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I am thinking of buying a tandem for my special needs adolescent son to encourage more purposeful movement and purposeful movement stamina. He can easily ride a bike and biking has become quite relaxing and automatic.

Recently, he has tried a tandem as a stoker which he seemed to manage. I am always looking for challenges where he has to "think" with his body as opposed to his usual default of being impulsive with his movement. From my research, a stoker has to be relaxed but must respond among other things to the captain's movements.

My questions are:

  1. Does the role of stoker encourage a calm mind but also demand that his reactions be purposeful
  2. Does the role of stoker become a passive activity or does it continue to be quite an active role. ( With autism, often they have issues with calmness and purposeful movement).

I hope that I am making sense. Thanks!

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    I don’t have an answer, but I think the Hase Pino tandem could be great for this application because it gives the stoker (on the recumbent in front) an unobstructed view, maybe encouraging them to participate more actively. ebike-news.de/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/…
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 10:14
  • Thanks, Michael. I will look into the Hase Pino.
    – Stephen
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 13:15
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    @Stephen that does look like it may be a good fit for you. Consider, though, your son's "impulsive movements" and what that might do to balance and/or steering with him out front instead of tucked in behind. Just something to think about as you're evaluating whether this may be a good fit for your situation.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 13:56
  • Thanks, FreeMan. Appreciate.
    – Stephen
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 14:17
  • As people with Autism say themselves, if you know one person with Autism you know one person with Autism. So go with what this young man needs and can do, not with what people say people with Autism can or can not do.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:07

3 Answers 3

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My wife and I are learning to ride a tandem right now. It's considerably different from riding a single bike. I've been captaining (normally the captain is the more experienced rider).

One big difference is the need for the captain to communicate everything. Starting, stopping, turning, shifting, coasting, bumps. The stoker can see some of these coming, so they might not need to be communicated (e.g. "we're on a hill, our cadence has dropped, I'm obviously about to shift").

There are little things you don't necessarily think about: I push off with my left leg, my wife pushes off with her right. On a tandem, the captain's preference wins. Braking is a lot worse, and it can be nerve-wracking for the stoker; conversely, the captain is responsible for the stoker's safety, and that can be nerve-wracking for the captain. Getting on and off the bike is a scripted series of steps. Pushing off takes a lot of coordination, and you only get one stab at the pedal. Apart from some exotic tandems (including the Pino, as mentioned above; there are other companies that make the semi-recumbent design), if one rider is pedaling, the other must pedal too.

My impression is that the stoker's role is passive, except when it isn't: keep your body still, do what the captain says. You don't shift, steer, or brake. Different teams deal with stops differently, but my wife doesn't even put her foot down at stops. But for pushing off, the stoker is important.

I'm not sure how much that answers your question.

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    Eventually with an experienced tandem team all that communication stops, as both members can exactly predict what the other will do, when when that stage is reached the experience is quite sublime. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 4:50
  • Hi Adam, thank you for your feedback. Yes, I needed to know the stoker is not really a passive role. Like some persons with autism, my son has poor motor planning but still has his survival instincts and instinctual instincts. So, I was looking for sports that build on these strengths. Learning to keep your body still as you pointed out would be a good skill. Thanks again.
    – Stephen
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 15:01
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I think it sounds like a great idea. Adam Rice covers much of what is different about riding a tandem vs. riding alone (need for constant communication primary among them). I'll focus more on your question about deliberate and purposeful actions, based on experience of a few thousand miles of tandeming.

While it might seem like the stoker is a passive rider, just following the captain's lead, this actually takes a lot of concentration and really deliberate movement planning. Unless you all are using clipless pedals, the stoker really has to concentrate on what their legs are doing, lest they get distracted, slip off the pedals, and their shins get whacked. The captain does as well -- you can't just stop pedaling to rest a bit without forewarning. My wife and I eventually solved this by going clipless, which took a lot of trust on her part, but we would never go back now.

Stopping and starting take a lot of practice and coordination. So if you want to work on purposeful movements, that will be critical for stops/starts. You could even plan routes to take advantage of this -- lots of practice starting and stopping would mean lots of purposeful movements (though we tend to look for routes that avoid stops -- cruising is much more fun).

There is also a lot of activity in trying to stay upright and balanced. My wife says she is much more tired after a couple of hours on the tandem than her touring bike. I think it uses different core muscles. I'm tired from steering an 8' long 350 pound cruising vessel.

I think you might find some of the other positives riding a tandem:

  • You have to ride at the same speed, so no one feels like they can't keep up. You will often read that the stoker is always right. That's true.
  • You can actually carry on a conversation without shouting or worrying about crashing into each other.
  • My wife like to birdwatch and take photos. She can spot wildlife from the tandem like a pro.

Once your son gets stronger, consider letting him be the captain.

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  • Hi Kmm, Thank you and everyone for their feedback. Good to know you are using different core muscles. We will see if there is cross over to sitting down longer at a desk. From what you were saying about the stoker being fatigued and also about the being whacked in the shins, it looks like the tandem might have the features we were looking for: being compelled to motor plan simple movements over and over and over in a fun but slightly life threatening situation (if you don't plan or keep up, your shins will get whacked or you might fall off the tandem). Thanks!
    – Stephen
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 13:59
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We have been riding (my son and I) for ten years now (40'000 miles and counting). But you know the drill - if you make it an accepted routine - you will likely have to stick to it no matter what. We, for one, ride all year round and in almost any weather conditions (heated gloves are a bless in winter - so are vacuum flasks).

In order to minimize the "pit-stop" times, we carry the extra repair stuff with us (not only spare tubes and a pump, but also a few extra chain-links & a chain-tool (in case of the timing chain failure)).

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  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. Thanks for the answer, but does it answer the original question or is it more of a comment? It sounds like you have lots of experience with the subject, but could you add (edit your answer) something that more directly answers one or both of the two sub-questions in the original question?
    – Ted Hohl
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 16:13
  • I am afraid there are no answers to these questions - the specific experiences are not transferable. If my reply does not conform to the rules just remove it, please. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 6:08

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