The Things You Hear

I understand that riding a tandem is much more common in other countries than it is in Australia. Seeing a tandem is such a novelty for some people they feel they just have to say something. I though I’d give a list here of the most common things heard while riding a tandem. Some of this is funny, some of it isn’t, but I suspect you’ll be able to work out where I’m being serious.

Firstly, from the kids, “Look! Double bike!” is quite fun. I don’t mind hearing this fairly regularly, if only because it’s an exclamation to parents, friends and the world around them that they have just seen something new and novel.

The comment I’ve most often heard is “the guy on the back isn’t peddling”. This is annoying on a number of levels:

  1. People think we’ve never heard it before and they’re original and hilarious. They are wrong on all three counts.
  2. People don’t understand that most tandems have the captain and stoker pedals linked together with the sync chain, so if one peddles, the other HAS to peddle.
  3. There’s a view that the poor blind man is being “taken for a ride” rather than working as part of a team. This is insulting and wrong.

From time to time Dave will ride the tandem by himself – when going from his place to mine, or similar trips. One of the things he hears on those occasions is “the bloke on the back has fallen off”. Again, noticing 70kg of person on the back of a tandem, or in fact the unexpected absence of said person, is pretty bloody obvious.

“That’s cheating”. Seriously it’s not. See the next comment for why. Some girl rode along side us at the end of a long ride (and I suspect she hadn’t travelled anywhere near as far) and said “That’s cheating! That’s cheating!” in a whiny, complaining voice. I was really angry about that one. The desire to enact physical violence at that point was high. I was also obviously a bad idea, and I just tucked my head down and kept peddling.

A more serious question that often gets asked: “is riding tandem easier or harder?”. To which the answer is yes. (Sorry, I’m a programmer). In reality, it’s different, sometimes its harder, sometimes its easier.

If you were to take two riders of the same weight and ability and run them on a course once on single bikes and once on a tandem, you would likely find:

  • The tandem is slower uphill. The combined weight of the heavier bike and two people had more momentum and creates more rolling resistance, making climbing harder.
  • The tandem is faster downhill. The combined weight of the heavier bike and two people has more momentum and gets a bigger push from gravity.
  • On the flat, its questionable which might do better, but its more likely subject to the skills of the pair as a team versus their skills on single bikes.
  • Wind resistance can be funny. If you were heading directly into a headwind, then resistance due to the wind would be similar to a single bike. The reality is that you’re rarely riding into wind at 90 degrees, so the stoker does tend to get at least some headwind as well, increasing the wind resistance of the team. With a tailwind, the push given acts in a similar way.

Obviously that’s a generalisation, but its indicative of the difference in difficulty in riding a tandem.

I think the best ever comment I’ve heard was riding with Tim in Around the Bay in 2010, when someone asked “What’s the matter with you two? Couldn’t you afford the other two wheels?”. Original and funny!

If you see a tandem out and about, you really don’t have to yell at them, because they’ve probably heard it all before. Though if you must, at least make it funny and original.

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