It takes two to tandem – a love story

Team cat in the hat.JPG

The cycling experience which has changed our lives began after a group of us – the Intrepids as we now call ourselves, rode the Otago Rail Trail in 2004. Despite minimal ‘training’ – 5 minutes a day on the exercycle perched on the third floor of our town house with its view over Onehunga towards the airport and not having any cycling specific gear, it was enormous fun.

We had had some experience on bikes over the course of our lives. From the age of 3 I had a cute red tricycle which I would ride around the neighbourhood. The only picture I have is of my trike perched on top of the trailer when the family moved house when I was 4. I was so proud of it, absolutely relishing the independence it offered. I remember having a donger-knocker stick strategically placed at the base of the nearest pole-mounted fire alarm in case it was needed to break the glass.

I remember learning to ride a two wheeler on my sister’s huge upright black model with the curved bar and wicker basket, on Crescent Road, as she followed on behind holding the carrier. I was unaware that at some stage she let go and I disappeared down the road – on my own!  Never looked back really!

We both rode bikes to school, Greg on the country roads of West Auckland to Huapai School and then to school and university in Christchurch, and from the age of 8, I rode to Cornwall Park School, Remuera Intermediate and then along the busy battling-the-buses Manukau Road to Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. I had saved up my pocket money to buy my own bike one Saturday morning after scanning the For Sale advertisements in the New Zealand Herald, a pale blue three gear model. I still have an elbow shaped scar on my left knee when I fell off it riding around the front garden one Christmas Day. When I look at the busyness of Manukau Road these days, I am amazed that in all the years of running the gauntlet of the green Auckland Transport Board buses and experiencing their turning into the kerb or turning out again in front of me, that I was never knocked off. I do remember battling head winds at times, of having my brand new white Panama hat purchased specially to pass uniform inspection on swimming sports day, being blown off and flattened by a car running it over, of attaching my hockey stick to the front fork, of arriving at my 8am piano lesson in mid-winter with frozen fingers and occasionally avoiding being drenched by catching the bus to school. In my last year at school, I used any excuse to drive the recently acquired white mini, abandoning my trusty steed.

Then the ‘push’ bike was abandoned again in favour of a cute flower-emblazoned red and cream Honda 50 also saved up for and purchased with my nurse-aide earnings from the local surgical hospital, but the motorcycling era is another story!

Our next cycling experience was when we lived as a young family in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Bikes were our only mode of transport. Greg carried our daughter, Nicki to the British Primary School on the carrier of his blue very basic Indian-made Hero bike and I rode with our son Simon. Unfortunately he sustained a nasty friction burn on his left ankle when his foot caught in my back wheel.  Another cycling injury!  The day Rachel, our youngest was born, I cycled on my red Hero bike, probably looking quite comical, down the hill as usual to language school. That night I went into labour – I’m not sure whether the two things were connected! We had arrived a family of four, and became a family of five and getting around Kathmandu on two bikes.

Over the years we did very little cycling, wobbling around on hired tandems on holiday a couple of times, but it was after my sister Kathryn who extolled the virtues of riding the Otago Rail Trail early in its existence, and we decided to be a little adventurous and have a go, that we found ourselves becoming hooked.

Shortly afterwards, Greg purchased his first road bike and joined the Going team, a group of MAMILS getting up at an ungodly but quiet-on-the-road hour on a Sunday morning and attacking the hills and roads around Auckland. I was quite happy to sleep in and listen to Chris Laidlaw on National Radio, but there were signs that I was becoming a cycling grace widow. Greg’s endorphins were clearly circulating when he came home, hot, sometimes wet but always exhilarated. He would regale me with stories of being the first to reach the top of Birdwood or Roberta, but also of the injuries sustained by the latest cycling casualty. Then there were the events and cycling weekends away – Northland and East Cape which were enjoyable, but I was not a natural ‘wife’ with the expectations that I would be a driver and sandwich maker and I began to feel I was missing out on something.

One day on a whim, I was browsing the internet and came upon an advertisement for a tandem. What followed saw us purchasing an Avanti tandem from Marc at Avanti in Mt Eden.  He and Debbie had lost their tandem-riding nerve and were happy, it seems, to see the back of it. So now having made a commitment by shelling out several thousands of dollars, it meant we had to learn to ride it and I had to get fit… age 57.

This meant my learning to ‘clip in’ which began as being quite counter intuitive, but also ceding all responsibility for managing the bike to the ‘captain’. This was made easier with my being a novice on the improbably thin tyres and curvy handlebars of a road bike. We had to learn to coordinate our movements especially setting off and stopping without capsizing. My role was to be the ‘stoker’, the power behind the throne. The one time I tried being the captain, we lasted 100 metres! I will always remember the first time we rode 50km around the back roads of Huapai – a significant milestone at the time. Then the first time we joined the Going team on a Sunday morning…..causing somewhat of a stir among the boys, and actually keeping up with the group, the first time we won a Sunday morning sprint, the first time we did a road event, in 2008, 50 km to and from Pukekohe via Waiuku, coming home with a silver medal – I won’t say how many tandems there were competing that year! Then there was the first time I observed a Hot Cycles tandem sprinting to the finish of the 100km Rotorua to Taupo event thinking that looked a blast, and the next year the first of six consecutive years, when we rode the event ourselves, and the only time we rode around Lake Taupo.

100K Rotorua to Taupo

There were events though when I do remember staring at the odo and counting the kms until yet another ordeal is over. I have forgotten the back ache which sets in at 60 kms, the ‘bonking’ (cycling terminology for hitting the wall) at 120km while riding around Taupo and fortunately being rejuvenated by a gooey caffeine glucose substance, which enabled us to soar up Hatepe Hill and finish the race strongly.

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We now have a flash Cannondale replacement for the Avanti. We have fallen off only once, fortunately without injury, a tribute to the tandem’s twice-the-weight-of-a-normal-bike’s stability, when a chap coming the other way along the North-western cycle way chose to clip the fence and fall off in front of us, and there was the time when at the top of a hill on Woodcock’s Road, my shoe would not clip out when we stopped, and we toppled. The tandem flies downhill and on the flat, but is hard yakka on hills and we are always last up, the physics of which has yet to be explained to us. We have participated in a series of designated tandem events along with other tandem riding nutters. We attract considerable attention whenever we venture out, the more so since we acquired some very cool matching Cat in the Hat cycle jerseys. Our riding gear is always coordinated. We often hear bystanders yell, “She’s not pedalling” as we pass.  It was funny the first time! The speed freak in me loves that at times we ride the tandem quite fast – maximum speed 78kph once coming down from the Waitakeres.

There have been so many regular rides, events, many certificates, three medals and SO much fun. The fact that we are still enjoying riding the tandem after 9 years with few cross words, says quite a bit about our relationship – married for 45 years, sharing birthdays, being best friends, laughing at each other’s jokes, our mutual provocativeness, and my being happy to be told what to do………..not! Our kids worry. Others to whom we have recommended tandem riding have almost invariably said that their relationships would never survive it.