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To tandem or not to tandem? That is the question.

I will be riding with my 12 year old son this year.  One option we are considering is to go tandem.  The concern I have is whether we will collectively conserve energy, or collectively expend more energy.  Or will one of us inadvertently end up expending more while the other expends less.  I’m curious as to the forum’s thoughts on:

1)  Will this demand a lot more physical effort is on hills where it’s all power-to-weight-ratio + the ability to efficiently deliver that power to the rear wheel?
2)  How does the disparity in size, weight and physical strength typically play out?
3)  What about the intangible factor – father/son teamwork for 7 days?

Thanks,

Boz

5 Replies

SFC JKL 2, February 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Props to you.  I would love to take my 13 year old but 1.  he doesn’t have the attention span for it and 2. it would destroy my beer drinking aspect which is one of the main reasons I do it in the first place.

Alot of people do it, I just know it wouldn’t work for us.  I’ve found the limit for us on the tandem is about 25 miles.  After that he’s complaining and no longer has an interest in pedaling.  I keep hoping he’ll get more into it but hasn’t in the five years I’ve had the tandem.

Think of it as a bunch of small rides rather than one long one.  You’ll get tired in the hills, but then you’ll stop in the next town and have some recovery time.  As long as he comes remotely close to pulling his own weight you shouldn’t have any problems.

#14736

KittySlayer, February 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Well a tandem is a great way for a father and son to tour. My son grew up on the back of the tandem riding from age 8 and now racing in college fourteen years later. We did not do RAGBRAI but have done a number of week long tours with 60-80 mile days several summers. My wife and I have ridden RAGBRAI on the tandem.

All the people and sights on RAGRAI will make the ride entertaining. The pass through towns will get you off the bike and a little distance between captain and stoker every hour or two which can be a good thing. In addition you will want to plan some distance while in camp. This may include sleeping in seperate tents or at least having the option available.

With regards to hills the first thing to understand is that tandems can climb, it just depends on the riders. A well set up tandem will have appropriate gearing to allow you climb anything you can on your single bike. We encountered two problems climbing on RAGBRAI. First was with the rollers you were unable to totally open it up and scream downhill because too many people were in the way, thus you could not carry your speed up the next hill. The second problem is on longer hills where people fail to keep right and thus there is not room to climb at your desired speed without getting caught behind the clog of walkers.

Another thing to be aware of with the tandem is manueverability. The long bike is a little harder to react to situations that may come up. So where you may have been able to dodge some moron jumping into the road from the left side without looking you may need to consider other alternatives. As the captain you really need to be on your toes, paying attention all day.

With regard to a small stoker, the smaller the better as it is simply less weight to deal with, particularly when climbing. Practice, practice, practice and make your stoker aware that when you encounter a hill he is expected to pedal and pedal hard when you ask. Our rule was never walk a hill and if we had to stop then it was back to the bottom of the hill to start over.

As captain you are going to be doing more work than you would on seperate bikes. That’s okay so long as you pace yourself and it will make the ride a much better expereince for your kid both physically and socially.  In addition, steering a tandem will wear on your shoulders. As an added bonus a squirmy young stoker willl grind your ass raw so be sure to wear a good, clean chamois each day and bring plenty of lube such as Butt Butt’r or Bag Balm.

From your questions it sounds as if you have not ridden a tandem very often.You need to spend several weeks training together to make sure this is how you really want to and can ride RAGBRAI. Learn how to stand when climbing, learn how to track stand the tandem, learn how you will mount, start, stop, dismount. Learn how you will communicate, my wife and I rarely speak about the bike as we have our communication really dialed in. Learn what special tools you need to carry with you such as a pin spanner for the eccentric. Also consider carrying a spare tire.

Do not show up and make Sunday, July 24th your first day on the tandem. If you practice and train you will have a great experience riding a tandem on RAGBRAI and your kid will have a memory that will last a lifetime.

#14737

WILLLIKESJAVA, February 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I took a tandem with my niece so we wouldn’t have to try and match speeds.  I’m no Lance or anything, but I can only stand to ride so slow and on the tandem she always kept up.  Like Kitty Slayer says the gearing is important for the hills, I put on a different cassete so I had one monster chain ring on back(this was a life saver for us).  We were able to ride up every hill on a couple of really hilly days.  The biggest bummer for us was we could never use our full momentum advantage on the rollers.  The pack tends to spread across the whole road on the steep uphills so there is no room safely scream by.  Past that I would proabably be just reiterating more of the previous post. 

We did have a great time, doing RAGBRAI on a tandem was a new experience for me and made it even more interesting. 

We did pick up a nice tip from a father and daughter that were riding a tandem that year.  For some reason there are a multitude of riders who think that riding up and saying “how come she’s not peddaling” is hilarious and original.  It didn’t bother me much but started to annoy my niece after she heard it for the 50 or 60th time(not an exageration, at least 30 people a day, I think I even recognized one guy a second day).  Back to the tip, when someone who was clever enough come up with the same joke, she would give them a look of disdain and say “25”, and when the confused jokester would give her a puzzled look, she would explain they were the 25th person that day who had come up with the same joke.  It didn’t stop the comments of course, but I thought was a clever way to let them know just how original they realy were.

#14738

paednoch2, February 18, 2011 at 7:45 am

Jboz said: I will be riding with my 12 year old son this year.  One option we are considering is to go tandem.  The concern I have is whether we will collectively conserve energy, or collectively expend more energy.  Or will one of us inadvertently end up expending more while the other expends less.  I’m curious as to the forum’s thoughts on: 1)  Will this demand a lot more physical effort is on hills where it’s all power-to-weight-ratio + the ability to efficiently deliver that power to the rear wheel?2)  How does the disparity in size, weight and physical strength typically play out?3)  What about the intangible factor – father/son teamwork for 7 days? Thanks, Boz

4 years ago my wife and I bought a custom CO-Motion tandem for approximately 6,000 bucks. Its a super nice bike. I ride 6-7K per year and my wife rides about 1K per year. The tandem has 350 miles on it…ALL of those miles are from RAGBRAI. SO a 4 year old bike has 350 miles on it..I HATE riding a tandem..I like to stand and pedal. It is possible on a tandem but takes way too much upper body. I suggest NOT tandem.

#14739

Sandaltan ., February 18, 2011 at 8:33 am

“Hey she is not pedaling”, we have heard that a thousand times and yes after 999 times it is annoying.  I either ignore it or reply “we are taking turns pedaling”.  My staff mechanic, Ernie, told me that pound for pound there is nothing stronger on the back of a tandem then a ten to twelve year old.    Ernie has never steered me wrong.  We rode RAGBRAI 2006 on our Rans Screamer recumbent tandem and had a great time.  However; we had about 2000 miles together on the tandem that year before RAGBRAI began.  If you chose to tandem I would advise that you have significant miles in before the first of July and some back-to-back 65 mile days on a couple of weekends.

RIDE RIGHT

#14740

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