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Do you find riding a tandem easier or harder than your single?

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Do you find riding a tandem easier or harder than your single?

Old 08-15-22, 01:28 PM
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bblair
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Do you find riding a tandem easier or harder than your single?

I ride my single 4-5,000 miles a year. Tandem with the Mrs. about 500 a year, mostly flat and bike path.

30-40 flat tandem miles feels like 60 hilly single miles! We are not big folks, probably 250 pounds combined. Our tandem is old, but so are we.

Is it just me?
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Old 08-15-22, 02:18 PM
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It's not just you.

My spouse and I used to tandem a lot; me as captain and her as stoker. We did many centuries, tours, and fully loaded tours, but we have retired the tandem.

It was always my impression that as captain the drivetrain consumed a number watts of noticeable proportion. On top of that, there is a power differential between the two members. The stronger does more work. This is really significant on slow steep grinds, especially when one of the riders tires before the other.
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Old 08-15-22, 02:28 PM
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Both.

I found the tandem to be more work with my wife. The stoker couldn't spin & I had a hard time grinding. We met in the middle. Even at 80 rpm I was driving the bike & her & her legs. Her preferred cadence of 60 rpm was grueling & hard on components.

We would go faster if she took her feet off the pedals.

My son on the other hand...We'd hammer it & give the bike what for. Same work, but inspired to go faster harder. But it didn't feel harder because we were in sync.
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Old 08-15-22, 02:28 PM
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My observation based on nmt 40 miles as captain in situations with stops required at least once every 2 miles and with MUP portions is that it is more tiring due to having to think, coordinate and communicate a lot more. It is more tiring to ride our tandem with a stoker than to solo it.

Having said that, the tandem with a stoker is noticeably faster.
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Old 08-15-22, 03:20 PM
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ok, then not just me. I do enjoy that we do it together. Was thinking about a new tandem, since ours is 25 years old, but I'd hate to spend big bucks only to find we're still slow.
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Old 08-15-22, 03:22 PM
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There is something to be said for riding efficiently, but the weight and power of the team is a bigger factor.

First, a tandem is generally heavier than two light weight single road bikes combined. not always, but most people can't afford $12,000 carbon tandems that come in at 25 pounds.

Second, refer to many online discussions about watts per kilo in amateur and professional cycling. Greater W/Kilo = faster. More mass is harder to overcome when climbing because lighter riders can produce a proportionally higher W/Kilo when going uphill. This is why big riders at the tour can't win the overall yellow jersey. small riders can keep up on the flat stages, but big riders have no chance of keeping up in the mountains.

So, regarding tandem riding in hilly terrain, the captain and stoker can each produce a fixed wattage for a fixed period of time. Assuming that one-half of the riding pair has a higher power to weight ratio, the average of the two P/W ratios is somewhere in the middle, then add in the extra weight of the bike, and at a minimum you are riding at or near the lower P/W ratios.

So in the end you are not riding "harder" than you normally do. You can't. You are riding hard longer, thus taxing your limited VO2 max and glycogen availability.

We need much smaller gears to climb hills on the tandem than I need for my single. 34f x 42r on the tandem. 36f x 32r on my single. and I generally clear the same climbs 25 to 30% faster on my single with the same effort...

you can play around with the math here: Bike Calculator
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Old 08-15-22, 03:41 PM
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I find the tandem to be pretty equal to my single road bike in perceived power-to-speed (no power meter). Averaged across the season, about 20-21mph. That might be because my stoker is exclusively a tandem stoker (she has no single bike, and due to a stroke, has effectively no other cycling experience). The light weight of our tandem (25lb) likely helps a bit since it is certainly less than double the weight of my road bike. We are both light riders (I'm ~140, stoker ~120) and most of our riding is done on the tandem. I think one of the unique advantages of the tandem is that we read each other pretty well, and if one of us goes a bit too hard on some part of the ride and needs to let up and recover, the other will pick up the pace if we have anything left in the tank. We use this a lot on climbs as we both tend to push a bit too hard at some point.

