We recently started planning to remodel our master bedroom. As we discussed what we wanted for the focal point of the room we decided it needed to be something that represented our marriage. With some searching on the internet, we decided on a canvas print of a tandem bike. For us, the tandem has become a type or symbol of the ties that bind our marriage together.
For years I watched as my husband went on bike rides and improved his overall health while I struggled with my own health issues. I felt like there was no way that I could ever be able to catch up to his level of riding and so I never even considered starting. I honestly felt some resentment at the time he spent away, but asking him to leave something that he loved and enjoyed so much would only make us both miserable. Some friends of ours had a tandem bike and they encouraged us, over a period of time, to give it a try. I finally relented and agreed to try a “couples” ride. I don’t know what surprised me more, the fact that I enjoyed the time together, or that I didn’t have a heart attack in the process. There was no doubt that I was sore, but I really loved the idea behind doing something that was active and invigorating together.
Once we had our own tandem we started riding more regularly; the soreness slowly went away, and I was able to start to build up my own strength. Our riding time became something that we protected from competing interests. When we first started riding we had only two of our kids still living at home, and at times I think they felt they had been abandoned by our new hobby. One night we were riding late and our then-17-year-old called as we were coasting up the driveway. In her authoritative voice, she said: “Where are you? Do you know what time it is?” We felt that we had reached a new level where our kids were now parenting us. Our tandem has brought new life to our marriage and drawn us closer together as we faced the emptying of our little nest.
When we first started riding together I couldn’t help but see so many similarities between our marriage and our tandem. I am sure that I am not the first or the last to see the symbolism, but as we have used what we are learning on our tandem and applied it to our marriage we have seen a new level of commitment and understanding evolve.
We were taught in the bike shop some of the basics of tandem riding. The first thing we learned was that each rider has a specific role in adding to the safety and enjoyment of the ride. My husband, by riding in front, was the captain who steers the bike, watches for obstacles ahead, and sets the pace. As the stoker, my role was to provide support, to be the eyes in the rear, and to alert others of our presence.
To clip or not to clip
At first, I had regular pedals where my shoe just sat on top and my husband was clipped-in through a cleat in the sole of his shoe that locks into a mechanism in the pedal. By having his shoe clipped in my husband was able to keep his feet firmly in place on the pedals. As our cadence increased my feet would start to fly off the pedals, making me feel out of control and ineffective in my efforts. I was reluctant to commit to clips because years earlier I had witnessed my husband clip-in to his first bike and immediately fall over on the grass. However, I soon realized I didn’t have to do it on my own: each time I mounted the bike my husband would hold it upright, waiting for me to get secured before he secured himself. After agreeing to the clips I couldn’t believe the difference. My first comment on our first ride with clips was – “Now I’m committed.” With each move of the crank, my foot was committed to the ride. It was like we were yoked together in our efforts. We had greater strength and ability to work together on some of the steepest of climbs. In the same way, when we are “clipped into” our marriage our ability to maneuver the bumps of life is greatly increased.
Communication is key
Talking never felt more important as I was getting used to the novelty of our new hobby. We quickly learned that every little thing had to be communicated to the other. “I’m shifting” meant don’t push so hard for a second. “Bump” meant stop pedaling and stand while we hit this bump. “On” meant pedal as hard as you can. “Off” meant stop pedaling. The list goes on and on. We have become quite adept in our ability to say one word and know what we need to do. Sometimes it seems silly to say “car back” when obviously he sees it too, but because we communicate about everything there is never an assumption. We’ve learned to be quick to apologize and quick to forgive – we all make mistakes, but we can’t let those mistakes keep us from moving forward. Our communication goes beyond just the verbal. I can tell where my husband wants to go by how his weight shifts. Sometimes, we discern what the other is thinking. When my pace suddenly slackens, Jeff doesn’t have to look around to realize I’m ready for a break. We’ve learned patience and to gently make requests when we want to do something differently. Clear and consistent communication makes us a team that is always looking out for each other.
Ties that Bind
A tandem connects both sets of pedals with one chain, so riders must pump in sync. Our marriage covenants connect us as one in effort and purpose. Just as we each have an important role on our bike, we each also have an important part to play in our marriage. One is not more important than the other nor are we equal in what we can contribute. We will each have times when we are exhausted and the other might need to pick up the slack. The captain has to earn the confidence of the stoker to be an effective leader, and that only happens when the stoker believes her request will be respected by the captain. Both partners need to be willing to follow.
Tandem riding is often compared to dancing as it is full of a constant back-and-forth, each partner leading and following. Because we work on the same chain we know how hard the other person is pushing, and we love it when we fall into that sweet spot as the hum of the tires is in rhythm with our identical cadence.
Together we’ve build up our individual strength with almost 1,800 miles in the last two years, and I’ve accomplished something I never could have done alone. Our tandem has taught us that we are working on the same chain, each powerful in our own unique way, but even more powerful together.
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