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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 01-10-04, 09:19 AM   #1
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Why Some Teams Don't Click....

Originally Posted by pdxcyclist
p.s. does it frighten anyone else that so many used tandems for sale l, including decked-out expensive ones, have low or no mileage?
Not at all. In fact, I would venture a guess that a large percentage of tandems sold see very little use. Tandems are often times purchased on a whim before a serious, candid discussion takes place between the intended riders about their respective interest, expectations, the amount of free time they are willing to dedicate to it, the amount of compromise they are willing to make, and how long they will give things to "click" before giving up.

While well intended, many of the manufacturer's Web sites and sales brochures as well as comments from the committed & enthusiastic tandem teams who participate in clubs, forums like this, and rallies can easily give the impression that sharing a tandem with someone is easy and will transform your lives in a positive way. While that may be true for some teams, it is certainly not true for all teams. In fact, the opposite is just as likely, e.g., many new tandem owners find it nearly impossible to make the compromises needed and find that riding the tandem becomes a source of frustration, dischord and arguments that can impact relationships in a negative way. Prime examples are when the cycling enthusiast in the family who is already a committed and fit cyclist can't adjust down their expectations for how fast, far, or efficiently they can ride with a spouse or child who is a beginner. Thus, the cyclist in the family finds that they aren't getting the quality work-out from their riding time that they expect and may, in fact, find their cycling performance on their personal bike suffers because of it. At the same time, the new stoker clearly senses that the captain is frustrated usually because they are being "over-coached" during every ride and never get to "enjoy" that great tandeming experience they were led to believe everyone has. Also, when kids are involved it is not at all unusual to have a parent who is looking for a way to bond with a child as a child reaches the point in their development when they are looking to spend more of their free time with friends instead of family.

Therefore, I would suggest that sharing a tandem is not necessarily easy and requires a lot of compromise from both (or all three, four, or five) riders early on. Tandems are often times a great fit for new couples who are already physically active and for new empty nesters who are also relatively fit. However, any time you have a couple where there is a large disparity between their level of fitness or cycling experience, a LOT of compromise and patience will be required before they will click as a team. Unfortunately, given how little free time most folks have, it's often times just too hard to give up a few months of your regular cycling routine to "get there" which is what it will take.

Moreover, if you are the only tandem team around and your riding friends are unwilling to learn how to ride with you, i.e., not running away on the climbs, learning to let you go off the front on the descents and to be out front on the flats, then it can also become a very lonely existence when you're left to ride by yourselves. This is why tandem clubs and rallies play such an important part in sustaining the enthusiasm of many teams. Some teams find that the monthly group tandem ride is their "quality time together" on the tandem along the social interaction that comes before, during and after the ride is what makes the tandem experience great. Other teams who have a competitive spirit can easily fall in with a local non-tandem club ride and use it to hone their cycling performance so that at the monthly tandem ride or rallies they can "run with the fast pack" and that becomes their motivation for staying on the tandem. However, there is an unfortunate and unintended downside to the "fast pack" in tandem clubs and that is the tendency for teams who aren't able or interested in running with the fast pack to just not participate at all. This is really a shame in that if more of them stuck with it they'd probably find that the social teams would far out number the teams in the fast pack and, thus, everyone's needs would be satisfied. Less I digress...

Ultimately, a couple who is considering the purchase of a tandem needs to figure out just how often they are going to ride and what their goals are.

- If a would-be captain thinks he's going to get an out of shape partner into shape in a few months by taking them out to ride and they don't have the same goal, there's a low-probability for success. To be successful, you'd have to both be willing to approach it as a social / time-together activity with the hope that over time your time in the saddle will slowly build back fitness and, in turn, allow your rides to cover longer distances that would further build fitness. You'll get there, it's just not going to happen in a month or two. Moreover, the captain and stoker in this scenario are both going to have to schedule firm time and be committed to taking the time to ride as it will be very easy to make excuses for not riding. The longer you put it off, the lower the probability that you'll ever achieve your goals. Moreover, tandem riders need to guard against being too critical of their partner's performance; in other words, learn to suck-it-up when you feel like you're doing all the work. Trust me, if you ride a tandem long enough there will be times when your partner feels like they are doing all the work -- and they may be right because we all have bad days.

