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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 08-29-08, 07:01 PM   #1
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Your very first ride on a tandem

My husband and I had been tossing around the idea of getting a tandem and then finally decided to get a new one rather then used. Neither of us had EVER sat on a tandem, much less ridden one. My husband went to a couple of bike shops and test road a different tandem at each one (without me on board). He just rode it around the parking lot (no problem). When we finally got our new tandem and decided to take it for the first ride down our street, I had NO idea what to expect. I knew that I would not be allowed to lean to either side to look around him, so I just planted my eyes at the back of his jersey and never moved a muscle (except my legs). When we first took off down the street, which is a very slight down hill, my husband suddenly discovered that with weight on the back it didn't handle the same as his test rides without me. We found ourselves weaving from one side of the street to the other, looking like we had to much to drink (at least the captain). Luckily no cars were coming, but of course we did have to see one of our neighbors who just happens to cycle. It seems like we were going at 100 mph.,I was so scared I wanted to scream, but knew I better not. By the time we got to the end of our street, my husband went to stop the bike, leaned to put his foot down and almost dropped the bike. I got off the bike and my legs were like noodles, I could hardly stand and they were shaking like a leaf. We just looked at each other and then he said to me "what do we do now???!!!" He was just as scared as I was. We got our composure back together and decided going back up the street had to be better. It was a little better. Then he decided we needed to practice so he told me we would go down to a empty church parking lot and practice there. I thought we would put the tandem in the truck and driver down there -- oh no, he wanted to ride it there. I told him if we could ride it there we won't need practice--I was NOT a happy camper by this time. Well all did turn out good, we managed to ride it down to the lot and practice riding around for about 1/2 hr. then we decided to do our usual route. By the time we got back home we were like old pros, I could even find the courage to look around without being to scared. Fast forward to 4 years later and we just love to ride the tandem, we take it on all our vacations when we can.
We must have looked pretty silly that first ride, but glad we decided to keep it.
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Old 08-29-08, 08:34 PM   #2
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We found a local shop to rent a tandem from for the weekend, and were surprised by how we could not assume anything we did on a bike from habit. I have to start with my left foot or I WILL lose my balance! We laughed at each other all the way around the block the first time. Wait! I cant see! I cant steer! I cant brake! Im having TRUST issues back here!

That was a year ago and we now ride our tandem twice as much as our single bikes. It's the best gift we've ever given to ourselves!
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Old 08-30-08, 07:06 AM   #3
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With Debbie.... August 19, 1997

Made an appointment with Jack & Susan Goertz at Tandems Limited in Birmingham and made the 2 hour drive on a Saturday morning, arriving one hour early because I neglected to account for Alabama being on Central Time vs. Atlanta on Eastern. We were somewhat surprised to find ourselves in a subdivision instead in a commercial district and quickly learned that several of the tandem speciality dealers run their businesses out of their homes as a hobby in addition to their full-time jobs.

Anyway, the morning started with the Santana-prescribed "First Ride" program whereby Jack took me out on the back of their brand-new Co-Motion Co-Pilot tandem so that I would have an appreciation for what Debbie would experience as the stoker. The Goertz' neighborhood was anything but flat, featuring all kinds of curves, culdesacs, hills, and stop-signs a plenty and riding behind Jack -- who was a much bigger person than me -- did what it needed to do: it blocked my forward vision and presented me with a very different view of the world compared to what I experience as the "pilot" on my single bike. You quickly grasp the concept that the road edge which looks just fine to you being a foot or two away doesn't even exist in your stoker's peripheral vision. Or, just how disconcerting it is when the captain begins to countersteer and lean the bike for a turn... a turn the stoker can't really see, never mind how unsettling it is when the captain makes any quick little turns of the wheel to dodge a pot hole. Then, of course, there was the jarring of my legs and knees that came from uncoordinated / unannounced cadence changes such as going from coasting to pedaling, pedaling to coasting, and gear shifts. If all that weren't enough, all of this was accompanied by the loss of any control on a bike that seemed to always being going twice as fast as it really was: welcome to the back row of the roller coaster! After doing all of these things the wrong way -- that is, without giving due consideration to the stoker as well as ample verbal cues -- Jack then took me around the block doing things the right way. That is, positioning the tandem several feet away from the edge of the road, calling out "coasting, shifting, turning" and the like. In fact, although he didn't use this analogy it dawned on me that all new stokers should be treated like sight-impaired stokers in terms of over-communicating everything you're doing and seeing on the front of the tandem because, in fact, they really are sight impaired.

