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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 08-05-17, 10:10 AM   #1
Stick69
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Experiences of a First Year Tandem Couple

Installment 1: Searching for Saddles

My stoker and I set a goal early this spring to work up to rides of 20 miles. This was not going to happen on the saddles that came with our used tandem. They were perfectly good saddles, a Selle Italia and a Terry, but they just didn’t fit. I was getting sore on the inside of my sit bones and my stoker was going numb. One of my co-workers suggested the LBS near our office which carries Specialized. They don’t have loaner saddles but they have a liberal 30 day return policy provided you take care of the saddle and several Specialized saddle models come in three widths. The location near my work made it convenient to swap saddles.

Over 8 weeks we tried three widths and three models (not every combination). We rode each saddle at least twice unless it was immediately clear it was a bad fit. I did the cardboard and crayon test at home and figured I would need the middle width but I tried the narrow and wide widths just to experience both more and less saddle than I needed. Here are a few observations.

The distance between sit bones changes with posture (forward lean) so saddle width is a compromise over the range of postures used by a particular rider on a particular bike. The width I chose was tolerable on the bars, comfortable on the hoods and drops and tolerable in the drops with more arm bend. The narrower saddle was not comfortable on the bars and the wider saddle was not comfortable in the drops. After several hundred miles the saddle is now more comfortable over the full range of positions I use.

There is only so much room down there for padding whether that padding is on the saddle or in your shorts. The width of the nose is also important. My bibs are pretty plush so the wider nose on the wider saddle became apparent at lower body angles. My plusher bids also don’t interact well with the well-padded Terry saddle on my hybrid. The optimal amount of padding is the least amount of padding (combined saddle and shorts) needed for the sit bones. Too much extra padding will eventually cause chaffing elsewhere.

Saddle angle matters and modern saddles are not all flat. I took special care to level the middle third of the saddles and we stopped to adjust seat angle whenever necessary. A saddle test ride can be meaningless if the saddle angle is wrong for the rider.

We recently rode 31 miles with a first leg of 17 miles non-stop and we have declared our saddle search of 2017 a success.
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Old 08-06-17, 08:11 AM   #2
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Selle Anatomica solved it for us, and we now have them on our tandem and single bikes. We still feel discomfort at 75 to 100 miles, but don't start to notice until 60+.
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Old 08-06-17, 06:53 PM   #3
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Tough to suggest which saddles are best for your butts!
Softest saddles are not necessarily the best choice.
Trial and error as you are doing is the best suggestion. Fit, height, fore/aft and tilt are crucial.
Also hand placement on the bars (drops/hoods/top of the bar) make a difference in proper feel on the saddle.
We usually give a saddle 3 months to be dialed in perfectly.
Been riding as a duo for 40+ years and still going at it at ages 84/82.
Pedal on!
Rudy and Kay/zonatandem
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Old 08-07-17, 07:52 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Scraper View Post
Selle Anatomica solved it for us, and we now have them on our tandem and single bikes. We still feel discomfort at 75 to 100 miles, but don't start to notice until 60+.
I looked at the Selle Anatomica but decided we needed easy access to try multiple styles and widths for our first saddles. Now that we know what shape works we may try mail order in the future.



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Tough to suggest which saddles are best for your butts!
Softest saddles are not necessarily the best choice.
Trial and error as you are doing is the best suggestion. Fit, height, fore/aft and tilt are crucial.
Also hand placement on the bars (drops/hoods/top of the bar) make a difference in proper feel on the saddle.
We usually give a saddle 3 months to be dialed in perfectly.
Been riding as a duo for 40+ years and still going at it at ages 84/82.
Pedal on!
Rudy and Kay/zonatandem
We are late starters at 56/58 but we seem to have the personality for it. If we are still at it in 40 years it would have to be a tandem trike. Thanks for being an inspiration.
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Old 08-07-17, 12:33 PM   #5
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Sella Anatomica for us Tandem saddles have different needs then single bike saddles as you don't tend to move around as much. NO one that we have recommended Sella Anatomica for there tandems has gone back to other saddles. You go to tandem rallies and events and it is the prevailing saddle. I think they have a fit guarantee that if it doesn't work for you you can send it back. Rivet Saddles are a variation of the Sella as an alternative.
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Old 08-08-17, 06:16 AM   #6
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Sella Anatomica for us Tandem saddles have different needs then single bike saddles as you don't tend to move around as much. NO one that we have recommended Sella Anatomica for there tandems has gone back to other saddles. You go to tandem rallies and events and it is the prevailing saddle. I think they have a fit guarantee that if it doesn't work for you you can send it back. Rivet Saddles are a variation of the Sella as an alternative.
At 130 mm sit-bone spacing (max) the Selle Anatomica looks to be similar in width to the saddles we are using.

