Tandem riders are often couples ages 35 and over whose enthusiasm for bicycling was sidetracked by career and family, says the Pavlats. Once they find the time to cycle together again, husband and wife may find their skill levels are no longer equal.
“It’s just as painful for a strong rider to hold back for a slower rider as it is for the slower rider to try and keep up with someone who rides faster than they do,” says Jerry Pavlat. A tandem allows each half of the couple to put out as much effort as he or she is able, he added.
“Tandems are the great equalizer,” says Goertz. “You can put a cyclist who does 15 miles an hour with a cyclist who may do 12, and together they may pedal 20 miles an hour. It allows both partners to get in shape together with neither being penalized. How many sports can offer that?”
On a tandem, the rear rider is called the stoker and the front rider is the captain, who is responsible for braking, steering, shifting and calling out road hazards. The stoker keeps an eye out for cars coming up from behind, helps the captain stay in gear and takes care of all hand signals.
These days, the stronger rider, or captain is not always the husband or boyfriend, says Jerry Pavlat. With more and more women active in touring and road racing, the couple may buy the tandem to accommodate a husband who can’t keep up with his wife. Indeed, in the Pavlat family, Sue is the one who races tandems. Sue holds a record for tandem riding in the Race Across America: She rode from California to Georgia in less than 11 days.