Anyway, after my orientation ride it was Debbie's turn behind Jack and she was also treated to this is how it should be, and this is what you'll experience if he's not taking into consideration the needs of the stoker. Debbie came back all jazzed-up by her first experience but before Jack would turn us loose I had to demonstrate my new found knowledge and skills as a tandem captain by taking Susan Goertz out as a stoker. This is also the point where I was taught how to mount a tandem ala the track bike method of swinging my leg over the front of the bike as well as what Bill McCready coined " The Proper Method" for starting. Being a guy, my memory seems to suggest my performance was stellar but that's probably because I'm subconsciously blocking out any negative feedback I received. Actually, I probably did pretty well because handling the tandem with the ultra-petit Susan Goertz was very easy and that wasn't a bad thing since Debbie was also ultra-petit and of similar short stature.

Having competed the first ride program we finally took our first ride together on a small-sized '95/96 Royal Plum colored Santana Arriva... the tandem we ultimately took home with us that day. It was a great ride and we went all over the subdevelopment and tackled all kinds of first rider-challenges, such as making the U-turn in the culdesac and taking on the steepest climbs and descents. We had a blast.

Not wanting to assume too much, we then test rode a Co-Motion Cappuccino and the Goertz' Co-Pilot (both of which were really too big for us), a Bilenky (also too big), and even went so far as to have Jack pull a new Sovereign out of the box and assemble it so that we could sample the aluminum frame... noting I had decided I wanted a Raspberry swirl-finished small-sized Sovereign before even making the trip to Birmingham. However, for a variety of reasons, the Sovereign test ride just didn't trip our trigger (noisy V-brakes and some other qwerks most likely related to the quick build-up and how sound travelled through the aluminum frame) and we quickly found ourselves back on the Santana Arriva that Jack secretly new he'd be selling before we left. I also lusted after an Ibis EasyStreet frame hanging on the wall however, no matter how hard I tried I was unable to transform it from a Medium to a Small nor was I able to grow myself tall enough to make it fit.

Mind you, we purposely left my Toyota truck with it's 6' bed at home so we couldn't bring home a tandem, not wanting to become impulse buyers: after all, we were just shopping at this point. Instead, we took Debbie's 4Runner which seemed way too small to accommodate a tandem. Oh well, when there's a will and an open check book there's a way.

Before writing the check I had already upgraded the Arriva with Sachs Ergo shifters vs. the bar-ends and Diacompe brake levers that it came fitted with and was already eyeing my next upgrades to the brakes and rims (Shimano LX to XT w/XTR pads & Arraya to Mavic T217s. We also bought two Tandem Club of America polo shirts and signed up for a 2-year TCA membership. Yeah, I'd say we were pretty excited about the whole thing.

As for getting it home, I found by removing the wheels and flipping it upside down it would slide right in with the rear derailleur sitting next to my ear in the driver's seat.... and away we went.

The next day we had our first 7 mile ride, noting Debbie was new to road cycling and had zero base mileage. We went out every evening that week and slowly increased our mileage so that, by the end of the next week we were did a 25 mile ride with the Georgia PEACHES (aka, Atlanta tandem club) and within three weeks she did her first metric century. We were hooked and have been so ever since.

