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OPINION

Riding together, to spend time apart

Dave Smith on why couples cycling together really should cycle TOGETHER… you know what he means

Last weekend I was out for an easy spin, and joined up with a couple on a ride together. I say together…

As seems to be the norm, the woman sat on the guy’s wheel, until he opened a gap and kept motoring. Eventually he looked round and looked pissed off. Eventually she closed the gap - no words were exchanged. Then the whole thing repeated itself several times. I was on a recovery ride so I sat behind both with an occasional chat with the woman. At one point I paced her back up to him, which seemed to annoy him a bit.

I don’t know the dynamic, I don’t know if they were a couple, but I know that when I see a man and woman on a ride, they are invariably riding separately. The classic scenario is the guy on a nice road bike and the woman on a heavy hybrid, 50 meters behind – they’re usually both riding at the same speed.

Call me a clueless hippy but I don’t get it. It’s hardly encouraging to the less fit or experienced. Maybe that’s the point - make them hate cycling so they don’t want to ride with you again. I know it’s frustrating to ride really slowly. Walk down the street at your normal pace, then slow to half that, and keep going for an hour. It’s unpleasant. But if it’s that unpleasant don’t bother riding with your partner. Let them ride at their own pace with others who will not make them feel inadequate and you go off and do your strava warrior stuff on your own. Maybe talk to them as you ride. They might be interesting.

My club, Square Wheels, has grown massively in the last 12 months by offering a few rides each week that suit novices - and now the Sunday group rides are laced with former novices. No one was harmed in the making of this revolution. No one got pissed off or felt inadequate. Cake was consumed. Fitness improved.

I must admit to having a chequered past in relation to getting partners into cycling. The current score is one concussion and two broken elbows. But also four or five successful conversions. And I really don’t like riding slower than my normal pace if I’m on my own. But if I’m in pleasant company it’s like a nice chat, but on bikes.

And that’s better done without a 50 metre gap.

Dave Smith has been involved in coaching cyclists in all disciplines for more than 25 years. A former GB national and Olympic road coach, Dave has trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions. In addition he has applied his quirky and counter intuitive thinking to help dozens of regular cyclists, polo players and F1 drivers. He rides 250 miles a week on and off-road in all weathers.

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26 comments

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shay cycles | 8 years ago
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Nobody thought that changing down to a much lower gear might do them some good and slow them down and make the ride more pleasant for both partners?

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700c | 9 years ago
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I'll tend to ride ahead of the missus a lot of the time, sometimes she's ahead, sometimes we're side by side, we go at our own pace, to an extent.. I know to wait if I've not seen her for a bit and I'm in front

Neither of us thinks this is selfish - it's just different types of riding suit different people, so applying your own interpretation and judging others when you've no idea of the circumstances is probably best avoided.

Then again, this could be why I don't tend to ride in groups - I dislike having pace dictated to me, particularly by strangers, but will happily provide drafting to anyone who happens to be matching my speed at that point.

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dnmvisser | 9 years ago
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The picture of the couple holding hands is taken somewhere in the Netherlands. The bikes they're riding are the sort that is most common here. Solid, heavy, slow, can go without maintenance for some years. 95% of the people ride such bikes. It's also very common to see couples riding together. I think it's because there is no exercise/sports/competition element involved. It just the default way of transportation over here.
Might as well hold hands if you're riding together with the misses.
I'd say that lycra clad people on road bikes make up less than 1% percent of all cyclists here.
Which is still a lot, considering that 84% of all Dutch have a bike  3

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dottigirl | 9 years ago
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If you're ever around Pilgrim Cycles near Box Hill, the fella there has a nice couple of tandems for rent.

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DaveE128 | 9 years ago
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I can't encourage people to try tandeming enough. It's great fun, and completely eliminates this problem.

Check out http://www.tandeming.co.uk/tandem-experience
We hired a tandem from these guys for a relaxing day cruising round the countryside, and it was great fun, they were really helpful and got us started with a good stopping/starting technique. We went on to buy a tandem from them too, which has also been great.

However, if you do give it a try, you must be aware that it is different from riding a solo bike, for both people. Rule number one is communicate - bumps, gear shifts, stopping and starting pedalling must all be communicated. Rule number two is that it is never the stoker's fault! Except perhaps when they try to steer!  3 It does take a short while to get used to not steering when on the back. Steering and braking are slightly different also - the rear brake is almost as effective as the front and you steer a little more and lean a little less.

The teamwork is very satisfying and both riders can put in as much effort as they want. It is easy to tell when the other person isn't pulling their weight, in spite of all the "she's not pedalling back there" jokes.

You need to be able to cope with hearing the same old (and fairly lame) jokes all the time, but personally I'm just happy to smile back!

One fun thing about riding a tandem is that it's like driving a classic car - loads of people will stop to let you out, and smile as they see you ride by! (especially if you have an occupied baby seat on the back!)