https://selleanatomica.com/pages/dimensions

We ride the 155mm version of this saddle (155-20=135).

https://www.specialized.com/us/en/wo...ert-gel/117406
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Old 10-01-17, 08:57 PM   #7
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Installment 2: Learning to Shift a Wide Ratio 3 x 9

Up until very recently we have used our tandem as a 9 speed. At some point I fussed with (OK I screwed up) the front derailleur trim adjustment in order to optimize use of the middle ring with all 9 cogs. This adjustment was probably made necessary by inadvertently trimming the front derailleur at a time I did not even know that was a thing. When some friends invited us on a ride that would include some short climbs, but too long to just gut out in the second ring, I decided it was time to learn more about our drive train.

There are not a lot of videos online that discuss this type of gearing but I did find one helpful video for shifting 3 x 7 gearing. The video suggested using all cogs from the second ring, only the bottom two cogs from the small ring, and the upper five cogs from the large ring. This advice stopped me in my tracks because I was under the impression I only needed to avoid the big-big and small-small combinations. About the same time I came across a post on Bikeforums that included a somewhat heated but informative discussion about chain length. Until I read that post it never occurred to me there may be combinations of gears on our bike that would cause serious damage and potentially strand us on the side of the road or trail.

In order to get a firsthand look at our bikeís gearing I put the bike on our new trainer. Then I put the rear in the middle cog and the front in the large ring and gently shifted into subsequently larger cogs. The chain did go onto the largest cog with a small amount of travel left in the cage suggesting the chain length is at least big-big plus one link. Leaving the chain on the largest cog I then shifted down to the small ring, into granny gear (26 x 34). Finally I carefully shifted into subsequently smaller cogs and was amazed to see the chain double back on itself confirming what had been said in the video. I havenít done the math yet but the small ring only works with three cogs so at the most gives us three lower gears (but very important and welcome gears they are).

Next stop was the Park Tool website and directions for adjusting a front derailleur. I checked the first several steps without adjusting anything until I got to the step for adjusting the trim. I followed the instructions and then put the bike through all of the usable gears several times while watching the behavior of the chain. Finally I got on the bike in the trainer and practiced dropping into the small ring quickly followed by shifting up one or two cogs.

All the effort payed off on the ride and I shifted three times into the small ring and then up a couple of cogs to find a reasonable cadence. We also established a baseline for our hill climbing. The longest hill was a half mile at 5% which we did at six miles an hour without discovering new maximum heart rates. All in all a successful learning experience off and on the bike.
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Old 10-02-17, 07:55 AM   #8
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Glad you are figuring it out. I've had a love/hate relationship with the 2x10 105 drivetrain on my half-bike over the years. Our tandem is 3x10 Ultegra and through a combination of tuning and some finesse I am finally able to reliably shift from the big into the middle ring without dropping all the way to the granny.

My advice is to learn the FD and its adjustments inside and out. Replace the cable, print out the setup instructions and start from a baseline if necessary. If you ever replace a cable, don't forget to tension it.

I'm able to use all 10 cogs from our middle ring and currently spend about 95% of our time there. I've only cross-chained once. One of the things I've had to get used to on the tandem is not being able to just look down to verify chain line.
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Old 10-02-17, 09:30 PM   #9
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One of the things I've had to get used to on the tandem is not being able to just look down to verify chain line.
This is where your stoker comes in
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Old 10-03-17, 07:02 AM   #10
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This is where your stoker comes in
Yes I have finally succeeded in getting the stoker to say "granny" instead of "little ring" since "little ring" sounds too much like "middle ring" when it's tough to hear.
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Old 10-03-17, 11:29 AM   #11
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Getting agreement on terminology is helpful. After a few decades of tandem riding, I handed off looking back to my stoker. Initially, she would say things like: "Well, there's a car back there but it's far enough back that we can take the lane if that other car does not pull out . . ." It can be hard to hear all of that clearly due to ambient noise. Now, I say: "check." She responds with one word: "clear" or "wait." That I can hear and understand
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Old 10-03-17, 02:07 PM   #12
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Getting agreement on terminology is helpful. After a few decades of tandem riding, I handed off looking back to my stoker. Initially, she would say things like: "Well, there's a car back there but it's far enough back that we can take the lane if that other car does not pull out . . ." It can be hard to hear all of that clearly due to ambient noise. Now, I say: "check." She responds with one word: "clear" or "wait." That I can hear and understand
Reminds me of riding singles with co-workers. Often someone in the rear would call out "clear back" which sounds a lot like "car back". I have asked them to just shout either "clear" or "car back".

