Monday 27 May 2013

Can Love Survive a Tandem?

With more than a year’s riding and 11,000 km on the clock, it’s time to answer that question - is it a case of Truly, Madly, Deeply or is she sick of seeing my butt? It’s a fair enough question - after all, what other pursuit brings two people together for so many hours?
Tandemists pedal with less than an arm’s length between them, and they have to co-operate.Want to take a pee? Ask your companion for permission to stop. Want to take a photo? Ask your companion. Hungry or thirsty? Let’s hope your riding partner feels the same. Want to stop pedaling for a moment to stand up and stretch your legs? Tell your buddy what you are doing. Like some peace and quiet? Too bad if your partner is feeling chatty and insists on telling you at length about the dream they had last night.
On the road in Cambodia. Pic: Sam Brockie.


Current Location: Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Total Distance Cycled: 11,550 km.

Distance Cycled in SE Asia: 6,331 km.

Longest Day's Ride: 124 km (Thailand).

Final SE Asian Snake Count: Alive 5; Squished on Road 62+
Backside Status (10 is Bliss): Judy the Stoker 5, Mike the Captain 4.

It is hard to think of any other pursuit that forces two people to co-operate so closely.
What about something like ocean sailing, popular with couples who really want to get away from it all? Well, usually the boat is big enough to escape from the other person, and anyway shared responsibilities often mean one person is sleeping while the other is on watch.
Hiking or tramping? Easy Peazy. One person walks ahead of the other and maintains a distance, and trips are usually of only a few days duration.
Synchronised swimming? We could play this game all day, but you get the picture.

In the Down Time

And what do tandemists do when they get off the bike? Usually it’s stay in each other’s company as they eat and sleep - the main activities of cyclists when they are not cycling.
Sign in the grounds of a Buddhist wat.

It’s no small wonder that tandem couples sometime struggle to get along. We heard of one couple who cycled for a year together. At the end of their travels she left him telling anyone who would listen, ”you would leave to if you’d had to watch his backside all that time.” It seems butts can have a bearing on the subject.
Maybe there’s a TV reality show in here. Call it, “but your Butt’s too Big” or even just “Tandem Disasters”.

So is there any hope for a couple who decide to go tandem cycling?
We certainly don’t profess to be experts on the subject, nor do we want to appear smug. But after some hiccups of our own we have learned a few things that can help ease that pain in the butt that might be caused not by your saddle, but by your companion.

Our List of Tandem Touring Guidelines

Here are our guidelines. And FYI in tandem parlance, the word Captain refers to the person on the front and the word Stoker to the person on the back.
·      The Captain must never frighten the Stoker by going too fast downhill or taking risks in traffic.
·      When the bike’s stationary, the Captain must keep it firmly upright and the Stoker must always set up the pedals so they are ready for instant take off - very important at traffic lights etc.
·      The Stoker should try to keep a little energy in reserve for cresting that last big hill of the day.
·      Give it time. If you have left careers, friends and families to go tandem touring it will take a while to settle into your new lifestyle. Do not expect it to be perfect from day one.
·      Acknowledge that life will be uncomfortable occasionally.  Remember that any form of travel is hard work.
Celebrate milestones - even if you can
only afford beer.
·      Take time out - don’t treat cycle touring like a job. Instead spend time off the bike exploring, resting, reading and enjoying the experience.
·      Treat yourselves occasionally and celebrate milestones.
·      Try to have enough money so that instead of camping you can take a hostel or hotel for a night if the weather stays persistently bad or one of you becomes ill.
·      Be kind and tolerant towards each other.
 Take time out to relax - don't treat
cycling like a job.
Treat yourselves occasionally. Our favourite guesthouse
in Thailand, the Baan Lotus in Ayutthaya.

Playing Nicely

That last point is probably the most important, although it would also seem the most obvious. Just remember that things will go wrong - the weather will be too hot, cold or wet, there will be a headwind that prevents you reaching your destination, you’ll get lost or the only accommodation will be too expensive. When it happens, it’s far better to work as a team than to blame the other.
Whole books have been written on the differences between men and women (for example: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps) and if one difference stands out it is navigation.

