Rides We Like: On a Beach Tandem to the Sand
(2016) One of the main points I harp on as an educator is the understanding of juxtaposition. I regularly challenge thinkers to consider how do they know love if they’ve never hated? How do they know freezing if they’ve never been burnt? How do they know fast if they’ve never gone slow? Juxtaposition boundaries are in a constant state of change for each person.
Several years ago my schedule was heavily packed with racing. I was either racing or riding an event every couple of days. I learned to appreciate one specific day, recovery day, because of the difficulty of those other workouts. I prepared for each race so diligently that I began to count down to rest days. I knew the importance of rest because I had worked so hard.
By racing standards, a beach tandem is anything but racing. First off, it’s heavy. A proper beach tandem needs not to worry about weight because there are no hills with which to slay. Secondly it’s hardly aero. The clanking fenders and the zipping of a twelve-mile long chain hint that the bike is meant for durability in the salt air, ride-ability for two people, and icon-ability in representing the beach experience as traits that fly in the face of aerodynamics and wind economics.
The Missus and I rent a tandem for the annual beach trip. It’s a matter of economics, mostly. In the Delaware town of Rehoboth Beach, there are more beach goers than parking spots. The parking meters are now equipped to handle credit cards, they charge so much hourly. Then there’s the parking pass that allows renters to park in other areas of the town without repercussion from the parking authority. Those passes cost in excess of $100.
All parking issues considered, renting a tandem for the week is about the same price as a parking pass. It means we park the car for an entire week, wreak havoc on the boulevard traffic, create frustrated drivers by passing them as they wait for life long stoplights, and celebrate beachfront parking by wrestling the beast into a bike rack.
Our yearly bike of choice is the behemoth 2005 Fuji Shangri-La beach cruiser. As all beach cruisers go, it’s an internal three-speed rear hub. This year, though, the tandem chain is the same color as the bike frame. That’s quite the upgrade. It’s been a crapshoot each year because the rental place also stocks a white tandem.
So every year we do a jig. One of us is driven to the rental stand, signs agreements saying we won’t jump it or ride without headlights at night or get it stolen, then ride back to the beach house doing the ‘ride of shame.’ One person riding a bike meant for two. It’s a sight that likely produces sympathizing frowns from witnesses.
It is a bike we’ve come to understand both mechanically and romantically. Tandems are jokingly referred to as divorce machines- or breakup machines if you prefer. They take regular communication, conveyance that is taken for granted any other time. Shifting gears because the pace is sluggish? Sounds good. Don’t forget to announce it to the stoker so her feet don’t fly off the pedals. Using the coaster brake because a stop sign is approaching? It’s best to let the rider in the back know to avoid an imperative. Taking a sharp turn at full speed? The captain hasn’t been tasked with the position because of his skill of keeping thoughts to himself. The rider on the front is the leader.
Over the next few days the tandem is loaded up like a cargo bike. Each person straps a beach chair to his/ her back, the stoker carries the cargo beach bag; the captain bears the beach umbrella. I then ask the Missus if she’s ready to start pedaling together. Should anything catastrophic happen on our trip, our umbrella will act as a lance. But mostly we navigate a traffic circle and ride through peaceful Henlopen Acres unmolested.
We’ve leaned this bike against the bike rack at the beach scores of times. It’s been leaned against the bike rack at Dogfish Head Brew Pub more than a few times. It’s been locked up in multiple beach houses. We’ve leaned it against many of the racks downtown to get quick beach treats. I say with certainty we’ve slid the tandem into each bike rack in downtown Rehoboth Beach.
When we pedal down to the beach, the rest day from work, from racing, from writing begins. My view is in constant change as the tandem captain, but the stoker’s view is 1/3 of the pilot’s back. The stoker is completely reliant on the captain. So when a single bike rider appears up ahead and the pace inexplicably quickens, the communication gets altered so as to avoid admitting we’re chasing down that rider. Rest day be damned, we’re racing again, one beach cruiser breakaway at a time.