Cycling: Testing togetherness on a tandem: Martin Whitfield and Lynne Curry are seduced by a shared weekend of synchronised pedalling in Somerset

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
VIEW from the front:

It took about 48 hours for the tandem to work its spell on the back seat. Messages received in front changed from a complaining 'Who in their right mind would buy this thing?' to a discussion on how to fit one into the shed.

At its nadir, the tandem was testing more than a sense of balance and seemed in danger of losing out. A good thunderstorm, more rain and car drivers wanting an extremely close up view at 60mph did not help.

But by the time the machine was returned after more than 120 miles, the first inquiry was how much they cost and did they have any in stock. This was despite a day of drenching rain, strong wind, and little sun; not the best weather for bike riding even if the bike, a Dawes Galaxy Twin, is one of the best.

The complete change in mood was a product of many factors. The easiest to explain was growing confidence and familiarity. A second influence was the countryside. The circular cycle route drawn up by South Somerset District Council takes riders around 100 miles of the best bits. Quiet backwaters where rural England still works for a living, rather than being manufactured by middle-class weekenders and over-zealous conservationists.

Places where Mrs Kerton's farmhouse bed and breakfast not only dries wet waterproofs, shoes and socks over the Aga, but takes time to run you the mile or so to the local pub offering real home cooked food rather than the latest 'cook and chill' recipe blasted by a couple of minutes in the microwave.

The final element in the conversion comes from the inevitable closeness of the tandem which forces shared experiences.

Robin Thorn, of St John Street Cycles, Bridgwater, one of the largest suppliers of tandems in the country, and a rider himself with his wife Helen, says the need to synchronise actions encourages togetherness. He offers a refund if purchasers do not like it after two weeks and says: 'I've never had to give anybody their money back.'

VIEW from the rear:

Sooner or later it had to be sung. The moment came during an break in the storm clouds along an obliging flat bit of lane with an obliging wind blowing from the back: 'Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do . . .'

No one else has written a song about bicycles made for two and this is why: riding a tandem, in terms of lyricism, ranks alongside weightlifting. It is quite tough and it makes you sweat.

Cast in the back-end role of Daisy, you may entertain the notion of wearing something in pale broderie Anglaise and removing your dainty feet from the pedals while the gallant on the front does all the work. It's not like that.

The proper title for the Daisy of this scenario is the stoker, which should be enough of a clue, and there's nowhere to put your feet other than on the handlebars. You may trust your steersman or woman with your heart and access to the joint account but when you're wobbling along beside a ditch full of nettles, forget it.

What seduces a stoker (whose job, when all said and done, is to sit there, not be a nuisance and pedal like hell)? Sheer lack of responsibility, for one thing. The view to the front may be monotonous but the views to the side are lovely. Yours is not the onus of changing gears, turning corners, braking or avoiding the trademark south Somerset hazard, the cowpat.

The glorious lanes, thatched cottages, intensely green fields and heart-wrenchingly quintessential Englishness of this unexploited, uncommercialised and thankfully undiscovered terrain is there to see properly. Apart from activating a clever rear drum brake for the steepest descents, your job is just to keep the pedals turning.

Another joy is that of shared hardship (hills) and shared effort, being able to bail out your partner if, temporarily, you have a bit more energy. This has its own reward of feeling altruistic and part of a team. Also, you can talk without screaming - if you're still speaking.

Comments