Confessions of a tandem virgin

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!


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Cycling and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Confessions of a tandem virgin

  1. papaguinea says:

    Excellent title! How’s about using this as a book title. You know what, I haven’t even read the blog yet! Don’t worry, I shall!

  2. papaguinea says:

    OK read! Very enjoyable tour. I was in Ewelme, Oxfordshire earlier in the year, having tea and cream cakes at the local shop (formerly Post Office). There was a tandem laid up against the thatched cottage adjoining the Post Office. and Mr and Mrs Tandem-Rider were seated at a bench, munching sandwiches and clad in plastic tops and bottoms. Fit? Maybe. (They looked bronzed.) Over 50? Probably. I didn’t get the chance to see them mount the beast. But I admired them. Now you have jogged my memory I think my Aunt met her husband at a cycling club and I do believe they rode tandem. Aunty Muriel and Uncle Harry. Good on the bike, not so good in bed; Well I think that’s what my mum said!

    Wishing you a very happy New Year!

    • janh1 says:

      Good to see you PapaG and good wishes for you and your family in 2012 right back atcha! 🙂

      Oh yes, I’ll still admire people. I just don’t want to actually do it, unless i’m on the front, which would not be the case. Never heard that “good on the bike” thing before I wonder what my dad would have had to say about it…. he and mum had a tandem before they got married, I think. She got told off frequently for not pedalling enough 🙂

  3. IsobelandCat says:

    Good post. I lost my tandem virginity when I was about eighteen (Oh Eddie, where are you now?)
    Like you, I found it very odd. I didn’t like being at the mercy of the front pedaller, and I’ve never been back on a tandem since.
    Says it all really.
    Looking forward to reading lots of spiffing posts on your page in 2012.
    Happy New Year!

    • janh1 says:

      Ah, thanks Isobel. A woman after my own heart, then. 🙂 Thanks! Looking forward to writing much more in 2012 (here and elsewhere) and keeping in touch. Best wishes for a better 2012 for you.

  4. valzone says:

    I’m still a tandem virgin, I must do something about that one day 🙂

    Brilliant read Jan. Happy new year to you.

  5. janh1 says:

    Morning Val. Oh yes, don’t be be put off. You have to try it 🙂 but don’t buy that line about women only being on the back. A man’s place is on the back, they just won’t accept that for some reason….? 😀

  6. Ha! Your review is so incisive that I think I shall never set rear on a tandem. Fantastic read, Jan, I really loved this. What a roller coaster!

  7. That sounds like it was quite an experience 😀

    I can’t say I’ve ever had a desire to ride on a tandem. I have quite fancied sitting in one of those pull-along carriers for children that parents attach to their bikes though. I suppose I just want a comfortable rickshaw to transport me….

    Happy New Year!

    • janh1 says:

      Happy New Year Sophie!!

      Rickshaws? There were loads of them in the Covent Garden area when we were in London recently. Very fit bloke pedalling like mad in front while his lady passenger reclines in comfort…yes I do see your point. Why on earth didn’t I think of that?
      Who needs a tandem when you can have a rickshaw?

      Imagine the possibilities of a mountain-bike rickshaw…. wooo. There’s a business there for someone in the Forest of Dean, no question!

  8. Pseu says:

    I can just see you, struggling with the back seat position!
    I don’t like a tandem, front or back!! I had a little go int he Summer and felt completely out of control, even with Cycloman being gentle and kindly.

  9. janh1 says:

    Afternoon, Pseu and happy new year! I was hoping you’d give me your view. That’s because, on the back, you don’t have any control at all!! 🙂

    I was out riding earlier and got cheerful waves from a silver-haired couple in matching black leggings and blue windproofs plus black shades soaring down a little hill as I was going up. They looked so happy and carefree.

    But thinking about it, the sheer boredom of being on the back of a tandom is such that you’re likely to greet any passing cyclist with undue enthusiasm – anything to break the monotony! 🙂

  10. Pingback: A Bicycle Made Made For Two | Kate Shrewsday

  11. SidevieW says:

    Wonderful evaluation of people as cyclists and elsewhere.

    I suspect the back person is either very tolerant or in love.

    I liked my tandem pic of side by side, that seemed companionable if not of use off road

    • janh1 says:

      Hi! Thanks. Yes you used to be able to hire one of those side-by-side bikes, aka a Buddy Bike, at the Forest of Dean Cycle Centre. Tried one with no 2 son once – hilarious and terrifying! He had the steering and crashed us straight into some industrial garage doors. Escaped unscathed but another “never again”! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s