Strange Things People Say: I’m Thinking About Getting a Tandem Bike

When people see Felkerino’s and my bike, they often comment and ask us questions. These comments range from funny or insightful to head-shakingly odd or irritating.

One of the comments I’ve heard, not infrequently and only from the mouths of men, is some version of this, “How do you like your tandem? I’m thinking about getting a tandem for me and my wife/partner.”

Felkerino and I are wise to this question now and our immediate response is to ask if the person’s wife or partner rides. Nine times out of ten, this is what we hear in response:

“I like to ride, but my (wife, partner) doesn’t. So I’ve been thinking about getting a tandem.”

This comment used to roll off of me like water off a stoker’s back, but over time it’s seeped under my skin. If someone’s wife or partner doesn’t currently like to ride a bike, why would a tandem bike change that?

It also makes me feel that the person is somehow inferring that the reason I’m riding a bike is because I’m out with Felkerino on our tandem.

Further, just because a guy can get himself down the road without incident does not mean that he would make a good captain. Hmmm, perhaps I should start administering some kind of tandem captain suitability test.

Co-Motion Tandem on Wolf Creek Pass
Co-Motion Tandem on Wolf Creek Pass

I would love to see more women cyclists, but I don’t think that the purchase of a tandem is a gateway drug to regular riding for most people.

When I met Felkerino, I was already commuting regularly, had completed RAGBRAI (the cross-Iowa bike ride), participated in multiple century rides, and I was training for a flèche (a 24-hour ride of approximately 225 miles). I was a daily transportation and weekend sport touring rider when we first began riding together.

I’ve definitely done a lot more cycling since Felkerino and I started hanging out, but it isn’t because we bought a tandem. My life was going in that direction, anyway. In fact, it was one of my female cycling friends who encouraged me to ride more, showed me good bicycling routes in our area, and introduced me to randonneuring.

If somebody wishes his partner would ride, a more thought-out approach would be to find out why she doesn’t in the first place. Is it fear of traffic? Is she intimidated about bike maintenance? Does no one else in her social circles ride? Is the bike just not her thing?

Perhaps this tandem chatter is more male-driven wishful thinking than anything else, but to assume a tandem will make a person suddenly want to hop on a bicycle (and ride with their partner on it) seems misinformed to me.

Only in the rarest of cases will the simple attainment of a tandem convert a non-cyclist into a rider. More commonly, couples will end up making a big investment that ends up as an unrealized dream sitting in a shed somewhere gathering dust.

9 thoughts on “Strange Things People Say: I’m Thinking About Getting a Tandem Bike

  1. This is so true.

    I would like to try a tandem. I think it would be fun to have someone to talk with on long rides, share the load and, help with climbs. But I wouldn’t want someone to just tag along, take it easy. I have yet to find someone interested. Male or female.

    Tell Felkerino he is lucky to have you. Although, I suspect he already knows that.

    Nice post.

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  2. My wife and I have done a tandem and it’s not for us. Our riding styles are way too dissimilar. I was told once that a tandem is the fastest way to divorce, but another tandemer told me that it makes the relationship just move faster in whatever direction it’s already headed. The funniest one was a conversation I had on RAGBRAI with a pair and she was the captain and he the stoker. The guy was hilarious!

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  3. I found the tandem to be a great equalizer in mine and my wife’s riding abilities. She likes to ride, but is not as experienced and tends to go at a slower speed. On the tandem, we obviously ride at the same speed and can now have easier conversation and share the sights. Primary lesson learned though is captain communication is critical to the success (and happiness) of your stoker wanting to ride with you!! I’m still working on that!!

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  4. I bought a tandem to ride with my ten-year-old daughter, but mostly that was because we were about to ride across New York. 🙂 We work together extremely well as a team–it took very few rides before we learned each other’s style and I no longer had to announce when I was braking, shifting, etc.

    The couple of times my wife and I have been out on it? Even though we’re perfectly happy riding our singles with each other, I suspect that the tandem would live up to its reputation as a divorce machine. Sometimes riding styles just don’t mesh.

    I do have to say that the daily “She’s not pedaling!” comments when I’m with my daughter got old really, really quickly.

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  5. Had a lovely time with a tag-along (yup I know it’s not a proper tandem), with my 8 year old granddaughter. What a hoot, she’s so determined she pushed us super hard up the hills! Have ridden a tandem in a different lifetime many moons ago, surprised at how awkward it was initially.

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  6. i love our tandem, we do anywhere from 3000 to 8000 miles a year on it, it is OUR time together. but i love my mountain bike. i loved my junker bike i love my road bike. if you don’t love riding you will NOT suddenly love riding a tandem. it is an adjustment. more of an adjustment for my captain, who is a much more aggressive rider, much faster than i am. but we learn. as for the ‘she’s not pedaling’ comments, i deal with those by saying ‘really original. f*ck off, a$$wipe’ just because my captain is more hard core than i am, i am still faster up hills and, perhaps because i am not as speed aggressive,capable to log more miles than he is [i’ll go for a brevet, he is wiped after a metric]

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  7. Excellent post. Getting a tandem CAN definitely be a way to introduce a non-cycling partner to riding. It worked for us. 15 years, and many international tours, later we’re still together and still tandeming. You’re right. It all depends on the captain. I was a racing cyclist but I knew I had to start putting my stoker’s needs and riding style before mine. Steady riding and super-manageable days were the way to go. Oh…and communication.

    I’ve also written a tandem post. It’s taken from the angle of a couple that have already decided to get the bike but I don’t want them to blow it.
    http://fivestickerrides.com/blog/tandem-touring-for-triathletes

    Love the blog.

    Cheers.

    Ross.

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