Safe tandem use

These instructions are special for riders of tandem bicycles.

Special safety considerations

A tandem is larger than a single, or 'regular', bicycle.


A tandem is necessarily longer than a standard bicycle. This makes a tandem somewhat harder to control in tight turning situations.

Two riders

There are two people on the bicycle, the captain (front) and stoker (rear). These two may not move in a coordinated way, interfering with the steering and balance of the tandem. Be careful in areas with reduced room to operate; dismount and walk if the skills of your tandem team will not provide an adequate safety margin.


A tandem supports two riders, making the combined vehicle much heavier than a single bicycle. This additional weight affects steering, making the tandem slower to respond. The extra weight, combined with reduced wind resistance, means a tandem can go much faster downhill than a single bicycle. However, the extra weight of a tandem may require a much greater distance to bring it to a stop. Always keep a safe stopping distance between you and other vehicles or objects. Adjust stopping distances and braking forces to suit riding conditions. If you feel your brakes are not powerful enough for your riding needs, you may want to invest in supplemental braking systems.

Riding tips


Good communication between the riders on a tandem is essential for enjoyment, and control of the tandem. Each rider should signal the other prior to anything that affects the bicycle.

Preparing to get under way

If you are new to tandem riding, practice these basic riding skills in a flat, empty parking lot before riding on the open road. Initially, do not use toe clips or clipless pedals, or only use them in such a way that they will not hold your feet. With toe clips, this can be achieved by leaving the straps loose. With clipless pedals, you can ride in shoes without cleats.

Before attempting to launch, put the tandem in a lower gear, such as the middle chainring and one of the larger rear cogs. To shift the tandem without riding it, one person can turn the pedals with one hand and shift with the other, while the other person holds the rear wheel off the ground (and avoids the rotating pedals).

Mounting the tandem

The captain gets on the tandem first. They steady the bicycle with both feet on the ground, wide enough to support the bicycle (and avoid the pedals should they rotate). Then the stoker mounts the bicycle and places both feet on the pedals.

Getting started

The stoker should rotate the pedals so that the drive pedal is in position for the captain to do a starting pedal stroke (Figure 1). The drive position is just forward of the top of the pedal circle. Balancing the tandem with one foot on the ground, the captain places their other foot on the drive pedal. At a signal from the captain, the captain uses the foot on the ground to push off, and both riders immediately start pedaling.

After a few pedal strokes, the tandem will become more stable and easier to control. At this point, either rider may signal to coast to engage toe clips, or in other ways get settled.


Mounting the tandem

Working together

Changes in pedal action, whether to advance the bicycle or coast, must be done together. To accomplish this smoothly, riders should signal one another of desired changes in pedal action.

When shifting, pedal pressure should be reduced for best operation. The captain should signal their intention to shift up or down several pedal strokes prior to the shift. The stoker, who is in a better position to see and hear the derailleurs, should signal when either derailleur needs trimming.

As with shifting, the captain should alert the stoker before they make other changes to their riding such as turning or applying the brakes.


Tandem etiquette requires that the captain alert the stoker to road imperfections or bumps. It is normal for a rider to lift off the saddle slightly for comfort over bumps, but on a tandem the stoker may not be able to see the road ahead in time to lift. Without notice from the captain of upcoming roughness, the stoker may be unhappily surprised.

Stopping and dismounting

When approaching a stop, the riders should coast with one pedal straight down. The captain should detach a foot from the pedal, and as they come to a stop place this foot on the ground to balance the vehicle. If it is a brief stop, the stoker may elect to leave both feet on the pedals in anticipation of getting started again. Otherwise, the captain should keep the brakes applied, and put both feet down. The stoker can then dismount, followed by the captain, who should avoid kicking the stoker as they swing a leg over the bike.

Continue Reading: Special tandem maintenance