I was asked by a friendly reader after blogging my first experience with an supported bike ride how it felt to ride on the back–the technical term being “stoker”–of the tandem bicycle. It was then that I realized I never talked about the short, short history of our tandem cycling on this blog: why we decided to get one, where we went to get it, how we picked “the one.” So here it is: a breif, brief history of our life as tandem cyclists.
It all started when John decided to bike the MS150, a two-day, 180-mile supported ride from Houston to Austin held every April in support of raising money for MS research and the National MS Society. His first year doing the ride was only one-and-a-half years ago in 2009. By chance, the Houston Chronicle learned of his story–how his girlfriend at the time (that’s me) had an autoimmune condition similar to MS and how that inspired him to ride the ride–and decided to run an article about us. (The printed version, which we plan to frame one day along with the bandana I decorated for him, is sitting in a plastic sleeve on our shelf.)
So with John getting into biking and having done the MS150 for two years (2009-2010), I thought it would be cool if I could join him, not necessarily to do a full-out MS150, but to get regular exercise and do a few locally supported charity rides. The only other time I rode a tandem was in Vancouver with Joanna, and once we got the communication down, it was fun and easy. But with John, I was afraid that his experience combined with my novitiate would make for constant bickering to the point where the poor bicycle would be casted aside to the dusty corner of our garage. Regardless, we took the risk and decided a tandem bike would be our wedding gift to ourselves. So a few weeks after the dust had settled from our wedding, John and I drove up to House of Tandems in Spring, test rode a KHS, fell in love with it, and dished out the [insert amount equivalent to five thousand packages of ramen] for one we could call our very own. It was custom-built with a matte-finished champagne colored frame, Ultegra 105 components, and a Cateye computer to record our speed, RPMs, etc.
For some time, our bike remained in the garage. It was just too damn hot in Houston to ride. At one point, we even had a flat on it because it sat idle for so long. But now that the weather is cooling, biking is more bearable, so we’ve ventured to take the KHS out more.
Riding a tandem as a stoker (back) versus a captain (front) takes both more and less energy, depending on how you look at it. The captain has to steer, which requires more concentration, but the stoker is supposed to be the stronger “pedaler.” But obviously in our situation, I have to be the weak-pedaling stoker. Pedaling on a tandem isn’t difficult though–I manage to move us forward at a decent pace even when John picks up his feet and I have to pedal for the both of us. In fact, it’s kind of nice because when I get lazy, I just rest my helmet on his back and close my eyes while my legs simply go through the cycling motion.
Tandem cycling, like any other team sport, requires communication. John has to call out such warnings as “Going!”, “Slowing!”, and “Stopping!” This way I can clip in and clip out with my shoes, something I still have trouble with in spite of my egg beater pedals. My main complaint, however, would have to be the uncomfortable stock seat. Even though I wore my padded shorts, my crotch was tender (bruised?) for three days after the Midnight Ramble. After urinating, I couldn’t even properly wipe myself–I had to gently dab all the while gritting my teeth. Needless to say, John and I are planning to replace the seats in time for the Tour de Donut (which we are riding the day this post is scheduled to publish). Hook up John’s iPod speakers to the thing, and we’re ready to go.
Biking in itself is fun. I get aerobic exercise; build lean muscle in my back, arms, and legs; and enjoy the sounds and smells of what I’m sure is scenic Houston. Yes, it would be nice if I could enjoy the sights, too, but being able to feel the breeze on my face is enough to get me out there cycling.