3 Challenges to ride a tandem on Ride London

Liz, Wheels for Wellbeing volunteer, joined this year’s Ride London 46 with her stoker Sharon. It was a great experience but not without challenges. In this post Liz talks about it all.
I am a tandem pilot, trained by Wheels for Wellbeing, with a small amount of riding experience. I have ridden a little locally in Greenwich and London with Sharon as my stoker. Sharon is a partially sighted friend I met through my borough cycling group. Back in the Spring we agreed to enter for the Ride London 46, with some trepidation. “It will be a challenge” was Sharon’s view. It was indeed a challenge, but almost completely before the ride, not on the day.

Challenge no. 1: Hire a tandem
Sharon had previously been loaned a tandem by a charity, but had been asked to return it, so the first challenge was to arrange the use of a bike, both for training and for the ride. Wheels for Wellbeing very generously agreed to hire us one for the whole month before the ride. We made a few changes so that it was comfortable for us. The frame size was too long for me, so I changed the straight handlebars for some swept back ones, also Sharon’s bars for some narrower ones. We put SPD pedals on and some small seat post bags as there was no rack for a pannier. Then we were ready to go!

We set aside at least two days a week for training rides. A short one entailed riding up the hill in Greenwich Park twice over as well as a little tour of Blackheath. Some longer ones, which also included hills, were about 12-15 miles. Hills certainly are a challenge on a tandem.

Challenge no. 2: Accessibility
Planning to get to the early start of the ride in Stratford Olympic Park from south of the river in time was another challenge. The south lift to the Greenwich Foot tunnel had been out of action for some time and the lifts for the DLR and the Emirates airline pods are all too small for a tandem. Luckily Sharon managed to arrange for us to deliver it to the Lea Valley VeloPark the day before and leave it in a locked room overnight. We crossed the river by a Clipper boat.

Challenge no. 3: Ride registration
The final challenge was the application and administration procedure for the event as tandem riders, which was muddled and unclear, culminating in our arrival for registration just before the event, to find we had separate numbers and had not been matched up. Luckily it was sorted quite quickly and at this late stage we were given a totally different starting place and time.
No more challenges: Let the ride begin!

We decided to make the ride with a few stops as possible and to avoid the hubs. We didn’t want to be delayed by a crush of other riders. I was also anxious that we mightn’t complete the course within the time limit of four hours. We carried some small snacks and drinks and each carried a small backpack.

The day of the ride was a fantastic experience! Organisation of the start at the Olympic park was superb. Thousands of riders were set off in wave after wave. There was some waiting in a queue before the start and a bit of a crush, but no real problems. As we had not previously ridden outside the congested roads of London I had no idea how fast it was possible to ride on a tandem when there are no stops for lights or junctions. Much of the course is flat or down hill and it was an exhilarating ride. Even the hills were not too difficult.

There was ample space on the closed roads and a great atmosphere. The cheering spectators buoyed us up and there was plenty of special enthusiasm and support for the tandem from spectators and from other riders. We completed the ride in 3 hours 20 minutes, an average speed of over 14 mph, which we were more than pleased with. I was more tired than I would expected from a ride of that distance, but would I do it again? Certainly!

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