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Chris_W 05-23-13 02:33 PM

Best start technique on 3+ person bikes?
We're renting a triplet for the weekend! My wife and two other women are going to ride it in a local sportive (aka gran fondo) around Lake Geneva in Switzerland and France on Sunday (Cyclotour du Leman) for 180 km / 110 miles. One of the other girls has previously done the same ride with my wife on our tandem a couple of years ago, apparently that didn't draw enough attention, so now they want to step it up a notch by riding a triplet. The third girl has done a couple of training rides with my wife on our tandem, and everything has gone very smoothly. They'll get the triplet one day before the event for a test ride with everyone riding together for the first time. Fortunately, fitness and cycling ability will not be a problem for any of them, but the triplet could make it a real challenge.

When starting and stopping our tandem, the stoker always stays clipped in, and we ride 90 degrees out of phase, and both girls were happy using this technique when stoking our tandem. The triplet is going to have all pedals in phase, and we're wondering what is going to be the best method to use when starting. The two stokers are pretty small ladies, and my wife (the captain) is reasonably strong, but is it a bad idea to even try having the 2 stokers fully clipped in before starting? Would having everyone's right feet on the ground and launching together be easier, or even harder to co-ordinate? You could also have just one person fully clipped in and two with a foot down. Instead of them using trial and error with every possible combination, we decided to ask for the collective wisdom and experience of people on this forum. What methods have you found to work best on triplets, quads, etc? Especially when all riders are of similar weights. They may have to stop for a few red lights, so they need to master a technique that is going to work well rather than messing around with some that are doomed to failure.

While the girls are having fun on the triplet, I'll be piloting our tandem with one of their husbands on the back (another experienced cyclist). It should be a lot of fun, and there'll probably be lots of photos to share afterwards. Plus, we're hoping that the other couple that will be split between stoking the two bikes will end up falling in love with multi-person bikes and will be buying their own tandem soon-after.

TandemGeek 05-23-13 03:04 PM

We start and stop the triplet just like the tandem, i.e., captain with one foot down and both stokers (also small) clipped-in and ready to go. Although, I spend much less time "loitering" with that one foot down than I do on the tandem. In other words, I've usually got both feet down at all times when we're stopped and am very quick to move from two-feet, to one foot & launch when starting. When stopping, the second foot quickly follows the first one once we've come to a stop.

Riding the triplet with our friends as guest stokers at rallies is truly something we look forward to and we only hope we can continue to find guest stokers to support that habbit! It's a shame that the triplet sits idle between the big rallies, so hard to know how long it will remain in the fleet if we find stokers to be in short supply in the future.

mibike 05-23-13 04:22 PM

We start and stop the triplet the same as our tandem. Captain with one foot down and both stokers clipped in. I'm a little more careful not to let the bike lean at all and will put my other foot down a little quicker then on the tandem. But for standard stops, red lights etc. its one foot down.

2frmMI 05-23-13 06:20 PM

I've never ridden triplet, so not qualified. But hey, this is the internet, so:
I say use the "all with one foot down" method. If all three are accomplished riders, they'll handle this better than the balancing act (the method suggested above by TG and mibike). I've always thought there were two factors in favor of the balancing act method: 1. stoker(s) significantly smaller than capt; 2. stoker(s) less experienced and/or less confident than capt. (But how a team starts is probably how they will continue, so a highly experienced tandem team might still choose the balancing act.) Since you suggest that these are all "riders", I place them in the highly experienced class. You don't give weights (smart man) so can't judge the other bit, but given two stokers, that is a big mass on the end of that lever when a slight unbalance happens.

TandemGeek 05-23-13 06:48 PM

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Originally Posted by 2frmMI (Post 15659961)
I've always thought there were two factors in favor of the balancing act method: 1. stoker(s) significantly smaller than capt;

I don't disagree that having proficient stokers / cyclists makes it a lot easier to use the stoker(s) clipped-in method, as we've used it with all 6'4" of Tim Turbo riding waist gunner between me at 5'8" and Debbie at 5'2".

