Two legs good. Four legs better.
Tandems. With the power of two riders and the air-resistance of one there is a whole world of fun out there for those who can get over the storage and transportation issues that they bring. Having just liberated my trusty tandem from its shed-bound exile and ridden it down to take pride of place at Always Riding HQ, it seems like the perfect time to share some pearls of wisdom and a few mistakes to avoid for those tempted to take the plunge into the world of ‘Long-Vehicles’.
First things first, a little bit of terminology. It is very useful when talking about tandems to know that the 'CAPTAIN' is the rider at the front and the 'STOKER' is the poor fool at the back of the pantomime horse. ‘This rider’ and ‘that rider’ just doesn’t cut the mustard!
Clipless Pedals: These little marvels provide an excellent way to really appreciate the power of the two (in this case rather weak and weedy) riders. However beware, the Captain needs to be 100% consistent in foot choice - none of this clipping out whichever foot you fancy! If the Captain clips out on the left but the stoker expects to clip out on the right you are likely to end up with some combination of riders and bike in a heap on the verge. Pick a foot that you both agree on and stick to it, or face the wrath of your companion!
Map Reading: Having a rider with no braking, gear-shifting or steering responsibilities frees up two hands for all sorts of useful activities. From peeling that mid-ride banana to unfolding and then hopelessly trying to refold your maps, it is one of the joys of tandeming not having to stop to complete some small refuelling or navigating task. Those capacious rear jersey pockets that sometimes seem to require the flexibility of a yoga guru to reach, are sat right under the nose of the Stoker. You can be safe in the knowledge that there will always be a willing volunteer to delve for the flapjack or read you the next chapter of Terry Pratchett’s new book. Utilise those pockets!
Bumps: They say that with great power comes great responsibility and so it is with this new-found freedom. With the Stoker engaged in all manner of useful tasks, it falls to the Captain to sound the warning cry whenever a pothole looms. On the back of a tandem you can very rarely see the road ahead and it is very easy to drift off in a reverie while admiring the nearby hedgerows, expansive vistas or brutalist 60s architecture. It is therefore the job of the Captain to prevent an unexpected bump turning the rear saddle into an ejector seat. Shed those inhibitions and yell “BUMP” with as much gusto as you can muster!
The Third Brake: Why? Where? Most tandems come with a drum brake on the rear wheel in addition to the standard two brakes. But wait, this is no bourgeois decadence! With a fully-laden, dual-rider bike, the kilos soon mount up (skirting delicately round the subject of all those pre-ride biccies…) But where to place that third brake lever? Some people give it to the Stoker, others harness all their ingenuity and route the cable through one of the existing brake levers but the best solution that we have found is to pop it on a bar-end friction-shifter. These useful little levers will be familiar to anyone with an old-school gear set-up but can be happily co-opted for that third brake. This way, when a precipitous descent looms you can pop the drum-brake on and the friction-shifter will keep it on, providing some additional drag while crucially keeping both hands free for fine braking adjustments on your other two brakes. Fab!
Of course the best advice is just to give it a go. Undoubtedly, surrendering all control and riding as the stoker takes the most getting used to but wherever you ride and whoever you ride with (friends, family, that hitch-hiker over there) the experience of riding and chatting on a tandem is one of life's great joys.