The couples tandem or ‘Love Machine’: an idyllic combination of active and romantic, combined with a hearty splash of novelty value. It’s always been on my bucket list, so when faced with the options at the Padstow Cycle Hire it was the obvious choice of holiday adventure. During my tandem-revision I came across this article 10 Awesome Things About Riding A Tandem where I learnt that “a tandem is good for a couple’s relationship”, and that the “only possible cause of a dispute is who makes the sandwiches”. Elsewhere I also came across an alternative nickname: the ‘Divorce Machine’.
Being complete novices, we decided to tackle the entire length of the Camel Trail: a full 60km to put our relationship to the ultimate test. Fast-forward 36.7 miles and I can confirm that we survived, and we are still together; and now that we are fully-fledged experts I have collated all my wisdom into a handy guide to couples tandeming.
Choose Your Partner Wisely
You see it all the time, those couples cycling along where one half is smiling away a good 200m up the road from their miserable, struggling partner. If you, like us, are one of those couples then tandem riding is definitely for you. You literally cannot get away from your partner even for a second, so you will want to choose them wisely. This is not an activity for a relationship on the rocks.
Pick Your Seats Carefully
It is advised the heavier and more experienced rider takes the front seat (known as the Captain), with the lighter and possibly less experienced rider on the rear (the Stoker). The Captain will take responsibility for basically everything: steering, braking, balancing, and in many cases pedalling. The Stoker only has to give the impression of pedalling by rotating their legs in time to the wheels without the need to apply any real effort. I would highly recommend the role of Stoker. I had a great time.
It is best to fix the seat heights with an Allen key that you leave behind, that way when the inevitable “Well you try if you think you can do it better” moment comes as unfortunately you won’t be able to adjust the seat so that your feet can reach the floor, meaning your roles are forever fixed.
Don’t Kick Your Partner in the Face
This is a top tip. Captain, when mounting your seat be reminded to check if your partner is immediately behind you to avoid kicking them in the face. From experience, this is not a good start. I advise the safe mounting of the Captain first, followed by the Stoker once the Captain’s feet are safely on the floor.
Moving Off Is Absolutely Terrifying
I would recommend wheeling your new steed to a completely private location, that is either flat or on a mild decline, avoiding hazards such as roads or corners, ideally with crash mats on either side. Initially I opted to keep my feet off the pedals until my Captain had got us going but as we gained experience later realised this made it rather more difficult, for him at any rate. Communication is key here. We perfected our upward transitions to a polished routine: start off with both of you on the same side of the bike and move the chosen moving off pedal to an upward position to give you maximum push; verbalise this chosen pedal (left or right) and countdown to the moment of push; attempt to move the pedals in harmony whilst jerking left and right shouting profanities and possibly crying.
It Will Feel Awful (at first)
Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’ve safely (or quite dangerously) successfully set off and you’re now pedalling together in glorious harmony. Or not. The first five minutes are both awful and petrifying. You will be jerking all over the place, in opposite directions to each-other, jolting the pedals horribly and developing an acute awareness of the exponential number of potentially fatal hazards you may encounter: children, dogs, other bikes, any kind of turn, traffic, road humps, pot-holes; the list goes on, and on.
Avoid All Inclines
Unaware of the pros and cons of the tandem, we put no thought whatsoever into our route of choice. Luckily for us the Camel Trail is famous for being flat, safe and largely traffic-free. When riding along a slight decline the tandem is truly joyful, and the extra weight gives you serious momentum. The first time we hit an almost inappreciable incline we pulled in assuming we must have suffered a puncture. I’ve heard of people going up hills on them, but I do not know how. It is at least five times harder than a normal bike when going up-hill so inclines of any sort are best avoided.
So you’re over the five-minute mark and you’ve truly got your sea-legs now. Much like your relationship, you are in complete harmony with one another. This is a great time for the Stoker to appreciate the scenery. Having no responsibility for steering, balance, or brakes you suddenly realise that you can easily do a huge number of things that would be impossible on a normal bike, including look in a direction that you don’t want to go – such as backwards. I particularly enjoyed photographing near-by cows, taking selfies, waving at passers-by, texting my Mum a video of myself waving and eating a ginger bread man.
Communication is Key
All movements need to be performed in unison, and thus communication is key. Vital times to speak to each-other include turning, adjusting your bottom, free-wheeling and most importantly stopping – unless planning on ejecting your partner. Stoker, you should take it upon yourself as co-pilot to give Captain plenty of instructions about things you cannot really see, given that you are mostly viewing the Captain’s back. You should also be in charge of reminding the Captain to make yourselves known to oncoming people by shouting loudly “Ding the Dinger!!” and then complaining that this was not performed at the optimal moment.
Don’t Fall Out
Now that you’ve mastered not falling off, the next hurdle is not falling out. Due to your close proximity and inability to avoid each-other, this (like hills) is best avoided. Top tips for this include Stokers avoiding criticism of the Captain’s technique, Captain’s not accusing Stokers of not doing anything (this is definitely unfair).
Set Yourself An Unrealistic Distance
Go big or go home. Never cycled more than 10 miles? No problem. A distance shared is a distance halved. You should set off on a true adventure, and it’s always fun to get lost making it even further. This is also good fodder for rows. But consider packing a sponge to ease your exceptionally painful bum if you are riding unprecedented miles.
Prepare Some Good Chat
You’re in it for the long haul now, sandwiched together in tandem-bliss. So you better have some pre-prepared topics of conversation to keep you going. Some good choices include politics, current-affairs, religion and the future of your relationship.
Take A Picnic
All romantic activities should include a picnic of some kind, and couples tandeming is no exception. Panniers are the ideal carrying device, but if this is not an option I would recommend the rucksack being worn by the Stoker, otherwise you will spend the whole ride with the Captain’s rucksack in your mouth. We went traditional for our choice of sustenance and packed two Cornish pasties and a Gingerbread Couple. I’d also recommend taking adequate hydration, ideally a bottle of wine.
And that’s it, you’re all ready to go! A romantic adventure for two in the glorious countryside, completely in tune with one another’s thoughts and movements, as if you are one. Or at the very least try not to crash, die or get a divorce.
Note: This video is a completely accurate representation of our entire 60km adventure.