Category Archives: Tandem riding
Are you a francophile? Do you wax lyrical about everything French? Are you one of those Brits who jumps across the channel at any given moment, even if it’s only to re-stock the drinks cabinet?
Well, I have to confess to sharing some of that. I wouldn’t go so far as to ‘wax lyrical’, but the French do many things well, and most things at least tolerably well. As a cyclist, for instance, I can vouch for the exceedingly high quality of their roads. Even small country lanes are delightfully smooth and pot-hole free.
But not everything is perfect. One day, in Pleine Fougeres, we arrived with our tandem in the car, parked in a very pleasant and convenient car park in the centre of this small town, and proceeded to decant the tandem and assemble it. Our plan was to cycle out to Le Mont St Michel.
Suddenly, Jenny pointed out that I might have trodden in some dog ‘merde’. I checked, and sure enough, I had put both my feet in it. And they weren’t just a couple of dried up, past-their-sell-by-date, type of dog turds……they were voluminous and freshly baked! I was, naturally, appalled.
So I decided to re-park the car, only to discover that every parking space sported equally large (and seemingly fresh) dog deposits, on both sides of the car, placed strategically so that the unwary driver and passenger getting out of their car, will joyously put ‘foot in the turd’ unwittingly. I had to admire the local planning on this. Some one had done their sums……. It was a dastardly plan to keep British tandemists at bay.
So my ‘revenge’ was to go home and read Stephen Clarke’s A year in the merde and Merde actually. Both books transparently autobiographical, but written as fiction with Paul West as the self-serving, sex-seeking, French-bashing hero. The first book was inspired by the exceeding amount of dog ‘merde’ he encountered on the streets of Paris, but turned into an account of all the metaphorical ‘merde’ he met with settling into the French way of life. And the title of his second book manifestly betrays the similarity of the story with the film Love actually.
Neither book would ever feature, even on a long list, for a major book prize, and Paul West’s relentless pursuit of sex without ties becomes repetitive and even boring, but his prose would never tax the reading powers of the average literate reader. You can read his books in a couple of days.
Instead of marauding Gauls, we find a land of Breton-speaking Celts, whose language has much in common with neighbouring Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Manx.
Alas, the period of silence comes to an end! The pencil went blunt, the inkpot ran dry…..the beckoning world of ‘la plume de ma tante’ was naught but a code for……….this man has been AWOL for a couple of weeks. In fact, with his wife riding the tandem midst chateaux and vignobles of the Loire valley, fueling up on croissant and baguettes, re-hydrating on grandes tasses de café et bières a la pression, and when off duty (ie. off the bike), over the final meal of the day, popping the cork on a wine from Saumur or Anjou, and sampling till the lees tell us there is no more……..
Our host, Yan, took us down into the bowels of his garden, a deep
cavernous cellar below his lawns, to reveal wine racks that stretched around the walls, and offered us three of his collection……..two full bodied reds and a sparkling Vouvray that we corked to toast our own 37th anniversary.
The quiet days of October, with warmth still in the sun, is an ideal time to be exploring the Loire valley. We covered most of the terrain between Tours and Angers, discovered the chateaux of Langeais, Villandry, Saumur and Ussé, and found time to idle over a typical French lunch, or be distracted by Caves where the invitation to a degustation was too good to ignore.
Yes, I had my stoker behind me!
The Thursday cycling group functions by virtue of volunteers offering to organise rides and feeding stops. Today was my turn, so my opportunity to bring members over to the east of the region to sample some of the delights of old Huntingdonshire. We may be on the edge of the flat landscapes of fenland, but we can still boast a few interesting hills that can raise the HR a little.
Our meeting place (and coffee stop) was Ferrar House at Little Gidding, a remote spot where Nicholas Ferrar had established a community way back in the early 17th century, and which came to
have legendary connections with King Charles I (especially as a safe haven before the momentous battle of Naseby), and latterly with T.S.Eliot, who went on to pen his poem “Little Gidding” as the last of his Four Quartets. At the end of a narrow single-track road, Little Gidding is still one of Huntingdonshire’s best kept secrets.
