I wanted to cover tandem bike riding for those who have never ridden on a tandem bike before or for those who have one and have not had a chance to break it in. In fact, this could be a good goal to accomplish this summer while adding some spice to your summer activities. If you are the type who enjoys trying new adventures, this how to tandem bike ride post is for you.
This is a long post but very informatively detailed. So keep reading to find out what it would be like to get a partner and do something new this summer. Whether it be your spouse, kid or best friend.
The First Ride – Get Engaged
First of all, I will inform you not to go out and buy a tandem bike unless you know you are going to jump into it & stay in it to win it.
Don’t get me wrong, some of you might already have it in your mind that this is going to be a regular outing and you are going to just go for it. If so there is nothing wrong with that! In fact, I like it.
Your first ride will be more about getting yourself trained to ride with your partner. It is quite different than the two of you getting on your own bike and touring around town.
It would be wise to learn the basics of tandem bike riding so that while you are riding, you are aware of what the other is doing. You will be fusing your particular jobs in regards to riding a tandem bike. You will find out it is a joint effort much like an airplane pilot and co-pilot.
Are you ready? Here we go!
Tandem Bike Riding Essentials
The two riders are given two different assignments. The person in the front is called the captain & the rear rider is called the stoker.
Duties of the captain
His or her role is is to take control of the bike. Much like Star Treks #1 on the Enterprise sort of speak. Being in control means the balancing, steering, shifting & braking is your responsibility. This position puts the safety of another person in your hands.
The captain must take the rear rider into consideration which means he or she must be steady and predictable as well as riding conservatively. This will make the ride safe and enjoyable for the stoker.
The biggest responsibility of the captain is communication in which you will understand why when I cover the actual riding procedure.
The Role of The Stoker
The stoker or rear rider has the job of supplying the power to the engine of the bike. Applying steady output to the pedals makes the ride smooth and steady. But you are not going to be killing yourself while doing it.
You conservatively apply power so when you need to climb a hill or just want more speed, you are ready to give that extra boost of power.
The stoker has to be smooth and predictable as well as steady in the saddle as he or she is pedaling. The stoker should alert the captain if there is an adjustment that needs to be made in the saddle since he or she is responsible for balancing the two of you.
Get ready – Starting The Ride
There is a certain way to begin riding a tandem bike that will ensure safety for both the captain and the stoker. The following steps will give you a guideline in the proper procedure in tandem bike riding.
First: Captain Mounts The Bike First
There are two ways to mount a tandem bike. One is recommended and the other one you can do but it could possibly cause a problem. The third way is not recommended for safety reasons. Either way, the captain always mounts first.
The best way is to stand on the side of it facing forward with both hands on the handlebars. Then swing your leg forward around the handlebars. I know this sounds quite different than the norm but it has its reasons.
The second way is to raise your foot over the crossbar between the handlebars and saddle. But over time you will probably rough up the paint job or your foot can possibly get caught which could make this way unsafe.
The one thing you don’t want to do is mount it like you do when you on your single bike. If you were to try to throw your leg back and over there is another set of handlebars that will surely grab you one day. Truly a safety issue on that one.
Once the captain mounts the bike, it is his or her job to steady the bike for the stoker to mount. This is done by holding the brakes so the bike is easily balanced and it does not move.
For safety, spread the feet wide enough apart to clear the front set of pedals. This will protect your shin and calve from being smacked by the pedal once the stoker mounts and puts his or her feet on the pedals.
So make as wide of a stand as necessary holding the bike in a way that your body weight is used to steady the bike rather than a physical strain.
Second: Stoker Mounts bike Last
Once on, the stoker will put both feet on the pedals while sitting. At first, it takes some getting used to because you are basically airborne at this point and not in control of your balancing. This could make it a little uncomfortable. Captains should be aware of this and make it as comfortable as possible.
Stokers, this is where you must trust the captain to relieve some of the anxiety. This will all disappear really quickly. In fact, it will feel worse than what it really is when the captain moves the bike. So you will really have to work hard at not putting your feet down in the process.
Third: Get Ready To Move Out
As of now, the captain should have the bike stable, holding the handlebars, brakes locked and both feet on the ground wide apart.
This is where the stoker has to assist the captain. Depending on what foot the captain wants to start off with, it is the stokers’ job to move the pedals into position. You simply backpedal so that the pedal that is on the starting foot side of the captain and is positioned in front of the starting foot knee of the captain. Both feet of the captain will still be on the ground at this point.
