I started my life on the Mandem as a stoker, and happily so. As a stoker, I can bury myself without regard for hypoxia. When riding easier, I can look around and enjoy all aspects of the ride without having concern for where the bike is pointed. I can shirk navigational responsibilities and just focus on spinning circles. I can have a biking experience that is totally different from any other on-the-bike experience I’ve yet had.
There are those random moments of oddness–the second where your brain forgets that you’re a stoker, and you suddenly see something that triggers an attempt to grab the brakes, or steer–only to find that you can do neither. There are the moments where the captain shifts to a gear that’s too high, and you find yourself gutting along at some ridiculously low cadence. There are things to get used to–but the good far outweighs the bad.
I recently tried my hand as captain. That is quite an experience.
Getting used to turning on gravel takes some time. There’s far more planning involved. Sure, there’s the longer wheelbase, but there’s also the matter of coordinating the captain/stoker english to get the bike at the proper angle. There’s the practice of having to counter steer for two moving bodies, rather than just one. There’s the knowledge that if you biff, you’re taking down someone else with you.
But there’s the fun–the sheer fun–of riding a bike with another person.
The wheelbase of the Mandem means that even on loose gravel, it’s incredibly stable. It does drift around a little bit, but provided that you relax and let it drift, it never goes far. If you fight it and correct every little movement, you quickly tire of steering. A gentle hand and slow, steady corrections work best.
What is surprising is how different it feels under power. If you and your stoker are pushing as hard as possible, the front of the bike starts to feel light–it starts to feel like a sport bike that’s trying to wheelie. The bike is laterally rigid, but under full power, you can feel it moving around. The long wheelbase means that it rides like a cadillac–vertical compliance is amazing. Never disconcerting or unpredictable–just comfortable.
The wheels could use some improvement, and I’m not certain if I’m sold on the drivetrain. Getting the rear derailleur to shift happily takes a lot of chasing. This is a bike that’s calling out for Di2…or even SRAM wireless. We’ll see what the future holds.
For now, it’s fun on just about any surface, and is surprisingly capable. When you really get it cooking, there’s not much that is going to catch the Mandem. On that note–as a captain, you do have to remember that you’re responsible for steering. On one of my last rides, we did a sprint and I was fully invested…tunnel vision starting…when I remembered that I was up front and had to be responsible for driving the bike. It all worked out in the end.
If you haven’t ever tried a tandem, add it to your cycling bucket list.