If you frequently ride bikes with another person, maybe you should consider trying a tandem. Why? Is a tandem better than two bikes?
For many people, it certainly is. Think of it as adding another motor to your bike, turning it into a twin-engine machine with double the horsepower, while keeping the aerodynamics exactly the same. Above 18 mph, 80% of the power in a bike is needed to overcome wind resistance, so two people on a tandem can ride faster and more efficiently than they can on 2 bikes. It’s like drafting, only much tighter. Going downhill, with twice the weight and less drag, is a thrill ride limited only by how safe you feel going 40 or 50 mph on a bicycle.
As a practical matter, riders on 2 bikes who want to stay together are limited to the speed of the slowest one; whoever is the weakest or just the most tired. On a tandem, however, you both go faster than the speed of the strongest rider alone. If there is a big disparity between the riders’ ability, the tandem is an even better alternative. The person in the back, the “stoker,” is relieved from shifting, steering or even always having to hold on. This frees him or her up to navigate, take pictures, peel bananas, open water bottles or most useful of all, signal turns with sweeping and dramatic movements to enable those nerve-wracking moves into the left turn lane.
Tandem riders have another advantage over single cyclists: conversation. Without needing to reduce their speed or violate the rule that “cyclists maintain single file,” tandem riders can engage in conversation as they ride without having to turn around to shout in the direction of their companions.
Communication, cooperation and trust are absolutely necessary. You have to learn to pedal and coast at the same time, and the person in the front, the “captain,” has to announce upcoming shifts, turns, stops and bumps. Stopping and starting at intersections are not as easy, either.
It all gets better with practice. It’s like everything in life: try it and see if you like it. If you do, you’ll get good at it.