I go out on my single road bike or Fixed gear TT bike about once every couple weeks and my road bike rides are about the same pace. I tend to pick slightly hillier routes for myself than she likes, but nothing drastically different. The TT bike is obviously faster, 22-23mph average, and I tend toward slightly flatter routes on that because it is a fixie (i.e. hills hurt!). I'd be faster on a geared TT bike, but the fixie part is fun. The tandem is slightly more demanding psychologically, a bit harder than the road bike on my shoulders/core for balancing, and harder on my sit-bones since we don't stand for climbs, but significantly easier on the upper body than the TT bike.
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Old 08-15-22, 05:05 PM
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I’m a bit faster on my single, but far prefer riding the tandem with my sweetie.
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Old 08-15-22, 09:36 PM
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The tandem is definitely harder uphill, and even more so the steeper it gets. But the tandem is also way faster downhill and even on the mildest downhill grade singles often have a hard time drafting behind us. I don't really ride harder uphill or downhill on the tandem - I ride pretty much as hard as I can on my single and my power output is not higher on the tandem!
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Old 08-16-22, 06:18 PM
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I checked out a couple of websites for new tandem, and holy crap, that is a lot of money. My current Trek T50, as I remember, weighs about 47 pounds, but I don't see that weight spec in any of the lit on the new bikes. Probably not worth it for 30 mile bike path rides.
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Old 08-16-22, 06:33 PM
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I spent 2 years looking for the just-right used tandem, found it. I find our tandem to require more muscular endurance than my single. I think this is due to crank inertial load. (look it up). Even on the flat, it takes a pedal stroke, which I associate with climbing on my single, to keep the bike moving. Hence I prefer to ride the tandem with my wife, simply because it's harder. Makes my single bike rides easier. I really only do indoor training, event rides, and event preparation rides on my single. Otherwise, we're on the tandem. I suspect this would be the case somewhat even if we both made the same watt/kg - we'd just be faster. As it is, we stay fit and have a good time.
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Old 08-17-22, 04:45 PM
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I also took a long time to find the just-right used tandem. We were riding a 40+ pound Burley for 10+ years, and spent a couple years looking for a new-to-us used tandem that was just right. Ended up getting a barely used Calfee (from Twocicle, who posts here a good bit) for about half of list-price. We then price shopped every component, mostly new, but a few lightly used and did a lot of price-to-weight tradeoffs to keep it within our budget ($7k total). Ended up working out perfectly. Still a lot of money, and a lot more than we've ever spent on a bike, but its going on 9 years with barely anything replaced except worn tires, worn chains, 1 worn saddle and 1 bar (for fit/comfort).

We love this bike, and while we are a bit faster than we were on the Burley, it's not drastic, and it's mostly due to fitness, not the machine. The Burley was almost the same amount of fun (other than me disliking the lever hood shape). You don't have to spend a fortune to have a wonderful and fast time, but niche bikes with niche parts do get expensive.
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Old 08-18-22, 07:18 AM
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OP you are a prime candidate for a used tandem - less expensive cost of entry to see if you'll like it.

Even with excellent fitness my wife cannot keep up with me on half-bikes. We pretty much exclusively ride the tandem now as it keeps us together on the road and we are overall quite a bit faster than riding 2 singles. Our Cannondale T1 weighs about 38lbs. Going uphill is a workout, everywhere else we fly. In groups we have to slow down so the group can keep up.
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Old 08-20-22, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Yamato72 View Post
OP you are a prime candidate for a used tandem - less expensive cost of entry to see if you'll like it.

Even with excellent fitness my wife cannot keep up with me on half-bikes. We pretty much exclusively ride the tandem now as it keeps us together on the road and we are overall quite a bit faster than riding 2 singles. Our Cannondale T1 weighs about 38lbs. Going uphill is a workout, everywhere else we fly. In groups we have to slow down so the group can keep up.
I already have a used tandem! A Trek T50, probably about 25 years old. I bought it to ride with my kids, using a conversion kit, crank shorteners, blocks...that sort of thing. They are now age 36 and 38, so maybe in a few years I can ride with grandkids.
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Old 08-20-22, 05:32 PM
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I got us a tandem in hopes it would equalize us. I thought that since my spouse has less strength and stamina, we would be able to go for longer rides. Well, it does equalize us, but not by increasing her time but by decreasing mine. Oh well, we still have fun. I think there are probably a few factors at play.

One is that I have good thighs and butt but lousy upper body strength. I'm now balancing for two. Our bike has butterfly (trekking) handlebars which helps compared with drop bars. I've been riding single bikes with drop bars all my life, but drop bars on a tandem are very hard for me.

Another is probably fit. I finally got a picture of us on the tandem, and I see the reach is too short and the bars are too high.

Another is that it's not a great bike. It's a 2002 Burley Zydeco, and it's about 50 pounds. We can't think of buying a new tandem for the time being, so it will have to do for now. There is work to do in order to get me to fit on it better.

