Anyone who has ridden a tandem with three or more seats at a tandem rally has most likely been asked, “So, what’s it like to ride a triplet (quad, quint, etc.)?”
It’s a fair question and one that I’m sure I asked a few times before teaming up with our friend Brenda on her Co-Motion Periscope triplet at the Alabama Tandem Weekend in March 2011. Yes, that we acquired a triplet shortly thereafter is a testament to how much we enjoyed the experience.
Getting back to the subject at hand, for some reason the “What’s it like to ride a triplet?” question struck me in an odd way from the very first time it was asked at the Georgia Tandem Rally this past weekend. I found myself having a déjà vu moment to those times we’ve been on our tandem at predominantly single-bike events where we were routinely asked, “So, what’s it like to ride a tandem?”
Not surprisingly, the answer to the tandem and triplet questions are very similar in that, first and foremost, we find it a lot more enjoyable and satisfying riding together as a team than we would individually… mostly because individually we wouldn’t be riding together at the same tempo. From a technical standpoint, a team of riders may actually be able to ride faster than they normally would on single bikes, but may also find more technical terrain to be challenging, such as climbing or slow-speed maneuvers.
However, what might come as a surprise to tandem teams who find themselves riding along side a triplet at a tandem rally is that the triplet experience at a tandem rally is very much like the tandem experience when riding with a group of single bikes and for the very same reason. More specifically:
- On flat to rolling terrain it’s easier to ride the triplet at the front of a line of tandems than it is to ride in the line for the very same reason it’s easier tandems to pull a trailing line of single bikes: the heavier the bike the more momentum it carries. As anyone who has ridden a tandem in single bike drafting line can probably attest, there’s definitely a “slinky effect” with speed changes that requires a lot of attention from the tandem captain: constant soft pedaling and/or feather brakes to scrub off speed or short bursts to bridge gaps which can become quite fatiguing. Guess what? The same thing happens when you stick a triplet in a line of tandems.
- After pulling a line of tandems in the draft of a triplet, unless there’s a really strong team working well together on the triplet, the tandem teams will often times tend to be “fresher” and able to climb hills at a faster tempo than the triplet they’ve been following and will pass the triplet using that temporary advantage. And, just like a tandem that has been pulling a line of single bikes before encountering the hill, it’s not at all unusual for a passing tandem team to say something like, “Those triplets are fast on the flats and downhills, but just can’t climb well.” Hmmm, sound familiar? And, yes, being on the receiving end of that observation while climbing on a triplet resonates about as well as it does when made by single bike riders who were sucking the tandem’s rear wheel for the last few miles.
- Of course, after a triplet team crests a climb, gravity grabs hold of the 3rd rider and son-of-a-gun if the triplet doesn’t often-times catch-up to and/or move past the tandem teams that passed on the previous climb… similar to how a tandem team will descend past the lighter single bikes that previously passed them on a climb.
All of the to-and-fro that goes on when tandems intermix with singles – especially where the combined power of the tandem team is on par with the single bike riders — is mostly driven by physics. Sadly, some single bike riders never seem to grasp that a tandem with a significantly higher gross weight simply climbs and descends at a different tempo due to physics and mistake the downhill behavior as bravado, sometimes resulting in tension between the riders. Moreover, a tandem team really does need the outside line on descents just to carry the natural speed of the heavier bike which also helps with carrying the momentum needed for the next rise in a series of rolling hills. And, yes, there is a strong likelihood that if there are a series of gradual and long or steep climbs a single bike rider will find themselves trading places with the tandem team on each subsequent climb and descent.
And so it is with triplets at tandem rallies. The exact same dynamics all come into play when you have a triplet team that can ride at roughly the same level as a tandem team or teams. Interestingly enough, I sometimes wonder if tandem teams who haven’t ridden with triplets grasp the parallels that exist with respect to the rides they’ve attended where they were the lone tandem in a sea of single bikes.
Anyway, there you have it. That’s what it’s like to ride a triplet. If you can wrap your head around the idea that riding a tandem is twice as much fun as a single bike, then you’ll appreciate that riding a triplet is three-times as much fun as a single bike. Is it also more fun than riding a tandem? Well, yeah… for the very same reason. Riding a triplet with a bunch of tandems is very much like riding a tandem with a bunch of single bikes. The same rush that you get from being able to set the ride tempo for a long line of single bikes, the massive acceleration from a stop, the power needed to tickle 35mph on the flats and the insane downhill speeds you can achieve on a tandem can only be surpassed by adding an extra rider to the same pair of wheels.
Are there any downsides: Absolutely!
- There is obviously the cost associated with having and maintaining an “extra” bike.
- Transporting the massively long bikes can be a challenge that requires a lot of forethought.
- If you can appreciate that a tandem is twice as hard to keep running smoothly as a single bike, you’ll also appreciate that a triplet is three-times as hard to keep running smoothly as a single bike.
- Being able to ride the triplet means being dependent upon having ready access to a third rider who is willing to be a stoker and to share those stoking duties with another stoker.
- If finding a stoker who you can truly “be as one with on the tandem” seems like a challenge, just try adding a third rider who can also allow you to “be as one on the triplet.” We’ve been VERY lucky in this regard!
There are quite a few other considerations when it comes to triplets, quads and quints that are addressed in an article I co-wrote with another tandem enthusiast several years back that you can find here:
Anyway, there you have it. My short answer to the question, “What’s it like to ride a triplet!”