It’s somebody’s lucky day. There’s a free seat on my tandem bicycle, so saddle up! Soon you will experience the feeling of four male legs moving together in perfect synchronized harmony.
First, let’s go over some rules every tandemist needs to know prior to mounting the “long bike,” as we say, things that will help ensure your safety while maximizing what I like to call your tandemusement.
Just as with dance partners, someone has to lead, and that person is me. The front rider is commonly referred to as the captain, the pilot, or the steersman. Other names I’m fine with are El Capitan, Mule Calves, and Lance.
From this point forward, you will be referred to as my “stoker.” I may also call you Tail Gunner, Backdoor Pilot, or Rear Admiral. I will switch up these names throughout the ride to keep things festive.
As captain, I will be controlling the bicycle’s balance, steering, shifting, and braking. I know what you’re thinking: What’s left for me to do? Well, there’s plenty left. And, frankly, that’s exactly the kind of insolence I don’t need from my stoker. So let’s nip the credit mongering in the bud.
There’s plenty I need you to do back there, and even more I need you not to do. The first thing I require is your trust. I need you to trust me like you would someone who didn’t just ride up to you and ask you to get on his tandem bicycle. There may be things I ask you to do in the heat of the moment that you’re not altogether comfortable with. Well, guess what? I’m not comfortable dying—which is exactly what will happen to both of us if you second-guess me.
The second thing I need from you is communication. Remember I can’t see you, so when I ask “How are we doing back there?,” I need an answer. A clear answer. Either verbally or through one of the physical signals I will teach you. A simple squeeze of my hips, for example, means “I’m good.”
For your first few rides, I will be paying very close attention to how you’re doing—listening to your breathing, reaching around to take your neck pulse, and rubbing your hamstrings to feel for the beginnings of a dreaded leg cramp. As the one seasoned tandemist on this bicycle, I will take it upon myself to make sure you’re OK back there. Your vision of the road will be slightly limited, so, as captain, I will warn you of all obstacles up ahead. I will say things like “Pothole at three.” By “three,” I mean 3 o’clock on the dial of a watch, and by “pothole” I mean a cavity in the asphalt. I need you to familiarize yourself with watches and terms like “asphalt.”
In the realm of physical responsibilities, I will need bursts of power from your quads during climbs. I will need this power to be smooth and uniform. I will need you to hold my hand during these climbs. Pumping through a hill requires impeccable coordination of movements and clasping each other’s fingers will facilitate this coordination. I don’t expect you to understand how at this point—you’re too new to the tandem world.
This brings us to fake peddling. If you’re wondering why my stoker seat is open in the first place, there’s your answer. I will know if you’re fake-peddling and I will find a new stoker without batting an eyelash. I can be the most loyal tandemist you’ve ever met or a real son of a bitch of a tandemist. Just try me.
It is very important that you don’t disturb the equilibrium of the bicycle. If you’re shifting your weight, you should do so very carefully. If you’re taking a drink, I need you to say, “Drinking, El Capitan!” At which point I will say, “Roger that.” I might not always reply so militarily, but sometimes I will.
I will be calling out gear shifts, as well as initiating sing-alongs. It’s all part of the free-spirited enjoyment that tandem riders experience on a daily basis all over the world. I’ll warn you now to watch for clever lyric shifts along the way. For instance, instead of “Row, row, row your boat,” I may change it to “Ride, ride, ride your bicycle.” These changes will be whimsical, to say the least, so stay on your toes.
As we log more and more miles together, we will be well on our way to forming a special bond—communicating without words, shifting our weight and maneuvering our two bodies as one.
Before long, I will be your Fred and you will be my Ginger. I will be your John and you will be my Yoko. I will be your George and you will be my Weezie. It’s time for you to see the beautiful sights of our country through the eyes of a tandemist: Things will look different and, dare I say it, twice as beautiful. Things like mountains, oceans, fields, urban environments, deserts, ponds, lakes, forests, and suburban environments.
So welcome aboard and buckle up, Stoker! It’s going to be a wild, non-gender-confusing ride!