Before Melanie and John Glynn of Leominster got married, a lot
of their dates were bike rides. They both worked at Digital Equipment Corp.
then, and biking left the cares of work behind.
One time on the Cape, Melanie had a hand injury that might have kept her from riding, but they found a solution: They rented a tandem.
In the stoker's seat at the rear of the bicycle built for two, Melanie didn't have to steer, brake, shift or even keep both hands on the bars.
Her hand healed and the couple went back to their single bikes, but they'd had such fun on the tandem, they knew they were onto something more than a backup bike. They bought their own tandem five years ago as a wedding gift to each other. She works at Quantum now, and his employer is Compaq, and after-work rides are still a ritual they love.
The Glynns are helping to organize this year's Eastern Tandem Rally, a ridefest Aug. 7-9 in Fitchburg that will have people on northern Worcester County roads doing double takes as "twicers" roll by.
There are 161 tandem teams, or pairs, signed up for the rally, said another organizer, Brad Willard of Ashburnham, who rides a tandem with his wife, Diane.
Riders will stay at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel on Route 31 and bike 12 to 100 miles per day, with mid-ride destinations such as Wachusett Reservoir, Mount Wachusett in Princeton, and Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, N.H. Tandem dealers will have displays at the hotel, and folk singer Vance Gilbert will entertain on Saturday night.
Most tandem teams are husband-and-wife pairs, with the larger, stronger person (i.e., hubby) up front as captain. Couples say that riding double, like any joint endeavor, depends on communication and trust.
The captain has to announce every move, such as when to start pedaling, when a bump in the road is coming up, when he is going to shift gears. As the riders get used to each other's styles, "we don't have to call out so much," Melanie Glynn explained. "We can pretty much feel each other's moves and anticipate."
The stoker, giving up control, must have faith in the captain's judgments. "It's funny because in the car I'm a backseat driver. I hate it when John drives," said Glynn, 34. "But on the tandem I'm absolutely complacent."
When the Willards first got on their tandem eight years ago, "we clicked right away," Brad said. Now tandem riding "is our time together in the evening, after work, to talk." He's a mechanical technician at Thermo Plastics Engineering, and she's a nurse with Fallon, both in Leominster. They also have a tandem sea kayak.
Many couples turn to tandems after finding that one rider can't keep up with the other on a single bike. "It gets frustrating when you can't stay together, and a tandem is a really good solution," said Gary Ruuska, 46, of Gardner, a former amateur racer who rides a tandem with his wife, Anna. He's a photographer for the Museum of Fine Arts, and she's a project manager at John Hancock, both in Boston.
The Ruuskas mapped out most of the 15 or so routes for the rally. "We learned some new roads ourselves," said Anna, 44. "It's really making us appreciate the area."
Anna is "really the perfect stoker," her husband said. However, he said, "I wouldn't want to ride a tandem all the time. There's nothing like the freedom of being on your own bike."
Long and heavy, tandems are the tractor-trailers of the bike world: slow on the uphills.
Not that tandem riders are shy about hill climbing. "We warned everybody in the literature" for the rally that the Fitchburg area has its share of steep slopes, Brad Willard said, and still signed up more riders than expected.
"We've got people in their 80s coming from Florida; we have triples where a couple has their kid riding on the back," he said.
Every hill has a down side, of course, and that's where tandems really pick up speed. "Solo bikes like tailing us on the flats and downhills," Willard said. "They get sucked right into the draft."
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