Tandem bicycles have a reputation as ‘marriage busters’.
It takes a lot of teamwork and trust to ride successfully and to enjoy the process. The stoker has to be ok with not seeing the way ahead clearly. She has to trust her captain to take her to the destination he has in mind (or one they’ve predetermined). And she has to pull her weight in the process of getting there, to sit still, not to lean or make unexpected moves. She has to know too when to offer advice and when to be quiet…
The captain has the bulk of responsibility. He has to know where he’s going, have the map clearly in mind, and be constantly on alert for bad drivers, bad roadway conditions and oblivious pedestrians…He has to have good judgment and great confidence. Not only that but he must be sensitive to the state of his stoker. A wise captain will know how hard to push and how far is far enough. He bears the unspoken responsibility of keeping the stoker ‘stoked’, of keeping her content to pedal and chatter and generally be good company. A whiney stoker is a nightmare. (Jim has had occasion to know)
And apart from all these obvious responsibilities, if the ride is to be smooth and efficient, both stoker and captain must learn technical skills of pedaling with equal force, being sensitive to each other’s preferred cadence, determining together how to tackle the hills, and what the protocol will be at stop lights: will the stoker unclip from her pedals or just stay on her ‘perch’? All these things help smooth out a ride and keep either rider from wearing themselves out. Contrary to popular jesting, the stoker really is expected to carry her weight, and the the captain really does know if she’s ‘soft pedaling’!
For all these reasons tandem riding is a challenge to a marriage. It can make it, or break it as they say. This weekend we have met and ridden with other tandem couples for the first time. What a pleasure! A rare and beautiful thing– a tandem couple delighted to be together and going in the same direction with great grace and skill. We even met a family on a ‘quad’ pulling together, cheering each other on and flying up and down hill and dale together. They’ve been cycling together since the kids were babies. Inspiring! But one fellow we rode with said it best, it isn’t that tandem riding is a marriage buster but that ‘wherever you’re going, it gets you there faster.’ A good marriage can sustain it and be strengthened. An unhealthy one will reveal its fault lines quickly!
And in so many ways, tandem riding is a picture of another Ride we’re on. We are the stokers. He the Captain… He bears the responsibility for our safety and well-being. We in turn are expected to trust and to pedal as per instructions. And the ride… well, it will sometimes be thrilling, sometimes mundane, and sometimes downright difficult. We will maybe feel like whining. But better to be patient and wait for pain to pass and skies to clear. For Our Captain is the best and he knows just what we need!
Well, it’s almost time to head out for another ride with some yet unmet riders…thanks for checking in here today. Gotta roll!