Question: Mainly for my stoker (wife). Since we are beginners at this tandem riding, should she start out with flat pedals? We use clipless on our single bikes and are familiar with them; so what should we do?
Response: Seeing that you are both used to clipless pedals it may not be a good idea to go back to flat pedals. The advantage clipless pedals provide is to keep your feet hooked to the pedal to allow the rider to pull through the stroke and in the case of the stoker clipless pedals help keep her feet on the pedals over varied terrain while travelling quickly.
At the same time there are risks with clipless pedals. Lets start out with crashing; in all likelihood when you lay the tandem down the stoker is highly unlikely to eject safely whether they are clipped in or not. The best option may be found in a DH type clipless pedal with a built in platform. These pedals offer a clipless mechanism while also including a wide body for un-clipped riding.
As your control improves accidents can be avoided by keeping the stoker “attached” to the bike anyways. There will be times when they decide to eject and the simple act of them removing their feet from the pedals causes a weight shift that results in you falling over.
Another option is to take a day and head up to a large open grass area. When we first started out on the tandem this was our trick. We spent two hours riding slowly around the grass maneuvering the bike in tight corners and over smaller obstacles. We practiced dismounts and remounts. I even demonstrated to my stoker that if the tandem falls to one side she could shift her body in a way that avoided an impact with the ground (remember the stoker bar does not turn and is therefore similar to a roll bar).Disclaimer: the above is a statement of opinion and should be utilized as such in your decision making process. As with all tandem components users should utilize common sense when selecting and using various pieces of equipment.