Tuesday, June 11, 2013

More Thoughts on Tandem Riding

I hoped that I'd get over my tandem fever by now, but instead I have only grown more curious. So when local tandemnist Matt O'Keefe offered to take me on an early morning ride, I was there with bells on. Matt and his wife Susi have been riding tandem for years. They have one for the city and one for sport, both of which Matt - production manager at Seven Cycles, and welder at Merlin prior to that - built himself.

A former mountain bike racer, Matt's attitude to cycling is "the less pavement, the better." When we set off, he suggested we do an unpaved loop instead of going on the road. I had no objections.

I was actually very interested in the logistics of how a tandem would work where we were going. The thing about dirt roads in the Boston suburbs, is that they are more like trails: For the most part not technical, but quite narrow - at times claustrophobically so, with a path through the woods just wide enough to fit a single bike. They can also be twisty. I was curious how a tandem could be wrangled around corners through some of the trickier spots.

But neither the tight turns along the narrow parts of the path nor the sharply zig-zagging boardwalks across bogs were a problem: Matt steered the long machine with precision through gravel, dirt, mud and sand, over ruts and ditches, and around tight corners. Tandems really can go anywhere! The experience from the stoker's seat was fantastic. All I had to do was pedal, and the huge bike did all this cool stuff under Matt's captaining.

In this vein, I keep mulling over the idea that tandems are a great way to expose cyclists to styles of riding they are not yet comfortable with on their own. They could be a tool not only for couples and friends of disparate abilities, but also for cycling clubs and various organised events. For instance, I can imagine a club event where experienced tandem captains offer stoker spots for tours through gorgeous but tricky terrain. Or a tandem race, with stoker positions open to cyclists who would not race on their own. Just a thought, but it could be great fun... Then again, it could turn out like this. Either way, I am in!

36 comments:

  1. That is an awesome idea and I hope you bring it up with RSC. If anyone can pull this off it's them!

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  2. Wasn't there a tandem cyclocross race in Portland last year?

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    1. I think that's where the picture I linked to in the end is from. Will have to ask "Lady Fleur" - she's mentioned racing CX on a tandem before.

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    2. I've never seen a bona fide tandem cyclocross race yet, but tandems join in on the Surf City costume race in Santa Cruz, California every year. The costume race is just a single lap of the regular race course that's not taken seriously at all.

      I've seen tandem riders dressed as the front and back ends of a horse, a cow and cowgirl and more. I "raced" it once with a friend. With minimal preparation we were able to complete the full course with proper dismounts/remounts. Here we are running the barriers. http://youtu.be/jtk_LaAhkNw

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  3. I'm fascinated but pretty sure a tandem would be a divorce machine for The Little Woman and me.

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    1. Wherever your relationship is headed, a tandem will get it there faster.

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  4. On the one hand it is experiential and gives you something to shoot for: handling, speed, line. Thrillsvilles.

    OTOH it can make for am amusement park experience.

    Got my first ride on a long tail recently. It was fine but it ain't riding.

    I see the stoker position akin to a stationary bike...that happens to be going through scenery.

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    1. Not a fan of being carted around on the back of a bike, be it longtail or Dutch. Too passive, and not that comfortable even if there is a cushion on the rack.

      Stoker position not quite like stationary bike (which I don't like either). Must be because the balancing, leaning and all that, in conjunction with the moving scenery and pedaling makes stoking feel more active.

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    2. My wife and I toured the country on a motorcycle for ten weeks, taking turns driving and being a passenger. We agreed driving was more fun. When we bicycled across the country we opted for our own bikes over a tandem. Makes sense.

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    3. V well yeah it's nothing like a stationary bike but it's very far removed from what you can do on a single bike. You'll find out as you get better.

      Yeah i can see you mixing it up à la fix pix Jr.

      Two moto touring, OTOH, can be a handful.

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  5. Er, I'd be terrified in the back, I was terrified as the stoker, but a great idea for those who are not neurotic or terrified. And I agree about a tandem being a divorce machine! Sadly my husband and I would kill each other unless I was the captain and he'd be all grumpy because we'd be going at my pace instead of his.

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  6. Any chance of sharing the route? That sounds interesting to me.

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    1. Oh just the usual suspects - Reformatory Branch Trail + Battle Road Trail. Both have got some spots where I did not think a tandem could fit, but voila - it does!

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    2. People always look at long bikes and think they're large. They are. Front to back.

      Sometimes you have to go off the main line to squeeze through, but I can go pretty much anywhere others can. Limiting factors are handlebar width and tightness of turn.

