Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Every few days I take a look at the Craiglist bicycle listings just to see what kind of stuff people are selling. I rarely purchase anything listed, but I find the listings somehow interesting. As a whole, Craigslist is like snooping around in the dark corners of someone's basement and looking at all of the cool weird junk - stuff you never knew existed or sometimes something old and clever. My earliest memory of this type of fascination is probably at my grandparents' house. Grandma and grandpa's house was pretty dull for a little kid. I usually passed the time by stealing cookies from the cabinet and by nosing around in the garage. They never got rid of anything, and it all went into that garage. Old tools, kites, ancient sporting equipment, and stuff I didn't even recognize. Fortunately, the garage was separate from the main house, so this allowed me plenty of unsupervised time for exploring. I'd often find some dusty item of treasure. The experience was formative.
Admittedly, most of the stuff on Craigslist is worthless, but there is sometimes a diamond in the rough that gets the wheels turning. Is there a spot in my basement for that junk from someone else's basement? It just might be cool enough to justify additional clutter. During these instances, very odd things can seem momentarily sensible and right. This sort of thing happened to me recently. I was checking the listings while eating my sandwich at work. Scroll. Scroll. Old Miyata touring bike, nice. Set of wheels, not bad. Burley "Samba" Tandem - $475....hmmm. Tandems are odd... time for another flashback. I was getting breakfast many years ago at a local bakery near my then apartment in Cambridge. While sitting outside eating, I watched a tandem roll in. It was a sight to see. This was not just any bike, it was completely black, carbon-fiber-ish, and very racy looking like the stealth-bomber of bikes, but longer. The riders, in contrast, were two older men with bushy gray beards. They were plump and happy looking - they could just have easily gotten off a pair of rocking chairs except that they were dorked out in the geekiest flavor of bike garb. I surmised that they road over from an MIT lab, doing a test run in their latest materials study for NASA or something. In short, the experience left me thinking that tandems are strange and backward. But at the moment I saw the Burley "Samba" Tandem - $475 listing, it all made sense.

Mrs. Wheelie and I have been riding together (on separate bikes) a lot lately, and it's great. However, my appetite for miles exceeds hers because I cycle almost daily and have worked up to very long distances. That said, she's curious about some of the longer rides I do on my own, and it would be fun to share that in a way that is mutually enjoyable. Along comes this tandem, and wouldn't you know the sizing is about perfect, and that's rare with tandems. Better yet, it's only $475 for the whole darn bike.

It got me thinking about what riding a tandem actually involves. Sheldon Brown wrote a terrific how-to article for tandems that explains everything. Starting, stopping, coasting, captains, stokers - it's all there, and it's not uncomplicated. First and foremost, it requires a cooperative team of two. I think Mrs. Wheelie and I could do it. I emailed her to pitch the idea. She replied:

You are either
1) having a bout of amnesia (do the words "double kayak" ring a bell?),
2) kidding, or
3) in bike withdrawal because it's been a couple of months since you've
bought a new one.

Three for three. Point 1: The wife and I are both independent and stubborn. This works just fine except in situations where we are literally bound together, like when we paddled a double kayak on a trip once. We managed well enough, but we both strongly preferred the days when we had single boats. The double is also known as the divorce boat, and a tandem seems like the logical wheeled cousin to that. Point 2: I'm sort of kidding but sort of not. Riding a tandem will never cease to be a ridiculous even if we're the ones riding, but as I explained earlier tandems do have benefits. Point 3: Yes, I change bikes frequently. This particular bike isn't technically new, so it doesn't technically count.

In the end, I'm not going to buy this tandem. We're sort of in the process of moving. We don't need any more stuff. Single bikes are just fine, and point number 1 is completely applicable. Most importantly, Mrs Wheelie and I are satisfied with our current level of weirdness. We want to look forward to the days when we are older and weirder, but getting a tandem now would just accelerate that oddifying process a little too much right now. However, I fully expect the day to come when we'll be cruising in style.

1 comment:

Ali B. said...

Great post... Divorce boat - I like that! :)