I lost my tandem virginity today and I kind of regret it.
I regret it from the point of view of the state of delicious anticipation being much more exciting then the actual activity turns out to be.
Up until today, tandems were forbidden fruit.
I used to envy other couples on tandem. Some, on mountainbike tandems, looked sporty and fit – usually tanned and a bit rugged around the edges – powering up muddy slopes in the Forest of Dean. I’ve seen couples sitting up and looking elegant and in perfect harmony cycling around town, or pedalling steadily, laden with panniers full of tents and sleeping bags Cycle Touring Club-stylee – unglamorous yet companiable. Hell, I even envied the PG tips chimps!
I pitched a low-grade “How About Sharing a Tandem” campaign at Capt Sensible for about a year, envisaging us achieving a stylish, yet sporty middle ground – a kind of mud-spattered elegance. Ideally, I would mostly be on the front but in the spirit of equality, would take my turn on the back.
That was the dream. The reality was that Capt Sensible would not countenance riding a tandem seated anywhere but on the front. There was no question of swapping places. Even when he didn’t know where we were going – and it must be said this happens quite often – I would be expected to shout out directions from the rear.
Being unusually philosophical just for a millisecond, I concede that reality only very rarely lives up to our sexy-perfect dreams.
And that was certainly the case today, when me, the eldest boy and his fiancee went to the Forest of Dean on a little cycling jaunt.
The happy couple fancied trying a tandem and hired a nice Dawes off-road jobbie with massive super-comfy seats. I had my Orange mountainbike. We thought it would be fun to chop and change.
I just loved riding the Orange again. It seems so compact compared to the road bike and you don’t notice the lack of speed off-road like you do on the road. But the back tyre needed a bit of air, and I found the twisty thing on the presta valve was seized and needed a little extra pressure but then, pop, out the whole thing came with the resultant instant flat.
But never mind. They love replacing inners at the cycle centre workshop at Sallowvallets in the Forest and did mine for £3 + tube, which was a bargain. Especially as the guy forgave me for wheeling my bike through the cafe (well how was I to know they’d created a new entrance round the side?) and said my bike was well-looked after.It would have been even nicer if he hadn’t said it in the same tone they use on the Antiques Roadshow. So that’s me and the bike – flipping antiques. But do I care? Nah.
So the happy couple were remarkably patient with each other and did a couple of “getting to know you” circuits before we were off on one of the trails.
Son only got irritated when fiancee felt a moment’s uncontrolled ebullience and removed feet from pedals and hands from the bars to perform the classic ninja “wheeeee” star with flailing limbs. Boy grumbled that she nearly made him crash and to behave, which she did.
Then it was my turn for the tandem. Fiancee on the back. I felt the responsibility for another soul weigh heavily on my adventurous spirit and decided I must be responsible, avoid acorns like the plague and try not to crash.
I didn’t like it at first, the steering was wobbly for a few seconds but once we’d got the “one, two three and away” teamwork to a fine art, we were fine.
So fine that the boy had to pedal like hell to catch us and yelled “Don’t go dangerously fast!” He quite honestly doesn’t trust me one inch, particularly with his beloved and th engagement ring is very new and without a scratch on it….
But it was good and she was enjoying it too, although I could only tell she was still there by glancing over my shoulder occasionally and asking “You still ok back there?”
She was excellent at alerting me of things which required my urgent attention.
“Dog!” she shouted as a loose German shorthaired pointer manically galloped past.
“Dog in a bag!” she squealed as a man with a scruffy terrier dog’s head sticking out of his rucksack pedalled swiftly past. We chorussed “Sweet!”
The pedalling was easy-peasy on the flat and we were zooming along nicely although I would probably have felt differently about an uphill.
And then, all too soon, somehow it was my turn to go on the back so fiancee could try my Orange. With the saddle adjusted, it was just the right size for her, even though she’s four inches shorter than me.
On the tandem, the ‘one, two three and go’ thing was tricky. My feet were curiously reluctant to leave the ground, but the pedals started to turn so I didn’t have much of a choice.
I didn’t like it from the first instant. For a start, you can’t see anything except the back of the person in front of you The boy was blotting out the entire world ahead.
It was the equivalent of blinkers which only allow chameleon-like side views. And who needs side views except when you’re in a train or there is a juicy insect lurking in your periforal vision? I gave up locusts for Lent.
Also, there are no brakes available. Or gears. You’re holding a plain bar and there’s nothing to do. Not even a bell. It’s a useless kind of handlebar too. When you turn it, people get cross. When we took a left, I naturally headed left – which resulted in the boy’s seat skewing considerably left of centre illiciting shouts of “What the hell? DONT STEER!”
Hmm. I discovered that actually, I’m very much a front seat sort of person. I quite badly need to see where I’m going, in some detail. When we stopped for a bit of mechanical adjustment, I took my chance to leap off and stay off.
“But we’re only been going a few minutes. You’re not used to it yet…” said the boy, quite reasonably.
But I badly wanted my bike back. Rear tandem-riding was not for me. I’d rather turbo-train with a bag over my head. I’m just not cut out for passive pedalling. My boredom threshold is low and I like choosing my line. Unlike road riding, mountainbiking is about deciding how to get from A to B; whether to nip down into that dip and back up, to go blatting through the big mud puddle, to attempt to hop over that tree branch, to veer off on that interesting single-track or to avoid obstacles all together. It’s not just about pointing the bike forward and pedalling.
Of course, pointing the bike forward and pedalling was just what my brother used to do when he was the “stoker” on the back of an extremely successful track tandem combination. When I told him how much I hated the back of the tandem he just grinned and agreed “No, that’s true, you can’t see anything at all!” but I suspect he didn’t mind too much as he was busy lapping up the tense gladatorial-type vibe tandem racing on the track in a velodrome.
Fortunately, unlike his dad, son #1 was happy to go on the back and let his fiancee take the controls. Their lovey-doveyness was scarcely marred apart from her reminding him a couple of times not to pedal quite so hard.
I complimented the happy couple on their compatibility. A tandem could be seen as the ultimate couples test. I mean, if you can cycle 15 miles or so on an off road tandem without many cross words, then it must augur well for life in general, mustn’t it?
Which makes it a bit of a miracle that Capt Sensible and I have lasted so long. We are both essentially front-seat drivers, temperamentally unsuited to be one of those contented pairs pedalling into the sunset, the little woman on the back. Grrrr.
We do ok cycling side by side, in parallel. Oh, except for that time Capt Sensible didn’t realise I was there (he claimed I was in his blind spot, behind his shoulder, ha ha) and did a sharp left that knocked me off my bike.
Yeah well, in the light of personally gathered evidence, I must cheerfully conclude with some conviction that in fact cycling cannot be used as any kind of compatibility test whatsoever!
Whatever you’re doing tonight, enjoy it and my best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2012!