Welcome to my August newsletter where I explore the power of tandem cycling! For me, cycling is an activity that stretches far beyond the physical benefits of fitness. While health is one great positive, I also like the togetherness of tandeming with a partner and the ability to see the world through a very different lens whilst pedalling through amazing terrain taking in new smells, sights and surroundings. I will explore these themes of health, togetherness, and travel throughout this newsletter, as well as the e-bike revolution!
“You are one ride away from a good mood.” — Sarah Bentley
Through tandem cycling, Graham and I stay healthy and keep fit! The benefits of getting out and about in the fresh air were enormous during the COVID lockdowns of 2020/21, where sanity rides contributed to my holistic mental and physical wellbeing. Whenever I am down, turning the pedals helps me adjust my perspectives and cherish the simple moments.
Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and is one of the most time efficient ways to combine regular exercise with your everyday routine. More than this, it is good for strength and stamina – particularly for me as the stoker who must sit up straight with a strong core to ensure we are balanced on the 8ft long tandem! I love this infographic that shares the health benefits of cycling and feel this aerobic exercise has added years to my lifespan!
I wrote often about what I learnt from riding thousands of miles on a tandem during the pandemic.
- Clarity on pre-ride information, the route and proposed watering holes, treats at the finish plus strong clear inputs in ride, holes, cars-up etc is über important for harmonious safe effective long rides.
- The UK has some of the best roads in the world, but some of the worst in Oxfordshire! I’d pay as a cyclist (via insurance or a tax) to help improving them!
- I learned quickly my constant chattering (as with my Dad as a child) didn’t cut it with Captain Clarkson, who helped me get in the zone of peddling and thinking, not talking! Amazing what problems one can solve in this space!
- As we got into the longer distance zone the importance of great hydration before and during a ride, plus dates and fruit during the pit stop helped our ride times and recovery rate hugely.
- A strong core and me staying balanced and central gives the ultimate stability for the 8ft long tandem.
- 2 pairs of the best Raffa cycling shorts with 2cm of padding are essential for women!
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself,” – Henry Ford.
Many women have said to me “I could never ride a tandem with my partner. There would be too much loss of control!” Tandem cycling has added so much to Graham and my relationship where we have had to embrace our weaknesses, share in our strengths and each play our critical roles!
The ‘stoker’ at the back of the tandem must have a strong core, sit up straight, crazily pedal and be a stable powerhouse of consistency. As a monumental fidget this is tough for me and requires a great deal of attention! The role of the ‘captain’ at the front is to steer the tandem and communicate important information on direction, what’s coming towards us and whether there are any bumps ahead. Learning our roles on the tandem took time but has been key to ensuring safe and smooth cycles!
“It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.” — Heinz Stücke, German long-distance touring cyclist
I’ve seen (and smelt) some of the most amazing rural, desert and countryside locations I would never have experienced from a plane, car or by foot. When you walk you see certain things, when you cycle the smells and sounds you take in are very evocative, totally unique to the location and tell you so much about the culture of a place!
I’ve been fortunate enough to ride in the basking of summer in Arizona to the freezing wet summer in Scotland, and in between. I started cycling nearly a decade ago where I trained to do my first ever Ride London fundraiser, setting myself the goal of raising £100k for Whizz Kids and the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity. I trained whilst being CEO of Thomas Cook and did the ride through Storm Bertha in 2014! My family as well as my trainer the former Marine Phil Gilbert were invaluable to my cycle journey helping me achieve the target and finish the ride!
In recent years, Graham and I have explored our second home of Thailand by cycling through areas we never would have seen if not for the tandem! On our cycling tour through Northern Thailand, we did the Mae Hong Son Loop – over 620 km and 6,000 meters of climb up to the mountainous province bordering on Myanmar (Burma). We trained for months, logging in over 1350 km a week on our tandem bike. Though sparsely populated, the route was ethnically diverse and home to hill tribes such as the Shan and Hmong. The capital, also called Mae Hong Son, is a gateway to the region’s hills. It’s overlooked by Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu, a Burmese-style monastery with two ornate white chedis (stupas) built in the 19th century. Along the way we stopped at different little places along the way, exploring local sites, culture, and of course the wonderful northern Thai cuisine!
We have also cycled through Southern Thailand, with nearly 500km of incredible scenery, beautiful Thai smiles and exceptional hospitality, plus wonderful strengthening fitness. We travelled from the tip of Phuket around Phang Nga Bay to Krabi and back, and learned so much more about the Thai culture, region by region.
Cycling through Thailand with the scent of fried garlic and rice being steamed in cookers for the locals daily meals is extraordinary – the aromas and tastes are unique to the location and I feel totally immersed and intertwined with culture on the tandem!
We have also been tandem cycling through the Inner Hebrides of Scotland as well as the dessert landscape of Arizona where amazing contrasts of scenery, hospitality and wonderful fitness are memories of challenging yet utter fulfilling experiences!
Circumnavigating the globe!
