Second time lucky

Wednesday 2 September 2015, Filed in: General

LEJOG record holder Dom Irvine has sent us an update on his new tandem and his new riding partner!

"That’s not what Ruth at JDTandems said you should do!” as I navigated the tandem between the line of cars in the queue of traffic. I’d gone into autopilot. When riding with Charlie, it’s all about speed and getting through traffic is something we pride ourselves on being really rather good at on the tandem. But this wasn’t Charlie, this was my wife, Helene. When Helene reluctantly agreed to give riding a tandem another shot after two years of point blank refusing after our last attempt I was determined to do everything I could to make it a success. I love riding a tandem. It’s fast, sociable and good fun. I didn’t realise how much I’d screwed up the last ride until Ruth sent me some ‘rules’ through.

- Do not descend faster than 10 mph unless Helene tells you it’s OK to do so. - Keep your speed under 15 mph on the flat again until Helene says it’s OK to go faster. - Slow down for corners and don’t lean round them – this is as important as not descending too fast. - Do not weave in and out of traffic, if you get stuck in traffic sit in the queue behind the car in front. - Do not take both hands off the handlebars - Do not go further than 10 miles to start with - Communicate every time you change gear over the front rings so she knows to back off the pressure - Tell Helene when you are going to free wheel, speed up, slow down, stop, turn left, turn right etc. etc. - Keep your cadence low - Don’t ride out of the saddle until she has gained some confidence

I’d broken everyone of these rules apart from one within half a mile of leaving home last time and had well and truly broken the remaining one 35 miles later. Having focused five years of my life on the LEJOG tandem record, Charlie and I could descend hills at over 60mph, chucking the bike around corners with the pedals almost scraping the road surface. We can take coats on and off, unwrap food, drink whilst riding no-handed and we don’t bother discussing gear changes or who’s getting out of the saddle or when. Our training rides are rarely less than 100 miles and often a lot further.

And so I reckoned on keeping the speed on hills at a maximum of about 30 mph and as long as Helene was sat down I figured I could pretty much do what I wanted on the front of the bike because of the massive amount of miles I had ridden. 35 miles to and from a cafe over some beautiful hills seemed like a good starting point to me. How wrong I was. John and Ruth had stared at me in complete disbelief when I described the ride. Head in hands despair would best sum up their response.

I know I have a slightly different attitude to tandem riding than most when on the times I have visited the shop John has counselled customers to ignore what I have said as in effect the rambling words of a tandem madman. Suffice to say, after the first ride, Helene had sworn never, ever to get back on a bike with me again and I cannot recall the number of times the story of what a dreadful experience it had been has been recounted to others.

With my daughter getting older and more independent my wife and I were looking forward to things we could do together. Cycling has been such a significant, important and enjoyable part of my life I really wanted to share some the experience with Helene. Reluctantly, she agreed to give it another go. Ever the optimist I flashed some cash and purchased a beautiful new Orbit tandem setup for chilled out, relaxed riding. Sit up and beg position, large diameter tyres, low gearing, mudguards, rack etc. I love it, it’s a beautiful machine an a very different riding experience to our super stiff custom Orbit Lightning on which we broke the LEJOG record.

And so, wearing normal clothes and with Ruth’s rule firmly in mind, we started close to Windsor and followed some delightful cycle paths and Bridleways along the river for an hour or so before concluding the ride with lunch at a riverside Bistro. We admired beautiful houses, spotted Herons and gossiped. No getting hot and sweaty, just chilled out ambling along with the usual friendliness from other road users tandems always seem to generate. It was a chance to enjoy each other’s company in a way we rarely have time to do. Most importantly, apart from the one misdemeanour, I got a thumbs up and approval to plan another ride. I learned a lot too. With decades focused on racing, I’d forgotten the simple pleasures riding a bike can bring.

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