The Rightness and Randomness of Tandemness

'Tis the season, and all that.

I am quite a Valentine's Day scrooge (I just barely bought my kids valentine's to pass out at school, much to their consternation). 


But, in honor of the impending holiday, here are a few things you may not know about riding a tandem bike:

[David just walked by and read this line and said, "What impending holiday is coming up?"

Um, Valentine's day?  That sounds about right.  We celebrate pancakes and spilt milk at our house, but Valentine's day...hmmm, not so much.]

Okay, back to the "bicycle built for two":

A tandem allows two cyclists of differing strength and ability to ride together, pleasurably.

The front rider is commonly known as the "captain."  The captain has two major responsibilities:

1.  To control the bike, including balancing it whether stopped or in motion, as well as steering, shifting, braking.

2.  To keep the stoker happy! A tandem isn't a tandem without a stoker. The captain must earn the stoker's confidence, must stop when the stoker wants to stop, must slow down when the stoker wants to slow down.

Since the stoker cannot see the road directly ahead, the captain has a special responsibility for warning of bumps in the road, so that the stoker can brace for them.  When a couple fails to make it as a tandem team, it is almost always due to either the stoker being scared as a result of an incompetent/inconsiderate captain, or due to saddle soreness.

The rear rider is commonly known as the "stoker."  The rear rider is not a "passenger", but is an equal participant. The stoker has two main responsibilities:

1.  The stoker serves mainly as a motor.

2.  The stoker's other major responsibility is a negative one: The stoker must not attempt to steer! Unpredictable weight shifts on the part of the stoker can make the captain's job much harder, and can lead to crashes, in extreme cases.   When the stoker needs to shift position on the saddle, or adjust a toe strap, or take a drink, it is vital that they do so without disturbing the equilibrium of the bicycle. These activities should not be attempted at all while the captain is dealing with tricky traffic situations or narrow spaces.

The stoker can also do a bit of back rubbing now and then, as well as taking photographs, singing encouraging songs, reading maps, etc.

The team becomes more than the sum of its parts.  An experienced tandem team develops a very special level of non-verbal communication, via subtle weight shifts, variations in pedal force, and general empathy. After a few hundred miles together, you will find yourself coasting at the same time, shifting without the need for discussion, and maneuvering smoothly even at slow speeds.  This is not just a matter of each rider acquiring captaining/stoking skills; when two equally experienced teams switch stokers, something is lost, and this special communication doesn't really is unique to each couple.

Now this is real romance to me.  A few hundred [thousand] miles in the saddle together, and still pedalling for each other, with each other, because of each other.