How to Ride a Tandem!

The following step by step guide aims to help you become confident tandem riders.

(Assumes left hand traffic and a sighted adult stoker). 

The front rider (the Pilot or Captain) must step through the tandem by lowering the tandem away from your body and step over the top tube. Once astride, place feet far enough apart for the pedals to clear your legs. Hold the tandem upright and hold onto a brake lever to steady the tandem. The Pilot looks forward in the direction of travel.

The rear rider (known as the ‘Stoker’) places their foot onto the left-hand pedal at the ‘6’ o’clock position. Let the front rider know you are about to mount. Then swing your other leg over the back of the saddle and place your foot onto the right hand pedal

Once this has been done the Stoker then turns the pedals backwards so that the Pilot's right pedal is just past the 12 o'clock / top dead centre position ready for the initial push. This might not be the normal start position for the front rider, there is an adverse camber to the road or your riding abroad. 
If this is so turn the pedals backwards again so that the Pilot's left pedal is at his/her favoured start position. Once this is done the front rider can see that the rear rider is ready to ride. The rear rider/Stoker can leave their feet on the pedals at all times until it is time to stop to dismount e.g. a child stoker. The Stoker looks behind to observe any approaching traffic and gives the all clear.

The front now has to do a number of things. Place his/her foot on the pedal whilst maintaining the tandem in a vertical position. When you ride a solo/single bike it is normal for the rider to lean the bike over. On tandem it is important to keep the tandem upright at all times when starting off.

To help with this the front rider can place his/her thigh onto the top tube of the tandem whilst leaning the body a little to the left or right depending on which foot they are starting with! (Or rest the horn of their saddle against the upper thigh of the leg now on the pedal - e.g. for tandems with a low step over height)

With a countdown of 1 2 3 the front rider, shouts 'Riding!' or similar, steps down on the pedal and rises onto the saddle, the stoker presses hard his / her pedals to help get the tandem underway and give steerage, and with a relaxed grip on the handlebars for both riders the tandem will gently roll into a slow start.

Continue to pedal and the tandem will glide in a straight line. If the tandem wobbles from side to side this usually means both riders are gripping the handlebars too tightly. Relax! If the stoker tries to steer then try holding the pilot by the waist for the next few starts once s/he is in the saddle.

To stop safely the front rider if he/she started with the right foot would freewheel to a controlled stop with the right foot at the bottom of its stroke. Gear changes to a lower gear take place now. As the brakes are applied to stop the left foot comes off the pedal and onto the ground. The tandem then has halted and the Stoker must bring the pedal back up to the starting position!

If you are stopping at a junction the rear rider stays mounted and you are in the position in the last step ready to ride again. If you are stopping to dismount then the front rider must take their other foot off the pedal and astride the tandem as at the beginning. The rear rider then turns the pedal to the position they mounted it and whilst keeping the foot on the pedal swings their leg over the saddle and dismounts.

This method of mounting and dismounting, starting and stopping will take practice but is found to be the safest way in riding a tandem.

Other details to take into account for tandeming;

When changing gear beware that the rear mechanism will change under load. The front mechanism will not. So communication between riders is important on the front three rings. Shout ' Gear Change!' or similar then take the pedalling pressure off!

Do not change too late on the front chain rings as this will cause embarrassment, falls and bent chain rings too! Experiment with your cycle computer to find the speed at which you can comfortably pedal on the smallest chain ring and the smallest rear gear. Probably 10 - 12 Mph. Now the Pilot knows at which speed they can go onto smallest chain ring, find a gear and thus prepare for the climb in front and then change the rear mechanism under load.

Braking on tandem will be different to a solo. The front brake is the best brake, as it will not cartwheel the tandem (unless a child is riding the rear) The rear brake will not lock up either. If a third brake is fitted (known as a drag brake) this needs to be applied at the top of long descents and not halfway down when the front rider needs more braking! It is used particularly on long descent to prevent heat build up on rims. (It is also a super parking brake)

Tyre pressure must be kept at higher values than on a solo to give the tyre the necessary seating force to stop it slipping on the rim under the heavier braking loads associated with tandeming. This can be up to 100psi for 26” and 120 psi for 700c – Remember that butyl inner tubes breath- so keep them topped up every two days. Avoid parking your tandem in a sun spot.

The front rider has no requirement to look behind or do the signalling for the tandem as these actions would lead to loss of control. Unless the Stoker is a young child or has a visual handicap, these are part of the Stoker's duties. Ditto map reading if s/he is able.

U turns

Unless the Pilot is capable of rubbing their tummy and patting their head simultaneously there should be a division of duty for these manoeuvres! If you've just ridden past the turning, agree together to do a U Turn. Otherwise you'll probably fall off. If it's clear to turn in a road of adequate width, then the pilot should steer and balance and the stoker pedal. This will help to avoid meeting the kerb or ditch.

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