What this will do is give maximum take-off power on the first stroke. Any other way of doing this will make a rough & shaky start.
Fourth: On Command
Earlier I mentioned communication is was a responsibility of the captain. This is where you will understand why. There are 4 commands that will be used. On, off, bump & shift.
With the pedals in their proper place, in front of the captains starting foot knee, the captain says “On” which means for the stoker to start pedaling. The stoker does not wait for the captain to pedal since you already have both feet on the pedal. The captain will be coming down on the pedal as well. This is what gives the tandem pair the initial push off.
Think about it, the captain is balancing the bike, he or she has one foot on the pedal and not on the saddle. Plus the captain is 100% responsible for getting both of the riders going. With the stoker starting the pedal and the captain leveling the bike off makes this the perfect tandem effort.
Now at the same time, the captain is pushing down on his pedal while raising up to get into the saddle. The first time may not be the smoothest start off but it will get better quickly. No need to think it is hard as it sounds.
It will most likely feel strange to the captain at first because there are two weights on the bike, steering may not feel the same as it would on a single rider bike. But like everything else, it gets easier the more you do it. Most importantly just keep pedaling.
Fifth: Off Command
Now the two are riding and in the groove of tandem riding. But what happens when you need to stop? This is where the captain if needing to slow down or stop says “Off” which means to stop pedaling to the stoker.
The captain sees everything in the front and the stoker has limited vision. So that is the only way the stoker will know to let up off the pedals. This is needed to keep the bike going safely and precisely. Rolling up on intersections is when these commands really come in handy.
Once at a stop the stoker has no need to take his or her foot off the pedals, come off the saddle or put their feet on the ground. It will make a better re-start plus the stoker is already in the original start position.
This command is exactly what it sounds like, a warning of a bump coming up. Because the stoker can’t see what is coming up, it will help them prepare themselves. You know how we brace ourselves when we are riding on a single bike when we ride up to pothole, manhole, railroad tracks or anything we feel might give us a rough moment.
Seventh: Shift Command
Because the captain is doing the shifting he or she has to remember the other person is pedaling also. When we shift gears on any bike we know not to hard pedal at the same time. We soft pedal. So the captain must let the stoker know when they are about to shift so they can lighten their pedal stroke.
This command will most likely be given when approaching a climb or when wanting to pick up speed. Without this command, the shifting may result in a rough gear change or a possibly dropped chain.
We definitely don’t want that in any case. So captains always remember there is a partner behind you that you must keep informed so your ship runs smoothly.
Eighth: Advanced Techniques (Standing Climb)
This is something that I would say could use some practice before you just jump right into doing it. Standing could give each rider some relief from sitting down all the way through the ride.
Standing will probably be a little more fatiguing for the captain because he has to steer & balance the bike while doing it. But it will really help the stoker who is in the sitting position even on stops.
How this works is the captain will gear up as to be climbing a hill. Then the captain counts off “One and Two and Up” Both riders stand up together and keep pedaling.
Practice will make this maneuver go smoothly over time. In fact, it will feel quite good accomplishing a smooth stand with your partner.
Where To Practice
Practicing will only make you better at being a tandem bike rider. After you have gotten in sequence together at riding & stopping, you might want to try practicing standing.
Find a nice flat surface on a straightaway with little or no traffic. Once you get a nice pace, gear up and stand up together. Do this from time to time and you will become quite good at it.
I guess you say finally, huh? Well if you are still reading this I want to thank you for your time and I hope that this did not make you leery of wanting to try tandem bike riding. It is actually not as bad as it sounds and is a great way to enjoy your spouse, kids, or best friend.
So don’t let all that was mentioned overwhelm you. It is much like riding a bike for the first time. Remember the thrill you had then? Well, imagine the high fives you and your tandem partner will
I hope you enjoyed this article and will make tandem bike riding one of your choices this summer. Remember if you decide to buy a tandem bike you can get it right here on this site at Ron’s Cycle Plus where the prices are always one of the lowest around.
Click here to go and have a look at some nice tandem bikes right now! There are other cycling needs as well.
Thank you for visiting and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Happy biking this summer. And remember to Keep On Pedaling!
I am not going to lie. This looks extremely difficult and like one of the skills you are extraordinarily proud of once its accomplished. I will have to convince my other half to give this a try?
Did you ride these growing up too?