When on the tandem, I now always use a rear view mirror. Relying on clear communication is too risky if I have to quickly swerve into a traffic lane.
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Old 10-04-17, 08:49 AM   #13
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Getting agreement on terminology is helpful. After a few decades of tandem riding, I handed off looking back to my stoker. Initially, she would say things like: "Well, there's a car back there but it's far enough back that we can take the lane if that other car does not pull out . . ." It can be hard to hear all of that clearly due to ambient noise. Now, I say: "check." She responds with one word: "clear" or "wait." That I can hear and understand
With increased number of distracted drivers on the road, my wife and I have added a new term: "bail". We both ride with mirrors on our single bikes. If the rear rider shouts "bail", we'll all be headed into the grass/woods.
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Old 10-11-17, 09:21 PM   #14
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Reminds me of riding singles with co-workers. Often someone in the rear would call out "clear back" which sounds a lot like "car back". I have asked them to just shout either "clear" or "car back".

When on the tandem, I now always use a rear view mirror. Relying on clear communication is too risky if I have to quickly swerve into a traffic lane.
But you still do a direct visual check over your shoulder, too, before swerving, ...just like in your car, right? Mirrors are nice to save you the trouble of turning your head if the mirror shows a car, but if the mirror shows no car, you still want to check that blind spot. And you would never yaw the bike (or run a stop sign) based on anyone else's say-so; neither a stoker nor another cyclist calling "clear" (or was that "CAR!"?) should replace your own obligation as operator of the vehicle.

When we started tandeming, I found that when I would look to the rear over my shoulder -- I am not a mirror-user -- my stoker would reflexly look also, with the result that her head blocked my view to the rear. Now she wears a mirror on her helmet and does all the "screening". When I confirm with my own shoulder check, she keeps her head centred and we both can see. (We haven't ever had to "bail" -- geez, that's a scary thought!)

Sometimes she sees a car in her mirror before I hear it; sometimes the reverse, especially on a quiet road with a curve or brow of a hill that blocks her mirror view. In any case, she reports "Car back", with the addition of "Line up" if there are more than one, and "Towing" if she can see a trailer. She updates with "Closing" as the car appears likely to overtake, and "Passing" when the car starts to deviate and will be alongside imminently. In most cases I can divine this from my own ears but I do appreciate the team-building from the oral communication, just like she appreciates "Bump!" from me. If traffic is heavy, she knows I hear all of it and doesn't call out every car, just big stuff.

When we are planning a left turn, I tell her so -- on our usual routes she knows where the turns are, of course -- and she reports either, "Clear", or "car back". I look back over my shoulder either to confirm the absence of following traffic, or to check out the approaching car with both eyes to see if we have time to move left safely. She signals with her arm after I've looked -- otherwise her arm blocks my view -- and after I've told her we're good; then I move us left in the lane to set up the turn. If I decide the following car is too close for us to make that move, I say so. If she then sees that the car has slowed down in order to allow us to turn -- more drivers do this than you might think, especially since my shoulder check telegraphed my intention -- she says so, then I look again and signal myself with a thank-you wave.

