Tandem bicycles are specially built for two riders and include two seats, two sets of pedals and two handlebars. The more experienced tandem cyclist, or the one with the greatest upper body strength, is best suited to ride in the front seat as "captain" of the bicycle. The captain is responsible for controlling the bike's direction and speed while warning the back seat rider of upcoming obstacles, bumps, and gear shifts.
The rear rider or "stoker" is mainly a source of extra cruising power for the bike. Stokers must be very careful to keep their weight centrally balanced while cruising, and lean to one side only on turns. A stoker who isn't well-balanced could tip the entire tandem bicycle over.
Initially, the captain should ride a tandem bicycle alone to get a general feel for the bike's performance. Starting with a burst of speed is important for driving the bicycle in a straight line; captains should make sure to practice the following steps before riding with a stoker:
- Begin by standing astride the frame with both feet on the ground and the brakes locked.
- Rotate the pedals so that one pedal is nearly at the top position.
- Releasing the brakes, place a foot on the topmost pedal and push down hard, lifting up the lower body high enough to get onto the saddle.
Starting up with a rear rider is a similar process, except that the captain begins with an extra-wide stance over the frame and tilts the bike against one thigh so that the stoker can mount and safely rotate the pedals. Once the stoker has alerted the captain that he is mounted and ready, the process continues as above, with both riders pedaling fast as soon as the captain has pushed off. A brisk speed is recommended for driving the bike in a straight line and reducing knee strain.
Standard tandems require that both riders either simultaneously pedal or coast. When slowing down to stop, stokers must be sure to keep their weight balanced on the center of the frame and not to take their feet off the pedals until the captain signals to do so. The stoker dismounts first.
Tandem bicycles are similar to a single-rider bike, but they do take a little extra practice. If you enjoy bicycling, but have only ridden alone, tandems might be a option worth pursuing!