- If a hammer-head cyclist thinks he can take a cycling partner who likes to ride at a slower pace and turn them into a hammer-head on the tandem there's a low-probability for success. Instead, the best you can hope for is adding an extra weekend ride on the tandem to your current riding plan that you use for honing your tandem skills. This way the hammer-head doesn't don't give up their regular training rides or fitness and can, instead, focus their attention on enjoying the time with their partner on the tandem and learning to ride as a team. It's also not a bad idea for the other cyclist to not give up their personal riding time -- at least a first. Over time the tandem riding may fill the gap for all of your riding needs, but it won't happen in just a few months. As for feeling like your partner isn't pulling their share of the work load, see my comments in the previous paragraph; suck-it-up and remember that what goes around comes around. It's all a matter of perspective.

If a parent thinks that they can get reconnected with their 10 year old who no longer is interested in doing things with the family there's a low-probability for success. To get a child intersted in family cycling you'd been better off getting them started at 3 - which is what we usually see with the families that do cycle together.

Just something to keep in mind....

Last edited by livngood; 01-10-04 at 10:45 AM.
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Old 01-10-04, 10:31 AM   #2
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Serious Stuff

Wow, Mark, thanks for the detailed reply. It's interesting that you touch on several subjects that are important (or critical) but often unspoken. Making a tandem investment work out successfully isn't easy.

My wife and I lived back in DC for 14 years, and we had several friends who were part of a great tandem club. We "learned" to ride with them on our singles, and even did a New England trip for a week with our friends on the tandem and my wife and I on our two singles. Not only did we learn about the tandem-specific handling issues on hills, down hills, and flats, but also the compromises a successful tandem team has to make.

At the time, we opted against a tandem for ourselves, because my wife and I were closely matched as riders (I was doing 5k a year, and she was doing 3.5k). My wife didn't want to give up her independence on her own touring and road bike (and now her mountain bike). Our tandem test ride also suggested the transition to tandem riding would take some work and risk (in that we may never like it).

Fast forward seven years (kids occurred), and we've done a burley bike trailer with our kids, and trikes, and now their own small bikes (my son can now ride his own, and did a four mile trip with me on a bike path independently). We've also done the Burley trailer bike with my son, and he really enjoyed it for up to 20 mile rides with my wife and I. The only problem is that he's seventy pounds, and the trailer biker was never an easy pull with my mountain bike, so we're at the stage where having a more efficient bike for the two of us could help. Thus the research into Bike Friday Family Tandem and now the Co-motion Periscope.

So, the worst case scenario is that neither he nor I like the tandem, and we sell it at a loss. The better case is that he really likes it, and we do longer rides on it until he becomes safe and proficient on his single (10-12?). Better yet, my daughter (who is now four) grows into the trailer bike and then tandem. Best yet is if my wife stokers or captains the tandem occasionally, but this isn't critical to the plan because we're fine on our singles. (We both agree, however, that we were terribly impressed by a family of four on two tandems we met while touring the Oregon coast years ago. Thus, the possible wife as captain idea...)

As for kids developing other interests, I agree with your appraisal. We know we're just at the "edge" of possible after school and weekend sports schedule drudgery. Yes, we want our kids to be in sports and fit and all the rest, but we see other families just become slaves to the soccer schedule, and it seems like it can kill the athletic things that the family used to do together. Also, I don't give into domestication easily.

Anyway, thanks for the frank assessments. In part, the common advice to "test ride, test ride, test ride" before buying can help, but that doesn't address all the difficult issues you raise.

