With the pandemic influencing our whole world, I have extra time. Don’t you? After cleaning closets and drawers and any number of other household chores, I have taken this extra time as an opportunity. That’s not so new to me because I find opportunities just about anywhere. Getting on the computer I looked at pictures, read blogs, and scrolled through social media posts from days long past. Tonight, I found pictures of the Yellow Mosquito Eater and Grepedo. What creatures could have such names? These are the names of bicycles I have loved. Tandem bicycles to be exact.
Have you ever seen a two-person bike and thought…oh that would be so fun to ride. You can think that all you want but learning to ride a tandem is a lot of work. I am not talking about the tandems of the Daisy Daisy bicycle built for two… Or the kind you rent in a beach town to ride along the boardwalk. Those bikes have just a few gears and a big cushy seat. The tandem bikes I have become familiar with have 10 sprockets and 3 rounds or is it the other way around….3 sprockets and 10 rounds in the cassette. Darn words for bike parts always get me. I do know they have 30 or more speeds to choose from depending on the terrain…uphill we go to low or granny gears and downhill we fly in the higher gears. There is a lot more to learn about this tandem riding. There are actual titles involved. The person in front is called the captain or pilot. This person is a strong rider who is in charge of steering, braking, and shifting the bike. The person in the back holds on for dear life and trusts that the captain doesn’t drive you both into a ditch. This back seat rider is called the stoker. The stoker’s job is to provide power. The front rider has control over the handlebars, the back handlebars are for holding on only. There are a set of pedals for both riders and these pedals move together. Some people think that you can pedal at your own speed. That is wishful thinking because whatever the captain does in the way of pedaling, the stoker does too.
I learned early on in my diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease that bicycling helped reduce the symptoms. Now, twelve years later we know that it isn’t just the bicycling, but also the intensity of the movement over time. Researchers call this forced exercise. Riding at a sustained 80 or 90 rpm over 40 minute period may not be something a person with Parkinson’s cannot achieve by themselves, but on a tandem, the other rider assistswith the power to help get there.
My first tandem ride was a truly frightening experience. Friends brought their tandem for us to borrow. Charlie hopped on, and I got on the back and we started pedaling out of our driveway and on to the quiet country road. He pedaled fast, and my feet slipped off and flapped alongside the pedals. I felt the bike slow and then stop abruptly at the stop sign. I barely had my feet back on the pedals when Charlie turned the bike right, made a U-turn back to the house and stopped in the driveway. “Why the short ride?” Our friends asked. “There’s a problem with the bike”, Charlie answered. “There’s a terrible screaming sound coming from the backseat.” I got off as fast as I could and went up to the house to get a shot of whiskey to calm my nerves. I had been scared to death. Sitting in the stoker’s spot I could not see a thing. I didn’t know when he was going to stop, or turn and he didn’t tell me what was coming next. I was totally dependent upon the guy in the front seat. Our wedding vows said nothing about giving him full control on a tandem bike. I wasn’t ready for that.
Several months later I saw a yellow tandem inside of our garage. I recognized it as belonging to our neighbors. When Charlie asked to borrow it, Scott the neighbor took Charlie for the ride of his life. Charlie had the opportunity to have his own frightening experience. The communication between Scott and Charlie was the same as between Charlie and me; nonexistent. And I didn’t even have to pay Scott for the favor!.
YouTube videos showed Charlie how tandem riders were supposed to work together. He asked me to give tandem riding another try. We changed into our biking garb, which I learned are called kits. This includes spandex shorts with some special padding to protect certain parts is parts…what we tell our children are private parts. Guys biking shorts usually have a suspender type arrangement whereas the lady’s styles do not. A colorful jersey is worn on the top. The jersey has some pockets in the back for your wallet or phone, a snack or some butt butter. Note: not peanut butter but BUTT BUTTER!
The yellow tandem came out to the driveway. We got on the bike, and Charlie taught me the commands. Pedal up, ready, going, gliding, clear, on the right, on the left, slowing, stopping, turning, bumps, tracks. We practiced them as we rode. It became fun. I still could not see much in front, but Charlie did a nice job of telling me what was happening. I relaxed and enjoyed the view on both sides of the road.
We took this tandem to ride on our first Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. There were about 45 riders, some with Parkinson’s Disease, riding to raise money for the Pedaling for Parkinson’s Program. The second night out, someone left our tent door unzipped when we went to dinner and mosquitoes invaded. Charlie called these mosquitoes Iowa’s state bird. They were huge! We brought the bike in the tent that night because, well I am not sure why, but I joked it was going to eat the mosquitoes. That’s how it got its name the big yellow mosquito eater.
We rode the big mosquito eater so much we thought we thought we should return it and get our own. So we ordered a co-motion periscope torpedo from the factory in Eugene OR and asked it be painted Oregon Ducks green. It went for three more RAGBRAI events. It was given its name GREPEDO by Nan Little the matriarch of the team.
Looking through the photos, I saw one of me curled up next to Grepedo, sleeping on a lawn somewhere in IOWA, a paper plate under my head for a pillow and in my hands was a napkin l held like it was the corner of my little blankie. Oh, the memories.
Last week I bought a new bike or actually a trike. It’s a recumbent trike made by the USA company Catrike, model name “villager”. It has one round and ten gears but it also has a pedal assist. I have ridden it a total of 36 miles, and my fastest speed so far has been 16 mph. I am in love with it. If you remember, your first pedal experience as a child frustrated you. You couldn’t coordinate your feet to get the pedals to turn. It was like that for me for just a few minutes. I figured it out and was off down the gravel drive and out into the lane. Fresh air in my face.
No longer am I forced to stare at Charlie’s sweaty back. I can see what is coming up in the way of scenery, or bumps. But best of all, I am in control again. I control the speed, the turns, the brakes. Freedom!
We still have Grepedo. It has a special place in our hearts ….and…. on the wall in our garage. I look forward to more rides as I will always enjoy being with Charlie.
As the list of things I can do by myself gets shorter due to age and the advancement of the disease I am happy for any form of independent movement available. I am glad to own a recumbent trike, that I can ride anywhere I want all by myself! Now to name it….hmm