      The rear follows the front. Mostly.

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  7. Stoking would, potentially, be great for folks with certain handicaps otherwise unable to 'captain' a bike.

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  8. I've heard of organizations that use tandems to provide visually impaired folk the opportunity to ride.

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    1. An acquaintance used to ride with his sighted friend, who became blind. Now he rides with him as the stoker. They are a group of guys who take turns captaining.

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    2. Some organizations are doing that in France too.
      An acquaintance who volunteers there had some members coming to his wedding. Seeing the newly weds, the family and visually impaired people alike leave to the party on bicycles and tandems was a great sight.

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  9. The best tandem experiences are those where the sum is more than the parts. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris with a friend from Canada, the tandem climbed faster than either of us would on singles, and of course, it also rolled faster on the flats and on descents. It was a magical feeling.

    There have been some other, similarly amazing rides in long brevets and cross-state races. However, they also showed that it's possible to get so exhilarated by the easy speed that one of the partners becomes completely exhausted, unable to finish the ride. In that respect, tandeming can be living on the edge...

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  10. Ah, tandem tour guides! A new tourist market:)

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  11. I often wonder which things alienate potential bicycle riders and which things encourage riding. Mostly, I think, riding as sport discourages, whether on tandems or on single bikes. I just want people to discover how empowering bicycling can be as a life long experience.

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    1. I think the problem is the muddling of categories rather than cycling as a sport in of itself. Bicycle riding is not one thing, just like moving around on foot is not one thing. Jogging is not better or worse than going for a walk, but it's a very different activity. So we usually specify which we have in mind when inviting a friend along. With bicycling, a cyclist can say "join me for a ride?" and they can mean anything from a 1 mile meander along the MUP to a paceline ride.

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    2. I just want folks to discover that sitting on a bike and pedaling can open one to new and cool experiences, suited to their personalities and interests. I hate categories....'transportation,' 'road,' 'off-road,' ... whatever, those seem apropos to marketers and a different economy, they close more doors than they open. 'Growing' a sport or activity seems tricky.

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    3. I disagree with the way you are framing the issue, but it's a topic bigger than the comment section here. Appreciate you sharing your opinion.

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  12. For the most amazing off-road tandem skills, check out the video below from the Tandem Freeride Invitational in Pacifica, CA. It was a small stage race with categories like trackstands, switchbacks, downhill and jumps. All on terrain that would challenge many solo riders.

    I know about half the riders personally and they continue to amaze me. Some of the couples are still together too!

    http://youtu.be/wmKkDLRn81A

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    1. We have a road tandem now, but I would absolutely love to have a dual-sus Ventana. Stoker so far hasn't bought into the concept though. Give me time...

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  13. I am thinking a semi-recumbent tandem (Circe Morpheus, Hase Pino)is the best of both worlds, and great with a much weaker partner, such as a child. Too bad most are so spendy...

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    1. Think about the design and how you might keep the rider in the front up if you were to ever have a front tire blowout.

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  14. i really enjoy looking at all the tandems on CGOAB....pick your brand!

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=1&page_id=266102&v=Wf#bottom

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  15. I rode stoker on a tandem exactly once and couldn't get the hang of not doing the stuff that I normally do when riding my own bike--deciding where I'm going, anticipating, leaning--and I drove the captain crazy. I once heard the comment that wherever your relationship is going, it'll get there faster on a tandem. :-)

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  16. The best bit about tandem riding is that two people of disparate abilities can ride together and converse. For my stoker and me that's brilliant!

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  17. Looking forward to your tandem race report!
    Kath

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    1. Well, our cycling club seems into the idea. We'll see :)

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  18. Thanks to CeeBeech and Andy Scherer for mentioning the vital role of tandems for the visually impaired. Years ago I belonged to a Washington state club that had a tandem program for the visually impaired. I hadn't thought about it in years. Then my visually impaired canoeing partner asked if I wanted to ride HIS tandem with him. Yes, he is always the stoker, but he owns his own tandem. All he has to do is recruit someone like me with tandem experience to captain. Years ago a blind consultant to a sheltered workshop taught us the lesson; she asked if we had any idea how hard it is for the blind to get good exercise?

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  19. We love riding Tandem. It has never been a problem. except when we had a front wheel blowout and have the tire come off the rim at 38 mph on pavement about 120 miles from home. We have ridden on some of the roughest roads in New England, as well as Spain, France and the UK. If its too tough, we walk.
    This next fall we will be riding mostly off road om the Via Francegina from Lusasne Switzerland to Rome. We may survive.

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