No, I just rode the single rider bikes. The way it is explained does sound intimidating but it really isn’t that hard. For the most part, this is the way you want to know how to ride so that there is no mishaps or confusion while tandem riding. A long time ago they use to call these divorce machines. You can see how, if not done with teamwork, how this can cause a big argument. Plus it helps eliminate some safety issues. But as far as riding goes it isn’t that bad. If you can get your other half to try it you guys will see it is fun and you probably will get some laughs out of it as well. Good luck at getting her to try it. Thanks for visiting Andrew.
Nice article man. I’ve always thought to myself that the two riders on a tandem bike have got to be in sync for that to work. It’s cool to see your breakdown of everything. Very cool. I’ll be thinking of this article next time i see a tandem bike riding by! Lol
Thanks, Eric. At least now you will know what goes on in the saddle of the stretch limousine of a bike. It is teamwork beauty when you see one of these babies glide by. I hope it was enough to get you to try it one day. Thank you for stopping in.
I’ve always loved to bike but in a purely amateur way! I did not know much about how to tandem bike ride but it actually sounds like a lot of fun. Thank you for this very informative post! It’s got my interest now I’ll be sure to give it try!
It is okay to ride as an amateur. I am no professional myself. We would consider ourselves leisure bike riders and we love it. I think a lot of people probably have not had a chance to try tandem bike riding. It is another way to add some spice to your bike riding pleasure. If you do try it this year let us know if you enjoyed it or not okay? Thanks for visiting and much fun to you on your bike.
Wow I didn’t realize there was so much that goes into riding a tandem bike! I knew you would have to be in balance with one another but thats all I knew. I often wondered how you get going and you explained that well, and I imagine it would take some practice. So the back rider is in charge of speed while the captain has all the other responsibilities? I guess in a way that makes sense. I’ve never tried riding tandem but its never to late right! I think ill have to try it when I get the opportunity.
I think a lot of people thought you just get on and ride like you would any bike. After you have ridden with a partner for awhile it maybe feels that way because of the experience you have accumulated. The stoker (back rider) is the one who keeps the power train going but keep in mind they are not being overworked. They both work in sync with each other in powering the bike. The captain does have the most responsible job as you mentioned. You are not the only one who has never tried it there are many of people. I hope this article will remove some of the not knowing which will, in turn, get people to not be afraid to try it. Try it you might like it. Thanks for visiting Summerly.
Wow, thanks for this great article. I had no idea that the front rider was called the captain, while the rear rider is called the stoker. I would probably prefer being the stoker since I wouldn’t have to burn myself out by pedaling too fast, since you only need to provide a good amount of power to the engine, of course.
Thanks for the informative post 🙂
That is why I love sharing this information. I believe a lot of people at one time thought about trying tandem bike riding but never took the step towards doing it. I thought I put what goes on out there some people might go ahead and try it. I think it would be a great thing to do if you never tried it before. You ban try the captain and the stoker position. That’s the fun of it. Thanks for visiting and I hope you give it a try.
Thank you for sharing all of this helpful information about tandem bike riding! I didn’t know there was a strategy to it, which explains why I had a very clumsy experience the last time I rode. My friend and I rented a tandem bike in LA near the beach. We did not have any good communication strategies, so there was a lot of almost tipping over and near accidents. We laughed a lot, but next time I will be following your tandem bike user guide.
You are welcome, Audrey. This is a good example why I write these kinds of articles. If you two would have known the basics you probably would have went touring crazy and although you enjoyed yourselves it would have been that much better. I hope you guys don’t give up on it and try it again. Share this with her and the next time you guys will look like pros. Thanks for visiting.
I love to ride but always by myself. I would love to try tandem bike riding but I don’t have anyone to ride with. I try and get out and ride every day. Having a partner would be a lot more fun. I’m wondering if I join a bike club maybe I can hook up with someone to ride that way. These are great tips in detail for tandem riding. I’ll keep them for when I hook up with another rider.
Hi, Rob. You will run into someone who would love to try it with you. Joining a club is a great way to ad some adventure in your bike riding as well as companionship. You are like me. I use mine at least 5 days because I ride to and from work and I don’t feel right if I don’t. There are some places that offer tandem riding classes. maybe you can see if someone does it in your area to get you started. Good luck and thanks for visiting.
Gee, I thought that the stoker was the backseat driver. (Actually, I use the term ‘driver’ to refer to cyclists also because we, too, are operating vehicles.) Really, I’m about to embark on my first tandem experience. This post should help me.
I am glad it was helpful to you. Sounds like you are pumped and ready to go. I hope you have a great time.