The Joy of Tandem Part 1: being sociable

It’s six months now since we’ve had this beautiful new addition to our family:

Me with tandem at Bikefix

We call her ‘Holly’, as she supports Mini Holland

…and a hundred blog posts could not convey to you the myriad ways in which it has enriched our lives. But here’s an attempt.

The idea of the tandem is to replace as many car (and bus) journeys as possible. In my case, most of those trips were to transport children from one place to another – mainly school, but also the various after-school activities you have to drag your children to in order to call yourself middle class. And the kids’ parties – oh the parties – which are always on Sundays, and only accessible by public transport if you don’t mind taking three hours each way. I’d come to deeply resent using the car for journeys of two or three miles, but couldn’t think of a viable alternative until I finally cracked and bought this gorgeous machine.

The Redster now takes the bus to her new secondary school on her own, so there’s only one child for me to transport to school, and this is how we roll.  The Cutester hated cycling her own bike up the hill to school – always on the pavement because I didn’t trust the fierce local traffic – but she loves pedalling behind me on the tandem. We’ve done it all winter in all weather conditions (except high winds) and there has not been even a murmur of complaint. The school run has gone from being a stressful chore to a joyful daily adventure.

So, my plan is to drip-feed the Joy of Tandem over the next few posts. I’m starting with a benefit that took me by surprise, illustrated nicely by a ride two days ago.

I was riding the tandem to pick up the Redster from her drama class (one mile away – to think I used to do this by car!) and on the way I was grumbling to myself about the fact that our one-way street discriminates against cyclists. If your journey takes you south rather than north you either have to take the long way round (via the traffic-choked local high street) or cycle the wrong way down the street, which presumably is against the law.

I had resentfully decided to do it properly and go the long way round – so I was cycling along a street parallel to mine when someone whizzed past me on a bike. In Enfield, two cyclists on the same street is unusual in itself! but then I realised I recognised him. He’s a senior traffic engineer at Cycle Enfield, working on the Mini Holland scheme. I shouted hello and he slowed down to cycle alongside me. We got chatting, and just before we went our separate ways I asked about the council putting a sign below our one-way street sign that says ‘Except cycles’. He said that it would involve a traffic order, but should be possible to arrange.

Me: ‘Who should I ask at the council about that?’

Him: ‘That would be me.’

Which just proves that there IS a God.

(And twenty minutes later on our way home I exchanged waves with the cabinet member responsible for the whole Enfield Mini Holland scheme. I’ve not seen either of these two men outside of council meetings before.)

My point is: riding a bike is an unexpectedly sociable way to travel. You get to chat to other cyclists, cycling alongside them if the road is quiet enough. I’ve had great chats with fellow cycle campaign members riding home after meetings, in the moonlight, with no one else on the road except perhaps the odd fox. And I’m terrible for shouting hello or commenting on the weather to complete strangers just because they’re also cycling. They don’t seem to mind. As often as not they’ll call out to me, ‘Nice bike!’

And you can greet people on the pavements as you pass – this is a daily feature of the school run for me and the Cutester. We’ll shout hello to five or six people we know, and get smiles and waves from just as many we don’t know, such as bus drivers, who seem to enjoy the sight of a parent and child on a tandem together. I think we’re in danger of becoming the local eccentrics.

The more I get used to cycling, the less I miss being in a car. Once you’re in a car with the door shut, you’re in your own little world, cut off from everything and everyone around you. Others outside your metal shell are simply obstacles that do not concern you – except as potential threats or delays. If you pass someone you know, you’re unlikely to notice each other and even less likely to say hello.

And you don’t get the same view of the beautiful sunset skies that the Redster and I cycled home under that night.

*Contented sigh.*

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