Northwest Tandem Rally, Pendelton Oregon,May 2001
Lynette and Hanz Scholz, designerand co-founder of Bike Friday, on the covetable TwinAir Tandem. "If you can'tget laid on this bike, you can't get laid". $8000 and it's yours.
Unaccustomed as she was to riding a bicycle built for two, Lynette Chiangtakes a back seat as part of the job working for Bike Friday, makers of hertravel bike - and decides she likes the view.
A SPORT FOR old fogies. Sticky co-dependents. Annoyinglyhappy families. Until a week ago my take on tandem riding was jaundiced tosay the least, having biked for the past four years alone with no-one's backand thankfully, butt to talk to.
So when Hanz, Bike Friday's erstwhile co-instigator, askedfor willing participants to attend the Northwest Tandem Rally in PendeltonOregon, I jokingly accused him of passing me over just because I did nothave a significant other to turn my crank. He looked at me and said, "Sureyou can go - just find a partner". Overjoyed at the opportunity to travelto another part of this new and challenging country I immediately went aroundthe office assessing the posterial aesthetics of the available crank turners- after all, if you have to stare at someone's butt for hours on end it oughtto be a tranquil sight. I cornered the shyest salesguy in the team, Tim,a seasoned rider who looked like he could turn a fine crank indeed. We riggedup a "Q" tandem and managed to complete two lunchtime shin-grating, friendship-jeopardisingspins down the bike path before the Big Day.
8am. We're loading the tandems and a selection of singleBike Friday's in the company van. The previous night Hanz welded an impressivetubular steel crate which bolted to the back and magically allowed us tocarry four bike-filled suitcases, complete with blinking bicycle tail lights.The six of us set off for the 6-hour drive north. Present: Michael and Mindi,the IT/Accounting couple at Bike Friday, Hanz and Peter from Sales, whosepartners had dipped out at the last minute, and Tim and I, nervous neophytes.
He sure turned mycrank. Lynette and Tim on the "Q" - the tandem that converts to a singlebike.
Six hours later we arrived in Pendelton, a neat but otherwise unremarkablerodeo town in the far northeast of Oregon, close to the Washington border.We were directed to a baseball field where we set up our tents and unfoldedthe bikes. Hanz had brought along a life-saving foldable gazebo which wasto provide some respite from the searing heat. That evening we hosted a pizzaand pint night at a local pizzeria attended by around forty Bike Friday tandemfolk. I gave a slide show on my millenium Cuba trip, in which I expoundedthe virtues of travelling rough and real, camping in dodgy places and stayingin people's houses illegally, the joys of bucket baths with tepid water ifyou're lucky, the difficulty of finding decent food, being assaulted by aflasher in Cienfuegos…I could see the attendees falling over themselves tobuy their plane tickets, via Mexico city of course…
I was astounded at the seniority of many of the Bike Friday tandem owners,their riding prowess and commitment to this demanding sport. I saw togetherness.I went to bed wondering whether someone had done a PhD thesis on the effectof tandem riding on nuptial bliss. One couple boasted a combined age of 130years. It seemed the elixer of youth, the answer to everlasting peace, loveand understanding, til death do us part….
"GEORGE, WAIT UNTIL I GET CLIPPED IN HERE OR YOU CAN RIDE BY YOURSELF!"
The following morning we prepared for the first ride of the weekend: a64 mile spin out to an Indian reservation, with a 35 mile shorter route option.
Some 240 bicycles built for two jostled into position like on the startinggrid of the Tour de France. There were Co-Motions, Santanas, Bushnell's,Cannondales, Burley's. Then there were our little-wheeled Bike Fridays, whichwere regarded with a mixture of affection and amusement, depending on whetheryou owned, had ridden one, or had never seen one in your life.
"Let 'Er Buck" was the catch cry of the Rally, echoing Pendelton's fameas a town of excitable horses. Our counter cry could have been "Let 'Er Fold",though hopefully not whilst in motion. The stopwatch beeped 9am and we surgedto the middle - Mike and Mindi on a Traveler XL, Hanz and Pete on the divineTwin Air, and Tim and I on the Q, the bike that becomes a single when marriedlife gets tough. As the tide of tandem swept out onto the highway Tim becameall misty-eyed and sentimental about the "beautiful sound of wheels". I madea mental note to burn a CD with three hours of that seductive white noiseand gift it to him for Valentine's Day.
Just as with cars, the driver (captain) is usually a man and the passengerseat driver (stoker) is usually a woman. Tim and I dutifully conformed tothis stereotype, Hanz and Pete conformed to a more open-minded model, butMindi & Michael dared to fly in the face of tradition completely - Mindiwas the captain of her ship whilst Michael manned the starboard. Mindi thusdrew respect and admiration from the entire contingent of male captains atthe rest stops, and Michael, we understand, was invited to partake in crochetingcircles and women's bonding groups.