Last edited by TandemGeek; 08-30-08 at 09:24 AM.
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Old 08-30-08, 03:28 PM   #4
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In the late 80's I did a lot of group mtn bike rides. One of these rides was with a bunch of people from a local bike shop that specialized in selling tandems. they showed up for the ride on about a half dozen mtn bike tandems (I would guess they got some great deals). The ride at Capital forest was a typical PNW ride;mostly access road up and singletrack down for about a 2.5 hour loop. Although I was on a single, the fun factor watching these people fly down and demonstrate mtn tandem capabilities was off the scale and just way too much. My main riding partner and I knew we needed our own and soon. My buddy scored first scrapping up the roughly $3500 for a sweet Rodriguez mtn tandem a few months later. I still remember the day he called up to say get over here asap It's here. He lived on Capital hill which like it sounds is an area in Seattle that is on a big hill (most all of Seattle is on a hill). Now the best part is he was only 150 lbs and Me being over 200 meant I got the front seat (we knew this much). 20 years and a few children ago the fear factor was much less than it is now. Our first ride was out of his apartment a few blocks down Broadway, where we turned right down Denny, which leads to downtown. Denny isn't the steepest hill in the city by far, nor does it have the most traffic, but it was plenty steep enough and the traffic was quite heavy. The main issue with Denny is there is a congested stop light right at the bottom of the hill. Being in much better shape back then, and assisted by gravity, it took no time to spin out the new ride (looks like we need a bigger chainring!) as we flew down the road passing the traffic jam on our left. We were laughing and taking it in for a few moments. Then it was time to hit the binders to keep from flying through the intersection which had by now changed to a red light. I still can see the chunks (and I do mean chunks) of brake pad flying off the brand new XT cantilevers as I reefed on both brakes as hard as I could. Somehow we managed to come to a stop before killing ourselves in the intersection and leaving too bad of a name for the biking community. After that it was an easy spin to the bike shop to purchase new pads for up front (this was before luxuries like front suspension and disc brakes). We went on to do many rides on that bike and I still remember laughing uncontrollably as we navigated the local singletrack. About a year later I finally had enough saved to get my own tandem, essentially the same bike right down to the size. A couple of years later He informed me his new stoker preferred to ride the road and he was changing his tandem to drop bars and slicks (what can I say, she was better looking). I gave him a hard time, but understood as he faded away into the time constraints of marriage/family/real job/and kids. That was sometime in the early 90's. 15 years later I too found a stoker who prefers the road to the trail and made the switch to the skinnies myself. The road is fun and fast. I love the speed with skinny tires and have truely found the best stoker ever, but I also miss that youthful invinceable go for it feeling some good singletrack with the right stoker brings. I am now well aware of the limitations of cantilever brakes on a tandem.
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Old 08-31-08, 08:48 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Litespeed View Post
I knew that I would not be allowed to lean to either side to look around him, so I just planted my eyes at the back of his jersey and never moved a muscle (except my legs). When we first took off down the street, which is a very slight down hill, my husband suddenly discovered that with weight on the back it didn't handle the same as his test rides without me. We found ourselves weaving from one side of the street to the other, looking like we had to much to drink (at least the captain).
We must have looked pretty silly that first ride, but glad we decided to keep it.
Over the years I have lost count of how many stokers I have taken for an introductory spin on the Tandem. I would venture to say more than 30. The first time I rode our old Burley with my wife it felt a little awkward for about 1 or 2 minutes... smooth sailing after that. Then I took our daughters and we did not have any issues either.

Then fast forward 5 or 6 years and 10 to 15 other stokers and, boy! did I meet my match! This lady, a very dear friend, was so tight and kept trying to steer from the back like her life depended on it. We did not fall but I had to put one foot down while doing a simple turn to avoid falling. After that I asked her to please relax and assure her that it all would be better if she just loosen up a little. The rest of the ride felt just as bad as the start. If my initial experience with my wife had been the same as with this lady, we may have never become a tandem team. Some folks are more suitable than others to be stokers.

I admire and applaud your determination and sticktoitvness.

Last edited by cornucopia72; 08-31-08 at 11:40 AM.
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Old 09-05-08, 12:25 AM   #6
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Our first ride was 6 years ago. I was looking for another outdoor activity we could do together and the idea of a tandem really appealed to me. She wasn't as thrilled about bikes. A nearby couple on the tandem email list met us at the huge empty government center parking lot one weekend and did the whole detailed step-by-step warmup. After an hour we were zipping all around the lot. The other stoker was about a foot shorter than my wife, causing some fit issues. But she said, "Find us one that fits and we'll get it". The next week we went to our favorite LBS that carries tandems and left 4 hours later, a bit lighter in the pocketbook. Had to upgrade the shifters, get clipless pedals, that meant new shoes, that meant matching jerseys, etc...

