While we were out in California, my SO treated me to a little early birthday present: a spin around wine country in a tandem. We've been talking about riding a tandem together for a while and he happened to find a bike shop that had several for rent at a reasonable price, so we decided to test drive one and see how it went.
I've only had one experience with a tandem once before this, and it wasn't an experience that I was necessarily eager to repeat. On the last night of an extended stay in Portland, a friend of mine picked me up and took me out for dinner on a tandem (this nice yellow one here). It was very Portland, very sweet, and very terrifying. If you're a person of a certain height (read, short), then you usually end up in the stoker position at the back where you have no brakes, no shifters and no ability to steer. The bike is pretty much controlled by the person in front of you, and if he or she is tall then s/he also obstructs your view of what's coming. You basically just have to pedal and trust. My Portland bike companion had good intentions, but our bike styles were not exactly compatible. He had us whizzing down hills while I quite literally shrieked in the back. At one point I think he actually paused to check on me because I'd stopped shrieking!
Much as I love the idea of biking on a tandem with my SO in theory, I was still pretty nervous when we got on the bike. But, I was willing to give it a go because I knew that he would be trying his hardest to make it a good experience for me, or else I'd never get on a tandem with him again! Getting started was a little shaky because you have to coordinate your movements until you can get going fast enough that you're not in immediate danger of falling over. Even once we were going, it was still a little freaky because I had the distinct feeling like we were tipping over too far to the right. Does my SO ride crooked, somehow? I don't know, but it was unsettling.
Since there's not much to see ahead on the tandem (aside from someone else's back), it's a great opportunity to look around. We took a 12 mile loop around a valley filled with vineyards, and it was a beautiful view. It was nice to be able to check this stuff out and not have to always be looking at the road ahead of you. And the best part about being on the tandem was that it was like having an electric assist bike, powered by my SO. We whizzed around that 12 mile loop in maybe 50 minutes or so, and while I was pedaling, I really wasn't busting my butt (sorry, hon!). Towards the end of the ride we seemed to be getting the hang of starting and stopping pretty well, and made it through the last few stop signs with not too much trouble.
So, will there be more tandems in our future? I'm not sure yet. It would be a good option for touring for us. Instead of always going at my (much slower) speed, we could be going at the average of our two speeds, making us much faster overall. I think over time we'd get pretty used to each others' biking styles as well, and I would probably feel less freaked out about not being in control. It would suck a bit to have a permanent view of his back when we went traveling, but I would also be able to pedal and look around, so maybe that makes up for it. But if I'm being really honest, I think I'd still rather be in front. Nothing is more calming than having your own set of brake levers.