Twin Spin

The Tandem Experience May Not Be What You'd Expect
By Ted Alan Stedman
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Tandem cyclists
Hitting the road as a twosome (Co-Motion Cycles Inc.)

The sum total of our time on a tandem bicycle had been two hours, just a gentle bike-path pedal aboard an ill-fitting, rickety rental of Circa 1970s vintage. Even though the metal steed seemed one rivet away from the scrap heap, the experience was enough to pique our interest. Heck, we were riding together for once—reason enough to check out this tandem business a little further.

As fairly seasoned cyclists, we own a quiver of bikes, from sub-20-pound road race models to gnarly full-suspension mountain bikes. But conspicuously absent from our stable was a tandem. In all fairness, we knew we had to put a little more tandeming oomph under our Lycra riding shorts before passing any judgment on these two-person riding contraptions. Turns out all we had to do was ask.

Tandem junkies, I learned, can be a zealous lot. Yet they're eager to welcome and even recruit "half cyclists"—as we solo riders are known—into their fold. After wandering into a local Denver tandem bike shop, without the slightest hesitation about our lack of two-up experience, we got ourselves invited to a tandem bike rally.

The next day my beloved and I were confronted with a new, high-tech tandem machine that seemed to stretch into two time zones. At first, we were a bit apprehensive swinging our legs over a bike with a 68-inch wheelbase. For a solo cyclist, that's like going from a sports car to a tractor-trailer. I'll confess that as cycling goes, it had been a while since I felt anything resembling humility. But on that day I figured my karma caught up with me, because I felt pure rookie.

Those insecurities didn't last long. The big surprise was how easily we flowed into tandeming. On our maiden voyage we rode midpack with 40 tandem teams during a spirited 42-mile ride along Colorado's Front Range near Larkspur. Our initial clumsiness at starts, shifting, slow-speed turns, and dismounts quickly faded once we learned the mantra of tandeming: cooperation and communication.

As my bigger physique dictates, I'm the designated front rider, or "captain." My girlfriend is the rear engine, the "stoker," who graciously accepts her pedaling position inches behind my behind. It's my job to control brakes, shifting, and piloting the 335-pound package, which includes an added sense of responsibility for the safety of my copilot. I call out things like "ready, launch" as we roll out, do a single powerstroke and simultaneously clip into our peddles. "Down shift," "up shift," and the occasional "pothole" become part of our tandem repertoire.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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