That said, every team needs to figure out what works best. I will share my experiences, but am always reluctant to make a recommendation on what a team whom I know nothing about should do. I watch teams struggle with both methods for different reasons with equally good and bad results.

2frmMI 05-23-13 07:36 PM

Experience generally trumps conjecture.

Darth Lefty 05-23-13 10:04 PM


Originally Posted by 2frmMI (Post 15660282)
Experience generally trumps conjecture.

Where's the pleasure in that for the rest of us? Can't we have some fun speculating about firing order of Porsche engines or something?

Chris_W 05-25-13 12:10 AM

Thanks for the tips guys. The girls are going to be trying it out this afternoon, and will take the experienced advice and so initially work on the both stokers staying clipped in method, with the captain getting two feet down as soon as possible when stopping. They may experiment with other methods if that isn't working out.

tie dye tandem 05-25-13 08:34 PM


On our quad we have pedal with a distribution of phases and start with all three stokers clipped in. I call out a ready set go and quickly lift my foot and start. This is what works for us. I think being out of phase on the long bikes is an advantage in smoothing out the strokes.

Chris_W 05-28-13 06:51 AM

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We completed the ride, and had a lot of fun. The ladies quickly mastered the 'proper' starting technique, with both stokers fully clipped in, so thanks for the encouragement that this would be the best way to go.

We had 4 or 5 friends on single bikes with us plus me and a friend on the tandem, and together we controlled the rest of the bicycle and motor traffic so that the triplet had lots of space in the turns and almost never had to stop except at the feed stations.

As you'll see in the photos, the ladies weren't only attracting attention by riding a triplet, but were also all dressed in Swiss Heidi costumes! They made a LOT of people smile! At one point near Geneva, an executive-style Mercerdes pulled up alongside, the windows were rolled down and out popped four iPhones wielded by the four middle-eastern businessmen in the car who wanted to capture the scene.

Officially, at least 18 tandems did the tour or one of the shorter options (out of 2000 people total), but there may have been other tandems that were signed up only as individuals (like us). We certainly saw more tandems this year than we've ever seen in the past. Here is a screen capture of the Garmin data from the tandem (the triplet data was similar). Ride distance was 175 km / 110 miles. Total time was 7 hours.

We rented the triplet from SwissFunRent, who are based near Bern, Switzerland and rent a few tandems (1 electric, 1 dual-suspension, 1 semi-recumbent Hase Pino) plus the triplet. The triplet was made by Pedal Power in Berlin, Germany. It's a solid bike, with decent equipment, but unfortunately the gearing didn't work too well. We'd tested it the evening before, and I'd noticed that it occasionally skipped in certain cogs, and it appeared that the cassette and chain were both reasonably worn. I thought about changing them for parts from one of our single bikes, but decided that it would be OK, and had too many other things to get ready. By the end of the ride, the chain was skipping a LOT, but the ladies were able to ride it home.

TandemGeek 05-28-13 04:05 PM

The photos of your wife and her friends definitely belongs in the thread of awesomeness!

GingerSpice 05-28-13 05:25 PM

A quick report from the captain (captainess??) in this cyclosportive around Lake Geneva. Holding the bike stationary with two feet on the ground and with both stokers clipped in was no more difficult than on a tandem. For the starts, I held the bike with both feet on the ground and had the stokeresses clip in, then we started on the count of three with the left foot up and my left foot on the pedal but not clipped in (we were all in phase). The other Heidis were in charge of pedalling from the get-go, and I took care of steering, getting on my saddle, and clipping in to the pedals in that exact order. One nice thing about having two stokers is that you don't at all need to worry about pedalling or applying power for the starts.

Regarding stops, we developed a synchronized clip-out strategy. We mostly had abrupt stops, and to ensure there were no catastrophes, I'd coast and shout out "unclip right" beforehand, so at the moment of stopping and lurching to the side we were all able to brace the bike. It was easy, and even occasionally graceful. We'd then assume the "rear stokers clipped in" position for the restarts.

But, the triple was tough. I felt like I was manoeuvring an absurdly oversized and extremely heavy shopping trolley. The handling was much, much different than a tandem, and the inefficient power transfer was very noticeable. It's one of those things that I'm happy to have done, but would not necessarily do again.


