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  1. #1
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    Why is our tandem so slow?!

    I see this has been addressed, but thought I would pose some more specifics with regards to our dilemma. My wife and I (both considerably stronger than average cyclists) have been frustrated as of late by our apparent sluggishness on tandem rides. We have had the tandem now for 2 years, and rode it primarily through my wife's 2 pregnancies (right up to the day of our second daughter's birth!). Now we are trying to up the intensity aiming for some fast centuries and time trials, but find the improvemtnet slow. Regardless of the terrain it feels as though I have to produce a tremendous amount of torque to keep the bike moving foward. This feeling of grinding the pedals has led to some knee pain for both of us. The only time riding has given me knee pain in the past is towing my daughter in a trailer up a mountain pass. Actually the feeling is similiar on the tandem as when I tow the kid trailer.

    There is this climb which is about 1/4 mile of 9% gradient that we frequent. On the tandem we chug up it at 10 mph. Solo I can ride it at 13 mph at the same heart rate while my wife tested it solo this morning and was able to keep 11.5 mph with the same effort. We tried a moderate group ride on Saturday to get dropped, knees exploding. It was a tandem of older riders doing most of the pulling. When I ride with this group on my single, I usually ride away off the front and end up doing my own thing, while my wife can hang with this group no problem on her single.What gives? How can we become more efficient together? I have contemplated getting a pedal stroke/wattage analysis for each of us.

    Any advice is appreciated!

  2. #2
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    What kind of cadence are you carrying individually and as a team when you climb this particular hill?

  3. #3
    Banned. galen_52657's Avatar
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    I wonder if you are not fighting each other - you pulling her legs or she pulling your legs - actually working against each other. This can happen if you two have highly divergent candence preferences. I have had this sensation when my stoker tires. When she is tired, she can't keep up with my candence and I can feel myself pulling her feet around and she is adding restance - not on purpose, but because she is tired and can't pedal fast enough. When that happens, I slow down, pedal slow and let her recover. It also sounds like you are overgeared when climbing. I have never had my knees hurt during a ride and have towed some out-of-shape stokers up some nasty climbs - slowly!

    IMHO, I think you need to try working on finding a cadence that is comfortable for both of you. Then when you figure out what that candence is, use your shifters to keep as close to that RPM as you can!

  4. #4
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    The cadence on the tandem is slightly lower for both of us (I will get some actual numbers this weekend). It feels though that if I kept shifting into a lower gear we would still grind the same cadence, just at a slower speed. My wife comments that she alternates in and out of the saddle often while climbing solo. Perhaps we should try some more standing efforts mixed in. We have gotten the standing thing down just fine.

  5. #5
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by paradiddle
    Perhaps we should try some more standing efforts mixed in. We have gotten the standing thing down just fine.
    Definitely check on the cadence numbers....

    As for possible solutions, standing may help and if you haven't tried it or aren't doing so now, try riding with your cranks out of phase instead of in phase, i.e., set the Captain's cranks at 3 & 9 O'Clock with stoker's at 12 & 6 O'Clock. This eliminates the flat spot in the power strokes and has some other benefits for certain teams, particularly for riders who need "pedal feedback" on their efforts.

    The downside is, OOP makes riding out of the saddle together a challenge and the Captain needs to be mindful of his pedal postion in the corners to ensure the stoker's not caught with a pedal down. It's not the most fashionable looking way to ride a tandem but, again, for quite a few people it's been a boost to their riding performance and/or enjoyment.

    Rudy V. will be able to weigh in here as he and Kay have been OOP for, well, a long time.

  6. #6
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Howdy from Tucson!

    Sounds like a bit of gear mashing from both of you. And yes, you'll tend to shift quicker and more often on a tandem while climbing than on a single. Anticipate the hill and getting a running start, and shift, shift, shift!
    Definitely would try setting up the tandem 90 degrees out-of-phase (OOP).
    Advantages: Always a power stroke going over the top. Less flexing of frame. Easier/faster starts when taking off from a traffic light.
    Disadvantages: If you are the racing type and try to lean hard into a corner, you could hit a pedal. Only one person can stand at the time (yes, we've seen a couple standing OOP, but that's very rare). And, yes, it looks 'funny'!
    Give riding OOP a chance for about a month, then decide which way is best for the
    2-of-U!
    . . . and we bet you two are a lot faster going down that hill than those singles!

    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/Zonatandem

  7. #7
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    My wife and I are relative tandem newbies, with one season and 750 miles together on our bike. Waiting for decent weather to start our new tandeming season (it's snowing in Iowa today!). We're not that strong of riders, but we stick with it.

    There's a tandem-think to riding out on the road, and unfortunately, it doesn't match up well to riding with singles. You start to read the hills differently on the tandem, taking advantage of rollers to keep up the average pace. I guess you could maintain the same average pace as a single bike, but have a greater deviation of speeds around that average. Riding my single with a small group last Sunday, I noticed that the others maintained a steadier pace, while I kept looking for opportunities to pick up my average on the downhills and on toward the uphills. And, yes, I was also shifting more than the other single riders, probably conditioned by the extra tandem shifting.