The tires have shifted from knobbies to semi-street to full street, as she still doesn't like the bumps of off-road. And of course then the trailer came along, now the tag-along and trailer...

We've introduced 2 couples to tandems since then.
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Old 09-08-08, 11:59 AM   #7
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Our first ride was yesterday! My husband and I rented two tandems. We had planned on putting our 14 year old daughter and 11 year old son in back of each one, but our daughter woke up with a nasty cold, so she stayed home, and we scrounged up another 11 year old boy to go along. Ours were mountain bike tandems. We did about 20 miles on a combination of roads and bike paths. We were impressed with how easy it was to power up the hills and how easy it was to carry on a conversation. The bike used by my husband and son allowed each rider to pedal independently, whereas my bike was the more typical synchronized pedal setup. We all had a great time, although some of the seats were too hard for some of the riders. We got one flat that only required pumping back up, thank goodness. We will probably do this again, and may look into buying a couple of used tandems to ride while the kids are still living at home.

Fun day!
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Old 09-10-08, 01:51 PM   #8
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Me and my wife had our first ride on the tandem we just purchased yesterday! We've both been riding road bikes for about 1.5 years now and we both have really taken to it. We love riding together but for her it's a workout and for me it's recreation. Not that that is a bad thing... But the tandem is the perfect solution for this. Well, we finally found a used one locally that would fit our newbie tandem needs and thus made the purchase. After I rode it around the block solo a couple of times, I went inside and told her to come outside, "we're gonna do this right now!" It was dark but the Oklahoma breeze was oh so sweet and it was just perfect out. She didn't hesitate (which was a bit of a shocker to me as I was expected to be met with "let's wait and do it when it's light out") but obviously her excitement to get on board this thing was close to mine.

Well, we both got on the bike, and put the pedals in the positions we thought would enable us to take off with ease. The moment of truth was upon us as she was on both pedals and I was about to thrust my right foot forward and then pull my left foot off the ground in hopes that our line would be straight and our balance one, cohesive unit... Well, it was a bit tricky... After all, this was my first time being captain with a stoker on the back (honestly I'd only been a captain for a total of 10 minutes at the most anyhow)... But we managed... With lots of wobbling, some corrections in steering and my wife telling me it felt like we were flying... We rounded a few blocks and by the time we arrived back home we were both a little more comfortable with the idea of riding tandem. I know I enjoyed it, but I'm sure there's a lot more for her to get used to when you go from being the captain of your own bike and then to make the transition to stoker. We still have a lot to learn but I can see how this is going to be rewarding for both of us.

I'm honestly more pumped about it than I thought I would be. =)

Last edited by MaddSkillz; 09-10-08 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 09-14-08, 09:04 PM   #9
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First ride and "Articles about Tandems"

Way back when, maybe 30 years ago, my father had a Schwinn 5-speed tandem. My buddy and I borrowed it a couple of times and I don't recall that it was difficult to ride. Seems that 30 years can fade recollection.

My wife and I just bought a '93 Yakota Grizzly Peak tandem and I wanted to be sure we took our first ride after careful consideration of the challenge ahead of us. Probably the best thing we did was to look over Sheldon Brown's (R.I.P.) "Articles about Tandems" on the Harris Cyclery web site.

Articles about Tandems

The section on "Tandem Technique" covers the roles of captain and stoker, which provide newbies with some helpful information and realistic expectations.

So on Day One, Ride One, we adjusted the seats and bars and headed off, full of overconficence. Good news, we didn't crash. Bad news, we were all over the road and lucky not to cause the tandem, or ourselves, any damage.

Like everyone else. It's good to see that we weren't the only newbies to have an awkward start!

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Old 09-15-08, 04:11 PM   #10
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Five years ago, bought a Trek T100 tandem on ebay, chosen because it was the only deal that would close while I was in the US on a trip, received the package in Boston, flew it to Buenos Aires, unpacked, and went for an uneventful first ride around the neighborhood with my wife, who was not sure what she was getting into, but has followed me on previous adventures without too many questions.