We had the opportunity to meet Raz and Cat the female tandem pair from Oxford who broke the world record in 2020, circumnavigating the globe by tandem bike 17 days faster than the male prior holders! The ‘round the world’ cycle took Raz and Cat through 25 countries including Thailand, New Zealand, and the United States, facing monsoons across Asia and bushfires in Australia. In celebrating their achievement, Raz and Cat shared:
“The experience was incredible and certainly not without its challenges, most notably racing to make it home as borders closed behind us due to the coronavirus pandemic. Setting the world record really was the adventure of a lifetime and we hope that it will inspire others to believe that anything is possible if you follow your dreams.”
Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records editor in chief, said: “It’s been a joy following Cat and Raz’s big adventure. “Their high-spirited story of determination, ambition and friendship has been a tonic in these troubled times, and I’m sure these two remarkable women will be an inspiration to anyone looking to expand their horizons and discover their world.”
These sensational women are a total an inspiration for anyone curious in taking up cycling (and have encouraged Graham and my interest in cycling through other countries!)
I love to ride tandem with Graham on either the SSDM (Supersonic Divorce Machine) or Sassy Lassy (Sensational Adventures Starting in Yorkshire!) – as one of my ways of exercising. We have toured all around the world and in recent years have been joyfully joined by so many folks on e-bikes. Racing past us mostly uphills, along the west coast of France, to Thailand – All over!
The sales of electric bikes have increased dramatically. In 2020, 4.6 million e-bikes were sold in the EU and UK, a 52% rise year-on-year. E-bikes can increase accessibility to the outdoors for riders who would otherwise be socially or perhaps physically excluded. So, why the controversy? I love this article by The Conversation UK which explores the pros and cons.
The fear with e-bikes is that the addition of a motor makes users complacent about the demands of the terrain, and the needs of other people – with riders prioritising getting uphill as quickly as possible or going as far as they can on a single battery. A few things for e-bike riders to focus on but to me, the upside of the new bikes is huge even though I don’t have one!
E-bikes play a huge social role in relation to crime, ill-health and social exclusion. One participant – a disabled former soldier – said his e-bike has been the springboard for a new social enterprise that tackles youth offending through cycling. We’ve also heard from several older participants who said purchasing an e-bike has led to vast improvements in their physical and mental wellbeing. It also gets people out of their cars and creates a positive impact on our environment!
Cycling through the seasons!
Of the many reasons why I enjoy cycling, the seasonal nature creating a unique experience as one pedals through different locations and weather conditions is something special. Research suggests cycling habits follow a similar ebb and flow to nature with the busyness of holidays and freezing winter months far more challenging to get on the bike! A few tips on how you can approach cycling through the seasons from this article:
#1: Your body and mind need breaks: Training for a cycle is mentally and physically demanding. Whether a charity ride or week-long endurance tour, preparing for peak performance requires a structured cycling routine and balance of phased training to achieve the desired outcome.
#2: Strength and stamina: When winters are long, using a stationary trainer and doing leg exercises can help to build and maintain strength. There are so many amazing exercise bikes such as the Peloton and virtual competitions which have gamified the solo cycling experience and fostered community amongst cyclists from their homes and gyms – we saw a particular spike in bike sales throughout the pandemic!
#3: Embrace the lull: Don’t start with long rides right out of the gate! When you have had some time off and feel the urge to get riding regularly again, begin with short social cycles with friends to give your mind the restorative pleasure of enjoying the journey!
Pedalling through life!
I remind myself and those around me often that we should count our blessings and be grateful for what we have. The enjoyable family times we have had over the years cycling together have created a common interest, allowing us to stay well, have adventures and share memories we wouldn’t have otherwise! Most recently we have expanded to our tandem trio, with a seat for Baby True and Barney, allowing us to share our love of cycling with them too!
Here’s my eulogy / tribute to cycling, I hope you have found it as fun and exhilarating as I have to write! Indeed, not everyone shares the same passion for cycling and there are opposing views that a slightly unhealthier nation would be more beneficial for our economy!
The slow death or survival of our planet?
In setting the tone on why tandem cycling, an interesting economic debate was sparked by the CEO of Euro-Exim Bank Ltd. A few years ago, when he said:
“A cyclist is a disaster for the country’s economy: he doesn’t buy cars and doesn’t borrow money to buy them. He does not pay insurance policies. Do not buy fuel, no costs related to maintenance and repair. He does not use paid parking. The cyclist does not cause serious accidents. No multi-lane highways required. They don’t get fat.
Healthy people are neither necessary nor useful to the economy. They do not buy medicines. They do not go to hospitals or doctors. They add nothing to the country’s GDP.”
On the contrary, every new McDonald’s restaurant creates at least 30 jobs: 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 dietary experts and nutritionists, and obviously, people who work at the restaurant itself.”
An opposing view by ITDP.org states, “A global shift to increased cycling and electric biking could cut energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from urban transportation by up to 10% by 2050 and the society could save more than $24 trillion.”
I think the benefits of less emissions and burdening on the healthcare system contribute to a happier and healthier society rather than the slow death of our planet. Where do you sit on the economic debate of cycling?
Love to get your views on this debate! Do you think cycling or your chosen type of fitness is a perk or a peril to our global economy? Do you think health outweighs profits? Would love to hear from you!
Warmest – Harriet x