A total of 16 riders then made their way, via different routes, to our lunch stop at the Cross Keys pub at Molesworth, where a varied menu filled stomachs and restored miles to weary legs. But as luck would have it, the heavens unloaded the promised rain as we stepped out for the journey home. But Jenny, my stoker, was well satisfied with the 27 miles covered on the day’s ride, and getting wet on the homeward leg was not such a burden.
There are so many variations in the construction of tandems. We thought we had just about seen them all at a recent tandem rally over Easter. The rear-seated pilot was not new to us (click here), but this model (seen on a recent visit to Cambridge) really caught my attention.
Unmistakably of a ‘sensible’ Dutch design, it seems to be designed for a child front ‘stoker‘ and a rear ‘pilot’, but fascinatingly long and obviously a bit cumbersome. Made by a company called Dutchbike (www.dutchbike.co.uk), I discovered from their website that it is a versatile cargo-bike, that can carry either children (yes, in the plural) or cargo on the front. Give the children their own little cabin, and they are weather-protected as well. Very neat.
“In April, a thousand waters”……meaning of course, it rains cats and dogs, or (as they say in Spain) it “rains in pitchers” (llueve a cántaros). Persuading Jenny to join me on the tandem, for a 40 mile ride to meet up with the Thursday group, could have required a great deal of tact and subterfuge, but not on this occasion……….. maybe it was the smart new set of cycling gear that clinched the deal. Whatever you think about the tandem, you have to agree that Jenny really looks the part!!
And the weather? When people say to me that their cycling always depends on the weather, I generally say “the only weather it depends on is whether you’ll go out or not”! And yes, despite the forecast of very variable weather patterns, we decided to go out, knowing full well we were going to get wet (sometimes soaked) at some time during the day. And that is exactly how it turned out. Two major squally showers and a fierce headwind on the way home failed to spoil our day.
What nearly spoiled our day (but didn’t) was a slipping crossover drive chain, which came off at one stage, and a puncture in the front wheel. Now the puncture has a little story……bear with me. Yesterday, I had put on the first pair of new tyres (Schwalbe Marathons) since we bought the tandem (8 years ago), and they were a devil of a job to get on. The beading on the tyres was so stiff and tight-fitting that I nearly sought professional help. Most tyres I can get on with just hand pressure….but not these.
Half an hour before the puncture, I had been chatting to friends over lunch about two recommended tools (the VAR and the Simson Tyre Mate) for dealing with such tyres, and one had produced both tools from his rack-pack to show me! (Some people carry nearly everything!). However, I was convinced that punctures are so rare that the journey home would be untroubled and, in the event of a puncture, a pair of ordinary tyre levers would suffice. Well, the unthinkable happened, I didn’t have either of the above tools, and I almost cursed the day I had decided to put on these new tyres! In the event, after a deal of brute force and breaking a few accepted norms of practice, I changed the tube and replaced the tyre…….and vowed forthwith to get myself one of the above super-tools!
There is a rare form of transport out there, more frequently seen in the Spring and Summer, that heads off to meet up with other ‘random tandems’ in remote spots, usually to do a bit of grazing at watering holes, but also to wander the lanes and byways in some kind of migratory procession. The remote spot, in this instance, was the New Forest, and the best watering holes were abundantly provided for over the Easter weekend. 100 tandemists (= 50 tandems) in case you have a problem with the maths, gathered at Avon Tyrell Activity Centre, and enjoyed a variety of sorties out into the local countryside. From gently rolling forest lanes to the steep climbs over heathland, from encounters with sauntering ponies and cattle (who know they have priority!) to the mêlée of Bank Holiday trippers in Lymington, from the quiet solitude of coastal cycle tracks to the hustle and bustle of holiday traffic on the move. The weekend had everything, including mind-stretching and competitive entertainment in the evenings and, most importantly, the camaraderie of an activity shared with a riding partner and a bunch of other enthusiasts.
