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  1. #1
    Senior Member jeneralist's Avatar
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    How can you find out whether you're tandem material -- before buying?

    My husband and I both enjoy riding. He can manage a lot more speed than I can, but we'll both do 40 miles on a nice day and 60-100 mile days for charity rides. We've joked for many years that we value our marriage too much to try a tandem.

    Yesterday, while visiting a local bike shop, we saw a tandem that was pretty enough it took our breath away. Already had couplers installed. He and I looked at each other, and after we controlled our drooling we got out of there before we did anything irrevocable.

    Fortunately, we live in a tourist town, where we can rent a tandem for $50/day. Of course, the rentals are kitted out as cruisers-for-two; I'm more into tourers, and he prefers a racing geometry.

    If we take a test ride, what sort of things should we be on the lookout for?
    - Jeneralist

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    First of all ... yes, jump on the chance to take the test ride.


    As for things to look for ...

    If your husband is captain, and you are stoker ... do you feel comfortable with the lack of control? As stoker, you need to relax. If you try to steer or lean too much or too little, you can make it very difficult for the captain. If you really struggle with the lack of control and relaxing, maybe the tandem is not for you.

    Communication ... how well do you communicate? This might take a bit of practice, but especially at first, both of you need to communicate everything you intend to do. For example, if one of you suddenly coasts, without warning the other, it can almost throw the other off the bicycle. If, after two or three rides, this is a problem, then maybe the tandem is not for you.

    Related to feeling comfortable with the lack of control + communication ... what are your ride styles like? Do you have compatible cadences or does one of you like to mash and the other like to spin? Does one of you need to stand when climbing, while the other prefers to sit and spin? You'll discover all your little differences when you get on the tandem ... things you thought were normal, you'll discover he does differently. But if one or both of you can adapt, then you'll be fine. If not, then maybe the tandem is not for you.


    Of course these things are not insurmountable ... some things take a bit of practice and discussion and then you can settle in and be just fine. But if you go out several times and it is just not working ... well ...

  3. #3
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Your post reads as if you are indeed tandem material.
    Agree with what Machka shared.

    One strategy is to begin with a Starter Tandem, one that is less expensive and perhaps imperfect but which will let you put in enough time and miles to, 1. confirm that you enjoy the tandem experience and, 2. figure out what your Next/Long Term Tandem needs to be.
    RANS V3 (steel), RANS V-Rex, RANS Screamer

  4. #4
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    The fact that both team members are riders is a BIG plus.

    Compatible cadence is a big one as mentioned above.

    Do you have the same goals?

    We climb at an average of our single speed climbing so fast for the stoker and slow for the captain. The captain has to be ready to get dropped on climbs if you ride your tandem with his riding buddies. On the other hand you can punish them on the flats and downhills. Our tandem is faster than I am on my single on that terrain.

    The captain may not be able to ride the tandem with his normal group depending on the group dynamics but I found it well worth it to always have a ride partner, hit some really high speeds, and always being able to go as hard (but maybe not as far) as I like. Even on my best day I can't drop my wife. Just joking but reaching goals is more fun as a team than on the single.

    Stoker lack of control was an issue for us but my stoker decided the extra speed on the tandem was worth giving up the control of her single. Her competitive streak won out over her Control freak side.

    I say go for it. A good used tandem is a start. Then if you like it you will have a good idea what you want in a bike. The rentals might be worth a shot but keep in mind that they may be more of a tandem shapped object than a real tandem.
    Last edited by waynesulak; 07-27-14 at 01:42 PM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by waynesulak View Post
    The rentals might be worth a shot but keep in mind that they may be more of a tandem shapped object than a real tandem.
    I so agree with Waynesulak. Only thing I can say, is that it's okay (maybe better) in my experience, if only one person likes to stand while one stays seated. I feel the tandem is more controllable that way - one standing at a time.

    Sounds like you two should ask for a test ride on the tandem in question and ride for 2-5 miles, stop for lunch, discuss how you feel, then see if you can work through any difficulties on your return trip. At the end of the ride, you will pretty much know if tandeming is for you. You might even trade Captain/Stoker positions if you both are able to do so and are about the same size. My stoker prefers to give up control and enjoys the scenery.

    Enjoy.

  6. #6
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    The main thing is that you are used to a bit of compromise. If you don't mind adapting a bit to each others expectations and preferences you should be fine. If you do get a rental remember to look past the actual function of the bike (how well it changes gear, weight, performance, brakes, fit etc) as these may well be not that good and not indicative of a proper tandem. Just focus on the concept of the two of you being on the same bike.

