Tandem cycling may be gaining in popularity in recent decades, but this type of activity has been present since the 19th century. Their inventor Mikael Pederson created the design in 1898 and since then they are available in almost every cycling discipline, like tandem mountain cycling and tandem road cycling.
This type of bike is not for those who enjoy solo rides, but rather for people who love having company and shared experience when cycling. This is an important fact since bicycle touring can last from a few days to years, depending on the goal and destination, which can even be cross-country traveling. That said, you need to prepare yourself and follow certain rules and these tips for tandem cycling touring can help.
1. Choose your partner carefully
Since tandem cycling is considered a social ride, it can help you bond with others and strengthen existing relationships. It’s great for family members, friends, spouses, emotional partners, and colleagues looking for a perfect team-building activity. However, the choice of riding partner can make or break the relationship you have, and here is why.
Tandem riding is a two-person job, meaning that each one of the riders has its own set of responsibilities for the smooth ride. The person in the front is called the captain (or the pilot) and they’re responsible for controlling, braking, steering, and balancing the bike. Because of this, the captain has to be a more experienced rider who will make important decisions during the ride, like when to turn, brake, etc.
The rider on the back is called the stoker and their responsibility is power. They can provide more power to the cycling or preserve it for later during climbs and more demanding terrains. Another thing the stoker must do is control their body weight, meaning they shouldn’t move, shift, or lean unless the captain tells them to maintain the balance and don’t crash.
2. Practice before touring
Practice is important for tandem riding since you need to feel and synchronize the move with your partner. Use “3, 2, 1” to start cycling so the strain is not only on one person’s body but that you both share the load. Determine how much weight each of you will carry and once you perfect synchronization, practice with the full load on your backs and on the bike.
This is also a good time to determine ground rules, like how to communicate during cycling, as well as how to behave. To see how you are doing, go on a weekend cycling trip that will simulate the tour and show you your strengths and weaknesses so you can use them or improve them in time.
3. Plan your route
First, take a look at the national cycle network, if available. They’re the best option for beginners and those who don’t want to waste time on custom-made routes. You can print the route or keep it on a device, or both, whatever is more comfortable to navigate.
Pay attention to the conditions of the road to protect the tires and your strength. The best tactic is to mark certain aspects of your route that may be challenging and need special attention. This should also include obstacles that require you to walk and push your bike or carry it, like locked gates.
4. Be realistic about expectations
Cyclists have to consider a lot of factors to finish their ride successfully and the same applies to tandem cycle touring. If you put unrealistic goals in front of yourself, you are more likely to experience a lot of issues along the way and even not finish the route. So, before you decide to ride for hundreds or thousands of miles, be honest with yourself and your capabilities. You will fulfill your highest goal only if you take one step at a time and do not try to do it all at once.
5. Pick the right campsites
Long rides mean you have to plan your overnight stay. Campsites are the best choice since they are on your way and you can just continue your trip first thing in the morning. However, it’s okay to plan an extended hotel stay so you can sleep in a comfortable bed, use Wi-Fi, eat well, shower, and simply rest your body and mind.
Check out towns on your route and see where you can stop for a day or two. Additionally, see what campsites offer as well. Those with showers and better conditions may have you spending less time and money on hotels.
6. Make yourself fit
Cycling is a demanding activity that requires a certain level of fitness. Even if you are exercising every day, you still need to work on your stamina, muscle strength, and cardio to be able to ride for miles. Running and strength training are a good start, although you should also include a stationary bike in your daily routine. It all depends on your body type and health so it may be a good idea to consult with your physician and professional trainer before starting a new exercise regime.
7. Pay attention to your diet
Cycling will make you hungry, but you still need to be mindful of what you eat. Since you can’t bring along all the food you will eat, it’s important to find and eat healthy and nutritious food on your route. You can carry fresh food with you and store it in the pannier until it’s ripe to eat, like bananas, tomatoes, and avocados. However, other veggies and fruits are also a good choice and you don’t have to buy them while still green, like carrots, oranges, and cucumbers.
Ready-to-eat foods are also a good idea. Bring with you nuts, dark chocolate, protein bars, jerky, hummus, pickles, coconut milk, and canned fish. Dried and dehydrated food, crackers, bread, packaged aged cheese, and peanut butter should be on your list of nutritious cycle touring foods as well.
Buying fresh produce from the local farms and cooking fresh meals once you are on the campsite is even better. No matter how you decide to eat, even when stopping at the cafés, restaurants, or diners, opt for healthy and balanced meals that will give you the energy and nutrients necessary for the long trip.
8. Make sure to stay hydrated
You can’t just fill your bottle with water and go on a hundreds of miles long journey. Plain water won’t be enough to keep muscles hydrated and replenish the minerals you lost through sweat. Use hydration mixes that are added to your water and contain minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes your body needs to rehydrate.
Another decision to make is how you will carry your water with you. A bike-specific water bottle or water reservoir in the backpack will keep you hydrated while riding. Purification tablets should also be among the things to bring since you need to refill your water and sometimes all you have is a river or a stream.
9. Buy the right gear and tandem bike
Besides the perfect riding partner, you will need to find the best fit among tandem bikes, as well as get the accompanying gear. Go shopping with your riding partner and see if you can try out the bikes on the spot. However, before you buy repair tools, spare parts, helmets, gloves, and other gear make sure you know exactly what you need and how to use it.
It’s best to have your bike checked before starting your cycling tour to make sure everything is in order. Talk to the more experienced rider about the most common challenges and what you can expect, so you don’t waste time and money on gear you don’t need.
10. Keep a touring diary
Phones will be enough to take photos, make videos, and even keep a daily blog about your trip. It’s easier for the stoker to chronicle landscapes, emotions, and roads while cycling. Social media presence is a must if you want to publicize your journey, so make sure your data plan covers everything you need.
Include advice in your posts for other cyclists regarding the state of the road, break options, challenges, and other things that may help them on their journey. Include the same tips you read here only from your point of view and specifically related to your cycle touring experience.
11. Weigh everything
Sometimes, it all comes to math! Weighing your belongings and the tandem bike will show you how much weight you will both carry over the obstacles or push uphill. Weighing yourself and the luggage will tell you whether your bike can handle so much weight without breaking or malfunctioning. It matters whether you bring a pound more than recommended since it will put pressure on the bike and your legs when pedaling.
The load you carry is an essential factor for having an operational tandem bicycle. Overpacking can damage the wheels and brakes, leading to accidents and serious problems that can deter you from your goal. Carry with you only things you know is not available on the road, the gear you need to fix your bike, and essentials you can’t do without, like medicines.
12. Hang out with the touring community
Campsites, roads, and towns are places you will meet other people, even tandem cyclists like yourselves. Use this to socialize and exchange stories, especially with the touring community. Other cyclists are wonderful company over campfire and breakfast since you can learn something or share your wisdom with them. Moreover, they will understand your passion for what you are doing, and meeting like-minded people can give you an additional boost to continue pedaling.
Experienced riders can give you useful advice that will help you overcome the hard parts of the route, both psychologically and physically. Furthermore, learn how to fix your bike and what type of tools you will need to do it in the middle of nowhere. Also, before your trip, join message boards, cycling groups, and find other options to get more information and recommendations for tandem cycle touring.
The bottom line
Riding a tandem bike is a completely different experience than being a solo rider. A lot depends on the relationship you have with your partner, as much as it does from the quality of the bike, fitness level, and route planning. Parts of your journey may be easy, but those hard ones may make you rethink what you are doing and whether it’s worth it. However, by supporting each other and enjoying good moments, you will overcome every obstacle, even bad jokes, and uphill rides.