Voices

Bicycle built for two

Learning about marriage is a tandem sport

Issue: "Education: Sick schools," Sept. 18, 2004

Sunscreen on, helmets buckled, pedals in sync, and we were on our way. After a few minutes my husband Johnny called to me over his shoulder, "You're doing great for your first time on a tandem." I replied: "I guess 35 years of marriage have been good practice."

Here are some lessons I learned recently, riding along Minnesota's Cannon Valley Trail behind my husband on a bicycle built for two:

• If I throw my weight around, we wobble and swerve. "Just stay centered and steady," he says.

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• My initial "seasickness" eases when I quit fighting the tilt and let him lean the bike into curves and turns in the path.

• But a couple of times I have to remind him, "Remember I'm back here. If you take the turns so sharply, you bump me against the curb."

• I often feel as if I'm not really adding much to the effort. But I must be doing my part, because if I lift my feet off the pedals, he asks, "Are you still there?"

• My instinct is to press harder on the downstroke to ensure I'm carrying my share. But when I do, he says, "Slow down. Don't push me so fast."

• Looking over his shoulder, I have almost the same view as he does, but I can't see what's directly in front of us. Good thing he's the one steering, braking, and changing gears. On the other hand, I can look around and point out turtles basking on a log or warn him of the faster rider overtaking us.

• I can't brake or steer, but I do have the power to stop the bike and ruin the ride. If I stand still on the pedals and refuse to move, he can't make them turn.

• I love it when we're on level ground and using a gear that sets a slow, steady pedaling that surges us forward. But I need warning when he changes to a setting that requires fast foot strokes. When I'm caught off guard, my feet are slung from the pedals and it's a trick to get them back in place without snarling the progress up a steep hill.

• When I realize I'm clenching the handlebars, I remind myself, "Let go! You've always wanted to ride 'no hands.' Now you can!"

• Ready for lunch, I suggest heading back, but he wants "just one more mile marker." In a few minutes we've gone further than I thought I could.

• After that push for "just one more," I assume we'll mosey on back. That's when he leans forward and calls, "Let's see if we can beat our record!" and rams his pistons, I mean feet, against his pedals. When his feet go, so do mine. With that kind of encouragement, I do what I never would have on my own.

• Near the end, at the sight of one more hill, I open my mouth to say, "Let me off. I'll walk up." Then I imagine how foolish we'd look, me plodding alone and him trying to keep the bike going by himself. So I shut up and keep pedaling.

• And I discover that when we pedal together, impossible inclines become possible.

• On top of everything, when people see us riding together, they smile.

-Noël Piper co-authored Treasuring God in Our Traditions with her husband, John.

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