Wednesdays with Amy: Let the ride begin

This is part two of a three-part series.



Special to the OBSERVER

So it should be mentioned that while Amy’s tandem was being brought back to life, there was a lot that needed to be done, such as learning the techniques needed for tandem riding. Sort of like going to ground school before an aspiring pilot is even allowed to go near an airplane. For instance, when riding a “bicycle-built-for-two,” each of the two riders has a specific job. The CAPTAIN, a fancy title for the rider who sits in the front position, is responsible for such piloting tasks as steering, braking, gear changing, communication and keeping on course. The rider sitting in the back position, who wears the title of STOKER, also has a prescribed set of duties to perform, such as kicking off and getting the wheels rolling, synchronizing pedaling, and helping to maintain speed and balance. While for many folks reading this, the STOKER’S role might not seem like much, take it from someone who has instructed a number of would be STOKERS with 20/20 vision — it’s often no easy task. It can easily make the difference between staying upright or experiencing the ground “up close and personal,”with a few scrapes and bruises to show for it.

The next big task was for Amy to study the anatomy of the bicycle built-for-two, so that the CAPTAIN and the STOKER could share a common vocabulary and be pretty much on the same page when communicating. Hard enough to imagine when you can see, let alone when you’re totally blind and have to learn how the tandem was put together by feel. But as I said before, what Amy couldn’t see in the traditional sense, she more than made up for with the pictures she created in her mind. So, as you might have guessed, Amy passed this part of her training with flying colors.

As if by coincidence, Amy’s old tandem was declared re-born and ready for the road, so on it was to the next important step — the fitting (seat height, handlebar position, etc.). With all hands on deck to witness the dramatic event, the now restored two-seater was rolled out for Amy to mount. While being steadied, she was helped onto the STOKER’S seat, so that it could be raised or lowered as needed, since her being able to touch the ground when getting started or stopping was necessary for safe riding. So just when it was thought that all of the puzzle pieces were finally in place, another one of those unexpected “twists and turns” emerged. You see, the tandem’s frame appeared to be too big, making safe riding difficult, if not impossible. So just when we thought all might be lost, it suddenly dawned on me that while we had been so preoccupied with Amy getting back in the saddle of her old bike, we somehow lost track of our true purpose, which was to get her back in the saddle, regardless of what bike she happened to be riding on.

So, now that we were back on track, it was time to devote our full energies to locating a bike that Amy could safely ride. Call it a “twist” or a ” turn,” but, as luck would have it, I happened to own a “Bike Friday Family Tandem,” a specially designed odd looking thing, intended to accommodate riders of varying heights, shapes and sizes. With its smaller wheels the Captain and Stoker could easily reach the ground with their feet, not possible with Amy’s old steed. Given this unique set of attributes, it occurred to me that it might just work for Amy. So with only a couple turns of a ten millimeter wrench, it was declared a perfect fit and Amy and I were finally ready to buckle down our helmets and let the tires meet the road. Although that first outing could best be described as a “slow roll” rather than an actual “ride,” because it consisted of positioning the bike at the top of a dead-end side street with a slight downward grade, kicking off with our feet and letting gravity do the rest. What it did was to provide us with an opportunity to practice our newly acquired Captain/Stoker communication skills as well as learn to trust one another and manage to stay upright. Although that first excursion lasted just slightly longer than the Wright Brothers’ first attempt at manned flight, for us it couldn’t have been more momentous. After all — AMY AND I WERE ON OUR WAY TO BECOMING A TEAM!

Coming next Sunday: The ride and what’s next.