A few years back I purchased a sleek, white, 1989 Santana tandem with all the bells and whistles from a gentleman who was leaving town and losing interest in cycling. After the able crew at Bicycle South checked it out and declared it ready to ride, I planned my first adventure in tandem cycling.
The day of the ride began with me and my friend standing in my carport realizing that my beautiful new bike did not fit behind, on top of, or in my Explorer. I was so anxious to ride and the bike seemed so determined not to go. After wrestling with the bike, removing wheels, and pushing the frame almost to the dash, we were finally able to close the hatch and begin our first ever tandem experience.
My friend and I were both tandem virgins, but how hard could it be? We were equally flush with anticipation, ignorance, and fearlessness as we unloaded the monster and prepared to launch from the Hiram trailhead at mile 14. We decided I would start the ride in front and agreed we would swap places for the trip back. We righted the bike and positioned ourselves on the trail facing the direction we wanted to go.
For you fellow tandem virgins, be aware there are many idiosyncrasies associated with tandem travel. Someone has to be the leader and signal when to push off. This is important because the second rider will be upset if their cleats leave with the bike but their butt does not. It only took us three or four tries to depart the trailhead before we graduated from America’s Funniest Video material.
Soon after we wobbled out of the trailhead, the realization that we were effortlessly breezing down the trail at a pretty good clip began to erase the memory of our feeble beginnings a few miles back. As the front rider, I began to realize I was in charge of steering, braking, ringing the cute little bell to get people out of the way, and yelling orders to the “engine” behind me. I was in command and loving the sensation of wind in my face and power at my feet. I was a tandem virgin no more!
As our trip progressed and we began working in tandem (just couldn’t resist), we stepped up the pace and did the testosterone thing of seeing how fast we could go. We also started picking up drafters who succumbed to the urge of being sucked down the Comet at thirty miles per hour. That’s right, for almost ten miles, we shot through the forest at thirty miles an hour with me ringing the bell and my friend blindly pedaling away behind me. Several cyclists pulled up close behind us for a mile or two before peeling off to recuperate.
Just short of the Brushy Mountain tunnel, we decided to turn around. After a less-than-stellar stop, we swapped seats and started the AFV show, part two. Riding twenty miles on the back seat of a tandem does not qualify you for running the show from the front seat of the tandem. As we meandered across the yellow line, my friend steered us off the trail, down a gentle embankment, and into a briar patch. We were laughing so hard neither of us remembered to unclip so our trip to the briar patch was followed by an awkward fall into the thorny abyss.
I can’t remember which hurt more, the prickly vines that were chewing into my flesh or my sides from laughing at our predicament. Here we were lying on our sides, clipped to the white monster, unable to move for fear of ripping ourselves to pieces on the thorns. The virgins were toast!!!
After a slow, methodic rise from the briars, we reestablished ourselves on the trail and started the return trip sporting a few scratches and a couple of bruised egos. The ride back was sensational. I learned to keep my head down and provide power until I was asked to stop. (It’s better if you don’t try to see why the driver is frantically ringing the bell). We also socialized more on the return trip. It is so easy to carry on a conversation when you are both on one bike.
The drafters came and went as we sailed toward home on my sleek little toy. I had a new found friend between my legs and an old friend behind me to share the memory. AFV, eat your heart out!
We arrived back at the Explorer and de-biked without drama. We were seasoned veterans of the tandem now. We learned to coordinate our moves, play our respective roles, and laugh about the learning experience we had shared. It was great day of biking…. but aren’t they all?