Cycling can be a very social activity allowing riders to meet-up with groups and enjoy a spin along roads or trails together. Often times it is a natural progression for tandem bike teams to do the same and partake in an organized group ride with solo-bicycle riders. For tandem teams the decision to ride with a group must be followed immediately with a process for picking the proper group to join.
What is the Danger for Tandem Teams?
Aside from the obvious difference between tandem bikes and solo bikes, tandem teams are uniquely susceptible to dangers posed by choosing the wrong riding group. A tandem handles different from a solo bike on the three major axis including acceleration, braking, and maneuvering. Placing your tandem team into a group that sets inconsistent paceline speeds, erratic rider movements, or poor warning signals (for potholes and the like) can quickly change a fun ride into a lethal accident waiting to happen. The trick for picking the right group is matching their characteristics with your tandem team’s characteristics (not just the stoker or captains preferences).
Not all groups are equal
Not all cycling groups and clubs are created equal so care and due diligence is required when picking one. Based upon the combined psycho and demo graphics of the group you could find yourself in a lazy-pace flanked by geriatrics or spinning away in a sprint for the next sign-post. In an example from the Denver area, our editors rode with a group that seemed very professional and courteous on the front-end (on the website and at the pre-ride meeting). Unfortunately once rubber hit pavement the group dynamics switched with riders blowing stop signs and lights, diving through traffic, and all but ignoring even the most basic traffic laws.
Clues to Makeup
Cycling can be a competitive medium and sometimes people forget to delineate the difference between a social ride and a competitive event. Early clues can be found on the club website or group forum by looking for telltale signs of racing. Look for links or forum posts discussing races, racers, or training rides. At the pre-ride meeting pay attention to social clues to how the riders interact with one another. Are they discussing kids and work or are they debating the merits of wind sprints and cross-training? Combining the various clues will provide an idea of the group you are about to join.
On the Road
The majority of solo riders will only have seen a tandem in passing and have no real idea how it works. Your first few miles will be spent discussing the pros, cons, and differences inherit with a tandem bicycle. Use this “getting to know you time” to educate the other riders as to what to expect from your team and how to interact with you on the road. Discuss the key handling differences and make gentle suggestions on what you look for from other riders around you. At the same time pay attention to the group members and how they interact and react to your discussion. Are they displaying characteristics mentioned above or are they friendly nice and within the same general skill areas as your tandem team?
Be honest with your tandem partner as to your feelings. In our sample above from Denver our editors ended up pulling out of the group 5 miles in after witnessing the erratic behavior of the members. Since they did have a route que sheet they simply waited 5 minutes and then continued on the ride alone.
Not all groups and clubs are made the same and it will take time to select the proper one to mix with your tandem team’s skillset. By carefully selecting the group that meshes with your needs and expectations you can enhance your tandem riding experience by throwing in a few group rides every month.