The road bisected an undulating, treeless landscape of green croplandbutted up against blue sky. Hanz and Pete sliced through pelaton after pelatonto liberate the TwinAir, leaving the big-wheel tandemers gaping. Tim andI mused that it wasn't a race, so why the hurry? Hanz later made a good point:when you have a ground breaking product, you have to be seen to be breakingground, or you'll be lucky to break even. So off they shot. And off we shot- and I could not believe the speed at which we chewed up that ribbon ofhighway. I had Tim's digital camera slung around my neck and tried in vainto capture the frozen smiles and furiously spinning legs of the Bike Fridaytandem TwosDays, Travelers and even a Triple as they drew level with us.I made a mental note to ask Hanz to build a swivelling photographer's stokerseat. The treeless hills and farmlands rose and fell against the cloudlesssky and the rest stop loomed before I had even digested my breakfast. I crawledout from behind Tim and peeled my brain off the back of my skull. I haveno idea how fast we went but all I can say is that I have blinked fasterthan we covered that 15 miles.
"Careful, you can put on weight at these rest stops", cautioned my captainhelpfully. Sure enough, we were plied with bagels, cream cheese, bananas,oranges, apples, and no-name muesli bars. There was a large queue for theportable toilets. I asked Tim if it was OK to just go behind that rusty oldcar and take a leak there, as I had become accustomed to whilst living inCentral America.
"Well, if everyone did that this would be the River Ganges - so no", hereplied.
Hanz and Pete were in the saddle again before most people arrived. Alreadythere were favourable murmers and whispers about our bikes.
"Everyone's gonna want a Bike Friday", commented a girl on a Santana aswe pulled past them.
"You oughta get a new job so we can get one of those", yelled anotherback seat driver to her captain , as the TwinAir slithered past.
The stark blue-green minimalist landscape soon merged into shaded, woodedcountry which offered some respite from the heat. This was the Indian reservation.The lunch stop was an idyllic glade dotted with gaudily clad couples in lycra,a little like Noah's Ark meets Jane Fonda's Workout video. We were pliedwith more food - great chunky sandwiches and apples and chewy choc chip cookies.
We beat it back to base camp by 3pm in order to set up for the vendorShow'n'Ride. That was the work part of the weekend. A competitor tandem buildersauntered up and remarked how surprised he was at the speed of the TwinAir.Score one to us. People eyed our bikes warily, which is understandable ifthey've paid $4000-5000 only to discover their big-wheel tandem is a royalpain in the inseam to travel with.
The next day we swapped partners - I rode the TwinAir with Hanz,, andPeter and Tim made a chunky duo on the Traveler XL. After some swapping ofseats and pedals we were whipping down the road at an even greater rate ofknots than the day before. On the long hill going out of town, my four yearsof slogging up hilly roads carrying ridiculous amounts of survival gear finallypayed off - Hanz commanded me to switch to turbo mode and we barrelled upthe hill leaving a quarter of a mile between us and the pack before peoplehad even clipped into their pedals. On the descents, however, the thoroughbredCo-Motions with the combined heavier weights of riders caught us and graciouslyallowed us to slipstream. This was a real life, wind sucking, whirring, gear-clickingtake on Einsten's theory of relativity - four tandems at a standstill makingamiable exchanges about tubing and tires, but rocketing along though spaceand time as one sticky molecule.
There are two different styles of tandem communication between captainand stoker: verbal and mindful. Tim was of the first school, notifying mewhenever he was about to change gear, coast, or encounter a bump. Hanz wasof the mindful school, which meant me being mindful of what he was aboutto do in the next split second and react accordingly. Both methods seemedto work and I was not often caught with my knee jammed up my chin or my lowerlegs shredded by furiously spinning pedals. The only time I blew it was byadding too much turbo, which on one hill had Hanz almost stokering the stokerin front.
The fastest we went that day was around 45mph. The best I can describeriding the Twin Air tandem is like riding a knife blade cutting along theroad. Hanz blithely informed me that 65mph was more of the clip he was accustomedto. At those speeds I start to get religion - praying for strength of innerand outer tube, bolts, spokes, bike frame - and no flying objects thank you.Which is exactly what happened - Tim took a swig of his water bottle andit flew out of his hands towards us. Hanz ran right over it on the Twin Air.The bottle was flicked away by the front HED wheel at twice the escape velocityof our maximum speed. We kept going. It could have been worse.
The rest stop came at the most inconvenient moment imaginable - at thebottom of a downhill. Collective "Oh no!'s" could be heard against silentlyscreaming drum brakes as riders skidded towards yet another smorgasbord ofexcess calories.
That night the witty MC had a field day with our humble donated rafflemerchandise. He admitted that he knew everything about organising rallysand nothing about bicycles.
"Wedge Pack … where on earth are you going to wedge it?" he asked thewoman who came up to claim her prize.
"Campy chain rings … come up number 37 and collect your set of kitchenshredders. And now - a frame pump, to pump up your frame". ..
On the third day we rose again at 5am to pack and head home. Tim had charmedone couple into ordering one of our tandems, after madam had ridden a fewfeet on it and declared it 'fabulous'.
We stopped at a diner for breakfast, and I got to experience "biscuitsand gravy": a thick layer of white sauce glooped over three giant stodgyscones. I envisaged chocolate chip cookies smothered in brown turkey gravy.Well, this is the land where anything goes, as long as it's big enough,rich enough, fast enough and costs enough.
Copyright 2001 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved