Tuesday, 13 April 2010

London to Brighton on a tandem

My good friend Rachael and I recently made the rash decision to cycle from London to Brighton on a tandem. Keen cyclists may be aware of the Friday night rides to the coast, organised by Simon Legg of CTC. These madcap missions depart Hyde Park at midnight and arrive at a seaside destination the following morning - just in time for breakfast.

Rachael and I did our first overnight ride together last July. We chose the London to Brighton ride and several things of note happened:
1. An idiot in flip-flops brought a bike so aged and ill-maintained it actually fell to pieces halfway through the ride, causing untold bother for the poor organisers
2. A couple of blonde and undoubtedly Scandinavian girls in hotpants, ballet flats and not much else managed the entire ride without ever covering their exposed skin, breaking a sweat, eating a morsel or drinking a drop of water. Lord knows how they did it but they arrived at Brighton looking as fresh, groomed and wearing as little as a pair of clubbers heading out on the town - not two cyclists who had completed circa 60 miles overnight!
3. I managed to haul my boyfriend's mountain bike (enlisted at the last minute as my bike was buggered) up the monster that is Ditchling Beacon, a hill of epic steepness and length.
4. My boyfriend proposed to me when I arrived back at home

So what could top that experience? Riding a tandem, we decided. We'd dress in matching kit and borrow a friend's tandem and it'd all be fabulous.

It was certainly an experience. I have never ridden a tandem before and as we wobbled madly out of Hyde Park, totally unprepared for the issues of balance, steering and braking, a number of folk commented on how 'brave' or more accurately 'stupid' our decision to pop our tandem cherries on a 60-mile overnight ride kicking off in central London was.

With hindsight, 'stupid' is exactly the word I'd use to describe our endeavour. Riding a tandem is completely unlike riding a regular bike - it certainly is if you're the stoker (the person at the back). You cannot steer, brake or even see where you are going over your partner's shoulder, and the back of a tandem is a surprisingly claustrophobic place to be. For the captain (the person at the front) you have to cope with steering and braking for two - and dealing with the fact you've got twice as much weight behind you - as well as the responsibility of your stoker having to put complete and utter trust in you.

Stupid we may have been, but the trip was also memorable and about the toughest physical challenge I've ever faced in my life. Between us we got the beast up every single hill between London and Brighton - yes, including Ditchling - and coped with the downhill issue of having 20+ stone of weight propelling the bike to frankly terrifying speeds. I also got very disorientated around three-quarters of the way through the ride and became convinced the bike was tipping, leading me to lean in the opposite direction to balance the perceived lean. This was both uncomfortable and futile.

It was all worth it though to glide into Brighton aboard our geeky steed, and Rachael and I were the heroes of the hour thanks you our persistence. Having promptly forgotten all about the down-sides of tandem riding, I reckon we'll be having another go soon. Whitstable, anyone?

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