If you have good bike handling skills and sound judgment, you can become a competent tandem captain. You are creating a team and trust.
If you are a risk-taker or a dare-devil on the bike, please don’t captain a tandem. Someone else’s life depends on you. Being a captain is great fun, but it is also a great responsibility.
The ideal learning progression for new captains:
- Find an experienced tandem team from which to learn and observe
- Ride as a stoker with an experienced captain
- Captain the tandem solo
- Captain the tandem with an experienced, patient, and forgiving stoker
- Captain the tandem with your stoker and ride with an experienced team
- Pick up the tandem from the storage facility
- Ensure the tool kit, hand pump, and spare tube are with the bike
- Pump the tires to the upper pressure limit as recommended on the tire. Proper tire pressure is very important to properly support the weight of the tandem.
- Ride the tandem to the starting point to meet with your stoker. Arrive about 15 minutes early to make the necessary adjustments to the bike (e.g., saddle height to fit stoker)
- On the way to the starting point, note any mechanical problems with the bike and record these in the log that accompanies the tandem
- When you meet your stoker at the starting point, be sure to verbally announce your arrival to those present
- At the end of the ride, complete the activity log (e.g., distance travelled, duration of trip, captain and stoker names) accompanying each bike. We need to record this information for fundraising purposes
- Be in complete control of the bike. This includes balancing, steering, shifting, and braking.
- Ride to the comfort level of your stoker. Remember the stoker doesn't have any control over the bike
- Ride conservatively. Be steady and predictable. Tandem teams need time and miles to develop cycling skills and, most importantly, trust in one another. This only comes by having safe, enjoyable rides together
- Obey the Highway Traffic Act. Come to complete stops at stop signs and red traffic lights. Don’t race to catch traffic lights or roll through stop signs
- A valid driver's license is required
- Regardless of the physical ability of you or your stoker, there must be some push for the stoker to contribute to the momentum of the bike. Captains should not do all the work. This is a team effort
- Ask your stoker he/she would like your assistance when you are both off the tandem
Communication - The Captains Biggest Responsibility
The crucial element to successful tandem cycling is communication. In the beginning, you and your stoker will need to talk often so you know what each other is doing. As the shared miles increase, verbal communication may lessen as you learn each other’s styles and habits. It is like dancing.
- Countdown 3-2-1 to announce a start, stop or a sharp turn.
- Describe the distance to a climb or a hill.
- Call out the % of the climb left or the % of the climb accomplished.
- Call out speed bumps, railroad tracks, road fractures, etc… that may require your stoker to rise off the saddle and un-weight the back wheel. You want your stoker to be comfortable, so help him/her to prepare for jolts and bounces.
- Be honest with your stoker about distances, traffic conditions, length of climbs, etc..
- Ask your stoker what information and detail he/she would like to know about the ride, ex. scenery.
- If your stoker does something that upsets the bike, like steering the bike when grabbing a bottle or being unpredictable in a curve, do not be afraid to discuss it. Treat a stoker with a visual impairment as you would any other cyclist.
- Tell a stoker before you shift. If downshifting without warning, a new stoker could slip off the pedals or lose balance.
- When up shifting, you both need to soft pedal (ease up on the pedal pressure). This reduces the wear on the chains and derailleurs.
- Downshift in advance (especially with the front chain-rings) of climbing hills. Hills have a greater effect on a tandem than they do on a single bike. With tandems, you can’t make quick changes in speed or gears when pedalling uphill. Also, due to their mass, tandems require more gear shifting than singles.
- Downshift in advance of stopping. This will make starting again easier.
Cornering, Turns and Navigation
When approaching turns, let your stoker know. The stoker must signal all turns. The stoker’s signals alert cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists of your intentions. This is a good safety practice.
Starting & Stopping
For mounting and dismounting the bike, both the captain and stoker should approach the bike from the same side (both on left side or right side of the tandem). The captain steps over the top tube and straddles the bike, with a wide stance and the brakes engaged. This allows clearance of the rotating pedals while your stoker gets on. The most common starting method is for the stoker to get on the saddle and attach both feet to the pedals. The stoker sets the pedals in the starting position with the left pedal at about the ten o'clock position. Then, with left foot on a pedal and the right foot on the ground, you say, “Ready”. The stoker replies, “Ready” and you count down 3-2-1 go . The stoker pushes down hard on the up pedal, while the captain (also pushing down on the left pedal) settles into the saddle while the tandem is moving.
When stopping, announce the stop in advance. The stoker keeps both feet on the pedals while the captain places one foot, then the other on the ground in a wide stance. Before you ride, decide on your start/stop procedure and the verbal cues. Prior to riding in traffic, practice until it’s smooth.
Naturally, experienced teams will develop their own systems and routines for starting and stopping. Some captains may have their stokers stay on the pedals at all times. Other teams may always unclip.
Before coasting, whichever rider wishes to initiate a coast, they must say “Coasting” before reducing their cadence to transition into not pedaling. Please do not stop pedaling abruptly.
Getting Off The Bike
- Let your stoker know when you have the tandem steadied (you are in a wide stance with both feet on the ground and brakes are engaged) and ready for dismounting.
- Stokers always get off the bike first and should stand, holding onto the stoker's saddle. Stokers should keep towards the rear of the bike.
- As you dismount, step over the top tube of the bike instead of swinging your leg over your seat (as you would do on a single bike). This prevents the stoker from being hit by your leg and keeps you from getting caught in the stoker's handlebars.
Caution - this should only be done by a very experienced tandem team. Please stay seated on hill climbs.
It is very IMPORTANT that captains and stokers read both tutorials to fully understand the team approach to riding a tandem.
- Arrive at the starting point about 15 minutes before the start time. This allows time to adjust the bike
- The stoker is an important part of the tandem bike’s engine. He/she should give a steady output of power, with some held in reserve for when bursts of speed and power are needed.
- A stoker needs to be smooth and predictable in the saddle while pedaling. At first, this takes more deliberate focus and concentration. Always announce to the captain any intention to shift your position.
- Never attempt movement or conversation while the captain is handling the bike in heavy traffic or tight spaces.
- Especially in the beginning of the partnership, it's best to stop the tandem before reaching for water bottles.
- Frequently, change your hand position on the bars throughout the ride. Since you won’t be shifting or braking, the tendency is to forget to move your hands around. This may result in sore elbows and shoulders, and numb fingers.
- Also, keep your elbows slightly bent. This will absorb road vibrations and help the bike go in the intended direction.
Keep your body in line with the bicycle’s centerline. Lean with the bike as you go through corners, keeping your shoulders parallel with your handlebars.
To save energy, ask your captain to call out for more or less power. There will be plenty of appropriate times to open up the throttle.
When dismounting, you get off the bike first. Then, stand holding onto the saddle.
If your captain does something that you don’t like, be sure to speak with him/her personally. Being nervous and scared during a ride is not fun.
Tandem cycling is built on trust. If you don’t feel that your captain is the right person for you, communicate this to the coordinators. At the same time, remember that captains aren’t perfect and mistakes do happen.
People who are overly critical will lose partners.
- properly fitted cycling helmet (this is your most important piece of cycling gear)
- athletic shoes - shoe laces must be tucked in
- bottle of water
- comfortable work out clothing - track pants, shorts (for hot weather), light top, rain gear - avoid loose clothing on your legs.
- cell phone, if you have one
- ALL stokers must wear a club provided safety vest