Navigating Out of Trouble

We have had our own problems, especially early on. In Europe, despite maps and a GPS and the Eurovelo 6 cycle trail, we would take a wrong turn or get lost or both. My answer was to pedal faster in any direction, believing that eventually we would find a helpful sign to direct us back on our route. On the back of the bike, Judy would sense my rising frustration and would be struggling to keep up with the pedaling.
It will take more than fish nibbling your feet to keep
you both happy when things go wrong. Judy relaxes
in Ayutthaya.
 It took us several months to reach a compromise in which we would stop and quietly and patiently assess where we were and what direction we should take. These days we share the navigation, stopping often to consult our map or the GPS. We have learned that the GPS is not the ultimate solution; it is simply an aid to navigation. Maps can be wrong. And asking people will not always provide a clear answer.

Avoiding a Bumpy Ride

Some couples would be better off not to go tandem cycling. The fractious, argumentative and difficult will find it hard to co-operate. Try a package holiday and separate rooms.
Cycling throws up the unexpected. We met this lovely family while
having lunch in Ang Thong, Thailand, and we joined together
to sing "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)". It must have been
a strange moment for passersby.

Do not contemplate cycle touring, let alone tandem touring, if you are the type who likes to control your environment. Touring by bicycle throws up the unexpected all the time - from breakdowns to invitations from roadside strangers.

Some people ask Judy rather pointedly that perhaps she would enjoy her independence on her own bike. As the Stoker she has no control over the tandem’s steering or braking.
But she counters that by saying that she would not feel happy in heavy traffic on her own, and this way she has no trouble keeping up, we don’t get separated and we can always (most of the time anyway) hear

Ready to Roll: #4
each other speak above the traffic noise. Add to that the fact that together we enjoy working as a team - climbing the hills together, sweeping through the bends and chatting to one another on the flat bits.  And after all - isn’t enjoyment one of the main reasons we travel?


  1. Perhaps when you two come home to New Zealand (you are coming home to New Zealand eventually aren't you?)you can take up as psychologists or relationship councellors. You sound pretty professional now and certainly have good experience.
    Chris Laery x

    1. Thanks Chris, we are definitely coming back to NZ before the end of the year. As for your suggestion, our skills extend only to tandem touring - a narrow field. We'd starve and still need to buy the Lotto tickets.

  2. Siamese Twins, I salute you!! xx

  3. Hi Mike and Judy
    So glad you are continuing to enjoy your two wheeled adventure- loved the escapades in Thailand and Vietnam, places I've only been brave enough to travel through by taxi and public transport. So you're about to hit Canada. Can't wait to hear what you have to say about Vancouver. I've always wanted to go. Where will the next part of your itinerary take you? I am currently down in Kent, babysitting a B&B!
    Lots of love
    H xx

    1. Hi Hev, baby sitting a B&B - now that sounds like a nice job. Know of any other positions going? We fly out of Bangkok in a little over 24 hours to Vancouver, BC, the "official" starting point of the Pacific Coast Highway (cycle route). The loose plan is to spend a little time exploring Vancouver and nearby parts of BC before turning the tandem south and heading into Washington state, Oregon, California as far as San Diego and the Mexican border. Then we plan to fly home to NZ to enjoy the summer there and decide on our next course of action - which will be driven primarily by the desire not to work! We have loved SE Asia - the longer we stay the more we enjoy it, but it's time to move on sadly and explore somewhere new. Love from us.

  4. Craig & Hamish29 May 2013 at 15:17

    You two are such wonderful 'peas in a pod' that we can only smile as we read of your journey, both physical & psychological. We are now settled in Bayswater with the Waiheke build looming. There is much to be recommended in turning your life upside down and starting again!


    1. Hello Craig and Hamish, exciting times ahead for you. Hopefully we will catch up with you before the year's out. There is a pretty good chance we'll be living at the bach while we figure out what to do next. Yep, throwing your life upside down has a lot going for it. The Stoker said to say hi as she vanished up into the ghostly third floor of our decrepit guesthouse in Bangkok. She's busy trying to throw out stuff so we can board our flight with the bike tomorrow without being overweight. Regards from us both.

  5. Hi, Mike and Judy:
    Met you today on the ferry to the Comox Valley, great to hear your ideas about co-operating on the road. Tried to sign up on your site for getting email updates but apparently you have that turned off.

    Another "adventure traveller" I like to read about lives here in Comox, Colin Angus, who was the first to travel around the world by his own power - bike, ski, and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean!

    Call me if you need help or questions about anything around here.


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