Cyclists Discover the Synergy and Challenges of Tandem Riding

As a new cyclist, Irene Castorena two years ago discovered how to quickly improve her riding skills. She found a willing partner in her cycling club and began to experience the synergy of a bicycle built for two.

Castorena, 45, of Rancho Murieta, California, and Steve Cimini, 45, of Carmichael, Calif., are both active single-bike cyclists. But they've now ridden more than 8,000 miles as the captain (front rider) and stoker (rear rider) on a tandem.

"I was looking for a guiding hand," said Castorena, the stoker. "With a tandem, I've been able to accomplish goals and do rides I wouldn't have been able to do as a single rider."

Using one of Cimini's two tandems, the duo has completed several century (100-mile) rides, the Davis Double Century and numerous other lengthy efforts.

"It's something more than recreational, but it's not really competition, either," Castorena explained. "I've just learned a lot about cycling gearing, riding in traffic, riding at faster speeds and getting more endurance."

Like any two people riding a tandem, Castorena and Cimini have succeeded with complementary abilities and good communication. Further, they are friends who have an appreciation for the achievements available via the combined strength of four legs, four lungs, two brains, and one bike.

Castorena, a mother of three children, is engaged to a non-cyclist. Cimini, the father of two, is married to a recreational cyclist.

"We just clicked," said Cimini, a postal carrier who sometimes rides shorter tandem distances with his wife and children. "We were both goal-oriented, we both like long distances, and it has just worked for us."

A Bicycle Built for Two

The tandem's origin also involved a partnership, albeit one of passion. The year was 1897 and the lowly bicycle built for two was catapulted into the national spotlight.

As legend claims, Bobby Walthour Sr., a champion cyclist of the era, suggested to his underage girlfriend that they leave Birmingham, Alabama, on their tandem, pedal across the state border and find a parson in Georgia who would marry them.

The duo traveled to several sites on a moonlit night, found someone to conduct their vows and then returned.

Word of the unique marriage spread quickly. With accompanying verse, a picture of the couple on their tandem and with Cupid sitting on the handlebars was printed in a local newspaper.

A short while later, a songwriter added music and lyrics to the newspaper account and the tune became known as "A Bicycle Built For Two."

The chorus of the ballad ends:

"It won't be a stylish marriage
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two."

Much of the romance of tandem cycling remains, although some tandem cycling is taken quite seriously.

At the yearly World Cycling Championships, the tandem match sprint is among the most coveted, if unheralded, titles.

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