Worcester, Mass.
August 31, 1997

Tandems put relationships to test

By Lynne Tolman

   A tandem bicycle can make or break a marriage, they say.  Probably the same goes for canoes.
   It takes communication, trust, teamwork and compromise to handle a bicycle built for two. Couples who score high in those departments off the bike should have little trouble pedaling together.
   Many couples try tandems so they can actually bike together, rather than having the stronger one far ahead and the slower rider feeling left behind.
   "When we ride singles, he's so far ahead I lose motivation," said Bonnie Tetreault, 25, of Holland. She and her husband, Pat, have been enjoying after-work rides together since they bought a tandem in July. "This way we can talk and tell each other about the day," she said.
   "There's really a lot of things you learn about each other because of the closeness,"' said her husband, 42.  "We just talk a lot more, and we have better communication, because you have to."
   Tandem pairs tend to invent their own signals for synchronization. Bonnie Tetreault likes to coast with her right foot down, while Pat is a left-foot-down person. But with one chain, they have to do the same thing.  So one will say "boy down" or "girl down," and they'll know which position to use.  Or they might say  "three-nine," meaning they'll hold the pedals at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock, with the cranks parallel to the top tube.
   Dick McNamara and his wife, Cheryl Houston, who got their tandem in 1990, got to know each other's riding styles so well they don't need words.  "Going uphill, she gives me a little poke in the butt, and that means shift to a lower gear," said McNamara, 52.  Going downhill, when the big rig really picks up speed, the same poke means to slow down.
   "It's kind of like dancing," McNamara said.  "When two people have danced together for a long time, the person following pretty much knows what the person leading is going to do."
   He likes the tandem for exploring new areas, because the stoker (rear rider) can navigate.  She clips the map to the back of his shirt and tells him the upcoming turns.  The Worcester couple also has enjoyed the all-couples social atmosphere at tandem rallies.
   But lately Houston and McNamara have found their single bikes more comfortable, especially for long rides.  "Our style of riding is different enough that we found our own bikes a lot more fun," said Houston, 50.  Their tandem has been gathering dust in the garage for two years.
   Diane Jacoby and Wayne Dorman of Shutesbury at first found themselves bickering on their tandem, about what gear to use, whether to stand up, how to approach turns.  The rider in back, who can't shift or brake or steer or even see the road just ahead, has to learn not to try to drive.
   "We had to make a conscious decision not to argue over the bike; the point was supposed to be to be together having fun.  Once we decided that, it became fun," said Jacoby, 36.
   Her conclusion:  "A tandem is definitely a better investment than marriage counseling or a divorce lawyer for any couple who is sincerely interested in learning to compromise and work together to set goals and achieve them."
   Most couples ride with the man as captain (the front rider) and the woman as stoker.  But Jacoby is captain half the time, and she said any disparity in upper body strength is not a problem.  Dorman, 56, who works at Norton Co. in Worcester, says he likes being captain or stoker.  "Either one 100 percent of the time would get boring," he said.
   Riding a tandem "has been good for our relationship," said 32-year-old Iris Weiner of Framingham, in her second season riding double with boyfriend Rich Whalen of Worcester.  "It's formed a cohesiveness, which I think is very positive."
   The tandem "definitely tests the relationship, as you have to communicate on the bike," said Whalen, 39.  Of course, he added, "just because things are going fine on the tandem, you don't assume that they are fine everywhere."
   Riding the tandem has helped Weiner, who had less cycling experience when the two met, to narrow the gap when they ride their single bikes.  And they have no intention of giving up their single bikes.
   On the tandem, "Rich has a tendency to coach me," Weiner said.  "I like being pushed, being encouraged ... but I don't always feel like having to answer to someone."
   Team Grundle (Todd Benoit of Sturbridge, Dave Cormier of Oxford, and Peter Maly and Jeff Fairbanks, both of Charlton), racing in the sport category, took first place overall in the 24 Hours of New England mountain bike race at Jiminy Peak in Hancock last weekend, covering 30 laps during the noon-to-noon event.  A team of expert juniors sponsored by Redbones and Independent Fabrication was in the lead until about midnight but lost ground when its riders started doing two consecutive laps apiece instead of one, Benoit said.
   "They were trying to get more sleep, but it backfired," said Benoit, 32.  "We didn't really get any sleep, because when you finish a lap you have about two and a half hours off, but by the time you wash the bike, get cleaned up, get something to eat, maybe get a massage, you might only lay down for about half an hour and then it's time to get ready to go again."
   Maly, 35, is leading the men's 35-44 sport division in the Nike ACG New England race series, which concludes next weekend at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford.  Sean Cahill from Uxbridge is leading the men's 19-34 expert category, and Robert Hult of Harvard is leading the men's pro/semipro category.
   TIP OF THE HELMET -- To Trooper Matt Domnarski, 31, of Palmer, who won the cross-country race last Sunday <Aug. 24> at the U.S. Law Enforcement Mountain Bike Championships at Catamount Family Center in Williston, Vt.  Domnarski, a helicopter pilot in the state police air wing at Westover, covered the 20-kilometer course in 1 hour, 9 minutes, 56 seconds, repeating his 1996 victory.  He'll be racing again Saturday in the Yankee Candle police mountain bike race in Deerfield.
   The New England Mountain Bike Association has scheduled volunteer trail maintenance work from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 6 and Oct. 18 at Middlesex Fells Reservation in Medford; Sept. 7 and Oct. 19 at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham; Sept. 13 and Oct. 25 at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, and Oct. 4 and Nov. 8 at Lynn Woods in Lynn.  Participants are eligible for a drawing Nov. 8 for  a Merlin Metalworks mountain bike frame. Call 800-57-NEMBA for details.

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