It may look like an odd form of exercise to some, but to people who actually do it, tandem bicycle riding is much, much more.
"Riding a tandem is a good marriage counselor," said Mike Kirk, who met his second wife, Nancy, six years ago when they were both riding single with the Irvine bike club. Today, they're enthusiastic members of Tandem Time, a group of tandem cyclists from both the Bicycle Club of Irvine and the Orange County Wheelmen.
From 10 to 30 tandem duos turn out for the rides Tandem Time organizes the second Sunday of each month.
Not surprisingly, most tandems are ridden by men and women who are more than athletically involved. "There has to be a lot of communication on a tandem," said Kirk, 49, a General Electric customer service manager. "I ride in front, and I have to let her know when there's a bump in the road ahead, when I'm going to slow down or speed up or make a turn, when I want her to increase her cadence. In the beginning, I'd call out every move, 'I'm going to brake, I'm going to shift now,' but after a year, she anticipates my moves. It works very smoothly and I don't think about it anymore, which makes it more fun."
Though clashes between four-wheelers (as cyclists call cars) and cyclists are common, drivers are generally respectful of tandem teams. "A tandem pack is kind of an unusual thing for drivers to see," said Kirk, "so they look twice."
The rider in front is called the captain; the one behind, the stoker. With coed pairs, most captains are men, because it's a position that requires greater strength. Yet, tandem riding allows a couple to stay together--no matter how large the gap in their stamina. "When the man is stronger than the woman, and they're each on a single bike, either you're riding at a pace that's too slow for you, or you're riding so fast that your wife is pushing it to try to keep up," Kirk says.
The power of two on the pedals results in considerable speed. A good tandem team cruises at 20 to 25 miles an hour on flat terrain and can hit 35. Most of the club's members are in their 30s and 40s. They ride hilly courses, so both riders have to be fit to keep up.
With frames of high-tensile steel or aircraft-grade aluminum, tandems weigh under 40 pounds, which is not much more than a heavier single bike. Prices range from around $1,200 to $10,000.
"It's a great feeling to be with your spouse, doing something you both enjoy," said Kirk. "I think it brings you closer as a couple. You learn to compromise. Just like you do in marriage."
More information on Tandem Time can be found on the Orange County Wheelmen's Web site at http: //www.ocw.org.