Stoking our fires within from atop a tandem

By Ellen McCough, PT, PhD; Cynthia Robinson, PT, PhD; and Monica Smersh

Have you ever participated in a spinning class? Surely many of you have, but have you ever taken a spinning class on a tandem?

Spinning is a great way to have fun and gain fitness, but not everyone has the confidence or the muscle power and stamina to do it alone. Riding tandem adds teamwork, camaraderie and support to the mix! For people with Parkinson's disease, riding tandem with an experienced captain provides a boost to sustain pedaling at a higher cadence, intensity and consistency than riding solo.

The UW Tandem Biking Program led by Ellen McGough, PT, PhD, is an innovative indoor cycling class in which people with Parkinson's disease train with experienced cyclists on tandem bicycles. The class is offered at Seattle's Magnuson Park Brig through the University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in partnership with Outdoors for All Foundation and Seattle Parks and Recreation.

UW Doctor in Physical Therapy students and volunteers from the community come together to ride as captains, providing pacing and encouragement for individuals with Parkinson’s. Participants with Parkinson's have reported positive changes as a result of the program, including feeling stronger and more stable on their feet, walking with increased ease, feeling more energetic, being in a better mood and sleeping better. Participants attribute much of their success to the supportive class environment and camaraderie between the captains and stokers.

The tandem class provides just the right amount of support, camaraderie and physical training for participants with Parkinson's to obtain their goals and achieve an enormous sense of accomplishment. Tandem stokers also participate in a research study on the effects of tandem cycling on motor and non-motor function. They partake in a host of activities to assess walking, balance and quality of life.

Information about their training efforts is gathered with a new research bicycle. A team of physical therapists collaborated with Seattle's R & E Cycles to design and fabricate a tandem research bicycle and training system, painted in Husky purple and gold!

This system allows researchers to measure pedaling power, symmetry and efficiency during tandem and solo rides.

​Do you know someone with Parkinson’s disease who might want to participate? Or, are you an experienced rider who would like to volunteer as a captain? If so, you can: email: msmersh@u.washington.edu or call (206) 598-4561.