Bike and team ran as we might have expected, uncertain but well enough to go on longer and longer rides, eventually load panniers, replace some car trips, join a single bike club, form a tandem club in Buenos Aires (with one other bike, and zero club activities so far), and frequent this site. Team lost maybe 10 kg, we now ride a green Co-Mo Mocha, and the Trek was sold last month.

Can't say what drives the chains or who steers in this path, but the force is with us.
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Old 09-18-08, 02:37 PM   #11
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Anyone have any experience with those tandems where the stoker is in front in a recumbent position and the captain is behind in an upright position?
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Old 09-18-08, 06:28 PM   #12
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I suppose I am lucky. I met my wife about 20 years ago and took her for a ride on my motorcycle, a 1987 GoldWing. Since then we have toured over 250,000 miles seeing the best sites this country has to offer. We have been through 3 GoldWings since the first ride, our latest a 2005 GoldWing. She is absolutely the best back seat rider anyone could ask for, the faster you go the bigger her smile gets(a good thing as she is a gorgeous Armenian). This past July we decided our aging bodies needed to get some more exercise. Since Arlene cannot ride a 2 wheeler nor does she have any desire to learn we decided to get a tandem. Luckily we live in south Jersey near Tandems East and Mel had a great selection of new tandems. From our very first test ride Arlene was a natural Stoker. We never actually rode a tandem but our first ride was like we were meant to do this. We test rode a new Burley that Mel had built and we fell in love with it on the spot. Since July we have rode the tandem more than our motorcycle. In fact I have my eye on a trailer that I can tow the Burley behind our GoldWing. Bottom line is tandem riding was a natural for us, I suppose it was due to Arlene’s lack of desire to ride a “2 wheeler” and total unconditional confidence in her captain
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Old 09-18-08, 10:31 PM   #13
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A kind friend lent us his older tandem so we could see if we liked riding twogether. We read Brown's intro, got on the bike and proceeded to wobble about 20' before we fell over. Luckily no scratches! So we got back on and rode off just fine. I guess we figured it out in that first 20'.

We got pretty decent at it, then went to try out a new tandem, but the build was all wrong for us. Stem was too high, bars too wide - just terrible. We had trouble staying in our lane for the first 100' - terrifying, but then settled down to sort of OK.

The tandem we finally purchased (Co-Mo Speedster) has a captain's compartment similar to my single, but with the bars a little bit higher. Stoker compartment is fairly close to my wife's single, but makes her sit a bit more upright, too. It was great from the start.

It's so strange trying to ride my single after captaining a tandem for a while. Dang thing will just not go in a straight line!
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Old 09-19-08, 08:13 AM   #14
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Our first ride was the start of a four day trip originating in Lake Louise and ending in Jasper. It was supposed to have started in Banff, but the place in Banff with a tandem for rent had had it stolen the week before. The guy gave us a ride in his pickup to Lake Louise, having phoned ahead to a shop there. So we got the tandem adjusted, outfit with toe clips, low riders, and our panniers, and set off. I took it for a quick spin around the lot, and then the two of us rode up from the village to the lake (4.3 km, 260m climb), went for a hike, and then rode to our lodging just the other side of the village. Being fully loaded may have helped with stability, but all I knew about riding tandem I'd learned from motor cycling. I don't recall the difficulties many other untutored tandemists described. The main thing I remember from the next day was discovering shortly after we set off from a break that there was a bear just out of view from where we'd been eating. It was an uphill start, and Sue wondered where I found the power to start us so fast... As we descended from the Columbia Icefields a couple of days later I learned why people put drag brakes on tandems. We didn't overheat catastrophically, but I did bring it to a full stop several times to let the brakes cool.
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Old 09-21-08, 01:20 PM   #15
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Lost my regular Co-Rider earlier this year but have had a few rides with occasional stokers- Some not bad and Some that are never going out with me again. Yesterday- My son-in-law that used to ride with me years ago came out for a short ride. He has only recently got back into cycling so we just made a short trip. Within 1/2 a mile- I had decided that he had lost it. Balance not there- bike swaying about and no power in his legs. Couple of miles later and I think he is back.

But for that first mile yesterday- Unfond memories came back from my first Tandem ride of about 6 years ago. And it was with the same co-rider.
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