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I want to take a visiting friend out on a bike ride.

Since this friend never learned how to ride a bike, I was thinking that a tandem might be a viable solution in the short term, instead of spending time on teaching them how to ride a bike.

I've never ridden a tandem myself, so I wonder if both buddies must be capable of riding a bike on their own, or only one is sufficient.

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    Data point: My parents used to ride tandem long ago--my mother was completely incapable of riding a bike on her own as she was blind. – Loren Pechtel Mar 20 at 0:28
  • As Carel says - MUST NOT lean out on turns. Must follow rider. Leaning out can cause falls or failure to corner. – Russell McMahon Mar 21 at 6:04
  • Common wisdom is for a new tandem captain to get at least a hundred miles solo on the bike before riding with a partner. – Criggie Mar 21 at 23:41
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Sheldon Brown (of course) has a good page on riding tandem. He doesn't get into details, but since the stoker's main job is to keep upright it doesn't demand a lot of bike handling skill. Riding as stoker for the first time is similar to being passenger on a motorbike for the first time; the main thing to learn is not to lean or shift your weight. All the bike-handling skill comes from the captain, and as the captain it's a good idea to become familiar with the handling of the tandem before you try riding with a stoker. (Brown's page covers all this.)

In my experience the trickiest part of riding stoker is getting mounted; holding steady balance with both feet on the pedals as the captain mounts. You might try having a pole or something similar for the stoker to put a hand on to help their balance.

So the answer is no, the stoker doesn't really need to learn how to ride, in the sense of knowing bike-handling skills. That said, the stoker does need to learn how to sit on the saddle without throwing the balance of the bike, and also to learn to turn the pedals at the same time - and in the same cadence - as the captain. Again, from experience, synchronized pedalling is one of the hardest parts of riding tandem, especially if you're an experienced cyclist who tends to spin continuously.

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    One of the most important things to tell the stoker is that (s)he must ALWAYS keep both feet on the pedals at a stop sign or a traffic light and not lean out of a turn. – Carel Mar 19 at 15:50
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I've ridden stoker, and its probably easier for a non-rider than for someone who rides.

The instinctive thought for the experienced rider is to move their body weight around to balance. That would work if the stoker and captain were completely in tune and had the same riding style.

However, cyclists have different styles and move the bike differently. For me, being on the back with a MTB rider on the front, it felt like the bike was falling over a lot. Thus I'm more of an upright touring style of balance.

An inexperienced rider as stoker might work better, if they lock their arms and keep their center of mass straight over the centerline of the bike.


As for an unexperienced rider, perhaps your first ride should be completely away from roads. Spend the first 10-20 minutes tootling through a park or somewhere completely isolated, to get to a first step of comfort.

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In short, no: One doesn't have to be an experienced cyclist to be a stoker but...

  1. I would strongly suggest an aspiring stoker (and captain for that matter) to do some spin classes or workouts on stationary bikes. The reason being that it is VERY difficult to stand and throw a tandem side-to-side as one often does on a single bike. The spin bike teaches one how to stand and maintain balance with no side-to-side motion.

  2. When getting started the captain & stoker need to work on communication technique. Simple commands are necessary for coordinating starting, stopping, shifting, check traffic, turning left/right, etc. It's wonderful having a 2nd set of eyes to watch for traffic!

  3. When cornering the stoker should look around the INSIDE shoulder of the captain. This is simplest technique I've found to get a stoker to maintain proper position. Or more importantly it prevents the natural tendency some stokers have of maintaining an upright position while the captain is leaning (counter steering) into a turn.

  4. For standing, I've found as a captain that I'll yell "UP!" for the stoker to stand. I'll stay seated but will allow the bike to float beneath me as the stoker often will move the bike side to side. When I stand I work hard to NOT move the bike side to side and focus on simple up/down power delivery to the pedals.

  5. The captain needs to listen to and respect the concerns of the stoker. Remember they will be without any brakes nor an obvious method of controlling the bike.

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    YMMV, but I think standing is way too ambitious for a captain who has never ridden tandem and stoker who has never ridden at all. Also, a spin bike is not good for training standing, since it's built not to rock at all, and won't help train standing balance. – DavidW Mar 19 at 20:39
  • Interesting concept of the spin bike,any one ever mounted a tandem on a trainer for stoker familiarization? – mikes Mar 19 at 21:53
  • I think spin bikes can be beneficial to learn pedalling. Apparently pedalling in a smooth motion is surprisingly hard if you’ve never done it before. – Michael Mar 20 at 10:12
  • We've mounted ours on a trainer for bike-fit and adjustment. It seemed to work fine, but as with normal riding if the stoker is not present, there's a lack of weight over the rear wheel which makes traction sub-optimal. – James Bradbury Mar 20 at 11:09
  • Regarding Standing: It is much more stable and controlled if one person stands. From the post I assumed the captain was experienced, perhaps a bad assumption. I find a stoker standing is very easy to control. Having the stoker seated when I stand is far more controlled (IMHO) than to attempt standing with both of us. – NoCo Rider Mar 21 at 19:15
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The short answer is no, the stoker does not need to know how to ride a bike. I've taken out an inexperienced stoker in her 70s who has been blind since birth. However perhaps blind people make better stokers as they are used to trusting people to guide them.

Note that riding as a stoker will not necessarily give someone the skills needed to ride a solo bike. The hardest part of riding solo is learning to balance, hence the move to teach kids on balance bikes rather than those with stabilisers/trainer wheels. A stoker will have a very different experience of balance from their position on the bike. In fact that difference in the motion can be quite unnerving at first, especially at low speed. I screamed when I first rode as a stoker.

The minimum a stoker needs to do is:

  • Fit the bike properly
  • Maintain a neutral balance - not lean wildly from side to side as my father likes to do which is a big problem as he's heavier than me. After some experience and with good communication it can be helpful for the stoker to lean slightly into corners when going fast. When done right the bike feels fantastic.
  • Stay seated (until very experienced) and pedal steadily at the same cadence as the captain
  • Be trusting enough of the captain to cope with having no brakes or gears
  • Communicate their needs and timing starts and stops

The captain needs to:

  • Remember that although they are in control, the stoker is in command. If they say stop, the captain stops, if they say slow down they slow down. This is to compensate for their lack of direct control and make the experience more equitable.
  • Hold the bike vertically upright when stopped at lights. Keep shins away from the pedals which the stoker may turn without warning. If they do this and the captain's shins are in the way, it is the captain's fault.
  • Steer. This may require more upper body strength than a solo, especially when going slowly.
  • Keep their eyes on the road. Tandems go fast downhill and the captain keeps two people safe through their attention.
  • Brake early and in a controlled way.
  • Avoid or warn about potholes so the stoker can lift their bum off the saddle for a moment (the captain may also have to coast to allow this).
  • Compromise over cadence/gear selection. Keep your stoker happy!
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I wonder if to ride one both buddies must be capable of riding a bike on their own, or only one is sufficient.

One is sufficient - as long as the other is not too nervous and can fit properly on the back seat and the pilot (in front) has varied experience.

Case: I (in my 30s) rode tandem with a healthy relative in his 80s who had not bicycled in 50 years - no exaggeration - as he did not feel capable on his own anymore. My experience at that point was about 1 year of tandem riding with various partners. His concern was falling off, yet near falls with previous partners were easily prevented on my part, so I felt confident in being able to cope and prevent injury.

With both of us properly helmeted, we enjoy a casual 10 minute ride. Then he could say he had been biking for over 70 years.

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