The popularity of tandems has increased in the last few years. My wife Jeanie and I have had one for about a year and a half now and we enjoy riding it very much. I guess we ride it about 80% of the time. We went to the ‘92 Gear in the Bluegrass ride in Lexington KY where many tandem riders were present. If you sat down across from a tandem couple at breakfast or dinner and asked how they like riding their tandem, you got a big grin and a half hour story. It is tough to take the plunge because you don’t get a chance at a meaningful trial run ( days) and the cost is significant, but if you do decide to buy one, we think you will be pleased.
We have seen tandem riders start off from a stop, both with a foot down, and then they both push and paddle to get going. This looks awkward to me since they usually are not in sync. We were taught to let the captain get on the bike and hold it stable by putting both feet on ground , hold the brakes, sit on the top tube or back into the nose of the saddle. Then the stoker gets on the bike and gets both feet off the ground , snaps into the pedals, and back pedals to bring one of the pedals upright to about 10 o’clock as viewed from the side. Then when ready, the captain says go , steps on the upright pedal, and the stoker pedals and just keeps pedaling. This provides good power right from the start. Actually the captain straddles the bike favoring the supporting foot side, so that he ( or she) can better support the weight at starts or red-light pauses. Use the other foot for the 10 o’clock pedal. You need to discuss stopping, because the captain will snap one foot out and will be looking to backpedal to put the other foot down and the stoker may resist the backpedal, causing the captain’s heart to skip a beat ! After awhile the two of you will get in tune and this will become second nature. The captain will have difficulty getting one leg over the bike because of the rear saddle, and if he put his foot over the top tube, then he will likely hit it with the gravel impregnated sole, scratching that new tandem. Stand beside the bike, grab the handlebars, lean it toward you just a little, and do a Rockettes kick with the inside leg to get over the handlebar. Watch out that you clear the bar and not hook it, falling over on the opposite side. By the way, this kick can be difficult at mile 90 of a century ride.
The captain gets to see upcoming obstacles, and lift up to ease the shock, but the stoker in the rear does not see the bump and ” Ouch”. So the captain must try and not hit the bumps in the first place or call ” Bump” to the stoker and stop pedaling so the stoker can lift up. In the beginning you will need to call when you stop, go , or coast. This will no longer be necessary after awhile. I still call a shift so that we both ease up ( we are very powerful you know !) at the shift to reduce the load on the chain, etc.
Jeanie and I had both made the move to Look type pedals on our regular bikes. It seemed normal then to put Look type pedals on our new tandem. But we switched to the Shimano mountain bike type clipless pedals since we occasionally tour and like to get off and walk to see things. The mountain bike type shoes have recessed cleats that result in a flat sole so the shoe is about normal. The real advantage though is safety because I am sure that we would have busted our tails ( and the damaged the bike) if we had stuck with the Look pedals which are so slippery and the captain must at times support a lot of weight on that one foot. So the flat soled shoes/mountain bike pedals are recommended.
Tandems go a little faster on the flats, slower uphill, and faster downhill. The tandem really accelerates downhill. When you ride your regular bike after riding the tandem for awhile, and head downhill, it seems like something is holding you back. Therefore they ideally need a wider range of gears compared to a regular bike. You need lows of a touring bike and the high gear of a racing bike. That can be tough to achieve. We have 54-42-28 chainrings and 13-30 freewheel. The 54 allows us to run up to about 28 miles per hour. The 28 / 30 is a sufficient low, allowing us to get up most of the Monteagle/Riley Creek Rd type climbs. It is just low enough for light touring loads in the mountains. Achieving a lower gear will be difficult because of the wide gear range the front derailler must handle. Good quality deraillers are suggested because you will be shifting more often. We have bar end shifters, which I now prefer, except for the extra cables.
Our tandem came standard with front and rear cantilevers actuated by the right hand brake lever. These brakes are powerful and work well. We also got the optional Arai rear drum brake, which is actuated by the left brake lever. I have found that the standard brakes work fine for the local terrain. But we have made decents down steep sections of the Cumberland Plateau where the drum was needed. A check at the bottom showed that the drum was hot enough to sizzle spit, and the tires were warm and the rims were very warm. During a tour in the mountains of TN and NC, we had at times 10 mile descents ( and 10 mile assents) where I alternated brakes to keep from overheating them. The other thing to keep in mind is that you and your partner may get caught out in the rain. I have had cantilevers totally fail in the rain on a decent and I hate to think what would have happened on the tandem , the way it accelerates downhill. This brake weighs 2 lbs. Recommended. If you have an old drogue chute, you might bring that too.
Those tandem wheels carry quite a load. I saw one poor guy at the Sundrop Race last year with a rear wheel where every spoke loosened up several turns. Some tandems now come with 40 spoke wheels, but I was told by a knowledgeable dealer, that after awhile they will start breaking spokes. We moved up to the optional 48-spoke Wheelsmith wheels, and have had no loosening or breaking – and they are still true.
Jeanie and I went on a week long credit card tour in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. We carried 4 panniers of clothes and gear, but no camping equipment. The forks of our tandems have the front rider rack mounting points, the kind that pass all the way through the fork. I am partial to Bruce Gorden steel racks, and have one on the rear. I tried to put one on the front, but it is sized differently and does not pick up the existing hole. One must use a clamp that reaches around the fork. Clamps came with the rack, but the ones supplied would not reach around a tandem fork and I could find no others. Plus the rack had to be “sprung” to fit the oversized fork. So I switched to the hoop-less Blackburn rack that is sized to mount to the fork holes. That rack also must be “sprung” a little to reach around the fork, putting strain on the front rack weld. So far it has held up and a tandem dealer told me he has not seen any trouble with them. The hoop-less design is surprisingly rigid..
We like riding our tandem and, like most tandem riders, we like talking about tandems too. Give us a call and tell us about your experiences.
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