I had a used tandem ordered for E & I way back in 2009, then cancer crept up on my father and I cancelled the bike and went to Montana for quite a while- and the idea of a tandem became a few webpages that I would scout once in awhile. Then two weeks ago E got a little urge to check our local classifieds, and there was this great tandem at a really good price. It looked like the frame would fit us both, so I called and we headed across town for a test ride. Neither of us had ridden a tandem before, but we came home with it. It is a better bike than either of our single bikes. (It is a Co-Motion Cappuccino, Aluminum frame, also known as an AL-Capp. It has a carbon front fork to smooth the ride for me, and a Softride carbon beam for E. 27 gears. It rides like a nimble road bike. Amazing…and not a scratch on it.)
It is seven feet long, and my little bike rack that fits to the trailer hitch of the truck barely managed to keep things intact coming back across town; I needed to make a beefy rack for inside the truck shell. I ordered a bracket for the front fork (and two pair of clipless pedals), and it arrived last Friday. I spent the better part of the day out-fitting and welding up and cutting down my first, second, and third ideas- none of which quite worked- by less than an inch one way or another. It needs to slide into the back of the truck, and tuck under the shell then stand back up, as the mouth of the shell is lower than the ceiling. Also, the truck bed is only 6′ long: this means the bike can fit entirely inside the shell only if I work the hypotenuse/diagonal and remove the front and rear wheels. The math tells me it should fit with no problem, but the width of the handlebars tank the equation. I focused on creating a rack that will be short enough to fit the hypotenuse when I deal with the rear-wheel removal later, but for now to fit with the tailgate open and the bike in line with the truck with just the front wheel off. This works for shorter car trips. The weekend came and I gave up on the rack in frustration, and E and I rode the bike about 50 miles- 28 miles on Saturday, and 22 miles on Sunday.
It was rather refreshing to reconnect with childhood wipe-out memories as the strange physical feedback from the bike contrasted against my regular twitchy Aluminum road bike, and convinced me we were going to eat it. I had forgotten how terrifying a bike can be. It started to get fun, then we would nearly die and I would have to pull some weird stunt of balance and prying strength and then pedal on in disbelief that we lived and let the panic die down and my core muscles and torqued shoulders and knees burn (meanwhile the Stoker has no idea and everything is just spin spin spin). E is a good Stoker, with cat-like balance and no side-to-side pedal motion at all- a big part of why I managed to keep us upright through a few steep learning curves. She stays clipped in at stoplights, while I clip out and hold the bike up in an exaggerated A-frame position, ensuring that we don’t topple. When the light changes I squeeze my core for stability, clip in one side, say 1-2-3 go, and E pedals while I steer / pedal / clip back in. Everything you normally do on a bike, just with all illusions of being able to recover from any little mistake stripped away- so way more attention, yet if you pay too much attention you can no longer clip in and out at will, or even change gears smoothly. So the trick is to let go a bit, realize that once all that mass is going in one direction any weird feedback that would usually signal disaster is just part of the tandem ride, and is absorbed into the momentum. Which, if you think about that, is it’s own wrong idea, which brings us back to the forgotten/sublimated terror of cycling.
The two positions are usually referred to as Captain (up front), and Stoker (in back). The larger person has to be the Captain, as the Captain must control the entire bike- which would be impossible for a small person to compensate for the shifting mass of a larger person. I readjusted the seat and handlebars and that helped a lot, putting my balance forward and keeping the front end live. Now I can stand in the saddle for a big hill, and absorb E’s shifts easily as she reaches for a water bottle or looks behind us for cars.
Today I went back to the drawing board on the rack. I tried one more version of my design from Friday, then shunted it as it still jammed the rear seat into the ceiling (by 1/4″) and came up with an entirely new idea that gives me a full inch of clearance from the ceiling. It easily loads into the truck sideways, then tips upright once both seats are in. The rear wheel touches the front of the bed, and I pull tie-downs from the Captain’s seat post to the bed pins, just as you would to stabilize a motorcycle in transport. The handlebars hold the rear window on their handlebar tape (I’ll get a pool noodle to pad them). So it fits and can travel safely! For the Montana road trip I’ll make a rear bracket that bolts onto the rack, remove the rear tire, and swing it all sideways for a fully enclosed trip.