And yes, I'm doing most of the work. Her legs have much less strength than mine do.

Also, I keep asking her what changes she would like me to make to the fit, but she's more of a dancer than a cyclist. She can't imagine different handlebars and what they would be like. I've made some changes, and she seems indifferent to them.


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Old 08-20-22, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I got us a tandem in hopes it would equalize us. I thought that since my spouse has less strength and stamina, we would be able to go for longer rides. Well, it does equalize us, but not by increasing her time but by decreasing mine. Oh well, we still have fun. I think there are probably a few factors at play.

One is that I have good thighs and butt but lousy upper body strength. I'm now balancing for two. Our bike has butterfly (trekking) handlebars which helps compared with drop bars. I've been riding single bikes with drop bars all my life, but drop bars on a tandem are very hard for me.

Another is probably fit. I finally got a picture of us on the tandem, and I see the reach is too short and the bars are too high.

Another is that it's not a great bike. It's a 2002 Burley Zydeco, and it's about 50 pounds. We can't think of buying a new tandem for the time being, so it will have to do for now. There is work to do in order to get me to fit on it better.

And yes, I'm doing most of the work. Her legs have much less strength than mine do.

Also, I keep asking her what changes she would like me to make to the fit, but she's more of a dancer than a cyclist. She can't imagine different handlebars and what they would be like. I've made some changes, and she seems indifferent to them
2002, so 9 or 10 speed, road derailleurs? Shift levers mounted on the bars somehow? Ebay a set of appropriate brifters? Drop bars will work fine, just maybe wider than on your road bikes. 20 pushups and a plank every morning, fix you right up. There's more cable drag on a tandem. When I started out with ours, I'd wear out my right hand shifting, but that went away with riding time. I only use the drops for descending, most of the time on the hoods.

Looks like a threaded headset? If so, get a threaded/threadless adapter, put on a long up-angled stem. You'll figure it out. For your wife, see if you can shorten her stoker stem. She's not a rider, so maybe she'd adapt more easily to bullhorns. See if it would be possible to get her hands right beside your hips, close, almost touching. No, she probably won't have any preferences yet, but she might develop some.

Like I mentioned up above, it will take time for your stroke and muscles to adapt to the tandem. I was riding centuries and more when we got ours. 20 miles wore me out. A few years later, when I was 69, we rode RAMROD on it. And my wife was not a dancer! It'll come. Our CoMotion weighs 36 stripped. We toured on it, 44# load, did some 60 mile days with hills. You might need a bigger cassette and different RD. Hope you have a triple. 9-speed XTR RDs work with both 9 and 10 speed brifters, often available on ebay.
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Old 08-20-22, 09:26 PM
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As always, @Carbonfiberboy, you have lots of useful and generous advice.

I upgraded the drivetrain. It was 3x7. I used a new rear hub, rear derailleur, and 11-speed cassette. The new trigger shifters are the nicest type of shifters I've ever used. Because of the narrow chain, I had to replace the front crankset with narrower chainrings. I'm quite happy with the drivetrain now.

I like your idea of changing the stem. I'll think about it. I'm thinking of putting flat MTB bars on.

Thank you again!
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Old 08-21-22, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
As always, @Carbonfiberboy, you have lots of useful and generous advice.

I upgraded the drivetrain. It was 3x7. I used a new rear hub, rear derailleur, and 11-speed cassette. The new trigger shifters are the nicest type of shifters I've ever used. Because of the narrow chain, I had to replace the front crankset with narrower chainrings. I'm quite happy with the drivetrain now.

I like your idea of changing the stem. I'll think about it. I'm thinking of putting flat MTB bars on.

