The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

RAGBRAI on a tandem – Questions

My husband and I rode RAGBRAI in 2011 and 2012. This year we celebrated our 20-year wedding anniversary, and I surprised him with a Co-Motion Periscope Torpedo tandem bike. She is a beauty!

We plan to ride RAGBRAI this year on the tandem. We probably won’t be able to get a group ride in on the tandem before RAGBRAI. We can’t turn quite as tight, can’t ride quite as slowly when the crowd calls for extra slow speeds, go downhill much more quickly, and can’t stop quite as fast as a single bike. Would love advice on how to have the best time and ride safely from any experienced tandem riders out there.

So excited for this year’s ride! Can’t wait! Thanks in advance for any tips.

9 Replies

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Sandaltan, April 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Been there done that in 2006. We rode every day and every mile except for that nasty little hill out of Colfax aka “Mount Colfax”. That little hill got too crowded and I could hear chains coming off chainrings and I could see bikes weaving back and forth with people bailing out in the middle of the road. We bailed out. Just stay to the right when things slow down if you are not a super strong team and you will be fine. Congrats on the CoMotion Periscope, that is a great bike and will accommodate even the smallest stoker on the back including those grandchildren when they are ready. Make one thing clear…when the stoker is happy then the team is happy.



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petra, April 21, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Congratulations on the Co-Motion. My wife and I ride the same model. I have ridden RAGBRAI twice but not on the tandem. I have, howver, ridden 5 other cross-state group tours on the tandem with my wife. Here are a couple of thoughts:
— Get as much experience on it as possible. It takes time to get used to riding.
— I assume you have disk brakes. If so, braking should be less of an issue but you do need to still plan for stopping the mass of the tandem.
— Hills will be tricky. You will probably want to be on the right for climbing but work over left for the decent. Here again, assuming you have disk brakes,you can ride them a bit more on the decent than standard rim breaks.
— Carry extra brake and shift cables. While there are many bike shops they may not have tandem specific parts when you need them.
— You will need to accomodate your own needs for moving slowly, stating and stopping. Try to anticipate more and be very aware of others around you. Remember that most riders do not realize the time and space necessary for a tendem.
— Get as much practice as you can in handling the tandem, especially starting and stopping it. It took me quite a while to realize that it is really not that much different from my road bike. Learn its unique qualities, i.e., slower to start, you can’t sprint off quickly, faster decents, etc.

Have fun. I am sure you will enjoy it.


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LawnchairMan, April 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm

While I don’t ride a tandom, it sounds like they handle similarly to my recumbent. Faster downhills, and wider turn radius. My only suggestion is to go early to avoid the crowds.


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thangamalang, April 22, 2013 at 5:26 am

The replies above are “right on”. Last year was my first RAGBRAI on a tandem and my wifes first RAGBRAI, she just started riding in 2011. I was concerned riding in a group but was comfortable after the first day. We each had handlebar mounted mirrors and I kept a flag hanging from the back to keep riders from drafting too close. Take your time and enjoy.


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Punky, April 22, 2013 at 8:21 am

Thanks everybody! We got in our first real tandem ride yesterday (our other rides have been just practicing starting/stopping), and did about 20 miles. We should get in a few hundred together on the bike before RAGBRAI. Thanks for all the great info!

Just one more question, we are bringing our single bikes along too in case we want to ride solo during the week, and since we get one bike band with each registration, we’re going to have 2 bike bands with 3 bikes. Will this be a problem if we need sag service in the event we are on a bike without a band (we will have wristbands)?


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RoyBoy, April 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

If you put the bike tag around the seat post then you could slip bike tag off and move it to a different bike.


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rocker, April 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I brought two bikes to Ragbrai last year. You can request a second bike band from the Ragbrai stand when you arrive on Saturday.


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Punky, April 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Thanks Rocker. That’s what we will do.


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Chris, April 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Tandem team here; we rode last year. A few tandem-specific things

-Bring an extra rear derailleur and brake cable with you. While the shops are pretty well equipped, those super-long cables can be hard to find.
-Get used to braking. With practice, you can stop it almost as quickly as a single, despite the mass difference. You can’t endo a tandem, but locking up the rear and sliding it is possible due to the lack of the level of precision of the rear brake.
-That being said, make sure your brakes are in perfect shape. You will get them plenty hot at the bottom of some of the hills.
-Hills will suck. Hang out on the right side of the road and use a low gear. Spin it rather than grind it.
-You will be shifting very frequently. Make sure you have some sort of communication set up with the stoker as to how they feel and if they need a shift up or down.
-As someone else said, you want to leave on the early side, as traffic isn’t as much fun on a tandem. Most people realize that you’re the 18-wheeler of the riding world and give you plenty of room, though.
-You may really, really want to consider putting a ThudBuster ST on the stoker position. Actually, just get it. Best 100 bucks you can spend on the tandem. It really saves the stoker’s behind when you mis-call a pothole.
-A handlebar bag for the stoker is very nice to have. Our stoker didn’t really use her jersey pockets; she just piled it all in the bag.
-Be careful in your selection of seats. I’ve had a particular go-to saddle for years and years on my single bikes. I put that on the tandem, too. While we did a few centuries on the tandem before RAGBRAI and I didn’t have a problem, multi-day RAGBRAI beat my a** to a pulp by day 4. You ride a tandem differently, as you spend far more time in the saddle than you do on the single and unweight differently. Make sure you ride a few days in a row to check how it really fits you. Both my stoker and I ride shorter stems on the tandem than we do on our road bikes, and I ride wider handlebars for more leverage.
-Make sure you know how to adjust the eccentric. I’m sure someone else there knows, as the Periscope is a great bike, but it’s good to know if you drop the timing chain.
-Be prepared for a lot of questions, on and off the bike. 🙂

I think that’s the highlight reel. See you on the road! We’ll be on the screaming white Cannondale with red bags. Can’t miss us 🙂

Welcome to the world of 2up riding!


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