A Bicycle Built for Two: Tandem Biking
By Ken Haggert

If you have never tried riding a tandem bicycle you may be missing out. Tandem
cycling is one of those things you seem to either love or hate.

Since it requires two cyclists you have to be able to play well with others. If you
are very independent and need to do things your way and your way only it
might not be the thing for you. If you do work well with others and have a
partner that you enjoy riding with it can be a great experience. If you like to talk
with your partner while riding it is much easier to do on a tandem since you are
closer together with out having to ride side by side which is not practical on most

A big benefit to riding a tandem is when there is a difference in riding ability or
strength of two cyclists. The tandem averages out the difference allowing the
stronger rider to work as hard as he or she wants while at the same time allowing
the other person to keep up with out being pushed to the point where it is not

Often if two cyclists are of different ability the faster rider will have to stop and
wait for the second rider to catch up and rest. The tandem eliminates this
completely. Both riders do have to peddle since the cranks are connected so there
is no sitting back coasting for either rider.

For example if one rider can go out and do a fifty mile ride and the other can only
do a twenty mile ride on their own you might well be able to do a thirty or forty
mile ride as a team. Riding a tandem can provide you both with a strong sense of
accomplishment and team work. You really have to work together in order to get
where you’re going and it requires a lot of communication to make it come
together. The person in the front of a tandem who steers; pedals and shifts is
called the captain. The person in back has the job of peddling and has the benefit
of being able to enjoy the scenery with out constantly watching the road is called
the stoker.

If one of the riders is going to stop pedaling for some reason they need to
communicate this to the other rider because your cranks are connected by a drive
chain and fixed gears. It is common courtesy for the captain to alert the stoker to
large bumps that are coming up so they have time to prepare. The stoker doesn’t
have as clear a view of the road ahead and therefore has a harder time seeing
upcoming bumps.

As with other bicycles tandems come in various styles. There are road tandems;
cross tandems; and mountain bike tandems. Which you choose will depend on
the type of riding you do. Tandems do tend to cost more than a single bike but
would be less than buying two individual bikes. The frames and wheels are built
stronger than a typical single bike due to the extra weight they carry with two
passengers aboard.

Tandems do take some getting used to since they are so different to drive than a
single bike. I recommend borrowing or renting one to try it and see if it is
something you enjoy.

The first time I rode a tandem I thought it felt like driving a tractor trailer. They
have a much wider turning radius due to the longer wheel base. Starting and
stopping can be a challenge since you both have to get your feet in the pedals
and moving together. You have much more weight on the bike so down hills can
be very fast. The down side of that is it also takes more effort to get up hills.

If you are riding in a hilly area like Vermont you will probably want to have a
triple crank so you can gear down for the larger climbs. On flat roads tandems
can be faster than single bikes because the stoker is in affect drafting the captain.
You achieve twice the power with the wind resistance of one.

I highly recommend trying tandem riding. If it is something that works for you
and your partner it could be the beginning of many miles of riding a bicycle built
for two.

About the author:

Ken Haggart of Lake Elmore, Vermont, is the owner of Peace Pups Dogsledding
and Vermont Bicycle Tours.   He is a musher, tour guide and custom
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