    On one ride last fall, we were trailing a group of about a dozen riders on singles, and then the terrain shifted into rollers. We took advantage of that section of road and suddenly we'd passed everybody and left them in the dust without a huge effort. Okay, they caught us a little while later when the hills started working against us again. And one rider caught us through a lot of effort, probably the strongest of the batch.

    In sum, if you ride a tandem with singles and you approach the terrain like the other singles, you'll get dropped on the uphills. Get used to passing and being passed, and learning how to do that with safety and courtesy to the other riders...you'll start enjoying that tandeming experience as something on its own, rather than just something discouraging when up against singles.

    Dan

  8. #8
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Hate to say it but Tandems are hard work, Especially up gradients. Having two sets of legs does not make it any easier either.
    I take it for granted that you have the Tandem set up correctly, with correct tyre pressures and tyres that roll, no tight bearings on the wheels etc. etc. etc.

    What I found initially was that I was unfit after an illness when I got the Tandem. My pilot decided that as he was fitter than me, he would carry me up the hills. He put in a lot of effort, and I spun like crazy trying to keep up with him. halfway up the hill, the pilot was worn out, and I quickly became shattered as when he had ran himself into the ground, I had to carry him. Got him trained eventually as I made him go at my pace. If he put in too much energy, then I made him slow down, if the gear became too laboured I made him change down, When we ran out of gears, we slowed down.

    Basically you have two riders of differring strengths. If one tries to carry the other, you will both become tired. What you have to do is be guided by the weaker rider. That rider set the pace, the gearing, the cadence. The stronger rider stay's at that level. After a few hundred miles together, you will find the level the weaker rider can ride at, on cadence and effort to put in. You will find that the weaker rider is comfortable at say-- cadence of 90. Doesn't matter what gear you are in, this is the cadence level to work at. The stronger rider can then set the gearing to set that cadence, and put in the effort tokeep that cadence. Basically you both have to find the level you are BOTH comfortable with. Too fast for one and the performance level will drop, Too slow for the other, and you will both suffer and not enjoy the ride.

    Just to give you hope now.. Offroad which is across very difficult terrain. Pilot aged 40, 200lbs of muscle that works. stoker aged 58, 150lbs that includes some flab. on solos 40 year old will disapper to the front of the group. the 58 year old will only be halfway up the group. On the Tandem, with this pairing they leave, all of the solos, enjoy the scenery at the top of every hill and don't get tired till after 8 hours solid riding on their own. (No other off road tandems to ride with in our area). Didn't happen overnight though, took at least 200 miles to get together on cadence, another 200 miles to stay with the solos and another 100 miles to beat the solos up the hills.

  9. #9
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    It sounds a little like an out of synch team. When you ride your singles together are your cadences similar? Are your shift points similar? I've ridden with a lot of stokers and I've ridden stoker myself and the simple truth is that not all teams are automatically fast on a tandem. Teams that by luck have similar riding styles have an easier time of things. I've ridden with a few stokers and have sworn that the brakes were dragging and others that I hardly knew they were back there except for the fact that we were going very fast with not much effort on my part. Sometimes it just take miles and practice.

  10. #10
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    A compromise pace between the 2 riders tends to work out well and then it becomes a team effort.
    Rudy rides totally different on his single than he does on the tandem . . . from handlebar position to cadence. Yeah, but tandem ridin' is twice the fun!

  11. #11
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    We have been ridding tandems on and off for about 13 years. Neither of us is a strong ridder in the single bike. We could ride with the strongest in the flat and rolling hills from day one. Hills were another story. In the last year or so, now that we are training for a very steep 155 miler, cadence has become more and more important.

    In the past, and while ridding on a pace line, I used to shift to a low gear to let the stoker know that help was needed to keep the pace. I did the same thing when coming out of stop signs and also while climbing. We did OK. Then my stoker suggested to increase the cadence and to comunicate some other way when extra help was needed. It helped tremendously! We still can not ride up hill with the strong climbers but our climbing speed, particularly on long climbs, imrpoved very significantly.

    If in your tandem you can not keep up in the flats with a group that both of you have no trouble keeping up in your singles.... something is wrong with your tandem.

  12. #12
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    Seems I have identified the cause of our sluggishness. I was diagnosed today with mononucleosis. My wife had the same symtpoms a few weeks back, while I have been declining for a while. Considering we have been riding with mono, our performance has been quite good! Looks like no riding for me for a while. ho hum.

  13. #13
    Banned. galen_52657's Avatar
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    Well that explains it!

    You may be sick for a bit but at least you won't be beating yourselves up for sub-par cycling....

    I had mono back in highschool - 6 six weeks and good as new! Hope it is shorter for you guys....

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