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Riding a tandem in a paceline

This thread was compiled from the Tandem@Hobbes forum. Please visit the forum and search the archives for other useful information about tandems and tandem riding.

re: need paceline tips for tandems

Tue, 04 Jun 2002 14:01:58 -0400

Well, I was originally tempted to let go with my original, award winning,
electrifying pedantic rave on paceline etiquette, but I won't unless asked.
If asked, be prepared to receive a lengthy (but entertaining) diatribe.

The short speech, addressing the three points I found in your post:

There *is* no set distance to properly draft someone. The effective
"bubble" created by a lead rider or group varies widely depending upon
conditions, including prevailing wind direction, group size and speed,
individual rider size, etc.

Riding wheel to wheel is nice and efficient, all right, but it can be
dangerous, too. If you don't know the rider *really* well, don't get too
close. Period. I have colorful analogies for this, but I will leave them
to your imagination.

The surge problem may or may not have a solution. If the paceline itself is
surging and dying all day, it ain't much of a paceline. Sometimes derisive
remarks about "yo-yoing" can fix this. Sometimes, it can't. Gaps of five
to ten feet shouldn't be happening. Either their pace is wonky, or yours
is. Either way, the paceline is not working as it should.

Riders with experience learn to gently moderate their pedal pressure to
match their leader in a paceline. This isn't any different on a tandem, and
most experienced teams can feel fairly subtle differences, and work between
them. If you, as the captain, need more gas, ask for it. "hup" "up" "gun
it" "hammer". If you are getting pushed by your stoker, same rules, "ease"
"down" "back". If you are consistently feeling pushed by your stoker,
consider modifying your cadence. This may make it easier to for and your
stoker to make smaller power adjustments in sync.

I'm a big guy. I am usually happy to provide the little extra bits of go or
slow, without needing to overtly tell the stoker. I am more likely to need
to say something when I have a really strong stoker on the back, or one I
haven't ridden with much.

When I am stoking, I make it a point to try to provide even power and
cadence at all times, taking cues from the captain. Except for when I am
simply lollygagging and enjoying the view, ;-). I haven't ever found it
terribly hard to find that feeling of being "in sync." That is where you
want to be. If your stoker doesn't trust you to keep from touching wheels
with the folks in front, you are doomed to a life of misery and unhappiness.
The stoker is always right, remember? Find ways to build the trust.
Note well my cautionary notes about riding in a half bike paceline with
tandems. There *are* valid safety concerns. You should both understand
them, and both agree on what you are going to do, and why.

Tandems don't handle the same as half bikes. Dissimilar equipment in
pacelines is not generally a good thing. Fat tires versus skinny, large
incremental gear intervals versus small, fixed versus freewheel, tandem
versus half bike, all create lack of harmony in the line that can have scary

The most obvious example of this is uphill versus downhill. Tandems will
tend to gravitate to the front on the downhill, and toward the back on the
uphill. But because you are in a paceline, you must moderate that tendency
to work well within the group. By all means, look for opportunities to go
to the front on downhills. But don't assume it is your right to do so. It
is *always* anyone's right to go to the back in a paceline, as long as one
signals and moves safely and predictably.

We've had some recent discussions concerning tandem handling, and I will let
that serve to demonstrate the wide range of opinion and experience on the
subject. Serve it to say that tandems and half bikes do *not* handle the
same, and your riding should reflect your particular bike, and your
experience and ability in handling it.


I have a lot of experience on bikes, half and tandem.

I would not choose to draft wheel to wheel with a unfamiliar rider, while
riding *any* kind of bike. Except in races, where I leave my sense of
caution at home. Lots of colorful analogy opportunities here, as well.

I would not generally take a pace from a half bike while riding a tandem,
even if I knew the rider(s) well, but I have sometimes towed a bunch of half
bikes considerable distances. Even experienced half bike riders won't
necessarily be aware of the subtle and not so subtle differences in tandem
performance, and their paceline leadership may not be adequate to deal with


Drew McCarthy

(who is capable of doing a remarkably convincing demonstration of imitating
a short base tandem in performance on downhill runs on his half bike)

AKA Master of Mass
AKA Icon of Inertia
AKA Wide Behind

> What modifications to my paceline techniques that I learned on my single are
> required for my tandem. Also, any other words of wisdom from experienced
> tandem paceline riders would be appreciated.
> Thanks much, Lane


re: need paceline tips for tandems

Tue, 4 Jun 2002 14:02:58 -0500

We ride in a fast group of singles all year round. Winter it gets down to a
dozen bikes and summer it can be as many as 75. Keeping in the paceline is
always much more of a challenge when we do this ride on the Tandem than when
I'm on the single, but the Tandem experience has made my single riding
better as well.

For us the issue is simply that we need more time to get up to speed than
the singles. They accelerate out of the turns, off the stop lights and in
response to jumps faster than we do. There are three key components for us
in keeping up:

1. Conditioning. We are going to have to work harder to get back in and we
need the extra capacity to do so. It usually takes us until June till we
are fit enough to hang for the entire 60 mile ride.

2. Anticipation. This is key. If you keep an eye up the road and can see
when the accelerations are about to happen, you can get in position to start
pushing it sooner and not generate the gap that is so hard to overcome.
Local knowledge is key here as we need to know when the group is going to
sprint for a sign or hammer up a hill.

3. Communication. The better we ride, the less we need to communicate
verbally. Although it is considered a big no-no to stop pedaling in a pace
line on a single, with the tandem we communicate through the pedals all the
time. Kristin can feel when I back off (it is like slowing on a fixed gear
bike on the track) and responds accordingly. She also knows that if she
sees me scoot forward on the saddle that I am getting ready to get into the
drops and am pushing harder. If I am down in the drops or up out of the
saddle, that is "full-on" for me.

Once you get comfortable in the pace line, it is quite rewarding. We are
just getting there this year again and even have beaten the singles in few
of the sprints in the last couple of weeks. It is a lot of fun!

- Troy, Chicago