Nice concise, comprehensive answer by Veg to the question, “On a tandem bike, who does more work, the person in front or in back?”
Speaking as a captain, I can say that steering and braking in hilly areas definitely puts an additional strain on the captain. Before my wife and I bought our tandem, we rented one a number of times to ensure that our relationship would survive the experience (Aside: communication and trust are a big part of the tandem experience). My forearms were sore afterwards from the additional effort needed to direct the 350-pound vehicle (bike: 46 lbs, Me: 190 lbs; Wife: 120 lbs.) But it didn’t take long to adjust. We have some pretty long and steep descents near where we live, and they demonstrate why an extra drum brake (AKA drag brake) is a must-have on a tandem.

A tandem can be a great synergistic thing as well. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were were doing the High Sierra Fall Century, and after fighting a headwind for what what felt like forever, at mile 70 and at 8000 feet we started up a 12% grade. I was at the edge of a bonk, but the pedals moved under my feet because my wife was grinding away in the back, not willing to let a mountain get the better of us. I dug down and tried to match her grit and we got to the top.

I read one article in a cycling magazine about a tandem couple that rode across the US trading places as captain and stoker. They must have been fairly close in height, because bike fit is really more crucial than strength in permitting swapping of positions. In my case, since I am 10 inches taller than my spouse, it just wouldn’t work with our bike frame. But I would like to try out being the Guy In Back sometime.

Althought the Mailbag is not the place for witnessing, I’d like to encourage here any cycling couples to give tandeming a shot. Prior to getting a tandem, our conversations were along the lines of: “mrggsh” “What?” “Hunh?” “What!” “What?” etc. Now we can converse in complete sentences, unless the speedo exceeds 45 mph.

Not specifically related to the tandem question, but Alfred Jarry’s “The Supermale” has a hilarious bike race that involves a tandem. A great book if you like Jarry, surrealism, etc. Don’t read it if you are offended by sex or any other normal subjects. It’s currently in print.


I’ve seen a few different designs of recumbent tandems where the two drivetrains aren’t linked, so one person could actually stop pedalling while the other carries on. The strangest one was where the riders sat back to back! It was very low and fairly short, and according to the builder, very fast.

I agree with the answer by Veg. well I wouldn’t dare argue. But in my experience it is always the Captain that does the extra work and the only way to try to even it out is to put the stronger rider as Stoker. In practice this doesn’t work as you normally need the strongest one to do the steering and braking - especially if you have bad brakes.

Also if I remember correctly, the worst place to put weight on a bike is over the back (driving) wheel so the lighter (and probably the weaker) rider may be best placed as stoker.

Veg’s answer was well thought out, but missed one of the most essential aspects of tandem riding, one which outweighs all considerations of physics in determining who works the hardest. As my sister and I discovered when we were children riding our grandfather’s tandem together, the front rider has little choice but to pedal, since the rear rider would immediately notice any laziness, and complain loudly. But the rear rider, safely out of the front rider’s line of vision, is blessed with the opportunity to loaf undetected for long periods.

A skilled rear rider can even, with appropriate weight shifts, turn the bicycle against the wishes of the driver, or, if the bike has coaster brakes (as ours did), attempt to fight the driver’s pedaling and slow or stop the bike, thus adding highly desirable elements of conflict and danger to an otherwise distressingly safe and cooperative activity.

If your speedo is exceeding 45 mph, I’d think conversing in complete sentences would be the last thing on your mind.


Well, Rich, it is true that in that scenario, the complete sentence is usually a simple imperative one: “Slow down!” Accompanied by a jab.


Oh, I can’t wait…Mrs. ricepad and I just bought a tandem over the weekend…she’d better pedal all the friggin’ time…

Congrats, ricepad, hope you guys have fun!

Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of help on this. Be prepared to hear passers-by constantly call out to you, “she’s not pedaling!” It is the tandem equivalent of your neighbor asking you to wash his car after you’re finished with yours, heh, heh. My wife snarled the first few hundred times, gritted her teeth the next few hundred, and now merely laughs dramatically. It’s meant in a friendly manner, and is an indication that tandems are less threatening and more approachable to the general population than the lycra-clad “half-bike” rider. This mollifies my wife only a little. :slight_smile:

UncaStuart, your faith in your spouse, although commendable, strikes me as astonishing in a reader of a newspaper column noted for its cynical attitude and jaded eye towards unquestioning belief.

Have you ever considered the possibility that your wife isn’t pedaling?! I know if I were in the back of a tandem I wouldn’t bother to pedal.

Ah, dang it Arnold, now you’ve got my wife regressing to snarls again!

However, to restore your faith in doper cynicism, may I direct your gaze to those little rearview mirrors that some cyclists attach to their helmets or sunglasses; are they for checking out traffic from behind? Nah, they’re for Tandem captains to check out whether the stoker’s legs are moving!