Gently cajoled into returning to cycling, The Reluctant Cyclist has finally been for a ride and discovered that she has a captain.
In which it takes two to tandem
Despite my clear lack of enthusiasm for actually getting on a bike, I felt that it was now time to cast my anxieties to the wind and get on an actual bike for an actual bike ride.
The easiest course of action would have probably have been to dust down my aged purple bike and go for a wobbly spin around the block. Ever intrepid, however, my cyclist friend suggested a jaunt on his tandem.
That would seem to be the easy way out; sit on the back and let someone else do all the work. But as I quickly discovered, tandem riding was not to be the easy ride (sorry) that I had cracked it up to be.
The first issue to address was balance. Mine not the bike’s. It is actually rather difficult to trust the person in front of you when they tell you to put both feet on the pedals and none on the ground. There is a curious feeling of helplessness as they take full charge of your safety and you are no longer master of your own destiny, but a ‘stoker’ for your ‘captain’.
It is a little like being the passenger when your teenage son is learning to drive. You grasp on and pray while being unable to alter the momentum, speed or direction of your travels.
On the back of a tandem this feeling of fear is compounded by a) not being able to see anything apart from the backside of your fellow rider, and b) big cars very close. Tandem riding was an exercise in trust for me, helped by clear instructions from my captain: “pedal now”, “signal left” and “stop screaming”.
Once I’d got the hang of gripping the immovable handlebars and pedalling at a rate set by someone else, I began to quite enjoy myself, even venturing to wave a wobbly hand at a couple of amused passers-by. We took a blue cycle superhighway into London which, apart from a few cobbled crossings (ouch, and a new instruction: “bottoms up”) was actually rather a lovely way to see the city.
After an enjoyable evening out popping in and out of a few hostelries, and with the cold setting in, I was distinctly less keen to re-engage with the tandem for the ride home.
It was, dear reader, as bad as I’d feared. Forty minutes’ cycling earlier in the day proved to be the limit for my poor bottom. My thighs appeared to have developed new muscles especially so that they could ache in more places; my feet were freezing; and the darkness appeared to make the cars pass faster and closer than before.
The leisurely blue cycle route of the trip into town was replaced by the more direct but infinitely more frightening A13, with lorries and buses which appeared to not at all notice my presence on the road.
It was at this point that I decided that if I ever cycled again, I was doing it in dayglo colours and a large flashing ‘learner cyclist’ sign above my head.
The other non-negotiable would be a seat which didn’t give me bruises on my behind, or, preferably, something akin to a cushion gaffer-taped to the saddle. (note to editor – does this exist, if not, can I patent it?). I arrived home, battered, bruised and distinctly unamused by the attitude of London drivers in the dark.
And so I had experienced a zenith and a nadir in my burgeoning cycling career in the same day, showing clearly that I was best suited to bike rides to pubs, and taxis home.