Thank you again!
One other thing about the tired arms: it took me a while to realize that the object of steering a tandem is to have the average vector of advance to be in the approximately correct direction. IOW don't sweat the small deviations. Nothing to be done about that. Just get it headed about where you want. That means leaving somewhat larger safe borders around the bike than we do on our singles. Relax a little.
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Old 08-21-22, 09:57 AM
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Yup. I don't know if I usually ride it with locked elbows as seen in the picture. We were just playing around going up and down the road and taking pictures. That's why we're not wearing helmets which we usually do wear. I have discovered the thing you're describing. It's like steering a bus. Also, shifting is like driving a tractor trailer: I shift more frequently, and I go from top gear to bottom gear and back more often than on a single bike. 33 gears sounds crazy until you have a tandem.
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Old 08-23-22, 02:39 AM
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With the tandem I'm slower but happier. Rolling resistance much higher(rises proportionally with weigth). Steep climbs are hard although traction is higher on tandem. (rolling resistance and and her wats per kg are low). Steering a tandem offroad needs more power of my arms. More complete sport. The E-tandem with rear suspension made it possible to do long offroad rides together. (3500 to 4000 km/year). on a tandem every ride is different compared to the solobike. After 2 years automatismes are coming. Before tandem riding took a lot more concentration and thinking for both of us. The thinking took away some of the pleasure. We stll learn every ride. It took me some time to realize tandeming offroad is forget about everything you learned riding solo. The weight distribution is completly different and the higher suspended weigth makes the suspenion work far better.
It takens confidence (but also experience) to let the tandem go in the downhills. I'm still far away from the possible limits. If the rear breaks out she goes down. On a solo bike a quick weightshift corrects that. With a tandem I just hurt my back. Corrections of the front wheel are easier. So the tyre with the most side traction and grip is on the rear. On solo bike the other way around.
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Old 08-23-22, 08:00 AM
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+1 on bars being wider than on a single. More leverage is certainly helpful when you are new to tandems. Sometimes people push MTB bars, but I think it’s just that the average MTB bar is wider than the average drop bar. Wider drop bars are available out to 47-48 cm if that’s the shape you prefer, you’ll just have to deliberately go get them— most of us don’t have that width in the spare parts pile.

Another thought is to have shifters you can operate without moving your hands, either brifters for drop bars or trigger shifters for MTB. That can help you ride a straighter line when shifting.
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Old 08-23-22, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Also, I keep asking her what changes she would like me to make to the fit, but she's more of a dancer than a cyclist. She can't imagine different handlebars and what they would be like. I've made some changes, and she seems indifferent to them.
The changes we found helped for stoker comfort with our Burley tandem were:
  • Clipless pedals even though she does not like them on a single bike. Made the connection between us nearly effortless for coasting, pausing to stand, and bracing for large bumps. Also prevents her feet from flying off the pedals on shifts so I don't have to call out every single shift any more.
  • Quality adjustable seatpost like Kinekt. Being able to dial it in to avoid bouncing too much but still soaking up pavement cracks made a big difference.
  • In our case a wider more swept back stoker bar helped her comfort at the cost of being harder to get in and out of doors.
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Old 08-24-22, 03:10 PM
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We ride the tandem 9 time out of 10 rides. Much faster on the tandem.
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Old 09-01-22, 08:04 AM
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Well, soon after replying here on August 20, my spouse and I took a ride on our tandem for the first time all year. We have both been riding a lot less this year unfortunately. It was hard, especially for me. I put the bike in a too-low gear to start out, and we started in our usual spot which points us uphill. But my first stroke was not good enough to build momentum, and we nearly fell. I was willing to try again, but she wasn't, and I can't blame her, so I took the bike up to the nearby small summit, and we started there. Our ride was only 4.7 miles (7.5 km), and it was enough. She said she would not have wanted to go farther. I wouldn't have minded going farther, but I was also content that we went that far. Overall, we did enjoy ourselves.

https://ridewithgps.com/trips/101023630





I wish it were easy to put higher top gears on the bike. But I bet she is glad it's not.
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Last edited by noglider; 09-01-22 at 08:08 AM.
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Old 09-01-22, 08:27 AM
  #25  
Carbonfiberboy 
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Well, soon after replying here on August 20, my spouse and I took a ride on our tandem for the first time all year. We have both been riding a lot less this year unfortunately. It was hard, especially for me. I put the bike in a too-low gear to start out, and we started in our usual spot which points us uphill. But my first stroke was not good enough to build momentum, and we nearly fell.<snip>
"Proper method" has the stoker clipped in or at least feet on pedals before the start. Both riders push down on the starting pedal at the same time. It's possible for the captain to mess up the start, either by being in the wrong gear or missing the clip with the other pedal, in fact that happens a lot. We ride lots and it still happens from time to time. One of the wonderful things about having a stoker is that when captain screws up the start, stoker just pedals hard so the bike keeps moving until captain gets it together. Thus it's actually easier to start on a hill on a tandem then it is on a single.

Due to a bad accident, my wife can't ride outside except on the tandem. So we both have trainers permanently set up so that they face each other. We just put our single bikes on them and ride inside when we can't or don't want to ride outside. We're still riding together, just not on the same bike. We turn rock music way up. It's not the most fun in the world, but it's way better than the alternative, which is not doing it.
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