Tandem Bicycles

Tandem Bicycles I Hear You Ask? You May Have to Buy Your Own

An Old tandem BicycleYears ago – and I really mean years ago, in 1979 – I cycled around Exeter with my brother Mike on a tandem bicycle, displaying placards for the Ecology party (which became The Green Party). It took a bit of getting used to, but it was great fun. All our leaflets fell off as we were crossing the river on Exe Bridges, but we weren’t even old enough to vote, so I don’t suppose it mattered too much.

So I sometimes wonder what we could do to encourage the use of tandem bicycles on our Chain Gang bike tours. Once, in Loubressac in the Dordogne, I was lucky enough to meet the owner of Bicycle Outfitters, a bike shop in Los Altos, Northern California.

He and his wife were on an incredible tandem, which looked like it had been hand-built for them by NASA. I can’t remember the make, but it was just amazing to look at. So why don’t we have any tandems on our Chain Gang bike tours?

Well, occasionally we have. Graham and Chris Daly have cycled with us often, and they always bring their own tandem. Even to Umbria, and that’s brave. And others have brought their own tandems along.

Supplying tandems is slightly problematic. Because you have two seats, it’s much harder to be able to offer tandems for rent – you don’t just have to cater for people who may be between 5’0″ and 6’6″, for example. You have to cater for every permutation of front-rider height and back-rider height – for example, if you assume a 5’4″ lady on the front, you need half-a-dozen tandems to cover the height permutations on the back. If it’s another lady on the back, with their relatively longer leg-length to height ratio, that’s another 3 or so bikes. It’s basically impossible.

People who want to ride tandems buy their own. If you want to rent one or buy one, you end up with a compromise that is acceptable, but not great. So we’ve never had our own tandems.

But we did once supply a tandem, and it was an occasion that made me very proud. We had a blind guy who wanted to come cycling with us. He can read our website through a special piece of software that he has, and he enjoys cycling. He chose our Bordeaux Winetrail, and came with a friend of his who is a regular cycling companion – she cycles in the front and he cycles at the back, pretty obvious.

It’s difficult to explain yourself to prospective customers sometimes. When I first spoke to Richard I was parked on the opposite side of the valley to Pitigliano in Tuscany, and in truth I had no idea whether we could source a tandem or not.

But instinctively you think “it’s my company, so I’m allowed to make undertakings, provided I am prepared to see them through”. So I said we could, because it struck that we should, and to my delight I found a guy in La Roque Gageac, on the banks of the Dordogne, who rented tandems.

Of course, Richard has to deal with this every day, and I’m sure attitudes like mine are patronising and unwelcome, but it thrilled me that we could say to a blind cyclist “come along, mate, we can sort stuff out”.

Richard and Rose, I’d love to hear from you, because I can’t for the life of me remember if we had any contact after your trip. But I hope you enjoyed it, and I think you’re terrific. If I could no longer see, I hope I’d find a way to be able to continue cycling, and could find a friend who would do it with me. I suspect it would be Andy Sinclair for me, my partner in crime on Audax trips around Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

Anyway, I hope we get the chance again to cycle with a visually impaired cyclist on a Chain Gang tour, and whatever we have to do to help, we will.

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