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Home » Cycling » Tandemonium IV: Jason Rides a Tandem. No, Seriously… Is a Tandem Good or Bad for a Marriage

Tandemonium IV: Jason Rides a Tandem. No, Seriously… Is a Tandem Good or Bad for a Marriage


My very good friend, Sue Slaught, asked in one of my tandem posts a while back if a tandem would be a good aid for working through counseling issues in a marriage.

Trigger (heh) warning:  I’m about to give you my no bullshit opinion on riding tandem with one’s spouse – in my case, my wife.  Some of these opinions may not be popular with a few who have control or ego issues.  Don’t worry, I have faith you’ll get over it.  I guarantee you, I’ll sleep well tonight, as will my wife.

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Now, let’s dig right in…

First, in my humble opinion, the question Sue asked isn’t quite phrased in the best way.  The real question is, “is riding a tandem good or bad for a marriage”.  There’s a reason…  If you take a couple who is going to counseling because they’re having trouble with their marriage, they’ve already got a trainload of shit to work through.  The last thing you need to throw in that bunker is a hand grenade (in the form of a tandem bicycle).  It’s as simple as that.  It’d be like trying to do a gang violence intervention on two rival gangs by throwing a couple dozen loaded Mac10’s in between them.  Let’s just say, shit’s gonna get messy.  I hope this colorfully, yet descriptively, explains my position on the matter.

Typically speaking, you put the stronger cyclist up front, in the captain’s saddle.  The stoker, or the second cyclist, is there for three things:  To look awesome, navigate and provide power.  That’s it, end of story.  The captain takes care of the shifting and cadence, braking, steering and overall speed.  I have a buddy Adam, who likes to say that the tandem is the one place where things are ordered as they should be in life.  Where the man leads and the woman follows, providing assistance, assurance and encouragement.  I take a slightly less diminutive view, but for fun, let’s just go with that.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a marriage in trouble, the last thing you want to do if you want to save it, is throw the couple into a tandem situation.  The divorce papers will be filed before a 20 mile test ride is over.

On the other hand, we have my wife and I.  We went to counseling and it saved our marriage.  Our counselor’s name was Bill Thompson, God rest his soul, and he tore us down and built us back up to a point where we could compliment each other – and that’s exactly what happens on a tandem.  Without possessing those skills first, I shudder to think what would have happened.  Messy, that’s the term I used earlier.

Now, my wife and I have been on a dozen rides on our tandem and we’re up to a fairly easy 19+ average over 30 miles and when we work together, we flat-out fly on that bicycle.  We are getting good at it and we have fun on it.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoy our time riding the tandem.  We can talk whenever we want and it’s nice to have my best friend in the whole world right there in my ear on a bike ride.  It’s not all perfect though…

I have control issues.  We use my cadence, which used to be a little too fast for my wife.  I control everything…. and if I let that get to my head or abuse that, my wife, who also has control issues, lets me know I’ve crossed the line.  When she does so, I know I’ve let her down because:  Love is never boastful or conceited.  It is never rude or selfish…. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.  Love is always patient and kind.

Now, I can’t really be a bully on the front of the bike knowing and believing in that saying – and I do, wholeheartedly.

My wife has control issues as well – and her problem is even tougher because she can’t control much from the stoker’s saddle.  Now, many early in marriage or in counseling will treat that opportunity improperly and take advantage of it to show dominance (this cuts both ways, a tandem with no stoker pedaling isn’t going to go well for the captain).  The way I see it, I have a responsibility to acknowledge and to respect the fact that my wife, to ride a bike, is willing to trust me to do a good job piloting the bike.  This is what I learned in counseling.  Love is not domineering.  Nor is riding a tandem.

Tandem cycling will be different things for different couples.  The trick is that it’s gotta be fun for both cyclists, and because all my wife has to do is navigate and provide power, let’s just say I have a lot to do to help her enjoy her time on the bike.  I had none of these skills when my wife and I went through counseling and trying to force the understanding on someone by throwing them on a tandem just doesn’t seem like the best course.

I do now though, so tandem cycling is about as fun as it gets for me and my wife… well, with our clothes on anyway.  I am reassured that we made the right decision in buying that bike every time we ride it.  It puts a smile on my face.  It makes me happy.  It is worth every penny I paid for it.

I would have melted it down into a lump, had we tried to ride it while we were in counseling.

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10 Comments

  1. Sandra says:

    You have control issues? huh. 😉 LOL!

    Great post. Even though we have no issues, my hubby and I LOVE paddling our kayaks separately–and love paddling a canoe together in the BWCA together. Some things should be solo (Kayaks)! 🙂

  2. wanderwolf says:

    Great answer.
    New question, prompted by the comment about the positioning of both tandem partners. Is there a reason the man rides up front and the woman in the back? I imagine the guy can get more power going, but is that important? And is that all?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Stronger cyclist generally goes up front… If my wife was a pro cyclist, it’d be her. This is not a steadfast rule, per se, but my wife likes to look around and check out the scenery so she gets the good spot for that.

  3. Gail says:

    Your children are extremely fortunate to be able to witness the kind of marriage that you describe. Bodes well for their future…

  4. Sue Slaght says:

    This is awesome Jim! Thanks for the link back to us. Your advice makes good sense. Basically the tandem can strengthen a relationship if it is already in a healthy place. Fair enough.

  5. Manu Stanley says:

    Very good line of thought Jim. In my case, our little family tries cycling together on some weekends, and that short ride has an immense healing power on all of us. What is interesting here is that I and my wife are diametrically opposites when we are on the bike. Because she is the one who mostly drives the family around in the car (I being the lazy and lousy driver, try to keep off the wheel for obvious reasons), she logically thinks like a driver would, even while she is cycling with me on a much slower pace. I being a long distance rider (too ambitious an adjective, but I’m trying to be so), like to keep a steady pace taking only a few breaks during a rice. My son, an upcoming teenager, is all about speed.

    So during our once-in-a-while family ride on a Sunday, I let my wife take control. Which indirectly means, priorities of me and my son takes a backseat just for that ride. My wife has a painful knee sometimes, and would try to avoid cycling altogether if either me or my son asks her to push forward too much. So we ride at her pace and take breaks whenever she wants and mostly those rides last only a few kilometers (very rarely we ride up to 10 km). But we keep talking, watching the roadside flowers and sometimes the interesting species of birds and butterflies we see on the road.

    So I think riding the tandem is a similar exercise where both partners reach a comfort level between themselves, yet very different because one of them would take the control and the other is providing the additional push. Keep riding!!

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