Editor’s note - The 2015 Dirty Kanza was a muddy, merciless affair. For that edition, Tracey Petervary and her husband Jay battled the Flint Hills on their Powderkeg tandem. After seeing them leave and return with smiles on their faces after being out a smidge under 15-and-a-half hours, I figured there were probably some very well-learned skills at play there. I asked Tracey to share her perspective on what it takes for two better halves to ride like an awesome whole, focusing on the role of the stoker. – Mark Sirek
The Fit And The Feel
The first thing I can recommend to new tandem people is be sure to get a bike that fits properly. I have ridden a few different tandems, but the Powderkeg fit like a glove and was super comfortable as soon as I got on it. I really enjoyed having drop bars to change up my stoker position, because they helped me generate more power, and it was easier and more comfortable to tuck in behind my captain and pedal away.
Early morning on the start line of the 2015 Dirty Kanza 200…
Getting on the tandem can be tricky for both the captain and stoker if you're not experienced or know what to expect. Verbal communication is important here, and even after thousands of miles, the captain needs to be sure the stoker is ready to mount and ride forward. The captain should avoid swinging their leg over the saddle when mounting the bike or you may kick the stoker. Both riders should straddle the bike, then simultaneously push on the high pedal and mount the bike. The stoker needs to watch the captain and follow the lead when starting off. If the stoker unexpectedly jams on the pedals without the captain being clipped in, or if the captain takes off and the stoker is not ready, injuries can occur. Again, communication is the key. You’ll sense a theme here shortly.
Ease On Down The Road. Or Trail.
Practice on easy flat roads, this way you can get a feel for the bike and how it moves. Getting started, the captain will need to communicate just about everything going on, using commands like “shifting”, “braking”, “standing”, “stopping”, and which side you will dismount on. The captain needs to take into account that if he or she speaks forward, the stoker may not be able to hear what they are saying. Surrounding variables such as wind, weather, and traffic can affect the communication as well. Eventually with some practice though, the stoker will begin to get the feel of the bike and learn the captain’s riding style. Less communication will be needed with each ride.
All things are possible on a tandem…it just takes teamwork…
Hold Your Position
The stoker should try to stay centered on the bike and tucked in behind the captain, without making sudden, jerky movements. The stoker should call out when they are reaching for a water bottle or need to shift around if possible, and resist looking around the captain's head to see what is coming, especially at high speed. This can shift the bike and cause it to sway, which will put extra strain on the captain who is already trying to handle and steer the power and speed generated by two people on the 280-plus pound vessel. Our top speed has been clocked at 55 mph – not a time for even a wiggle.
Trust your captain as much as you can. I often tell myself, “JayP does not want to crash as much as I don’t want to crash.” My best advice: just don’t think about it.
Lend A Hand When You Can
There are many benefits to being the stoker like being protected from the wind, the mud, and being able to look around and mindlessly pedal. But at times it is important to pay attention, like if the stoker is in charge of directions on a route with a lot of turns. Like any solo ride, eating and drinking needs to be monitored and adjusted to the terrain and amount of time you’re out on the bike. The stoker can help the captain by feeding them, by opening the food packages, or handing them a water bottle and reminding them to eat and drink.
200 miles later at the Dirty Kanza 200 finish line…
It Came Out Of Nowhere!
One of the downsides of being the stoker is getting slammed by a hole you cannot see. This can cause the stoker to scream “OUCH!” which then results in a scared captain. I know my captain does his very best to call out obstacles, but sometimes, when we are at high speeds, they’re just unavoidable. Having a suspension seatpost like the Cane Creek Thudbuster definitely helps me.
Worth It On My End
In my opinion, riding tandem is one of the best ways to enjoy cycling with your partner and share experiences, especially if you are on different riding levels. I guarantee you will learn something new every ride and have twice the adventure everytime. Pure tandemonium!
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Endurance cyclist Tracey Petervary is a New Jersey native residing in Victor, Idaho. She started adventure racing 18 years ago, enjoying multi-day, multi-sport team events traveling to places such as Fiji, New Zealand and across the United States. Her stable includes several bikes (MTB, road, cyclocross, commuter, fat, tandem), which allow her to ride every day of the year in any condition.