The Tandem Club in the UK brings together the enthusiasm of some 4000 members, many of whom organise themselves into local or regional groups, and enjoy monthly rides of some 30-40 miles, the highlight always being the feeding stops en route! And tandem-riding can open a door to people with disabilities,
especially blind or partially-sighted riders, who can make excellent ‘stokers’ (back riders). And a new breed of tandem, the Hase Pino, is ideally suited for riders with other disabilities, with its semi-recumbent design at the front and its independent drive-train.
Humour and laughter are always attendant at such tandem encounters, whether its along the road sharing chat as you weave through the lanes, or at table over a meal in the evenings. As we pedalled along a forest lane, I said to the front rider of the tandem alongside us: if the front rider is called the ‘pilot’, what do we call the back rider? ‘Cabin crew‘? I suggested. He proffered: ‘No, trolley dolly‘!!
We were all enthusiastically appreciative of the fine efforts made by the Wessex regional group, who master-minded every aspect of the weekend. It was a well-rounded experience, designed to cater for every inclination of the motley crowd that gathered
When Jenny & I were in Vancouver last year, and asked to hire a tandem in a bike shop, we were greeted with a blank look. I quickly realised I was speaking a foreign language, so I pointed to one. “Oh, yuh mean a double bike, don’t yuh?”.
So this was the biggest turn-out of “double bikes” to date in the Peterborough Tandem group. The word is spreading. All along our route, people looked on in wonder at this line of twosomes. Never before had they seen so many tandems in one snap-shot! Five crews set off from Tallington Lakes, and we met one crew at our Ferrymeadows stop.
It was a chilly, misty start to the day, but we were promised warm spring sunshine, and that is what greeted us before our first stop. And yes, we discovered the delights of having two café stops, the second in the historic town of Stamford, made even more famous as the film locations of Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch and the Da Vinci Code. The blossoming spring flowers and the bright sunlight made it feel like a holiday weekend……..or was it just the happy social encounter with fellow “double bikers”?
Our group sported an interesting variety of machines: two Dawes, a George Longstaff, Cannondale, Orbit, and a Mercian. No hint of a monopoly there!
Though still in its infancy, the Peterborough tandem group is beginning to form a solid core, and for those who venture out on a monthly ride, there is no shortage of enthusiasm. From Tallington (West Deeping) the pace out to Oakham was brisk (right into a strong cool westerly wind), but the body’s extremities soon warmed up when we hit the first of the many hills in the tiny county of Rutland. Our attention was frequently distracted by overhead buzzards and red kites. Then after the first 20 miles, who wouldn’t enjoy an all-day breakfast at the local greasy spoon?
The Irish prayer “May the wind be ever at your back” was invoked after lunch and, sure enough, it was at our backs on the homeward run, and the sun hailed the flowering snowdrops and crocuses that sprinkled the roadside verges. A great day to be sharing the company of fellow tandemists on this 42 mile route. And at the end, Jenny (who herself cannot ride two wheels) felt justifiably proud at having covered the distance.
Like a new-born infant, the emergence of a new tandem group will slowly take its first few faltering steps, gain a little in confidence and momentum, and will eventually find its feet (aka ‘wheels’) firmly planted on the ground, burning rubber at gently increasing speeds. Thanks to the initiative taken by John & Elaine Blackburn, the new Peterborough group is ideally situated to attract riders from a wide geographical radius, and four crews gathered at Orton Mere on July 23rd for a 38 mile ride out into Northamptonshire. The route took us through remarkable villages such as Fotheringhay (birth place of Richard III and where Mary Queen of Scots lost her head), and places with evocative names such as Bulwick, Blatherwycke and Apethorpe, through the picturesque village of King’s Cliffe and past the impressive estates of Elton Hall, family home of the Proby family. It was an excellent ride, new friendships were forged, and we had a tail wind to enhance the speed of the return journey (part of John’s careful calculations!). Interestingly, three of the four tandems were Dawes, accompanied by a venerable Jack Taylor.
To find out more about tandeming in the UK, click here.