There are plenty of articles and blog posts about riding together as a couple. And there are plenty of couples who enjoy riding together, and have a great day out every time, sitting in cafes in their lycra, toned and fit and laughing over a coffee and planning their next riding holiday through the Pyrenees. I have ridden with one half of a couple who emerged on the right side of a two-week tandem-bike camping holiday. Good luck to them I say !
What there’s not a lot written about is couples who are compete mismatches. Cycling couples who have wildly differing degrees of experience and confidence and fitness, and even couples where (usually but not always) the guy has the top of the line carbon beauty, and the wife or girlfriend is determinedly trying to keep up on a heavier hybrid or god help her, an older steel frame beast.
These are not riding partnerships which are going to end in cycling nirvana.
More than twenty years of road cycling experience has made Sprocketman a super confident, ‘take your lane’ * racer and regular commuter. He has no fear. Two shattered collarbones before we met, one concussion that I was actually around for (and is blogworthy all on its own) and the odd fall and who knows what else that he generally ignores, Sprocketman currently rides a BH and enjoys long walks along the beach.
I was on a borrowed mountain bike, which kept losing its chain and I was muttering the rules to using gears under my breath as I cycled behind Sprocketman. Nothing of what he had airily explained to me made the slightest bit of sense. Still doesn't, I figure it out as I'm going along.
He wanted me to cycle companionably alongside him, I wanted him to go in front so I knew where we were going, and because the traffic was far too close for my happiness – we were being overtaken by motorists for who the “a metre matters” guideline was a mere suggestion, and a laughable one at that.
Struggling to get the gear right for an uphill section, the chain came off again and I could not get the bugger to flick back on. This cycling gig was seriously giving me the shits.
I had to stop on the hill (the humiliation) and drag the bike over to a level area of dirt away from traffic to try and sort this chain business out. Sprocketman cycled back a tad impatiently and shouted out “Come on, what are you doing?”
My never far from the surface temper boiled over. "What am I doing ?" I shouted back, utterly furious, " I’m doing my best you fucking arsehole.” The joys of dating eh !?
After a proper inspection of the bike it became clear there was something wrong with the bike, and not (so much) the cyclist. I felt somewhat vindicated, but not enough to offset the hours of frustration that had built up.
We carried on around the bay, reaching the section where the bike track disappears altogether and carried the bikes up a flight of fifty stairs - and then the already narrow road became ridiculously so. I stopped in a small layby area to take a breather. The SO has the emotional resilience of a bouncy rubber ball, and pulled up beside me to give me a lecture on my improper gear usage. I lost it. “You do know I’m doing this mostly for you, you bastard ?” and I shoved him hard away from me.
Unfortunately he was showing off and doing a track stand** and was therefore still clipped in, while talking to me. Even more unfortunately, I'd never heard of a human being doing such a thing, and had no idea he was clipped in. He fell over hard; he hit the ground like a sack of spuds, his head narrowly missing the busy road and being squashed like a melon by the passing 501 bus.
On the ground he started laughing uncontrollably, and when I saw he was alright I started to laugh as well, although I was still mortified at the fall. We finished that ride and went to the pub, probably. I can’t really remember the aftermath except that we still didn’t have a compatible riding style. Work in progress.
* This is one of those sayings like "play the man". What does it actually mean ? Take your lane is essentially a declaration that you have the same rights (and abide by the same rules) as any other user of the roads. In many ways this is a defensive act - take up an entire lane like a car would, and all attentive drivers will see you. Skulk on the shoulder weaving in and out of parked cars, and many drivers won't see you or allow you to re-join traffic when you need to.
** A track stand is where the cyclist stops and balances on their pedals without unclipping/putting a foot on the ground to steady themselves. It's the mark of a true athlete, with mind/body in superb balance. Originally a tool of the velodrome racer, it's just another one of those seemingly effortless things which pisses me off.