More fodder on hills, aka my $.02 from an empirical perspective.

I believe that perhaps a good many solo bike riders perceive tandems to
be "slow" going up hills since this is where they pass them (or, in the
case of tandemists reading this post it is where they get passed).
However, why is that? In a good many cases, it's because that's where
the faster solo riders caught up with a slower team on a tandem -- it's
inevitable that they will catch up somewhere and hills are the great
equalizers when it comes to vetting out climbers from non-climbers. In
other cases it's where the faster solo riders who were sucking the rear
wheel of a tandem across the flats or rollers for the past 10 miles
decide "this is where we get off" and assume that the tandem team
intended to "hammer the hill" and couldn't keep up rather than, "we just
happened to be going the same way when you rabbits jumped on our wheel
for a 20 minute tow". In either case, it doesn't represent a model for
comparing "apples to apples" unless the solo riders & tandem team are
truly equals when it comes to riding abilities. The latter supports the
basic claim that, on average, tandems are faster than solo bikes which
-- with the exception of hills -- is probably true when you are talking
about comparing riders of equal abilities. In some cases, it may also be
true for teams of lesser abilities on tandems who hold their own on the
flats & rollers with the hammerheads only to be vetted out when they hit
the hills.

All this gibberish leads me to what I consider to be the three or four
things that have a bearing on the hill climbing efficiency of tandems:

1. The "team's" combined ability to work together efficiently
2. Your particular goal and strategy for each hill climb
3. The management of your power curve to achieve your goal
4. Your equipment

Let me elaborate on these four considerations... NOTE: Assume an
average hill of 6 - 9% grade; not some 15 - 20% monster in the
following scenarios.

(yes, it's after cocktail hour and the Braves aren't playing yet)

1. Everyone who's ridden a tandem has marveled how some teams are just a
lot faster or can ride much longer than their outward appearance or
perceived fitness would suggest. I have a personal philosophy that
suggests tandem performance has more to do with the team's ability to work
together and to manage their combined use of energy to achieve a higher level of
performance/endurance than a simple mathematical model would suggest
(OK, Duh! Not quite an epiphany). Conversely, merely taking two strong
cyclists and putting them onto the same bike will not necessarily yield
a high performance team unless they can blend their riding styles and
energy utilization into a cooperative team - not something that will happen
over night and, with really strong riders, sometimes never. Therefore,
it's the subtleties of tandem riding technique -- a bond between the pilot &
co-pilot, good communication and cooperation, compromising on riding
styles, techniques, and managing the natural performance advantages and
disadvantages of a tandem -- that will yield a team who, ON AVERAGE,
can ride on a par with solo riders of relatively equal or slightly
superior abilities. Hill climbing puts this cooperative effort to the test.

2. Assuming you have a tandem team of "well matched" riding partners
who are riding with solo riders of similar riding abilities, a hill
represents first and foremost a question for the riders approaching it;
what do I hope to accomplish here? This is where the goal and strategy
for each hill climb comes in to play.
-- If your goal is to intimidate you storm at the bottom using your big
gears and the momentum coming off a downhill or the flats & pray you run
out of hill before you run out of power.... In our experience, this
strategy works great on the small to medium size rollers but you eat
crow on a real hill. It is also our experience that this is how most
folks who talk about having a hard time with hills seem to go at it.
-- If your goal is to complete the entire ride and the hill is merely a
feature of the ride, you'll ride out any momentum and then pace yourself
up the hill by shifting into lower gears to sustain your cruising
cadence until you reach a balancing point where a slightly lower cadence
will allow you to motor up and over the hill without undue fatigue.
Again, in our experience, this is what the mature riders who are out to
enjoy themselves and their time together with other tandem teams will
routinely do.
-- If your goal is to dominate the hill and hang with the solos when you
go over the top you make sure you get out in front at the bottom, let
your momentum carry you as far as it can and maintain your cadence by
shifting into lower gears until you reach the balancing point described
in scenario #2 above. During this transition, many of the solo bikes
will in fact pass you -- at least for the moment. Once you hit this spot
you now focus on sustaining your cadence and begin shifting into higher
gears as soon as you begin to see your cadence rising, and so on as you
continue to climb. In fact, what you are doing is working rebuilding
momentum and speed so that as you reach the latter parts of the climb
you catch the riders who spent themselves at the bottom of the hill and
dominate them by accelerating past, even up shifting as you go by. If
you've managed your climb, you'll most likely be in front of your riding
peers when you hit the summit. As for the animals who you couldn't
climb with on your single bike -- WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN CLIMB
WITH THEM ON A TANDEM!!! Know your limitations.

3. In regard to managing your power curve, the last three examples
demonstrate a layman's view (my view) of three.
-- The first example is one where the power curve is skewed to the left,
leaving little remaining energy for the top of the climb, i.e., you're
gasping for air as you reach the summit.
-- The second example is one where there is little if any curve; rather,
it is a relatively flat level of effort throughout the climb. You feel a
tremendous amount of achivement as you finish the climb, talk about it
with your stoker, and are able to take a swig of Cytomax without
sneaking it in between breaths.
-- The last example is one where the power curve is skewed to the right;
energy is conserved at the beginning of the climb then gradually
expended in progressively increased amounts throughout the middle and
top end of the climb so that as you reach the summit you are able to
drive over the top. Who cares about taking a drink, it's time to catch
the hammerheads on the descent since we've got the advantage now!!!

4. Finally, there is the equipment and its inherent advantages and
disadvantages relative to climbing and descending. If your rig isn't
laterally stiff then it isn't going to climb like a solo bike. How bout
them tires? Big, cushy 32x622's at 90psi will not transmit power as
efficiently as say 23-622's at 130psi. How well do you manage your
momentum? Frankly, we never worry about being passed on moderate hills
because we'll always be back in the pack once the momentum of the solo
bikes gives way to our tandem team heft. Similarly, our acceleration is
also something that may hold us back when the solos jump off at the
start of a climb or from a dead stop; however, not being discouraged by
the momentary sight of our solo friends fannies, we know once the big
"mo" picks up we'll be right back where we want to be.

Well, that's about all the philosophizing that I can stand and probably
more than you wanted to read (thank goodness for delete keys!!!!). If
you did read all the way through, hopefully it was entertaining and
perhaps made you reconsider how you think about climbing with your
tandem to achieve your goals.