18. #18
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    All great input…if stoker output is not equal to the captain, the captain will always expend more energy……compared to the effort on the single…...used to cramp at mile 35 when mph avg was around 17-18…..we now do at least 2 centuries a year without issue…...…I fixed this by increasing mileage, doing more squats and lunges, quit cytomax as my drink and went to water only with GU, and bought a Calfee tandem…..LOL…..seriously though, the Calfee reduced effort and conserved energy transfer or increased efficiency. (the Santana Arriva circa 1992 was 42lbs loaded)

    Enjoy the ride with the stoker……..or you won't be riding the Tandem!

  19. #19
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    Ugh. Over two months before that fun ride down the American River Bike trail. Kind of hard to connect dots that way and compare training "feel". We rode about 60 miles total so we can still do a decent distance, so long as we are not time pressured (of course 2+ flat tires do not help ones time...).

    However we have added dual Garmin Edge 510's so we have more data. The interesting part was comparing heart rates now that we both have HRMs. During the ride she seemed to be 20-25 BPM lower and the end of ride data backed this up:

    Her average 112 against a target max of 156 or 72%.
    My average 138 against a target max of 172 or 80%.

    The part that really got her attention though was that I got credit for 2323 calories while she only got credit for 866 on the same ride (she is very much a calorie counter). I have noted in prior HRM use that the math for calorie counts is very strongly affected by HR with higher BPM feeding into a non-linear increase in calorie count. So we will see how things play out on the next ride and if this new data motivates a change.

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