10 Tips For Touring On A Tandem Bicycle
The tandem bicycle: A romantic, slightly eccentric, slightly odd looking machine with a certain appeal.
As we planned a 3-1/2 month cycle tour of Europe, the idea of doing it on a bicycle made for two became more and more attractive. After a few days of watching eBay, we hit ‘buy it now’ and became the proud owners of a Dawes Sardar 2 tandem. It cost us £300 (about $500 U.S.).
Two weeks later we set off to Newhaven to catch the ferry to Dieppe and 7,200 kilometers of freedom; cycling through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy.
We knew nothing about tandem riding before we bought the bike and wouldn’t profess to be experts now but thought we’d share our experiences in case you also fancy ‘looking sweet upon the seat’ of one of these special machines.
Here are our 10 Tips for successful tandem touring:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Riding a tandem isn’t really a fine art, more a messy sketchbook of wobbles and wavy lines before you get the hang of it, especially fully loaded. The important thing is to synchronize at all times. When stationary, pushing off with a chant of ’3, 2, 1′ helps takes the strain off the knees
2. Keep The Peace
A harmonious relationship between Pilot (at the front of the tandem) and the Stoker (in the rear) is crucial to successful tandem riding. Below are some of the things we learned not to do on the road:
- Pilot – Do not spit.
- Stoker – Do not tell the Pilot right at the beginning of a 4,500 mile cycle tour that your mother will never forgive him/her if you have an accident. Wait until the tour is over to share this information.
- Pilot – Do not question the Stoker’s pedaling efforts.
- Stoker – Do not be a backseat driver.
- Pilot – Communicate – do not expect the Stoker to be a mind reader.
- Stoker – Do not lean.
- Pilot – Do not walk away from the tandem and assume that the stoker is holding it upright.
- Stoker – Do not suddenly stop pedaling.
3. Look Your Best
You’ll gets lots of attention, or at least the tandem will, so make sure both you and the tandem are looking smart. The top 3 Tandem loving countries in Europe are Italy, Germany and England.
4. Don’t Off-Road On A Fully Loaded Tandem
Whilst riding the Canal du Midi in France might seem like a good idea, much of it is off-road, often on muddy tracks, with the murky waters of the canal right beside you. Taking a tandem with two riders, four panniers, 1 bar bag, a 25 litre dry sack and semi-slick tyres down such a path is just not sensible.
5. Do The Math
According to Green Trust, a human produces about 1/10th of a horsepower when cycling. This gives the Pilot and Stoker together about 1/5 of a horse to get the tandem and all its baggage up those mountains. That’s not much of a horse, so choose your gradients well….
6. Know Your Brakes
A normal bike with one rider and two heavy panniers stops slowly when you apply the brakes. Now multiply riders and luggage by 2 but still ride with standard V-brakes. Finally, add a mountain pass to the equation and ride down it. This means you need to go very, very slowly and cautiously. Better yet, you can fit an additional coaster brake. We would have benefited from one.
7. Learn To Laugh At The Same Joke Over and Over Again…
…and the joke is… (pointing at the Stoker) ‘she’s not pedaling!!’
We heard this joke in 12 languages – 10 of which we don’t speak. But we still understood the joke and we still laughed. Oh, how we laughed!
8. Stoker: Learn To Love The Grass By The Roadside
The view isn’t great from the back. You’re going to see a lot of grass on this tour.
9. Learn To Love Your Back Wheel
It carries a lot of weight and you’ll spend a lot of time tending to its needs: dishing it, replacing spokes, re-tensioning spokes, checking bearings, cursing it, threatening it, etc… We think our problems were made worse by the badly tensioned, machine-built rear wheel that came with the tandem. If you can, invest in strong, hand-built wheels.
10. Love Your Tandem
One day at some unspecified moment you’ll look at that beast of burden and be amazed just how much weight a simple machine can carry. And you’ll feel a glow of warmth and respect for it. We even gave ours a name – Florence.