Riding a Tandem Bicycle

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My sis-in-law Stacy and her hubby Daniel (a bike fabricator) on their wedding day. Are they not ridiculously adorable?

Oh. My. Word. Tandem Bicycles. Have you ever ridden one? You know, a bike built for two. Well this past weekend my husband and I rode one during our belated honeymoon. By “belated” I mean we’ve been married for over 5 years. We’d have taken one after our actual wedding but my job at the time, at an assisted living home, wouldn’t give me time off (jerks! I know, right?). Had I known my husband was going to encourage me to quit 4 months later I would’ve quit right then and there. Instead we stayed in the nicest local hotel for two nights, which is where as my elderly resident put it- we got acquainted. Recently we decided it was time to take the honeymoon we never had. With 3 kids 4-years-old and younger we didn’t feel comfortable going too far. We drove four hours north and set sail on a 30 minute ferryboat ride to Mackinaw Island. If you’re from Michigan you’ve heard of it, but if you’re not- It’s the cutesiest, tourist-lad island full of trinket shops, swanky hotels, darling bed and breakfasts, and best of all- the main cuisine on the island is fudge. There are more fudge shops there than restaurants. Also, you feel like you’ve walked into the 1800’s because there are no cars on the island.  You can either walk, surrender your left hoof for a horse drawn carriage ride or rent a bicycle.

A wise word of advice to women who are planning on getting married- take note of your cycle (I’m not talking about your bicycle) and plan your wedding/honeymoon accordingly. I’m not the most detailed planner so that aspect was overlooked. Thankfully my husband and I are well acquainted so this did not ruin the “honeymoon.” It simply gave us more time to site see, which meant we needed to rent a bike. Before we got to the bike shop (“shed” would be a more accurate description) I warned my husband Steve that I wanted my own bike. Tandem bikes are the thing to do on the island, but I wanted the freedom to go wherever I pleased without being tied down to the weight of another person. When we got to the bike shed what-da-ya-know, they were out of single bikes. They did have single speeds but that seemed juvenile, and they had mountain bikes but we were going to be on pavement so we went with our only other option… dun, dun, dun… the tandem bicycle. Sure we could’ve walked a bit further to check out another shop, but when in Mackinaw do as the Mackinacs do: eat fudge and ride a tandem bike.

The bike shed manager advised us that the tallest person should go in front. I think more accurately the heaviest person should be in front, because they have to balance their own weight as well as the passenger. Regardless, my husband met both of those qualifications. The bike man adjusted the back seat to my height. As I sat on it I felt all of my freedoms slipping away from me. I wouldn’t be able to control our speed or where we went or how we got there. We walked our bike out to the rode and awkwardly (it takes some coordination) hoped on it together. The bike swayed this way and that. I asked my husband if he was driving crazy on purpose. “No, I’m getting our balance.” I tried to see what was ahead of us, but since the tallest person was in the front, I couldn’t see over him. I could only see to either side. To the right I saw a gazebo on the beach. I’ve always been drawn to them. They’re mysteriously romantic and yet pointless at the same time.  In tried to stop pedaling so I could coast to get a better look, but since my husband was still pedaling my legs kept moving. It didn’t seem worth the effort to explain my secret gazebo crush so we just sped on by. Actually we were going rather slowly. I was in mission mode to bike the 8-ish miles around the island. I wanted to Go! Go! Go!, but Steve was pedaling so slow I’m not sure how the bike stayed up. It’s as if he thought we were there to site see or something. Eventually we picked up a little speed. My legs were going round and round but they weren’t moving any weight. It was time to move the gear up. The person in the front is in charge of the gears. I waited for him to change the gears… And waited. How does he not know the gear needs to be moved up? And waited. That’s what the gears are for. If I’d known he wouldn’t use the gears I would’ve just went with the single speed bike. And waited. Round and round my legs moved. They moved easily but they were moving nothing other than themselves. And waited. Finally, I not so cordially asked, “Can you please move the gear up!?!” To which he responded, “No, I don’t like it to be hard to pedal.” Ahhhhh! I was annoyed, but I still wanted to enjoy the experience. We were on our “honeymoon” after all. So I stated, “You gotta admit we look super cute on this bike.” He joked back, “We’re so cute I could barf.” He pulled all of our tandem bike cuteness over to the side of the road to take a scenic break, or perhaps he wanted a break from my “helpful” backseat driver comments. “Would you like a turn driving?” he asked. Would I ever! “Yes!”

On the side of the road I straddled the front seat. We lined our pedals up preparing for take off. Steve chanted, “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s tandem bike time!” (watch the movie Cool Runnings). We pushed off. The bike swayed this way and that way as I struggled to balance our weight. Now I know why Steve was swaying when he first started driving. “What’s the matter? Can’t you drive straight?” teased my husband. When I got the hang of it I picked up speed just as I had wanted. I changed the gear up just like you’re supposed to. “You know,” Steve warned, “It’s your fault if we crash.” “Yes Dear.” I zoomed past some pokey tourist. Steve remarked, “You know they do have tandem bike races.”  Curiously I asked, “Oh yeah? You want to do one with me?” “Not a chance!” I laughed, and then I spat out the bug that had flown into my mouth. “Hey, thanks for catching that bug for me,” teased my husband. I laughed again (but this time with my mouth closed). I began to notice it was quite a bit windier on the other side of the island. If Steve were in the front his body would block me from all this wind. We started swaying again as if I had forgotten how to balance. I quickly glanced behind me only to see Steve thrashing his body from side to side. “Stop, you Goofball! YOU are going to make us crash!” He quit his shenanigans and we carried on. I barely noticed the historic sign up ahead, but I got the gist that Steve wanted to read it when he threw all of his body weight to one side and forced the pedals to stop. Quickly, I had to counteract his movement so the bike didn’t tip over. I had control of the breaks, but I couldn’t make the pedals move so we came to a rolling stop. We pulled over and read something about the War of 1812 and the British seizing Fort Mackinaw.

