Seaside Tandem

Over the weekend we wanted to take our bikes to Cape Cod and cycle on the Rail Trail. Unfortunately, our lighter bikes are at the shop and the Pashleys are too heavy for the car's rear rack. Browsing the rail trail brochure, I noticed an advertisement for tandem rentals. Tandems! Within seconds, I was making a reservation.

Our tandem was a modern Fuji mountain-road hybrid, with an aluminum frame and carbon fork. With our mismatched beach attire and sunscreen-streaked faces (it was a hot day) we didn't exactly look glamorous, but it was quite an experience!

Tandem bicycles look charming and fun, which makes them seem easy to ride. I assure you that they are not! Despite Sheldon Brown's detailed description, we did not expect it to be so challenging. The tandemists must learn to coordinate their pedaling and coasting patterns, pedaling cadence, and even their body movements, so as not to disbalance the bicycle by leaning in different directions. This takes some time! Steering, shifting gears, and turning corners require considerable skill.

The person at the front of a tandem is called the Captain, and the person in the back is the Stoker. The job of the Captain is to steer and balance the bicycle, and to control the gearing. The job of the Stoker is to provide extra leg-power on the pedals and maintain the balance. If you are the Stoker, the Captain's back will be your view (inches from your face), unless you turn to the side!

The Co-Habitant was a natural captain and could even ride the tandem stretched out from the rear pedals.

I could not, but I was a good Stoker!

One of the benefits of a tandem, is that it can go very fast. Once we got the hang of operating the bicycle, we were flying on that thing, grinning with delight and leaving other cyclists in the dust. Overall, I prefer to ride an individual bicycle, simply because I like the control and independence. But on occasion, a tandem would be so much fun. It's a tandem!


  1. Thank looks like so much fun. I'd love to rent a tandem sometime for the dh and myself.

  2. Pretty country you rode the tandem through, and what fun!

  3. I know I would not like the loss of control that comes with being a stoker. That said, the trail you chose is ideal for a tandem - no hills. You fly on the flats, and you fly down hills, but apparently going up hills on a tandem is no fun at all.

  4. aw, fun! my husband & i have a 'renovated' vintage Schwinn town & country tandem & riding it is pretty much my favorite thing ever...

  5. Sounds fun. It was so hot (still is) we
    took a
    bike ride yesterday and I was a
    sad sweaty mess. Tuber was dissappointed that
    I was so slow. I could not keep up with B on hybrid with the girl on trail a
    bike helping him out. Tuber+ xtra+ townie= painfully slow!

    And again we were so close yet passing ships!

  6. I have to admit that tandem riding DOES look fun.

  7. This looks really fun. I really would love to add a tandem to our bike family.

  8. The biggest surprise with the tandem was how it handles turns. The body (and the rear) continues to go straight and feels as if it's going sideways while the front turns as a regular bicycle. It's not quite like a car towing a long trailer. The sensation is that the bicycle is "crabbing," like an airliner on a windy landing approach. This sensation remains until you thoroughly understand how to balance and steer a tandem.

  9. Tandeming is so cool. I love it. I actually wish I would own one myself, because renting is quite expensive. But then again I have nowhere to put it.

  10. Anna, the tandem cost only $20 (14eur at the moment) to rent for a half day. Same as the price of going to the movies for two people, but more fun. They also have discounts for longer rentals ($100 for a week) for those who are staying on holiday. It wouldn't make sense for us to buy such a bicycle, since we would not be riding it often.

    Charlotte, there are a couple of mildly hilly patches, and I know what you mean. Getting started on a hill is especially challenging.

  11. Fun! Several people have said the my husband and I should buy a tandem, but your description of the difficulties makes me more sure that we would end up squabbling :)

  12. We have been keeping an eye out for a tandem but haven't found "the one" yet. I think we would have a blast but then again, might end up squabbling also. It sometimes happens when we're on our own bikes. :)

  13. Folks:

    Riding a Tandem is fun and cool! You really should try it somewhere if you haven’t because if you like it, tandems will give you a really great new way to enjoy bicycling and if you don’t like riding a tandem then you can just sit back and fully appreciate the god-like powers that those of us who do ride tandems must surely have.

    The key feature of tandem riding is communication. Couples that talk a lot simply seem to do better. There is an old saying that a tandem bicycle won’t make or break a relationship but it will get the couple to wherever it’s naturally going much faster.

    As for the “control” issue – I always let my back-seater take the tandem out by themselves just to see what the bicycle is like. Remember, steering a tandem is MUCH more work than steering a regular bicycle. It’s harder physically, it involves a lot more thinking ahead and there is more at stake. I have tried to swap places with various back seaters but after a little experience, not one of them has ever wanted to take me up on the offer for any length of time. I find it ironic that people who regularly share car driving duties with someone suddenly get all antsy about losing “control” on a bicycle. Just remember – the control issue and trust goes both ways: a back-seater who is worried about control tends to become a second-guessing and wiggling annoyance.

    If you’re ever blessed enough to sit on the front of a tandem, you have to remember that the person on back has placed an enormous trust in you. If you are blessed enough to be on the back of a tandem you need to just chill out, stop trying to steer and enjoy the scenery.

    All the Best,


  14. The way I see it, riding on a tandem is like playing a team sport: Not everyone on a team can have the same role. There can only be one captain, one goalie, and so on. Your role is determined by your ability, size, experience, etc. In our case, it was the logical choice to make the Co-Habitant captain and me stoker, because he is considerably larger and more skilled. Once our roles were determined, we developed a plan for how to best execute them. We came up with a set of commands and keywords that would indicate the pedaling/coasting intervals, starts, stops, turns, bumps in the road, fatigue, a desire to switch gears, etc. It was great fun and we were very efficient (going really fast!). We didn't squabble once, because our roles were a voluntary decision, and we agreed ahead of time on how we were going to behave.

    Having said all this, tandem cycling is different from regular cycling, precisely because it becomes a team sport - while solitary cycling is all about individual independence. Once in a while, I might be in the mood for a team sport, but generally what I like about cycling is precisely the independence of movement it gives me.

  15. Great article, I really enjoyed it. I rode part of the trail in Summer 2010, during a really hot spell, so enjoyable.
    Me & the wife hired bikes (couldn't bring em from UK, pilot on plane wouldn't let us!) I can still hear peoples voices saying "passing on your left", and on rare occasions we passed others, calling out in English accents made us laugh at the surprise on some peeps.
    Will come back and do a tandem ride one day.
    Mark Fitz


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