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The Basics of Tandem Cycling

By Bekki Richardson

26th June 2017

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Cycling comes in many forms. From road to trail, there are characteristics that make every aspect of the sport unique. Tandem cycling however, is a little more complicated. We look into what makes this form of cycling different, and provide some handy tips for beginners.

A Brief History of Tandem Bicycles

During the late 19th century the very first tandem bicycles were manufactured. Initially they were used primarily for ‘courting’ purposes due to the fact that in comparison to regular bicycles, they allowed for consistent conversation. As a result many young men and women saw a scenic trip on a tandem bicycle as the perfect date. What could possibly be better than taking a leisurely cycle with a potential partner?

The use of tandem bicycles has evolved significantly since then and tandems are no longer ridden solely for dating. From offering an enjoyable alternative to the tedious exercise bike at the gym, to being used in competitive cycling events, people now ride tandems for a multitude of reasons. For some it’s to reap the health benefits, whilst for others the appeal is the teamwork element of tandem riding.

The Jargon of Tandem Cycling

As with most things, the jargon associated with tandem cycling can be difficult to comprehend at first. Who’d have thought a two seated bicycle could be so complex? Fear not though. It is not as complicated as it initially seems.

Pilot/ Captain/ Steersman: These terms are used synonymously to refer to the rider at the front of the bike. The role of this participant includes steering, changing gears and braking.

Stoker: This is the person who sits at the rear of the bike. They must lean with the bike during bends to ensure that the tandem is not thrown off balance.

Timing chain/ Sync Chain: This synchronises movement between the pilot and the stoker.

Tips for Beginners

Contrary to popular belief, learning the basics of tandem cycling is not an overly difficult task. With good practise and teamwork anyone can master the art of riding a dual participant bike.

First time tandem riders should find a quiet, flat area to learn the ropes, with a particular focus on safely starting and stopping the bicycle. It may be worth the pilot riding the tandem alone for a while to get a good feel for the mechanics of the bike before introducing the stoker

Because one of the major parts of tandem cycling is cooperation, simple commands should be established between the two riders. For example, a command for changing gears should be agreed on as well as one for slowing down. This will ensure that both riders feel in complete control of the bike.

Above all else riders should be prepared to face challenges when riding their tandem. Experienced riders often state that one of the greatest things about the activity is that it is a constant learning curve. With every ride new obstacles are met which means that participants are always increasing their cycling ability whilst simultaneously developing their cooperation skills.

Benefits of Tandem Cycling

The physical benefits of tandem cycling are numerous. Developing core strength, improving cardiovascular fitness and strengthening the leg muscles are just some of the health benefits. Furthermore, because tandem cycling often involves travelling through picturesque environments whilst having friendly conversations with the other rider, it doesn’t even feel like exercise for the majority of time.  The cooperation aspect is also one of the largest appeals for many. Tandem cycling is very much a team sport and requires the two riders to work together effectively to produce the best result. If two riders cooperate successfully, they will be able to travel up to 50% faster than a solo bicycle would be able to on the same gradient and terrain. Speed is not everything though and tandems provide the ideal opportunity for unconfident riders to participate in cycling with the peace of mind that they are not completely on their own.

Another benefit of tandems is that the novelty element is a great conversation starter. Going out on regular tandem rides is certainly something to mention in the staffroom at work to get the conversation flowing. Regular bikes are yesterday’s news! The wide range of stylish tandems which we have on offer, including our Adventure Series, Classic Touring Series and Mountain series, means that nobody has an excuse to not get involved in this new phenomenon.