The problem is, I suspect, that anyone too selfish to ride at the pace of their slower other half, is too poor a team player to be capable of riding a tandem! My wife and I enjoy riding together on solo bikes and the tandem.

One piece of wisdom I heard is that wherever a relationship is already going, riding a tandem together makes it go there faster! (good or bad!) I can see how that would work.

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matthewn5 | 9 years ago
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I built my 56-y-o wife a lovely light step-through bike - 7.5kg, carbon frame (yes there are step-through carbon frames) and Ultegra 10 speed with flat-bar shifters. Flat bars. Mudguards. She loves it, but says she doesn't like going fast. 20 miles is about as far as she's gone. The ride from Skipton up to the pub at Cray for the TdF - 32km, 400m climbing - was her first big ride. I carried the heavy panniers and took the winter bike to slow me down.

It was such a success that we've already booked to go to the TdF in Amiens and Abbeville next year. This is progress, I don't think she's ever going to be a head down bum up MAWIL - though she does have padded Lycra shorts and some nice little Castelli tops now - but we are having fun. And that's the main thing. She says she would like to try a tandem and see how it goes. Rented first. Progress.

I still get to do my Sunday morning hammer sessions and daily commuting.

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akmbikes | 9 years ago
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A tandem is definitely the way to go for two riders of different experience/ability. There's a real sense of a team achievement. If it's not fast enough for you or you don't go far enough, then you're missing the point. It's different.

My Stoker and I have done some great rides that they wouldn't be capable of themselves, and had a blast doing it.

The only restriction so far has been not allowing me to put one of my other roadie mates on the the Stoker's seat just to see what it can do. But, then, that would be me missing the point.  1

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farrell | 9 years ago
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I saw someone riding a tandem on my way to work a couple of weeks ago.

I couldn't figure out if riding a tandem in to the city centre on your own was the best or saddest things I'd seen.

There's just so many questions raised that I will never get answers to.

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davelodwig replied to farrell | 9 years ago
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I ride the tandem solo from time to time, often after dropping my partner off somewhere, or while testing some tweaks or such.

The usual reason is that because I work away from home I take my bike up in the car, I can only fit one bike in or the tandem on the roof and so on weeks when Mary is joining me via train to head off somewhere I ride the tandem solo.

You do get quite fed up of people shouting, you've lost your passenger though.

D.

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blinddrew | 9 years ago
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Bought a tandem a while ago, well worth it. I can give myself as much of a workout as I like, as can she, and we both end up in the same place at the same time.
Good for starting chats at tea shops too!

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Dramatic Hammer | 9 years ago
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Mrs Hammer is an occasional cyclist with a lovely but slow sensible steel bike, so I tend to take the cross/commuter and carry all the stuff when we ride any sort of distance. I also tend to lead as I can translate the somewhat esoteric garmin instructions better and she can shelter from the wind... The combination seems to work quite well but we're contemplating a tandem at some point - just a case of working out how to fit it in the house and how much I can convince her we need to spend!

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Bikeylikey | 9 years ago
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I've ridden in groups including men and women for years, and go out with my other 'alf often. She has two beautiful titanium bikes and a 25 year old Vitus 979, wouldn't be seen dead on a hybrid. When she comes out with a group of largely men, she says she often stays at the back because men have such fragile egos and don't like a woman being at the front. Then she'll sometimes go flying past just to make the point that she can if she wants to. Other women in the group have said things like they don't notice who's leading, or don't care, it doesn't figure with them. The moral being that in general men are more like little kids than women.

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EastLondonCyclist | 9 years ago
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I have a completely awesome boyfriend and I ride in front the majority of the time. We both have good, fast bikes and I'm a little ahead of him on fitness and speed. But the major factor is that I have much better sense of direction and remembering routes - whenever he's up front we get lost almost straight away!

He claims to prefer it up back as he gets to perve at my lycra clad arse for extending periods of time.  1

I do sometimes make him lead if there is a strong headwind and I need a break - then it always amazes me how much easier it is in draft and how much less work he's doing back there!

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keith roberts replied to EastLondonCyclist | 9 years ago
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EastLondonCyclist wrote:

I have a completely awesome boyfriend and I ride in front the majority of the time. We both have good, fast bikes and I'm a little ahead of him on fitness and speed. But the major factor is that I have much better sense of direction and remembering routes - whenever he's up front we get lost almost straight away!

He claims to prefer it up back as he gets to perve at my lycra clad arse for extending periods of time.  1

I do sometimes make him lead if there is a strong headwind and I need a break - then it always amazes me how much easier it is in draft and how much less work he's doing back there!

second that..my wifes got a lovely bum..nothing wrong with perving if your married! very capable cyclist my wife and no one I'd rather ride with.
 4

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jollygoodvelo replied to EastLondonCyclist | 9 years ago
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EastLondonCyclist wrote:

I have a completely awesome boyfriend and I ride in front the majority of the time. We both have good, fast bikes and I'm a little ahead of him on fitness and speed. But the major factor is that I have much better sense of direction and remembering routes - whenever he's up front we get lost almost straight away!