TandemGeek 05-28-13 05:58 PM


Originally Posted by GingerSpice (Post 15677811)
But, the triple was tough. I felt like I was manoeuvring an absurdly oversized and extremely heavy shopping trolley. The handling was much, much different than a tandem, and the inefficient power transfer was very noticeable. It's one of those things that I'm happy to have done, but would not necessarily do again.

Great job... sorry to hear the Pedal Power triplet was such a bear! We're very spoiled by our fairly svelte (41 lb), stiff and responsive Mark Johnson-designed, Dennis Bushnell fabricated triplet.

We always enjoy riding our tandem, but really look forward to the breaking out the triplet at rallies or any othe time when we can find a guest stoker! Of course, our outfits at GTR's Friday ride were anything but awesome: your kits, beyond awesome!! However, interested readers will note that it didn't really take all that much concentration to keep the thricer upright with both stokers clipped-in waiting for the ride to start as Ms GTR, Eve K., made her rounds capturing team photos.

Sadly, no one we know grabbed a photo of us on Saturday when we were sporting our jerseys!

Chris_W 05-29-13 02:42 PM

Further thoughts on the triplet:

The handling was affected by the absurdly wide flat bars (probably 660 mm or 700mm). All three Heidis are more used to drop bars, and the captain would have probably been more comfortable with that setup. I'm very pleased that I added bar ends to each set of bars the evening before, and was a bit surprised that the bike wasn't already equipped with them - they make a HUGE difference to comfort on flat bars on longer rides. At least all the grips were already of the ergonomic design rather than just round tubes.

Regarding the inefficiency of the power transmission: After the first test ride the previous afternoon, the tension on the timing chains that I had set seemed to have already slackened, so I re-tightened it to a level that seemed OK. There was quite a rainstorm in the first third of the ride, and it seemed that although the drive-chain had a good layer of oil on it that didn't wash off, the timing chains became totally dry after the storm. When I rode the triplet home solo at the end of the day (after dropping off all of the stokers), the resistance from the two timing chains felt VERY significant, which I put partly down to the chains being slightly too tight and mostly down to there being no oil left on either chain. Our tandem has only ever had a timing BELT, so I'm not used to these kinds of problems. So, in addition to not changing the drive chain and cassette the evening before, I also regretted not doing a better job of getting the timing chains ready - however the oiling should really have been sorted out by the rental shop (the tension was entirely down to me since we had un-coupled the frame when collecting it to get it in the car).

Anyway, all's well that ends well. It's a few days on now, and there's still many people coming into the bike shop where I work and mentioning how much they enjoyed seeing the triplet riding around the lake.

BTW, it's great to see some shots of TG's triplet with the new black wheels - it looks really sweet now!

waynesulak 05-29-13 03:06 PM

Looking at the rental triplet it looks like it might have a pretty slack head tube angle and a standard rake fork which with the weight of three riders would make it a handful at low speed. From the text it seems that the ride had a fair amount of stops, starts, and low speeds sections so the captain was probably constantly adjusting the line rather than letting it roll. I can see why the captain is not ready for a repeat of the adventure.

Chris_W 05-29-13 03:24 PM

Discussing the triplet's frame and fork further, as you can see in the first photo that I posted above, although both wheels were 26", it appears that the rear triangle has clearance for a 700c wheel plus a large volume tire (notice how the mounting of the rear fender was done without any spacers, so it looks very amateurish how far away the fender is from the rear tire behind the BB). In contrast, the fork appears to be designed as a suspension-corrected model for 26" wheels only, which is not very consistent with the rear end. However, I assume this is how Pedal Power set it up.

The captain didn't like how the bars were set in a super-high position, so I immediately dropped them by about 6 cm by moving almost all of the spacers above the stem, but I think this was still higher than she is used to. Maybe turning and control would have been easier with the bars even lower so that even more of her weight was on them.

I would spend a lot of time tinkering with this bike if it was ours, but since it isn't, I should probably move on. Anyway, I don't think this is normally intended as a long-distance machine - I doubt it's ever done more than 100 km in a day before, let alone almost 200 km.

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