Category Archives: Bristol-Newbury by tandem
On a solo bike, I am seldom of a nervous disposition, unless I have to negotiate something ‘technical’: like a narrow ledge with a steep drop, like a winding narrow track that slopes down the hillside, like a narrow towpath along the edge of a canal or river.
On a tandem, that nervousness is doubled, because the captain is steering and balancing for two. Canal tow paths are glorious for their views, peace and tranquillity, but as soon as the track narrows to within inches of the water, the jitters set in.
Today, however, we felt brave enough to stick with the Kennet & Avon canal, and we were rewarded with encounters of mixed and varied life, both on shore and on the water. Stag parties and birthdays were being celebrated on rental narrow boats, travelling communities had formed their ‘scrapyard’ enclosures, craft markets traded their goods, and groups of party-goers began their festivities cycling between drinking venues, mostly kitted out in fancy-dress. There was not a dull moment…..
Canal tow paths are not always suitable for bikes, so we steered off along the lanes, but that inevitably meant hills……….aarrgh, they go upwards. And that ain’t no easy task on a tandem. We may have two people pushing the pedals, but that definitely does not equate to twice the efficiency.
OK, we accept the hills, and we even welcomed the rain (after nearly 8 weeks of near-drought conditions)…….but what do you say to a puncture or two……and in the back wheel?
I go weeks and months without a puncture on my solo bikes, and we seldom get them on the tandem, but when they strike, they are mean. Even meaner when you discover that the spare tubes that you have been carrying for years unused have the wrong type of valve for the hole in the wheel rim. The process of repairing a back wheel is tortuous….you have to take the panniers and the rack pack off the back first, and a Schwalbe tandem tyre is difficult to get off and to get back on again, and when you have to repair the puncture road-side in the wet, that is the most cruel and mean-spirited fate to befall the tandemist.
Of course the repair didn’t work, so we wheeled the tandem a couple of miles into Pewsey and, being a Sunday, found the only bike shop closed, so sought comfort in an all-day breakfast in a local café. When all was lost, a couple of cyclists walked in, I grumbled about our cursed situation, when one of them said he happened to have a spare tube of the right size…….. (sorry about the pun) but it saved our bacon. The moral of this little story is: always help out a fellow traveller if you can.
We finally made it to our destination in Hungerford and relaxed over an excellent meal in one of the local hostelries. All’s well that ends well…….
A logistical challenge was looming. The canal tow path was still too narrow for balancing on the tandem, with the added risk of falling into the water, so we headed off over the hills, making our route to Reading much longer than anticipated. And I had a logistical problem to solve…….how to get back to Bristol to pick up the car and get back to Reading in time.
So we got as far as Newbury, I checked out the trains, there would be two changes to Bristol, but…….and this was a BIG BUT……the trains were disrupted by engineering works. To cut a long story short, I got to Bristol and got back to Newbury about five hours later where Jenny was patiently waiting for me on the station, and we headed off to a service station on the motorway and had ‘our lunch’ at about 7pm.
It’s never too late…….
If tandeming is ‘twice the fun’, why aren’t there twice as many people ‘twicing it’ on two wheels?
“Ah, we used to do a lot of that when we was courtin’ in our youth. But then I got me first car……”
“Yuh know lad, me and me wife used to do a hundred mile a day on one of those when we was young and half the weight……….but now…..well, you now how things go…..”
“Them were the days……me and the ‘owd git’ used to take a ‘drum-up’ to have by the roadside…..the things we used to do…”
“Hey, she’s not pedalling on the back…..” (we force a smile at hearing it for the thousandth time….)
Today, we began the first of a four day tour from Bristol to Newbury, stopping our first night in Bath. After spending the morning checking out the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the M-Shed museum in Bristol, we headed along the old railway track that took us into the heart of Bath, passing through the 300 metre Staple Hill tunnel, along deep cuttings, until we saw some of the amazing Georgian architecture of Bath.