Dave Shively: Tandem Takeover
December 17, 2006
Are tandem sports acceptable?
For the unattached male, I think not.
A friend who has you on belay is one thing, there to catch you if you fall. You still have control of where and how far you push yourself.
Trying to share that control evenly with another party can have disastrous results.
I learned this lesson the hard way while trying to float a rented touring canoe down New Mexico’s Chama River, a 30-mile stretch with moderate enough rapids to warrant the use of appropriate whitewater craft, or at the least, proper canoe floatation. An alligator pool toy would have been a safer option than our 16-foot tub. But my friend and I thought we could get away with a few democratic guiding decisions.
Compromise worked until we hit the stretch’s only consequential rapid. Deciding on the “high adventure” line, the first wave train knocked my bow-paddling partner out and filled water in his place, leaving me struggling in a submerged slug to avoid the singular boulder in the center of the river. It had no trouble folding the canoe in half around it, pining the destroyed boat and instantly vaporizing my desire for tandem adventure.
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I should have known better, I had been guiding guests in inflatable kayaks all summer, always discouraging couples from the tandem “divorce boats.” The dual driver effect guarantees carnage every time.
One person has to end up ceding control and deferring the decision-making. That’s easy on a tandem bike. The rear stoker has no steering choice.
For Karissa Whitsell, it’s even easier. The legally blind athlete must rely on a different kind of control.
“My sense of control comes down to my fitness,” Whitsell said Friday, taking a break from a stationary bike at her home in Eugene, Ore.
Accepting her limitations and focusing on fitness has Whitsell on track for the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
Whitsell’s training coach at Colorado Springs’ Carmichael Training Systems (famed for Lance Armstrong’s grooming) teamed her with sighted pilot Katie Compton. The pair broke two world records at their first international event and then cleaned up at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, winning two golds, a silver and a bronze.
By throwing the steering debate out, tandem bikes can only bring couples together. The phenomenon is gaining a huge foothold in Colorado. Denver is not only home to one of the preeminent bike manufacturers – da Vinci Designs, creator of an independent coasting mechanism that lets one party coast while the other pedals – but also the only tandem-specific bike shop in the world.
Tandem Cycle Works co-owner Lynn Dexter attributes the growth to ample baby-bo-
oming couples, an active Colorado lifestyle and the store’s ability to promote events.
Don’t be surprised when Dexter brings a group of 50 to 60 riders to Steamboat for a three-day Memorial Day weekend event.
I for one, refuse to go tandem again. That is, unless I get to steer.