Tandem bikes are more or less a rare sight these days, which is a shame if you ask us. There’s just something about the idea of two people on one bike that seems highly entertaining, and a rewarding challenge at that.
While tandem bikes are not such a common site, they still enjoy a huge niche following, and were even an Olympic competition up until the late 1960s, with international competition still ongoing.
There’s been a resurgence of sorts over the last few years, however, and now tandem bikes are making a comeback as more cyclists both casual and advanced are discovering the many benefits these bikes can provide.
Tandem bikes are available in many forms now, which includes standard road bikes, and even recumbent bikes. In this article we’ll discuss what makes a tandem bicycle different, and what advantages you can expect when using one.
A bicycle built for two is obviously going to have some differences from a single bike. The biggest change is the fact that you are either behind or in front of the other rider, and only one person can steer. The front rider is known as the captain, while the rear rider is called a stoker.
The chain runs from the front crankset to the rear, and then to the gear system. Both riders contribute to the the power and speed of the bike, as they are both attached to the same chain and gear system.
Steering, braking, and gear shifting are all team efforts, which requires constant communication between the riders. The captain usually calls out to the stoker when it’s time to shift, brake, or make a turn, preferably using single word commands.
Riding a tandem bike is fun and different, but it also provides a lot of advantages that can make your ride much easier, and more efficient as well, among other things.
Two people on one bike doubles the power output. If you and your riding partner are anywhere near the same ability, you can consistently pace yourselves to achieve high speeds for long periods of time, at a much lower effort than you would on a single bike.
Even if one rider is slacking a bit, the other one can compensate, and continue churning along at what would still be a much faster rate than on a single bike. This not only improves your pace and speed on long, sustained flat portions of your route, but offers an advantage when tackling long inclines.
Regardless of what you encounter on the ride, you will always have more power than when riding alone, and that’s something that can be overstated.
Long touring rides cover hundreds of miles for days at a time. While conventional touring bikes and a high fitness level make touring more doable from a single rider’s end, a tandem bike is perfect for touring since it is much more efficient with the pedal power of two people.
You are already carrying a lot of gear on a touring bike, so having another person on board makes riding with such a high load a lot easier. Tandem riding also ensures that the two people are always caught up with each other, and don’t have to spend a lot of time slowing the pace down to accommodate someone who may not be as fast.
Whether it’s for physical or mental reasons, not everyone is capable of riding a bike on their own, if even for long periods of time, or outside of their property. Since the captain of the tandem is responsible for steering and maneuvering, someone who might not normally be able to ride on their own get hitch a ride in the stoker position.
For riders who may have vision impairment, or lack the normal physical abilities to ride on their own, this presents a wonderful opportunity for them to still experience a bike ride, whether it’s just around the neighborhood, or out on longer rides for extended miles.
The stoker position allows them to still take part in the ride, and pedal whenever they can, while leaving the steering and decision making to the captain of the bike.
High-level tandem bike riding requires a lot of communication back and forth. Encountering road hazards, turning, braking, gear shifting, stopping and starting -- these all rely on instant communication between the captain and the stoker.
While the captain is ultimately who controls everything, the cooperation of the stoker is required when switching gears and maneuvering. The stoker can also pay more attention to what’s going on behind and to the sides, and relay that information back to the captain as they ride.
Steering is not the same with a tandem, and a stoker can actually improve handling and turning by leaning with the bike when needed. All of this goes into creating a bind between the two riders, as each is reliant on the other for a successful and safe ride.
Riding in groups can be a fun and rewarding experience, but groups also present a few potential issues. If you have riders that are not on the physical level as others, they can bog the group down and cause other riders to constantly wait on them to catch up.
Tandem riding allows the weaker rider to sit in the stoker position, and hand off the main duties to the captain, while still experiencing the same ride as everyone else. By pairing weaker riders with stronger ones, the weaker rider avoids the stress of holding the group back during the ride, and can even use the opportunity to get stronger over time.
Tandem biking is becoming more popular for a reason. As more riders discover the benefits and advantages, there’s not doubt that more will be willing to give it a try with a friend or partner.
Have you ever ridden a tandem bike? Do you have any suggestions or experiences to share? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!
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