Last edited by pdxcyclist; 01-10-04 at 11:03 AM.
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Old 01-11-04, 08:00 AM   #3
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I'd guess there are cultural differences in our expectations for tandeming. Anybody who will turn the cadence and not try to dump the bike and go out for an agreed-upon amount of time will work for me.

Back in the Dark Ages of tandeming (my Dark Ages, 1992-1996?), after my original stoker left to run a restaurant in Santa Fe, my tandem sat for five years, only getting out for time trials. My biggest problems were finding a woman who would fit on the back of a pre-'98 Cannondale J/L, and then convincing her that she should try it. There were no other tandems on the road to serve as examples, and the idea was practically unheard-of. And tall women get asked to try new things a lot...and they have lots of experience at saying no.

First ride out we had a blast, and next winter when our club went into hibernation (college football season, yuh know), we were ready to ride with another club that rode all winter. They had been asking her to ride with them for years, but she knew she would just hold them back, so she had never ridden with them.

To give you an idea how scarce tandems were in NTex back then, our first day with them, they got to a hill and the 80-person pack started stretching out, and we moved over into the left lane and passed about 80% of them, back to front. We could hear the ones we passed remarking to each other, "Tandems are supposed to be SLOW uphill....(whine)" It depends on the motors, and back then I could climb for a little while at 190-195 bpm. About eight tandems have been bought because people saw us on a tandem, regularly, year after year, and they could believe if it worked for us, it could work for them. And now many more tandems, because of those people who saw us and bought, and have since been seen by others who bought.

There is something to the idea that single bikes need to know how to ride with tandems. Life is a lot easier if they know the Express is going to come by on the downhills (leave room on the left just like you normally should for fast singles anyway), but on uphills singles looking for a workout actually have two choices: ride fast up the hill without the tandem, or put a hand on the stoker's back and stuff the tandem up the hill at a healthy 175 bpm. I normally push singles up hills on social rides if I am out on a single.

We'd never think, though, that people should wait for us. Bike riding time is too precious not to use it the way you need to use it. As long as there is a cue sheet or a map or we know the way back to the cars, that's all we expect.

And that's how I use a tandem. It is an averaging machine or a multiplier. In the case of slower stokers, they get pulled up to where they can ride with a pack of faster riders instead of by themselves. And I get to work instead of just cruising. In the case of strong stokers, with twice the power and the same frontal area, the question will be just who can hang on to the back tire.

With more tandems on the road now, and many stokers who have ridden with me who will convince others who haven't tried it that it is neither dorky nor dangerous and that I am safe, it's a little easier for me to pick up beginning cyclists and give them a chance to step up from riding alone (because they are slow) to riding with a pack. More than half the tandems that are used regularly near me get used like that: strong captains with regular stokers often have guest stokers, in both cases often for the purpose of averaging.

I never worry about riding with one stoker long enough to achieve synergy. In my experience, power output has much more to do with overall performance than total time spent riding together. As for satisfaction, motivations vary from person to person. There are people who like to stoke week after week and switch around from captain to captain, and there are people who only want to stoke occasionally. I like to captain more than I like to ride a single, but if I tandemed a little more I might find that it interfered with my normal training schedule. It can be hard to find stokers for a fast 100 miles, which is often my preferred distance.

In short, the tandem culture with which I am familiar looks at tandeming as though it were cuisine: sometimes you eat Chinese, sometimes you eat Italian, and sometimes you eat Mexican, but hardly anybody wants to eat Chinese every day.

There might be captains or stokers who want to tandem every day, but whose partner does not. And they might not get all that they expected to get out of the purchase, and then perhaps they should have considered the purchase more carefully. I think, though, that it is the normal human condition and nothing to remark upon as unusual. It could well be that as much money gets spent on backpacking equipment or skiing equipment, that does not get used as expected, but when it comes up for resale, it could get used by a single person alone and not require the participation of a couple together. People change and relationships end and materials are sold.
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