I was getting a bit tired of doing the majority of the pedaling, so after our history lesson I asked Steve if he wanted a turn driving. “Nope!” We hoped back on (this time not so awkwardly) and I continued my mission full speed ahead. We were three-fourths the way there when I noticed my legs were working extra hard to keep pace. I glanced down to see Steve’s feet, but they weren’t there! I gasped, “What are you doing!?!” That punk had tucked his feet up and quit pedaling. “How long have you been like that?” He laughed, “Not that long.” I couldn’t help but to laugh. We carried on with us BOTH pedaling. We were almost back to our hotel; we just had to get through Main Street. Since I was still driving I decided to avoid the traffic by cutting threw a side street. It was a great idea except that there was a huge hill. My husband lost confidence, “We’re not going to make it.” I pedaled my heart out, “Yes, we will! But I need your help!” I felt his strength moving us up the hill. We were almost to the top when we came to an intersection with a horse and buggie. I’m not accustomed to the rules of the road when it comes to horses and bikes, but I figured they probably had the right of way. However, they were stopped and I wasn’t about to lose momentum. “Sorry!” I half-heartedly shouted as I cut them off. When we made it back to the bike shed my husband joked with the bike manager, “I’m never riding a tandem bike with her again!” The man chuckled, “Yes, I call it couples therapy.” Thanks for the warning.

I had thoroughly enjoyed our adventure biking around the island, but I knew I had failed as a backseat driver. The tallest/heaviest (and strongest) person was supposed to be in the front, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut long enough to let him drive. Sure, he had a different style. He liked to go torturously slow and not use the gears. Was it really that big of a deal? Yes! … I mean no. I wanted to make a pit stop and have a romantic moment in the gazebo, but I was too prideful to ask him to pull over. Instead I kept quiet and became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t until I had a turn driving that I realized it was a lot harder to balance two people than I had originally thought. The driver also carried a big responsibility. Like Steve said, “It’s your fault if we crashed,” it was true! Of course his thrashing about didn’t help. He tried to be helpful by being an extra set of eyes: “Stay in your lane! Somebody is trying to pass us. Scoot over! Slow down. Look out for that horse poo!” “Yes Dear.” Some of his remarks were helpful, but mostly they were just annoying. I know he’d say the same about my backseat comments.

Marriage and the tandem bicycle have a lot in common. They’re both built for two: a driver and a helpmate. Having sat in both seats and having weighed the pros and cons of both I’ve come to realize that it just feels right when you’re in the seat you were designed for. On our tandem bike ride I day dreamed of the comfy, ginormous banana seat I had as a child. “Right” does not always equate to comfortable. In the front, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom that came with driving. I controlled the speed and the gears, but deep down I knew I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I wasn’t the tallest nor the heaviest. When I finally was willing to give my husband his rightful spot he refused. I had critiqued his driving so much that I had crushed any ambition of his to drive.

I wonder how many women do that in their marriage? Many of my girlfriends’ number one complaint in their marriage is that they wished their husbands were better leaders. They are tired of the wind and bugs in their face but they are unwilling to give up their seat. Deep down they want their husbands to lead, but when they do they can’t hold back their backseat comments. The husband might attempt to lead by saying a prayer, but it wasn’t heartfelt enough. That’s like saying, “Thank you for driving, but you’re way too slow.” The husband may state his preference on what color he wants the new counter top to be… but it’s not the right speed *I mean shade. The wife gets frustrated that her husband doesn’t do what she wants him to do, but she never expressed her feelings to him. He’s just supposed to know that I want to look at the stupid gazebo! Clear and humble communication can help prevent a marriage from crashing.

The backseat driver can thrash about causing a near crash or they can act as a second set of eyes on the road. They can pick their feet up and quit pedaling or when the going gets tough they can push harder to make it up that hill. The driver is bound to make a few wrong turns, and when he does the helpmate can either embarrass him further or she can use his mistake as an opportunity to show Christ like love and grace. Like Steve said when I was driving, “It’s your fault if we crash,” it was true. The driver has to carry the responsibility of making the final decisions. Yes, you work together as a team to get to your destination, but ultimately somebody has to turn the handle bars and switch the gears. This is a big job that is best done with lots of encouragement from the helpmate. Wives, relax and enjoy the ride! Husbands, please don’t give up on your attempts to lead. Couples therapy indeed!

Epilogue: The next day I apologized to my husband for being an obnoxious backseat driver, and he took back his comment about never riding a tandem bicycle with me again. I’d rather ride a tandem bicycle with him (even with all of it’s frustrations) than to be single again because I know I’m right where God wants me.

“Since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses or pokey tourists, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run or pedal the race or perhaps a site seeing stroll marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus (even if you can only see to either side), the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2  Italics added.

Dear God, Help me to be the helpmate to my husband that you’ve called me to be. Give me direction on how to encourage him as a leader. Constantly remind me that we are on the same team with the same destination in mind. Help us to win the race for Your glory.

 

 

 

 

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