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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 08-30-03, 05:04 AM   #1
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Back Problems

Hi fellas,
My family is considering purchasing a coupel tandems to allow us all to ride more in sync with eachother. Anyway, my dad sits a lot at work so his back sometimes is very sore. How does riding a tandem bike differ from a regular bike in this regard? Is their a difference for captain and stocker? Also what about long distance rides?

Wish y'all the best.

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Old 08-31-03, 03:46 PM   #2
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Rucumbent tandems are just the ticket for folks with bad backs... I've know two guys that swear by softride bikes for bad backed riders...
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Old 08-31-03, 09:05 PM   #3
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For the captain, a tandem takes a little more muscle and effort to control, but otherwise is very similar to a single. If his back is ok on a single he should be ok on a tandem.
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Old 09-01-03, 05:59 AM   #4
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I agree with blwyn. Although I don't have much experience with the tandem, (we have had ours a week now) I think the main thing would be to get the tandem set up as close as possible to the set up on your single bike. Seat height, top tube and stem length, and amount of drop (or rise) from seat to handlebars. Dial in that position as close as possible and there shouldn't be any difference between the way you feel on your single or the tandem. As for long rides, should be easier since you have someone to help pedal.
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Old 09-02-03, 06:58 AM   #5
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We prefer a more upright riding position, rather than the dropped position. Even though we have a tandem road bike, the LBS customized it with upright bars & grip shifts. Just our personal preference. If your father has back problems, and doesn't want a recumbent, then he should speak with the LBS about customizing a road tandem for a more upright riding position.
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Old 09-02-03, 11:41 AM   #6
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I'm not sure where you are located, but my immediate recommendation is to find a bike shop in your general area who has a professional bike fitting technician on staff. A professional bike fit technician is someone who has actually been trained to use the "Fit Kit", Serotta's bike fitting system, or who has otherwise gained a reputation for and has the necessary equipment to ensure someone is properly fitted for a bicycle, e.g., establish their optimum seat height, handlebar reach and rise, and saddle set-back. During the fitting process the bike fit technician should ask enough questions to establish what type of riding y'all plan to do, look at your father's present level of fitness, listen to his concerns and from all that be able to make some recommendations.

To your specific questions:

How does riding a tandem bike differ from a regular bike in this regard?
When first learning to captain a tandem, new captains may experience muscle soreness in their shoulders and arms due to three primary contributors: 1. Instead of controlling and holding up a bike with only one person's weight (e.g., 180lbs), a captain must hold up their own weight and that of their stoker (e.g., 320lbs); 2. New teams are not as smooth and stable on a tandem and keeping the bike under control requires a lot of steering inputs to counter body movements; and 3. New captains are sometimes very tense and over-control the tandem.

As a team becomes more comfortable on the tandem the amount of effort required to steer and control the tandem will lessen, but will always be greater than what a single/half/regular bike rider experiences given the greater weight of the tandem and team.

The other major difference between riding a tandem and a single bike is the amount of time both the captain and stoker spend sitting vs. standing. On a single/half/regular bike most cyclists will intuitively stand to climb hills, to stretch and obviously when they come to a stop. However, tandem teams are more apt to remain seated when they climb and stokers often remain seated with both feet still clipped in to their pedals at stops. This can become a source of discomfort for both rider's rear-ends, arms, backs, etc... unless they make a conscious effort to take what we commonly refer to as "butt breaks". A butt-break is simply standing and coasting together for a few seconds every 15 minutes or so on all rides. On long rides, it is beneficial to take butt breaks combined with a brief rest stop every hour or so where you both get off the tandem to walk around and stretch out tight muscles. The more advanced tandem teams will times begin to ride their tandem more like a single bike and be able to stretch on the bike while riding which may eliminate the need or frequency for butt-breaks and stops.

Is their a difference for captain and stocker?
Yes, the captain is the only one doing the steering, gear shifting and braking, wereas the stoker's bars are fixed. Therefore, the captain must cope with muscle fatique from a higher degree of work load. However, since the stoker doesn't do much with their hands they must remember to sit up or change hand positions frequently to keep them from getting stiff due to inactivity. The same goes for the arms, back and lower back muscles -- they too need stretching now and again for both the captain and stoker.

Also what about long distance rides?
See above.

The bottom line is, find a riding position that is comfortable and balanced to begin with and cycling of any kind will be more enjoyable. A professional bike fitter can work wonders.

A good article to read before heading off to the bike fitter or taking your own shot at bike fitting yourself or a family member is one written by Peter White. It's extensive but well worth the read:

Good luck,
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Old 09-03-03, 10:39 AM   #7
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speaking from a stoker's perspective ... I am definitely more comfortable on the tandem's stoker position than on my "half" bike: 1) more upright position, 2) less strength requirements and 3) a soft-ride seat post so there is less road jarring.

With that said my back still gets tired/tight on longer rides - you still need to remember to take the same precautions as on other long bike trips: 1) shift your hand positions, 2) shift your butt 3) stand up on occasion 4) stretch your neck, back and hamstrings while riding (or stop and do it) and 5) pick a light resistance uphill (some people strain their hams/glutes/back pushing a hard pedal).
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