  7. #7
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    Lots of good advice above. I would add to not be afraid to do things differently than you see other teams doing it. My wife gets motion sickness and isn't real big on giving up control or the view from the front of the bike. Since I'm seven inches taller than her, if I ride captain her view stays the same all day. Because of this we had our first tandem custom built in such a way that either of us could ride in either position. Within a few thousand miles, I settled in as stoker. I have control of the shifting (I can see what's coming over her) and the drag brake, so she doesn't have to bother with those details. That was 26 years ago, so I'd say things are working out just fine for us.

    We may be one of three or four teams that roll with the big guy behind the small woman with 90 degree out of phase pedals and the stoker controlling the shifting and one brake. It works for us. Other configurations work well for other couples. If you can try various set ups, that would be great, but not always possible. I mean, who's got a tandem that will allow a 6'2" stoker and a 5'6" (or shorter) captain to lend you?

    I'll add, for Machka, that about the only time I have been captain in all these years was when our headset failed on the yellowhead highway in Canada. That experience removed any desire to be captain as riding with a dysfunctional headset isn't fun.

  8. #8
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    Bcarfree is a good example that the captain doesn't need wide bars or a lot of upper body strength to wrestle the tandem. Bike handling and calm stokers come in all sizes.

  9. #9
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    We answered that question back in 1975 . . .
    Been riding as a duo ever since.
    Now 240,000+ miles later we are on tandem #5 ; at ages 81 and 79 we are still riding TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

    . . . yeah, we like it!
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    Last edited by zonatandem; 07-27-14 at 08:11 PM. Reason: left out word 'miles'

  10. #10
    Senior Member Paul J's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    My husband and I both enjoy riding. He can manage a lot more speed than I can, but we'll both do 40 miles on a nice day and 60-100 mile days for charity rides. We've joked for many years that we value our marriage too much to try a tandem.

    Yesterday, while visiting a local bike shop, we saw a tandem that was pretty enough it took our breath away. Already had couplers installed. He and I looked at each other, and after we controlled our drooling we got out of there before we did anything irrevocable.

    Fortunately, we live in a tourist town, where we can rent a tandem for $50/day. Of course, the rentals are kitted out as cruisers-for-two; I'm more into tourers, and he prefers a racing geometry.

    If we take a test ride, what sort of things should we be on the lookout for?
    seeing you are in the Philly area a nice drive into New Jersey to visit Tandems East would very beneficial. Lots of tandems to ride and great information from a very seasoned team.
    1982 Merckx Campy Super Record, 1995 Merckx Campy Centaur 10, DiamondBack Axis TT, (set-up as city bike), Bushnell Tandem

  11. #11
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    If both of you unclip the same foot when stopping, that simplifies things. If not, you can work around it (current stoker clips in before we start, stays clipped in until we stop).
    It took me about 1,000 miles to get used to the feel of the tandem. So if it just feels "wrong" to the captain, no problem, he'll get used to that.
    Sweat blowback from the captain can be an issue. If you can draft close or he doesn't sweat much, you're probably okay.
    Theoretically, a tandem is faster than single bikes. In reality, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, and if you're willing to accept whatever results you get, you'll be in good shape. I've known of at least one couple that went into a tandem with the sole purpose of going faster, which is an iffy thing.
    Match of cadence is a big issue as noted above. First stoker would occasionally need to holler "Give me a gear!", otherwise, things have worked out okay there. A little difference, you can work around, a LOT of difference would be really irritating.
    Do you really need the couplers? If not, consider getting the bike without them to simplify life.

    Oh- when I first started- I would stand, and it took a while to get used to that, as you can't flop the bike back and forth like you do riding a single bike. But I could stand, that was a little awkward, but doable. And stoker could stand while I sat, that was a little easier. Then when we finally tried BOTH standing, well, heck, that was simplest thing in the world to do. So I'd suggest, if captain stands, he lets you know, and you both just stand together and see if that works okay.

    My first stoker observed that couples that could both stand together on climbs were usually good climbers.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  12. #12
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Riding a tandem, just like a marriage, is all about control. One of my pet truisms is that all human relationships are about control. Not much else is really going on. Many people have trouble relinquishing control. Those people will have a hard time as either a captain or a stoker, because both positions involve a good bit of said relinquishing. If you dig that, you two definitely need a tandem.

    Another pet truism is that a tandem is a relationship accelerator. Wherever it's going, it'll get there faster on a tandem.

    Handling and getting used to a tandem are minor issues, all solvable. Human relationship issues are not always so easy.

    Once you get used to the bike, get synched up as we say, you'll climb at the average of the speeds at which you climb on singles. You will descend like the bomb. On the flat, if you are fairly close in speed on your singles, you'll be faster on the tandem. If there's a big difference, you might be a little slower than the stronger of you is now.

