About a month ago I bought myself something rather quite special.
I bought a tandem.
I bought it from a fellow blindie who had had a change of health and although the bike had been serviced and well looked after; it had remained sat un-ridden.
It is only through the ‘on this day’ feature of Facebook that I can tell you that it has been just under two years since I have ridden a bike.
It was when we were away on holiday with the children, it was when we were riding on site of a Haven Holiday Park. After this I am sure that there was one further bike ride back at home before my bike was left to gather cobwebs and become home to spiders in the garage.
I did not stop riding because of an injury.
I stopped because with my hearing going in addition to my sight I did not feel I was safe either for myself or for other road users.
Many would be surprised that it is only in the last two years that I haven’t ridden my bike. Thinking about it now, it was pure stubbornness that had stopped me from hanging up my riding helmet before then; in the same way I can only imagine that a car driver who is in denial about their sight feels about surrendering their driving license.
A tandem was a way of gaining back some of me.
Yes, by the very definition of it I would only be able to ride with someone else. But riding a tandem with someone else feels less of a lack of independence than riding a bicycle with another adult beside me. I think that this is because a tandem is for ANYONE. A normally sighted person can ride a tandem, it isn’t a ‘mobility aid’ in the conventional sense of the word. Even though when I think about it, in my case it kind of is just that; a mobility aid.
I had the bike serviced and checked over. I spoke with a few friends about coming out for a ride with me and then, earlier this week. One of them took me up on my offer.
Having spent time looking over the bike and following the workings of it I was instantly struck by the fact that as the rear peddler (the stoker in technical, bicycle jargon) I had no gears or brakes. I was to simply just peddle. (Which when you think about it sensibly it makes perfect sense, but to me as a former solo cyclist-I had always had gears and brakes)
So, if all I was to do was to peddle. When and how would I know to peddle?
How would it feel sitting behind someone else (The Pilot-more jargon) who was in control of where we went?
How fast we got there?
And in what intensity of gears we were to achieve it?
I guessed I would just have to ‘go with them’ … LITERALLY.
My faithful Climbing Partner in Crime (CPiC) Simon was my first volunteer; we have ridden together before (on individual bikes) and he more than most understands my sight loss, and more to the point my anxieties of something new.
First he took the bike for a ride to the end of the car park without me. This gave him a feel for the length of the bike and the kind of turning circle it would have. Then it was my turn to get on with him.
My first ‘odd’ feeling was that I had both my feet off the floor, on the peddles and yet the bike was still upright and stationary. This being because Simon is taller and still had his feet on the ground!
We set off; it was wobbly, but it soon became smoother as we got into a rhythmic pattern. And surprisingly; not being able to see infront of me wasn’t concerning (because all I could see was the red of his jumper) felt O.K.
It felt ‘odd’ in the sense that I didn’t feel I was peddling enough, not as much as I thought I remembered from when I had ridden my bike before. However, what I was forgetting was one simple rule;
”Double the bodies means half the power”
Easier said than done. When the pilot slowed down I felt that as the stoker it was for me to peddle more. This wasn’t the case. In fact at one point I was told very bluntly to “JUST STOP”
I began to relax into the journey, I began to feel when it was time to coast and when it was time to peddle.
I also felt the exact point where my shoulder relaxed and my anxieties of ‘letting the other rider down’ were disappearing.
I only got off the bike and walked at a point where we crossed a road on the footpath (rather than add the complication of the road junction into the mix)
And before I knew it we were heading back towards home.
I could lie and say my arse wasn’t hurting from being sat on a not so padded saddle. I could lie and say I didn’t get cramp in my thigh….. But then were would the fun be in that?
It was interesting to discover that I can suffer with ‘Elvis Leg’ when riding a bike, just as I do at points when I am climbing….. This usually comes at a point where I am concentrating so hard that (as silly as this will sound) I forget to breathe!
We managed to clock up just over 9km on our first ride. After all I live in The Highlands area, which as the name suggests is an area with many a hill; which for the most part I want to be avoiding until my bike fitness has improved somewhat.
The route was recorded on my Apple Watch and all the specifics as to times, heart rate and distances are stored within my fitness app. So next time we can follow the same route and see the improvements in it.
I wasn’t really able to talk to Simon much while we were cycling (but then there really was no need to) so when we arrived back I asked him how he felt, his answer wasn’t what I think I expected to hear;
”It felt creepy having someone riding RIGHT behind me, so close; I felt I wanted to ride to get away from them.”
…. But as he never managed it, he said it was just something he would have to get used to. And he has agreed to go out and ride with me again.
So watch this space for more tandem cycling antics.