Well, here’s another new experience to report on: riding a Tandem. I’ve thought about it a bit (but I think the Wiff is better off on her own bike – or is that me that’s better off with her on her own bike?). But I’ve never seriously considered trying it out, and I’ve never known anyone with one.
But then, earlier this year, I heard about a man who was needing new tandem cycling partners. He’s around 75, and so he’s suffering from the problem of having friends that get too old to join you on that sort of thing. To be fair, I’m not sure I’d want to be jaunting about on a tandem at 80 (although I’d hope to still be riding actively by then). However, our man Roger doesn’t have the option of sticking to a normal bike, as he’s blind.
So, I volunteered to be a pilot, to allow him to carry on riding, and today was the first of what will probably be a monthly activity. I can report that I’ve learned a lot about riding a tandem. Firstly – they have the turning circle of a small battleship. Planning ahead is crucial whenever you approach a junction. Then, the frame has more flex than an electric cable. Getting off my snappy stiff aluminium frame and onto The Beast (for such is its name) made it feel as though it was made out of rubber. When making a sharp turn, you can almost feel it think about the instruction, and then execute it, segment by segment like a millipede. The front wheel turns, then I turn, then Roger makes a move, and then the back wheel gives up on its futile resistance and catches up with the rest of us. Very unnerving. Not to mention the difficulty involved in just keeping the thing on a straight line.
Approaching junctions, stopping, starting, and negotiating traffic all require good communication. It would probably be ok with any other two people, but between my penchant for non-verbal communication, and Roger’s inability to see, it was clear that a change on my part was required.
But besides all that, it makes for a good training ride. The extra effort involved makes it feel like you’re riding up hills all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so knackered at the end of a ride as I did today. My fault, for not taking along any sustenance, taking a wrong turn which added 10 miles to our ride, and overdoing it while ‘wasting’ time before our scheduled meeting point by doing repeats of Rose Hill. Twit.
The other side of the coin is that when going downhill, it accelerates like a Bugatti on steroids, and suddenly changes character to be the most stable, enjoyable bike ever. Provided, of course, that you don’t need to stop at the bottom… The ideal spot for a tandem factory would be at the top of a very high mountain. People could buy them, cycle down, and then just leave them there, and they’d all think that they’d just had the best ride of their lives. That, and the built-in ability to have a conversation at any point without having to manoeuvre two bikes close to each other so you can hear what the other person is saying.
The problem comes when you live in the midst of the Lickey Hills, and there’s no way to get home apart from up and over. So it should be said that it was a bit of a limp on the way back, but we made it. And now that I know what I’m in for, I’m already looking forward to the next ride. Far from being a simple favour to someone else, it’s a great way to build up the strength in my legs, and I’m going to be needing a lot of that over the next few months with my Audax rides coming up in July.