    We have found that we have both gotten stronger from riding the tandem, more so than from riding our singles. We also love touring on the bike. A full-on road tandem tours fine, it just needs the attachment points for the luggage.

  13. #13
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    Just to set expectations - it took my wife about 2 months to feel comfortable on tandem as a stoker and it took us around a month to hit a good rhythm and communications. If you push through for a few hundred miles, you'll be fine. Listen to one another and remember that it's about your ride together, not your self. It means your husband might have to slow the pace more than he wants. Just communicate clearly with one another.

    It's totally worth it

  14. #14
    Senior Member DCwom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    If we take a test ride, what sort of things should we be on the lookout for?
    Jeneralist, as Paul J said you live in Philly, you are in so much luck, Tandems East (www.tandemseast.com) is a an easy ride to southern NJ. I'd say do the rental of whatever tandem you can find locally to get a feel, then contact Mel at Tandems East and plan a visit to ride some real tandems. Mel and Barbra are a tandem riding couple and all they sell are tandems so they are a must visit when looking for a tandem, they understand the whole experience.

    I won't repeat what others have said about what to look for, they've pretty much covered it.
    Last edited by DCwom; 07-28-14 at 06:40 AM.

  15. #15
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    What a lot of good opinions in the thread! (Maybe that says something about tandem riders?)

    Quote Originally Posted by JanMM View Post
    One strategy is to begin with a Starter Tandem, one that is less expensive and perhaps imperfect but which will let you put in enough time and miles to, 1. confirm that you enjoy the tandem experience and, 2. figure out what your Next/Long Term Tandem needs to be.
    Cathryn and I got into tandem riding with a different strategy that has worked out very well for us. We rented a beach cruiser for half a day, and despite the clumsiness of that first outing we were convinced this was for us. We spent the next couple of months researching and reading everything we could find about tandems (especially on this site), gulped hard, and after lengthy e-mailed and telephone conversations with the builder, commissioned a custom-framed DaVinci that cost more than we have paid for most of the cars we've owned in our 40+ years of marriage. That was three years ago, and we haven't had one instant of regret. Knowing ourselves and each other very well, and being at an age where we have more money than time, it was worth it for us to try to get the right 'last' bike in the first place.

  16. #16
    Nigel nfmisso's Avatar
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    Read this: The Proper Method

    It is a method that works for many people; not everyone agrees with it. It is a good starting point for discussion about how your team will handle things. Both of you have to agree. Everything is a compromise.

    My wife is not a bike rider, but we enjoy our tandem. She has balance and vision issues, which will not permit her to ride solo. She is a great stoker for me. The stoker has to trust the captain completely, and the captain has to provide no reason EVER for the stoker not to trust him/her.
    Nigel
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  17. #17
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    Be prepared...

    If you can both drool at a bike in a bike shop you probably know what you are looking at and have good taste. This means $$$ in the tandem world. You might want to either run or notify the bank :-)

    Tandems can be a lot of fun and do keep the team riding along together. But since they are a much more limited market they also are a specialty vendor/seller item and thus more expensive than generic bikes. I ride a name brand pretty decent and capable carbon fiber road bike and I could have bought 3+ for what I invested in a simple steel frame coupled tandem (we won't talk about how much after upgrades...). But then I got to pick the color for my tandem which was pretty fun.

    I start drooling when tandems get into the $8-10k neighborhood <sigh>

    And I did make the mistake of renting a Tandem first... and my wife really liked it.

  18. #18
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    jeneralist - if you have any extra time in Seattle before or after RAW you should drop in to R+E Cycles http://www.rodbikes.com and talk to them about tandems. They loan bikes, they know tandems, they'll walk you through the machine shop, and you'll definitely drool over the stuff you see there.

  19. #19
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nfmisso View Post
    Read this: The Proper Method

    It is a method that works for many people; not everyone agrees with it. It is a good starting point for discussion about how your team will handle things. Both of you have to agree. Everything is a compromise.
    And I'm a stoker who strongly disagrees with that method.


    Sure, I'll go along with the stoker never makes mistakes thing but we have discovered that we start best when we are clipped in with our left foot, and each have our right foot on the ground. In a single, smooth, graceful motion ... some of the time ... most of the time ... we push off with our left foot, raise ourselves into the saddle, and pedal with the right foot. When we are rolling, we worry about clipping in or not as the case may be.


    I think we tried the method described in that article once, but I am a strongly, fiercely independent cyclist, and I want my foot on the ground when the bicycle has come to a halt ... or before it gets moving. The captain could be the author of that article ... who thinks he knows The Method ... but I would still want my foot on the ground.


    But these are things a captain and stoker need to discuss and work out ... and find out what works best for you as a team.