Turning left off a busy road with two lanes and a far-distant left-turn pocket is always done by several direct-vision shoulder checks from me, guided by a preliminary, "You might have a gap after the fourth car...." But I still hate it.
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Old 10-12-17, 07:39 AM   #15
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Conspiratemus1, I like your double check method where you both take responsibility for what is behind you. We usually ride 1 route 3 mornings a week and another route 4 mornings a week. We have been doing this for many years. One recent morning, we approached our usual turn around point on a paved road/path on top of a levee. Only levee patrol cars can use the road/path. So, generally, walkers and other cyclists are the only traffic. I asked the stoker to "check." She took a quick look back and said "clear." I suspect, because it is extremely rare for anything to be coming behind us before we make our usual u-turn, her look back was cursory. As we went into our u-turn, I saw a cyclists coming fast. There is only so fast you can make a u-turn on a tandem. We got out of the way, but it was not a good experience. I now also look back to double check before we make that u-turn.
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Old 10-12-17, 07:46 AM   #16
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@conspiratemus1: it sounds like you two have a very similar approach and comfort levels in traffic, no? I tend to say that we operate a little bit more with 'stoker trusts captain' because we would approach dense traffic very differently alone. She greatly supports me when I ask for it and trusts my judgement. Usually it comes down to her doing the signaling only. But I do not have the problem that my stoker obstructs the rear view. I can look back directly or through my mirror anytime and see the traffic.
Doing all these callouts does not distract you from the nice experience being out there?

It's an interesting perspective!

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Old 10-12-17, 08:01 AM   #17
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When we started tandeming, I found that when I would look to the rear over my shoulder -- I am not a mirror-user -- my stoker would reflexly look also, with the result that her head blocked my view to the rear. Now she wears a mirror on her helmet and does all the "screening". When I confirm with my own shoulder check, she keeps her head centred and we both can see. (We haven't ever had to "bail" -- geez, that's a scary thought!)
.
When I ride singles with other riders, I only trust those that I am SURE that I can trust (very few) when the call out "clear" or "car back".

I don't use a mirror on my single - mostly because I think it looks a bit dorky and because I haven't done it historically. I started using a mirror on the tandem because it is harder to crane my neck to see behind my stoker. On our new tandem, we installed handlebar mounted mirrors because I thought they looked better than an eyeglass mounted mirror. However, the view from the bar mirror isn't nearly as clear as the eyeglass mirror. So, I switched back to the eyeglass mirror. I had forgotten how much better the view was with the eyeglass mirror. I have MUCH more confidence to "take the lane" if I can see if there is no traffic approaching.

And yes - If I can see in my mirror that no traffic is approaching, I do trust it. I didn't trust the bar mirror and then thought "why am I using this if I don't trust it?".

For those who haven't tried an eyeglass mirror, you would be surprised how much more "situtational awareness" you have. I like the "Take-a-Look" mirror. I now feel naked without it.
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Old 10-12-17, 10:05 AM   #18
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@alias5000: We both commuted by bicycle on busy urban arterial roads in our working days. Now retired out here on the Niagara Escarpment just beyond the (current!) fringe of the Greater Toronto Area suburban sprawl, we have mostly quiet country roads to ride on, (with only short stretches on busier roads that call on those advanced traffic management skills.) So there aren't all that many call-outs per minute and I like to hear her voice anyway, which enhances the experience. As long as she keeps her head and shoulders centred, I can look back with ease; it's only if she would turn in unison with me that she would block my view. Her mirror allows her to look without turning and it just sort of evolved that she reports what she sees. I don't doubt that I would get the same information if I wore the mirror myself.

@oldacura: I am impressed with your experience with an eyeglass mirror. Stoker loves hers, too. [Edit: sorry, just remembered that hers mounts on her helmet.]

My goal here is to celebrate the rewarding feeling of teamwork that we get from our style of communication -- so important to successful tandeming. I don't doubt that there are many ways to be SURE that it is clear to the rear and side before moving laterally on the roadway, and to be sure that the stoker is sure that you are sure.

On Team Conspiratemus (which means "That we might breathe together"), the stoker has eagerly taken on a lot of brain work as well as the muscle stuff. More athletically gifted than I, she was the first to suggest we learn to stand together. Not only does she keep an eye on six o'clock, she has the speedometer. (I use one only for distance checking while touring away from home -- when we're descending fast enough to need to know the speed I don't dare look down!) She also mounts a bubble inclinometer and lately her smartphone and Strava gear (whatever that is.) She also keeps an eye on the front derailleur and chainrings, reminding me when I've neglected to get off the big ring when a hill starts (or off the granny at the top) and she helps me soft-pedal the chain back on if it overshifts. Feedback both positive and constructive as needed. It's all good. I find riding a single bike lonely now.

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