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Tandem Riding the Right Way: How to Ride a Tandem Bike?

If riding a normal bike is good, riding a tandem bike is awesome! The best thing about tandems is that it takes two to tandem; hence “a bicycle built for two”. It is a pleasant experience allowing you to ride with your significant other in tow and have a little extra oomph to maximize the pleasure of taking exercise outdoors. A tandem might be the secret to everlasting bliss and combining a relationship with bike addiction. Never ride a tandem bike alone though. You probably don’t want to hear people shouting “hey, your companion’s fallen off” once in every mile. 

The process of riding a tandem is not the same as riding a regular solo bike. While it takes a little while to get used to it, there is a great deal of technique involved to get the hang of the whole enchilada. There are a few strategies and tips that you should know about before mounting a tandem for the first time. Let’s go through them one by one and make your tandem journey a breeze!

How Do Tandem Bikes Work?

The key to riding a tandem effectively and without much hassle is building a good team. A good team is more than the sum of its parts. Tandem riders are generally referred to as the captain (the rider in front) and the stoker (the rider in the back). The captain handles pedaling, steering, braking, and basically everything else that relates to bike handling. The stoker, on the other hand, is in charge of supplying power, waving at people, taking pictures, appreciating the scenery whiz by and occasionally thumping the captain in the back when he/she is about to make a mistake.  Here’s how tandem bikes work:

  • Once the bike is set in motion, both the captain and the stoker have to pedal simultaneously and work together to reach their destination. First-time riders may experience problems in synchronizing and pedaling effectively. But once you clock a few miles together, it will be a lot easier to pedal at the same time and make subtle weight shifts without needing to talk it out loud. 
  • To achieve this perfect unison, riders need to build up effective verbal and nonverbal communication which involves speaking to each other,  having empathy, and acquiring all the nuts and bolts of captain/stoke skills. 

Tandem Biking Tips

In order to maximize the pedaling efficiency, the riders need to harmonize each other’s pressure, speed, and riding styles. This is achieved by paying attention to how you and your partner move, accelerate, stop and carry out other basic bike handling functions. Here are some useful tips and techniques for the captain and the stoker to synchronize their pedaling efforts effectively.

The Captain 

  • The heavier, stronger rider should be the captain because the weight is better distributed and the frame is designed in such a way to handle more weight and pressure on the captain position. 
  • The captain has full control and responsibility for the bike. Therefore, he/she needs to be competent, experienced, inspire confidence, have sound judgment, and demonstrate excellent bike handling skills. 
  • Since for the stoker it is much more difficult to see the road directly, it is in the captain’s responsibility to communicate changes in gear selection, signal abrupt changes of direction, and warn the stoker of any imminent bumps or potholes on the road.  
  • The captain should try to avoid the unexpected and give the stoker plenty of time to be ready and prepare for what’s going on. 
  • The captain should be relaxed and build trust and under no circumstance be reckless or shout “Look Ma, no hands”. Tandem biking is fun, but remember, someone’s life depends on you.

The Stoker

  • The stoker doesn’t necessarily need to be skilled.  He/she is not a “passenger” either, but a “partner “and an equal contributor. 
  • An ideal stoker needs to have enough strength and durability to provide consistent pedaling power and steady output to assist the captain, especially during hills and slopes. For general cruising on flat roads, the stoker can take it easy and pedal whenever he/she can as the captain’s pedaling power would be more than enough. 
  • The stoker should have complete trust in the captain and must be able to give up 100% control to the front rider. The stoker is the one in charge to provide motivation, entertain, take pictures, relax and enjoy the ride. 
  • Despite being the extra source of pedaling power, the stoker must be the extra source of balance. To avoid causing any embarrassing incident, the stoker must remain centered and maintain the equilibrium. For instance, when taking corners, the stoker should try to shift position and lean according to the corner’s difficulty. Erratic weight shifts make steering much more difficult and could lead to crashes. 

Tandem Bike Riding in Six Steps

Now that you have an idea of what the captain’s and stoker’s responsibilities are, you can begin exploring the world in a new way. Before getting started, it’s worth noting that for some, riding a tandem might not be as easy as riding an ordinary bike and riders might need time and practice to get used to this new form of cycling. For others, it can come naturally and feel just like a normal bike. Regardless of which group you fall into, there are a few tricks and tips that help you get the most out of the bikes made for two.

Step #1: Hopping on the tandem

  • In order to start off right, it is essential to be in perfect unison and perform as a team.  
  • First off, the captain places the tandem upright, selects the gear to the preferred starting position and keeps the bike steady by holding the brakes to prevent it from moving forward as the stoker jumps on the bike.

Step #2: Taking off 

  • With the stoker on board, the riders communicate readiness with a simple “go” or “ready”. 
  • Ready to set out, the riders start to pedal simultaneously and get the momentum of the bike moving forward.  
  • The stoker needs to maintain a weight-centered equilibrium and tuck in behind the captain especially during takeoff. Also, it is important for the stoker to make sure the legs are spread far enough to allow the pedals move freely and avoid them getting in the way.

Step #3: Changing gears

  • Changing gears on a tandem is more frequent than on a solo bike. 
  • For appropriate gear changing, the captain should give the “shift” command and soft the pedals by taking some of the pressure off of them. 
  • It is crucial to anticipate terrain changes and act well in advance before approaching a steep climb or a steep slope. 
  • When slowing/stopping at an intersection, the captain should move to a lower gear for easier subsequent takeoff.

Step #4: Stopping

  • Technically speaking, a tandem’s braking system is virtually identical to that of a regular bike. However, riders need to take into account the extra length and weight when applying brakes. 
  • Considering that tandem bikes are heavier and a bit chunkier, they can be more difficult to stop especially when going at a high speed. 
  • Always giving some sort of verbal cue, the riders need to announce the stop beforehand. Apply the brakes as usual while the captain places feet on the ground in a wide stance to stop comfortably.

 Step #5: Standing

  • Although not preferred for first-time tandem riders, off-the-saddle riding is important to take a break from constant pedaling and relax the sit bones from pressure. 
  • The stand position can also be helpful while climbing only this time both riders should continue pedaling while shifting to a higher gear.

Step #6: Getting off the bike

  • The stoker dismounts the tandem first while the captain remains balanced while holding the brakes engaged. 
  • While getting off the bike, it is advised to move the legs over the top tube instead of over the seat as you’d normally do on a normal bike. This way you would avoid hitting the stoker’s handlebars and make dismounting as smooth as possible. 

Riding a tandem bike isn’t really rocket science. Sure, it takes a little bit of time to figure it out, but once you get the hang of it, you and your partner will have a blast. The most important thing is to work together as a team and perform all movements gently in unison. Communication is also vital and involves developing a special level of verbal and nonverbal communication, notifying each other about every possible change during riding through every step. 

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