  20. #20
    Senior Member jeneralist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrooom3440 View Post
    Be prepared...

    If you can both drool at a bike in a bike shop you probably know what you are looking at and have good taste. This means $$$ in the tandem world. You might want to either run or notify the bank :-).

    Yeah, this pretty much describes the situation. We were only in the bike shop to begin with because Phil wanted to bring his custom-made (although not custom made for him) bike that he had found on Ebay back to the place where it was "born."
    - Jeneralist

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    And I'm a stoker who strongly disagrees with that method.


    Sure, I'll go along with the stoker never makes mistakes thing but we have discovered that we start best when we are clipped in with our left foot, and each have our right foot on the ground. In a single, smooth, graceful motion ... some of the time ... most of the time ... we push off with our left foot, raise ourselves into the saddle, and pedal with the right foot. When we are rolling, we worry about clipping in or not as the case may be.


    I think we tried the method described in that article once, but I am a strongly, fiercely independent cyclist, and I want my foot on the ground when the bicycle has come to a halt ... or before it gets moving. The captain could be the author of that article ... who thinks he knows The Method ... but I would still want my foot on the ground.


    But these are things a captain and stoker need to discuss and work out ... and find out what works best for you as a team.

    + 1, but my reasoning has less to do with independence and more with equipment choice and safety...If you can imagine Speedplay cleats and carbon soled shoes. Our difference is that we left foot down as the roads around here are crowned.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    Yeah, this pretty much describes the situation. We were only in the bike shop to begin with because Phil wanted to bring his custom-made (although not custom made for him) bike that he had found on Ebay back to the place where it was "born."
    We bought a new Co-Motion in part because they are built in Eugene Oregon and our daughter goes to school at OSU in Corvallis Oregon. Thus stopping off and taking a tour of the factory was "on the way" to visit. So yeah we can say we have been back to where it was born too Very nice folks and impressive work done. I never would have guessed where some of the separate parts are in the frame if I had not seen how they are built. Lots of bike porn too: "here check out these really cool carbon tandem wheels!" We appeased ourselves with a pair of matching Co-Motion bike jerseys that day.

    For my part I am not *entirely* a tandem convert. I do still enjoy my half bike a lot, probably more than the tandem. But I cannot ride with my wife that way, riding with my wife only happens on the tandem. And I have found the tandem to be a more physical ride than my half bike. And the tandem certainly fills the bill for being an attention getter (especially with a Gates carbon timing belt). So I can enjoy riding the tandem too, it is just a different riding experience that I have to go into with different expectations. Different social dynamics on both: the tandem tends to be a bit more relaxed and the half bike more aggressive. Like driving a European sedan versus driving a Corvette. Both can offer a fun driving experience but you cannot take another couple along in the Corvette.

  23. #23
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrooom3440 View Post

    For my part I am not *entirely* a tandem convert. I do still enjoy my half bike a lot, probably more than the tandem. But I cannot ride with my wife that way, riding with my wife only happens on the tandem. And I have found the tandem to be a more physical ride than my half bike. And the tandem certainly fills the bill for being an attention getter (especially with a Gates carbon timing belt). So I can enjoy riding the tandem too, it is just a different riding experience that I have to go into with different expectations. Different social dynamics on both: the tandem tends to be a bit more relaxed and the half bike more aggressive. Like driving a European sedan versus driving a Corvette. Both can offer a fun driving experience but you cannot take another couple along in the Corvette.
    Yeah I agree with some of that except sometimes stokers want to see what that European Sedan can do on the autobahn!

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by waynesulak View Post
    Yeah I agree with some of that except sometimes stokers want to see what that European Sedan can do on the autobahn!
    At the risk of going off topic...

    The stoker you say? Verily quite so. Indeed my stoker has never complained about how fast we were going on the bike (like she has in the car...) but maybe she was too busy doing a detail study of my back at the time to know how fast we were going

    I probably have more time/miles over 30 MPH on the tandem than I do on the half bike. Never wanted *goggles* on the half bike but I have on the tandem. That is also why my tandem has nice big floating disc brakes front and rear too

  25. #25
    Senior Member waynesulak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrooom3440 View Post
    At the risk of going off topic...

    The stoker you say? Verily quite so. Indeed my stoker has never complained about how fast we were going on the bike (like she has in the car...) but maybe she was too busy doing a detail study of my back at the time to know how fast we were going

    I probably have more time/miles over 30 MPH on the tandem than I do on the half bike. Never wanted *goggles* on the half bike but I have on the tandem. That is also why my tandem has nice big floating disc brakes front and rear too

    Bringing it back on topic, I would say that is a good indication of tandem material.

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