Observation #1: The Bicycle Built for 2

It didn’t take long for me to log my first observation of the new academic year. I was out taking a bike ride and all of a sudden a 2 seated bicycle and its passengers passed me going the other way. I’ve seen many of these bikes over the years, but today for some reason I noticed something different. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog might find this ironic, but today I noticed that when 2 people ride a 2-seater….the woman is ALWAYS riding behind the man (see picture).bicycle_built_for_two_sm When I noticed this today, I shuffled back through past bikers and thought…I don’t recall ever seeing the woman riding first, and a man riding behind. I’ve seen 2 women, 2 men, an adult/child…but when the twosome is man/woman, the woman is always riding second. Is there some kind of physics, momentum, safety, or scientific explanation that I’m not aware of, that dictates why the woman rides in the second seat? Please enlighten me, I’ve never ridden one of these bikes, so perhaps I’m missing something? It appears to me as another inane example of outdated, status quo gender roles which place men in the forefront and women following behind and not in charge of steering their own destinies. The analogies and metaphors are endless…..

11 Replies to “Observation #1: The Bicycle Built for 2”

  1. as usual, sheldon brown is the go-to voice on bicycling technique.

    the only real points here are that the front position requires slightly more upper-body strength than a usual bicyclist, and is usually the best fit for the larger rider.

    there’s not much other reason and if two cyclists are of roughly the same size and experience the positions oughta be pretty well interchangable.


  2. Not every sports convention is an act of discrimination. If you’ve ever ridden a tandem bicycle, you would understand why the LARGER rider sits in front of the SMALLER rider. I happen to know a couple where that larger rider (aka the captain) is a woman and the smaller rider (aka the stoker) is a man.

    The captain on a tandem really needs to have a lot of physical strength, not only to steer the bike, but also to support the bike when stopped.

    The weight of a one-person bicycle = bike weight + rider weight.

    The weight of a two-person bicycle = bike weight + rider weight + rider weight. Yet only one rider is responsible for supporting all of that additional weight. Riding a tandem essentially doubles the weight that one individual rider (the captain) must support.

    If you don’t believe me, I would challenge you to grab your favorite guy-pal, borrow a tandem, and see just how challenging it would be for you to captain the bike.


  3. velogirl,
    Thanks for the info! As I stated, I’ve not ridden a tandem bike, so besides my observational data, I needed others to educate me on this seemingly outdated reproduction of gender roles. Perhaps I’ll take you up on that suggestion and get out there. -nml


    1. For someone titles herself a scholar, researcher and critical thinker, clearly you have utilized none of these tools for this particular post.
      May I suggest that you add the idea of becoming an OBJECTIVE observer to you observations?
      For example, have you ever noticed that when same sex riders are on a tandem, and one is substantially larger, that the larger rider is nearly always the captain?

      Or perhaps you could spend the all of 3 minutes that it would take to “research” this topic. Heck, even if you had simply googled the words “tandem, rider, larger” you would have come up with a multitude of writings that explain why the captain is the larger rider.
      Any of the above posts would have explained to you why it is physically advantageous to have the larger rider up front.

      Finally, before you criticize an entire group of athletes for their sexist ways, may I suggest that you use your “critical thinking cap” while writing?
      It is my opinion that see that while the gist of your questions is valid, the way that you’ve presented them is actually sexist, and without much thought.
      What you have gathered is NOT observational data; it is anecdotal evidence, with prejudice.
      I do believe you owe mixed tandem riders an apology (not to mention critical thinkers, researchers, and scholars everywhere).


  4. Thank you to everyone who weighed in and educated me about tandem cycling! I’ve learned a lot from your posts. As I stated, I admittedly knew very little about tandem biking. I was making my observation purely from a gendered lens, in which I’ve only seen men captains and women stokers riding together. I appreciate everyone commenting as that is how I (and perhaps others) learn. I will never claim to know everything and value other’s perspectives. My gendered perspective is but one perspective, not “the” or “only” perspective. I was not intending to insult tandem riders…eeeeasy. To see other comments on this blog post that are only posted on the Women Talk Sports go to http://www.womentalksports.com/items/view/57172.

    My research brain is thinking it would be fun to design a research experiment–given equal biking experience and equal weight/body size of both the male and female riders, one could then examine who would end up as the captain verses stoker and how was biking roles were negotiated?


    1. tough call! on one hand, i personally would make a good captain as i have pretty good balance/strength on the bicycle. on the other hand, i’d make a terrible captain, because my eyes are on everything but that bone-jarring pothole i am two seconds from hitting.


  5. As a captain of a tandem I can definitely state that it is easier to ride a single than a tandem. I can stand on a solo bike whenever I feel the need, whereas on a tandem I must balance both myself and my stoker while standing. On long rides (60 miles +) when I have run out of steam I have been able to finish the distance when my stoker sagged in, and I knew I could not finish as a team. The heavier the stoker, the more strength it takes from the captain. The ideal stoker is a 16 yo male who weights about 120 pounds. I was once passed on my single by a tandem with a woman on the front and a young male on the back. I was going uphill about 15 mph and they passed me as if I were standing by the side of the road. They must have been going in excess of 20 mph uphill.


  6. So I rode my local century yesterday and was thinking about tandems as I noticed several on the ride. (It was a pleasant distraction as the miles wore on.)
    All the tandems I saw with male/female riders were captained by men.
    But I am actually not going to enter the gender debate here but rather bring up another interesting thing about tandems: how they provide access to riding to the visually impaired.
    Because I observed most closely the one female/female tandem–largely because they rode at a similar pace (as me). The captain probably weighed less but could be the stronger of the two given her musculature. So I kept thinking about how they chose who would be in front especially given that I almost saw them fall as they came to one of the rest stops. Then I realized–at like mile 80–that the stoker was blind.
    Again, not really addressing the gender issue, but given the historical lack of access to sport and recreation by the disabled, I thought I would share.


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