He claims to prefer it up back as he gets to perve at my lycra clad arse for extending periods of time.  1

I do sometimes make him lead if there is a strong headwind and I need a break - then it always amazes me how much easier it is in draft and how much less work he's doing back there!

I do hope he realises how lucky he is!

When I ride with the wife I lead, mostly for navigation purposes. But also because if I'm following she believes I'm "assessing" her cycling and she feels self-conscious.

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alotronic | 9 years ago
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I gave up on conversion after my girlfriend of the time fell off and broke her pelvis. On a MTB in the middle of nowhere in NZ. No really, the middle of nowhere - an hour flat out ride to the nearest phone (pre cheap mobiles this). Helicopters etc.

After that I never tried to convert anyone again.  7

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hampstead_bandit | 9 years ago
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I regularly ride weekly with my missus as she loves road cycling - she has a Specialized Ruby Apex and Giant Propel Advanced Pro 2!

//ep1.pinkbike.org/p4pb11333901/p4pb11333901.jpg)

What I have found over the past 2 years is to tone down my rides with her to a pace she is comfortable with - she is certainly no slouch, but there will always be a difference in power and stamina.

I save my full-on rides for myself so I can go hard on the hills, or fast distance riding.

When riding with her, she prefers to ride behind because she feels safer and I suspect she likes cheating the wind by making me do the work, which suits me fine as I get a better work out even when not going as fast as I do solo.

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Watdabni | 9 years ago
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I am one of those riders who appears to race away from his wife! However perception is not reality. We ride the same model of bike and her fitness is good as she rides every day. She just prefers to cycle behind me and nothing I can say changes that. Even on the quietest roads I can almost never persuade her to cycle alongside me. I suppose I am doomed to be be criticised for ever more!

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KiwiMike | 9 years ago
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A friend & I started TVCC years ago exactly to get more people cycling. Both our wives have come for rides, as have a number of others. In some cases, the wives are now just as if not quicker than the husbands. Anyone riding off the front of their spouse is just a knob. It wouldn't be acceptable in any other social occasion or activity, so why cycling? Dave, it would be great to see an article on the psychology and planning best effected to help couples train together, and whether there's any merit in purchasing an e-bike so both can ride at the same levels of exertion at speed, if the disparity is too great. I'm seriously looking at a Vivax Veloce - I'd happily invest £4500 (OK, I'd have to save up. A lot) to spend more time out riding fast and long with my wife.

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Dave Smith replied to KiwiMike | 9 years ago
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"Dave, it would be great to see an article on the psychology and planning best effected to help couples train together, and whether there's any merit in purchasing an e-bike so both can ride at the same levels of exertion at speed"

Tandem. Every time.

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SamShaw | 9 years ago
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"The classic scenario is the guy on a nice road bike and the woman on a heavy hybrid, 50 meters behind – they’re usually both riding at the same speed."

I saw the exact opposite a couple of weekends ago, it tickled me because, as you say, it's not the usual dynamic - the bloke at the back on the hybrid with panniers was red-faced and puffing away with the road bike riding woman looking slightly miffed!

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whars1 replied to SamShaw | 9 years ago
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SamShaw wrote:

"The classic scenario is the guy on a nice road bike and the woman on a heavy hybrid, 50 meters behind – they’re usually both riding at the same speed."

I saw the exact opposite a couple of weekends ago, it tickled me because, as you say, it's not the usual dynamic - the bloke at the back on the hybrid with panniers was red-faced and puffing away with the road bike riding woman looking slightly miffed!

I find we both go quicker if I follow rather than lead - if I get out in front we'll never get back together unless I stop. She knows I'm still going slowly but it's less obvious. Also good to try and talk of course, but not always possible around central London.

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Olionabike replied to SamShaw | 9 years ago
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SamShaw wrote:

I saw the exact opposite a couple of weekends ago, it tickled me because, as you say, it's not the usual dynamic - the bloke at the back on the hybrid with panniers was red-faced and puffing away with the road bike riding woman looking slightly miffed!

Thought you must have seen me & my guy till you mentioned he had panniers. I always take the bag to slow me down a bit.

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wellcoordinated | 9 years ago
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Hey Dave, It looks like you saw me and my misses 5 minutes after a domestic.  21

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bikecellar | 9 years ago
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There is of course a bicycle designed to eradicate this "problem"  39

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bikecellar replied to bikecellar | 9 years ago
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bikecellar wrote:

There is of course a bicycle designed to eradicate this "problem"  39

It took a while + 1 to all the Tandem comments above, WOR LASS loves the Tandem. Captive (me) audience you see ! Thirty three years of "Daisy Daisy" "Can you ride Tandem ?" (the tea advert) and " The one on the back is not pedaling"  4

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