cycling · disability

Bicycles built for two


I’ve always loved the idea of a tandem bicycle. Why?

Cycling plus togetherness. Really, what’s not to like? There’s a fun and helpful article by Sheldon Brown on the reasons to ride a tandem with lots of advice about technique here.

The cute bike pictured above, complete with hula skirt on the basket, was spotted at the Chatham Kent Y triathlon I was at last weekend.

My partner and I felt the same way about tandem bikes. We loved the idea. We talked about it lots. Of course, it could never be our only bike, we agreed. See How many bikes is too many? where you’ll learn that I’m not afraid at all of owning more bikes. The more the merrier.

And fun to go fast together, we thought. That is, until we tried one.

Control freaks are us. The larger cyclist goes first. This means the view of the smaller cyclist, in our case, me, is the back of the larger cyclist. In no time I was scared and pukey. Stop!

Unlike this couple we won’t be improving our relationship by riding a tandem bike.

Okay, we thought but we could use it with the kids. I’d ride in the front with my daughter in the back. Nope. Turns out we’ve raised a family of control freaks. Tandem bicycles aren’t for us after all. We’ll ride together sure but each on our own bike.

I have a friend at our velodrome who owns a tandem track bike but again, since I’d be in the back, I didn’t volunteer.

Tandems are in the news this week with the unveiling of the bronze statue memorializing Jack Layton. The life-size bronze sculpture depicts the former federal NDP leader riding a tandem bike.  The front seat of the tandem is empty and visitors are encouraged to sit down and have their photo taken with Layton who was a tremendous advocate for cyclists.

According to the CBC, MP Olivia Chow and Layton’s spouse “recalled how the couple rode a tandem bicycle, which they bought each other as a wedding present. When they rode together as newlyweds, Chow would occupy the rear seat. The statue unveiled Thursday features Jack in the back seat, a switch Chow explained was intentional. “When we rode together, I had Jack’s back,” said Chow. “Now Jack has your back.”” Read more here.

Olivia Chow, Doris Elizabeth

The one time I was asked to consider riding in front of a tandem bike was in Australia when I was on sabbatical in a city that had a program for blind cyclists. I couldn’t do it as I was just a visitor but it seems like a terrific idea. You can read about the program here. I like the slogan of the umbrella group of which tandem cycling is part,
“Inclusive recreation for Australians of all abilities.”

I think if I became blind myself I wouldn’t mind being the stoker, the person in the back. Presumably I’d still love cycling. One of my complaints, the view, wouldn’t matter in that situation. Liking to be in charge on a bike might still be an issue but I suspect lots of my control freak tendencies might have to change, or find another outlet in the case of that disability. I don’t know.

There isn’t such a group in London but there is in Toronto. If you’re a sighted cyclist, consider it. If you’re blind and interested in biking, here you go.

“The TRAILBLAZERS Tandem Cycling Club, a registered charity, provides recreational cycling to people who have limited or no vision, the opportunity to cycle with sighted volunteers on our tandems (bicycles built for two).”
Toronto Trailblazers

Have you ever ridden a tandem? Front or back? Loved it or hated it?