Hard to believe, but we’ve now been riding tandems for 20 years. There are a lot of fond memories, amazing friendships, adventures associated with the past two decades and I’m happy to report, some of the most enjoyable times we have continue to be when we’re on the tandem or tandeming with friends.
Yes, we’ve branched out a bit and other pursuits and live events have reduced the amount of time we can spend doing “the tandem thing” but through it all tandem cycling remains the single greatest thing we can do for “quality time” together, be it just the two of us riding with others.
It suffices to say, our lives were changed forever and for the better by that visit and our introduction to tandem cycling. This is a video I created back in 2013 for a presentation at the Tandems East Open House that kinda captures our life on the tandem.
However, since we’re celebrating that key milestone when we acquired our very first tandem (we’ve since owned seven others including 3 off-road tandems and a triplet), I should probably use this occasion to recall the story about that fateful day. Rather than trying to stretch my memory to recount the entire experience, I was able to find something I posted to the tandem sub-forum at BikeForums.net back on August 3rd, 2008 that provided a pretty detail report.
Our Visit to Tandems Limited & Our First Tandem Bicycle
We scheduled an appointment with Jack & Susan Goertz at Tandems Limited in Birmingham and made the 2.5 hour drive on Saturday morning, 2 August 1997, arriving one hour early because I neglected to account for Alabama being on Central Time vs. Atlanta on Eastern. We were somewhat surprised to find ourselves in a subdivision instead in a commercial district and quickly learned that several of the tandem speciality dealers run their businesses out of their homes as a hobby in addition to their full-time jobs.
Anyway, the morning started with the Santana-prescribed “First Ride” program whereby Jack took me out on the back of their brand-new Co-Motion Co-Pilot tandem so I would have an appreciation for what Debbie would experience as the stoker. The Goertz’ neighborhood was anything but flat, featuring all kinds of curves, cul-de-sacs, hills, and stop-signs a plenty and riding behind Jack — who was a much bigger person than me — did what it needed to do: it blocked my forward vision and presented me with a very different view of the world compared to what I experience as the “pilot” on my single bike.
You quickly grasp the concept that the road edge which looks just fine to you being a foot or two away doesn’t even exist in your stoker’s peripheral vision. Or, just how disconcerting it is when the captain begins to countersteer and lean the bike for a turn… a turn the stoker can’t really see, never mind how unsettling it is when the captain makes any quick little turns of the wheel to dodge a pot hole. Then, of course, there was the jarring of my legs and knees that came from uncoordinated / unannounced cadence changes such as going from coasting to pedaling, pedaling to coasting, and gear shifts. If all that weren’t enough, all of this was accompanied by the loss of any control on a bike that seemed to always being going twice as fast as it really was: welcome to the back row of the roller coaster!
After doing all of these things the wrong way — that is, without giving due consideration to the stoker as well as ample verbal cues — Jack then took me around the block doing things the right way. That is, positioning the tandem several feet away from the edge of the road, calling out “coasting, shifting, turning” and the like. In fact, although he didn’t use this analogy it dawned on me that all new stokers should be treated like sight-impaired stokers in terms of over-communicating everything you’re doing and seeing on the front of the tandem because, in fact, they really are sight impaired.
Anyway, after my orientation ride it was Debbie’s turn behind Jack and she was also treated to this is how it should be, and this is what you’ll experience if he’s not taking into consideration the needs of the stoker. Debbie came back all jazzed-up by her first experience but before Jack would turn us loose I had to demonstrate my new found knowledge and skills as a tandem captain by taking Susan Goertz out as a stoker. This is also the point where I was taught how to mount a tandem ala the track bike method of swinging my leg over the front of the bike as well as what Bill McCready coined ” The Proper Method” for starting. Being a guy, my memory seems to suggest my performance was stellar but that’s probably because I’m subconsciously blocking out any negative feedback I received. Actually, I probably did pretty well because handling the tandem with the ultra-petit Susan Goertz was very easy and that wasn’t a bad thing since Debbie was also ultra-petit and of similar short stature.
Having competed the first ride program we finally took our first ride together on a small-sized ’95/96 Royal Plum colored Santana Arriva… the tandem we ultimately took home with us that day. It was a great ride and we went all over the subdevelopment and tackled all kinds of first rider-challenges, such as making the U-turn in the culdesac and taking on the steepest climbs and descents. We had a blast.
Not wanting to assume too much, we then test rode a Co-Motion Cappuccino and the Goertz’ Co-Pilot (both of which were really too big for us), a Bilenky (also too big), and even went so far as to have Jack pull a new Sovereign out of the box and assemble it so that we could sample the aluminum frame… noting I had decided I wanted a Raspberry swirl-finished small-sized Sovereign before even making the trip to Birmingham. However, for a variety of reasons, the Sovereign test ride just didn’t trip our trigger (noisy V-brakes and some other quirks most likely related to the quick build-up and how sound travelled through the aluminum frame) and we quickly found ourselves back on the Santana Arriva that Jack secretly new he’d be selling before we left. I also lusted after an Ibis EasyStreet frame hanging on the wall however, no matter how hard I tried I was unable to transform it from a Medium to a Small nor was I able to grow myself tall enough to make it fit.
Mind you, we purposely left my Toyota truck with it’s 6′ bed at home so we couldn’t bring home a tandem, not wanting to become impulse buyers: after all, we were just shopping at this point. Instead, we took Debbie’s 4Runner which seemed way too small to accommodate a tandem. Oh well, when there’s a will and a check book there’s a way.
Before writing the check I had already upgraded the Arriva with Sachs Ergo shifters vs. the bar-ends and Diacompe brake levers that it came fitted with and was already eyeing my next upgrades to the brakes and rims (Shimano LX to XT w/XTR pads & Arraya to Mavic T217s. We also bought two Tandem Club of America polo shirts and signed up for a 2-year TCA membership. Yeah, I’d say we were pretty excited about the whole thing.
As for getting it home, I found by removing the wheels and flipping it upside down it would slide right in with the rear derailleur sitting next to my ear in the driver’s seat…. and away we went.
The next day we had our first 7 mile ride, noting Debbie was new to road cycling and had zero base mileage. We went out every evening that week and slowly increased our mileage so that, by the end of the next week we were did a 25 mile ride with the Georgia PEACHES (aka, Atlanta tandem club) and within three weeks she did her first metric century (Photo at Right).
We were hooked and have been so ever since.