the view from the front & back
I've cycled now for quite a while with our young Daughter. Following the natural progression of trailer, child seat and then tag-a-long, the next step to me seemed to be waiting and encouraging Summer to ride her own bike. It wasn't until out on a ride mid way through last year that we saw a missing link - a tandem. Not just any ordinary tandem, a specially designed Kiddyback Tandem.
Whilst cycling through Ribchester pulling that heavy, sometimes unsteady lump of a tag-a-long we saw Paul & Matthew with mum and sister. Paul & Matthew were both riding a Dawes Duet Kiddyback tandem, while mum and baby sister sported a bike with rear child seat. Matthew seen here as the stoker is very safely surrounded by Pauls ingenious use of a pair of old handlebars and steel tubing creating a frame, keeping the stoker secure.
This is a quote from Paul on how he created the safety frame
'The safety frame built around the stoker is based on an idea that has been in existence for many years and the pages of the Tandem club website will probably contain references to such arrangements. I basically copied the setup from a lad who lives in Chatburn but I think that he copied the idea from a Tandem club article on its website. Basically all I have done is to clamp an old pair of Cinelli drop handle bars (upside down) to the rear pannier rack using U-clamps then I've installed a cut down wardrobe coat hanger rail between the upside down drop bars & the stoker bar ends'.
Matthew was about 3 and a half when this photo was taken, some 18 months or so later when we met and cycled with the tandem team on our tag-a-long, Matthew seemed totally at ease on the back of Dad, and as Paul would tell me was really beginning to make a difference on their rides.
Totally sold on this new idea I set about researching what was available and from where. I always think you're better off trying before you buy. I was directed to JD Tandems of Gargrave near Skipton. If there's a better tandem shop out there I want to know about it. These guys are not only very knowledgable on all things tandemy, they are so pleasant to deal with and really can't do enough to help you.
So along we go after booking a date & time with Ruth from JD for a test ride. I hadn't a clue what to expect but was so pleased to have almost a bike fitting service for Summer and myself on the demonstrator. Off we go through Flasby, Hetton and back via Rylstone. Just a short ride, Vicky had a turn as Captain and we all agreed this is definitely the way forward for our cycling.
A closer look at the finances told us that a new tandem just at that point was a non starter. We'd all had new bikes in that year and another was a stretch too far. At this point I began searching on Ebay. The weeks went by and I began to think that the Tandem idea would just have to be shelved for the year, then up came the bargain of the year. Below is our now beloved Yellow Peril.
We won the bid just before leaving for a 4 day C2C trip and then going to Spain, the seller kindly agreed to await collection and we finally picked it up from Leeds in August last year, since then Summer and me have already clocked up almost 500 miles together.
So what's it like riding a tandem then
Well if I'm brutally honest, it's not as easy as you may think. Tandems are heavier, harder to transport around and you'll tend to be slower than on your own bike. All that said, no it isn't easy but neither was dragging the tag-a-long, but it's an awful lot safer and more stable. Yes it's a little harder to transport, but it's not very often we have to load it on the car as most of our rides start and finish near home. Yep we are difinitley slower, especially up hills, but Summer is 7 years old and I'm no Sir Bradley Wiggins ( I can grow the sideburns but that's about it) So we just accept that when we climb a hill we will be the Lanterne Rouge, it's no big deal, but let me now give you the pluses that I've seen from riding with Summer close behind me as opposed to a trailor or tag-a-long.
Safety - I took a tip from Paul and put pedals on with toe cages and straps. When I pedal I like to spin quite fast, Summer was very often losing her footing on the pedals and I would have to stop pedalling for her to get back on, toe straps have stopped that completley. As far as safey goes, being connected by a bar and a quick release bolt always seemed a bit suspect to me. I tagged summer for several hundred miles and never felt totally at ease doing so, riding the tandem is a completley different experience. You feel safe, in control and very reassured with both on one bike.
Team Work - On the tandem we have now built up a great team effort that gets us around 40 + mile rides, up some very steep hills. For a 7 year old to do the Pendle tour we did last year was remarkable, and we never got off once, even coming over the Nick of Pendle and then up the monster climb coming out of Sabden (Black Hill or Red Rake I think). This with constant encouragement is how we've now built up a great team, that and bribes of sweets when we reach the top. Summer has no where to hide, if I'm pedalling so is she, but what I do is let her rest on the flat bits and just let her legs spin without putting in any effort, then she saves herself for the times I need her. Kids tire far easier than we do, Summer doesn't have the stamina of an adult but riding a tandem allows us to go further than we ever would have done on the tag-a-long
Do's & Dont's - When we visited JD Tandems, one useful thing John told me was simply how to get on the bike - easy you may think - Thankfully I've only caught Summer in the head once.
- So how to get on the tandem, allow the Stoker (rear rider) to get on, get their feet in the pedals and get comfy while you hold the bike
- You then cock your leg over the top tube, not over the saddle like on your own bike
- When you're ready to go, ask the stoker for the pedal, they will then spin the pedals round so that you can clip one foot in
- Don't just set off, inform your stoker you're ready and about to go
- With Summer I never start or stop pedalling without telling her first, if I think she won't hear because of wind or road noise, I just gently start or stop.
So what's it like for Summer as the Stoker then?
This is what Summer has wrote about her experiences
When we're out cycling I like to look at all the lovely views we see. My favourite part of all of our rides is always the "cake & juice stop" that choclate cake makes the ride so worth the effort
When we see groups of other cyclists, we sometimes stop and have a chat and ask where they're from and where they're going
I sometimes listen to my Ipod while we ride along working hard
I feel a lot safer on our tandem than when Daddy used to use the tag-a-long
Riding the tandem makes me ejoy riding my bike, last year on my 7th Birthday I rode my new bike for just over 20 miles
My Daddy calls me his rear - gunner and I'm the lookout for who's behind, I also do the hand signals for left & right turns.
When I get a bit tired, my daddy lets me have a rest on the flat bits and then we work as team-tandem going up hill. We can go very fast sometimes and it's really good fun, but I hold on tight
This year we are going to France to ride a mountain like the Tour de Francers, I can't wait
Cycling for us has just become our way of life, weekends we cycle, and to be honest it's a lot of fun. We stay together as a family, we all get some hard excercise and meet and see a lot on our travels. Buying the kiddyback tandem has opened up a whole new option for us. Rides of 40 miles + are now an acceptable Sunday outing for us. Summers becoming stronger as a rider and apart from the cold, she now quite enjoys our outings.
If I was to sum up riding as a family, particularly younger children, it's not easy to begin with but stick at it and start short rides to begin but trust me you'll be amazed at how quickly they adapt. It's as safe as any other form of cycling I've done and you're connected together. If you're in the market for a tandem, have a day over at Gargrave near Skipton, Ruth & John of JD Tandems will make your visit a very pleasant one and answer any queries you may have.
Next month I will be writing about all the various forms of travelling with your children
from child trailers through to tandems