Marriage Therapy On Wheels

07/14/2015 08:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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(Our license plate for the PNW Tandem Rally)

Rapprochement: an establishment or resumption of harmonious relations

Being married for nearly 30 years hasn't always been smooth. My husband and I met when we were barely 21, and now we're about to be grandparents! We've been through so much together, good and bad, and we've worked hard and done what we can to strengthen and improve our relationship. We work at it. We're very different people: I'm outspoken; he's more reserved and quiet. I'm creative and emotional; he's practical and logical. I'm a fast walker and yoga lover; he's a climber, runner, skier, mountain biker, cyclist and just about anything active and physical ... Me, not so much. I'm perfectly happy with a quiet day to write and chill; a day like that drives him crazy.

My husband has asked me to go biking with him for years, and while I've given it a try, over and over, it's never really been my thing. So, when he asked me to try a tandem bike, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic. I saw it as one more ploy to pull me into cycling. In fact, I may have been a teeny bit passive-aggressive when I agreed to go for a few rides. We borrowed a tandem and something strange happened ... I liked it. In fact, I really liked it! Next thing I knew, we were ordering a custom bike and committing to cycling ... together.

Because of our height difference, a custom bike was virtually required, but we also thought about future details that might contribute to biking success. We bought a Co-Motion™ bike that includes couplers. These allow us to take the bike apart for traveling. The whole bike fits in two special suitcases and can be checked, like any other luggage. My husband bought me a Bodyfloat™ seatpost that makes bumps in the road virtually non-existent! Having sampled regular seats and posts, it's like riding a cushion! This contributed enormously to getting me on board, as seat soreness was my number one complaint.

Tandem bikes have been called divorce cycles, and I can see why. Every time we go for a ride, it's a bit like a couple's therapy session. No doubt a "bicycle built for two" is not for everyone. Riding a tandem requires communication, above all else. When you ride a single bike, you steer the bike and pedal and there you go. When you're on a tandem, if you're pedaling in front, your partner's feet are going to spin too. Like marriage, if you don't communicate tandem cycling doesn't work.

With tandem cycling, the person riding in front is called the "Captain," and the person in back is the "Stoker." Who sits in the front is based on weight and control. You want the person who knows how to stop and control a bike best, to be in control; they should be in the front. But weight is critical. Turning and breaking is initiated from the front. The back is weight to be pulled; the heavier person needs to be in front, to help balance that out. There's no doubt: being Captain has certain advantages. They can see what's coming, and they get to decide speed and direction. Ultimately, they're in control.

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My husband is the Captain. I don't love the title, but I'm stoked to be a Stoker. I'm not a good backseat driver, but I'm learning to surrender and let him drive. My husband is 6'4" and I'm 5'3"; I can't see anything in front of me aside from his trim back and his nice butt. By the time I see something it's passing by. That can be a scary feeling: not knowing what's coming. When we're zipping downhill, I sometimes panic a little -- it's kind of like being on the downhill of roller coaster, in the dark. He spends hours every week on a bike; he's at ease on a bike, and I have to just trust his decision-making and his control of the bike. That isn't always easy. However, I went into this knowing that he's the expert. I also accept that I'm nowhere as strong as him, and I have to rely on my husband to pull me along. My feet are clipped in, so I pedal as much as him, but I can't exert as much power as him. The fact that I have to call him Captain is softened by the fact that he works harder than me. Hands down. And he knows that if he pisses me off, I may not pedal as enthusiastically, as I will when we're getting along.

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(I'm Stoked!)

The stoker doesn't have to worry about steering, so there's lots of opportunity for hands free riding. I'm constantly pulling out my iPhone and snapping pictures (that are often blurry), as we ride. This isn't doable when we're pushing up a hill, or moving fast; it's important to keep things steady, and turning to snap pictures throws off balance a little. One of the things I love best about tandem cycling is that it's time for us to connect and catch up, while I enjoy beautiful scenery.

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(Scenes from a bike)

We're literally clipped in together, so we have to deal with whatever comes up; neither of us can just walk off in a huff or go in another room. Riding the bike gives us a chance to discuss things and work through issues. The fact that we have to cooperate on the bike lends itself to cooperating on tough topics. We've noticed that we can talk about things that might ruffle feathers normally, when we're on the bike. We listen better and we're more likely to see things through to a peaceful solution.

Aside from these connecting factors for my husband and I, tandem cycling is a very social activity. Tandem cyclists often ride in groups; it's a fun way to talk and get to know people. It's become something we love to do with friends, generally including a good meal somewhere. This past weekend was the Pacific Northwest tandem rally, and 490 tandem (as well as trio and quad) bikes descended on our little town, along with nearly 1,000 riders! There were organized rides, of varying lengths, each day -- organized to highlight the beautiful landscape in our area and bring riders together. People came from all over the country -- some in costumes or with themes, families, couples and groups. We met wonderful riders from all over, and we all had fun on our bikes.

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(Lots of fun at the 2015 Pacific NW Tandem Rally -- we felt under dressed!)

If you had told me a year ago that I'd be asking my husband "want to go for a bike ride," I would have laughed and rolled my eyes. However, I've discovered that tandem cycling is a wonderful way to connect with my husband, get some exercise and see scenery as well as life from a new perspective. Things move at a slower pace and are closer up on a bike -- very different from racing by in your car, or sending a text. Life is hectic; as a couple it's easy for my husband and I to get caught up in everything going on around us, and feel disconnected. On our tandem, we laugh a lot; we're able to talk about all kinds of things and catch up; we socialize; we get fit together, and we reconnect. It's marriage counseling on wheels, and I'm a convert!

* I was not paid in any way for any of the items I have enjoyed.
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