The stoker, rider on the back seat of a tandem bicycle, has a precarious role in the operation of a tandem bike. Under normal circumstances he or she is asked to pedal in unison, with power, and at the pace set by the captain (rider on the front seat of a tandem bike) all while not being able to see directly ahead of the direction of travel. The stoker is more often than not the focus of passerby well wishes or concerns usually phrased as follows “you are a brave person… I would not be caught dead on the back of a tandem”. For the stoker a tandem bike offers a significantly different perspective on two wheeled locomotion when compared to riding a solo bike and it is these differences that makes the stokers role so unique.
As a stoker the first major difference, and most obvious, is the complete lack of control they exert over the direction, speed (at least in downhill situations), and line choice of the tandem. The stoker effectively gives their well being over to the captain during the duration of the trip and must rely upon that person for guidance as to what to expect next. It is at this junction where a long lasting tandem team is made or dissolved. The captain MUST provide useful and timely guidance to the stoker continuously in-order to ensure a long and healthy riding partnership. Simple things like calling out bumps in the road, impending stops, or cadence changes will make the difference between a happy trip and final trip.
The stoker must be prepared to accept the feedback provided by the captain and adapt to the incoming changes that said feedback entails. For example, an approaching bump in the road may require the stoker to grip the handlebar more tightly or be ready for a sharp jolt through the seat-post. As a stoker even minor miscalculations can shift the center of gravity of the tandem and cause significant control issues for the captain. Something as simple as sitting up off the bar to reach into a back pack can and will change the weight balance on the tandem; as much as the captain should communicate actions up front so should the stoker communicate changes in back.
On a tandem bike it takes two to get from point A to Point B. Miscommunication from either the captain or the stoker can result in the abrupt ending of a tandem partnership. The stoker may be hanging on for dear life on the back of a tandem but it is their vital role in the team that makes them the lifeblood of any successful tandem pair.