This year marked the 50th year of the Tandem Weekend, held annually on Remembrance weekend. Once again, it was well supported with 40 tandems, among them, a superior machine crewed by Brooking and Moore – with an brief appearance by Robocop.
Early Saturday morning, after a bacon sandwich at base, we loaded the tandem trike with overnight bags and headed off to the start in Roydon seven miles away. We got out of Waltham Abbey and climbing a hill near our destination, the chain jumped and in our efforts to try and get it back on, at the same time pointing the wheel into the roadside to prevent the trike from rolling down the hill, disaster struck and the wheel was pringled.
We called international rescue to deliver a spare and meanwhile walked the mile or so to Roydon Marina. While Mark waited for the new wheel at the entrance, I hiked down the canal road and got the overnight bags in the following van and filled the bottles. Eventually the new wheel arrived and we were off, although having missed the rest, we were already at the back. A place we were going to become somewhat accustomed to.
We were headed for the Five Bells pub in Colne Engaine, via Felsted, where we stopped for some supplies. We sat on a bench watching the world go by and were entertained by the extreme efforts of one rather large lady driver to extricate herself from the bus stop space and turn using not only all the road regardless of what was in it but also the curb and pavement on opposite sides of the road.
As we were going off we discovered that the front mech had sheared in half – that explained the harsh clonk noise just before the shop – so Mark removed it and set us up so that we had the use of the big ring. For a while this worked but with the chain jumping from ring to ring, any steady riding was near impossible. We managed to get ourselves to the lunch where Mark swapped the big ring and middle rings around in an attempt to lessen the chances of the chain jumping.
Lunch was a delicious beef stew with suet dumpling and veg followed by apple crumble and custard. For us, there was no leisurely feast though as both courses had to be shovelled down quickly if we were going to have any chance of riding in the main group.
We set off from the pub and up a hill and immediately into problems. The chain jumped over the big ring and jammed itself between the inner ring and the frame. Having had this happen several times in the space of a hundred yards, and the chain becoming more difficult to free, and not much light left if were to carry on constantly having to overturn the trike to unjam the chain, we made the joint decision to be sensible and – oh the shame – get in the van for the last 20 miles to Ipswich where we hoped to be able to get a new front mech and cable and join the ride again in the morning.
Van driver George kindly drove us into Ipswich where we spotted a cycle shop that was still open after 5.30pm and Mark came away with the bits we hoped would stop the chain jamming even if it meant we only had the big ring. So, before heading for a much needed bath and warmth, we were out on the hotel forecourt fixing a new front mech and cable. With no lube, we improvised. We became quite adept at surgeon and sister – me passing Mark the instruments and holding the light while he performed the surgery. After not too long and not too much cussing, it looked like we would be in business for the following day as long as we used the big ring.
The tandem was wheeled into a banqueting hall which served as recovery room while we went to scrub the muck off ourselves.
Dinner was well earned and a reunion with friends in the lounge afterwards, greatly enjoyed. Having had a very early start, it wasn’t a late night and there was some optimism that the next day would at least allow us to at least arrive at lunch before everyone else had finished.
Early in the morning it was pouring which didn’t bode well but by the time breakfast had been eaten and bags packed, the day was waking up and the sun promised a bright morning at least.
We joined the mass for the 10am reveille, along with a Viking raiding party and a couple of nuns. With Robocop at the helm we again joined the pack and for a few miles were able to more or less keep up. Then the chain decided that despite the efforts to ensure it didn’t, it leapt onto the granny ring. We decided the best thing was to leave it there and so began the longest ever tandem trike ride using only the 24 tooth inner ring. We prayed for gradual or even fairly steep ups or very steep downs where we’d be able to do something other than egg whisk our way across Suffolk and Essex. Flats with the wind behind, became the enemy as we quickly ran out of gears and had to freewheel till we’d lost enough momentum to pedal again to any effect.
Things were going well and we even managed to arrive at the designated stop at Boxted Cross in time to join the cavalry in the Remembrance Day silence. It was an emotional two minutes. Eighty normally jabbering, excitable tandemists in total silence, a moment made far more poignant by the sounds of the Last Post coming across the fields from the nearby village. I for one was not dry eyed.
From there it was a very grotty, laney ride at times to the lunch stop in Mount Bures. I was glad Mark was pilot and not me as the single track, potted surfaces with huge puddles hiding treacherous potholes, required a judgement only 30-odd years of piloting a tandem trike can provide. Just four miles from lunch we punctured, far more fortunate than most, this was our first. It was quickly sorted out and off we went in anticipation of actually making it to lunch at lunch time.
Then things went wrong. To cut a long diversion short we added about 11 miles to the four by taking a wrong turn at a junction and arrived at lunch, once again last. On the positive side, this cut Saturday’s deficit of miles by at least half so things were beginning to balance out and the drive of shame of the previous day did not seem so shameful.
On our way into the lunch stop the front tyre showed signs of the slow puncture so Mark replaced the tube and we managed to stuff the lunch and dessert in in time to leave with the group to the sound of the trumpet reveille. With no more than the granny ring, we were soon off the back again but in the sunshine, and with lovely scenery, it did not dampen the spirits.
We left that to what passed as a route sheet. With nothing more than a string of village names and no clue as to direction to take, the ride from Mount Bures to Matching Tye became something of a treasure hunt. It was only due to a combined local knowledge that we were able to get going in anything like the right direction in the daylight. After that, Mark’s in-built homing device got us more or less on track with a few more added miles to knock the deficit of miles into a positive.
Just to add to the excitement on a tiny lane, it the pitch dark, having had to go slightly off road to get out of the way of what could have passed as a tank with a driver clearly not used to sharing any road space, in the process of getting back onto the road, the gears wold not change and we realised we’d lost a jockey wheel. After an initial cursing and looking, Mark started on making plan while I returned to scan the road from where our tracks had met the grass in the hope of finding the wheel. Just as I was about to give this up as a lost cause and go and hold the light for Mark who was trying to fix a repair and hold a light at the same time, there in the road was the main part of the wheel. I felt like Gollum having found the preciousssss and shouted to Mark, I’ve found it. Great excitement and relief ensued. We were minus the brushes and bolt but one was nicked from the front mudguard and after some more surgery in the dark under the light of a cateye, the repair was made and off we went.
After a very circuitous route and both of us somewhat fed up and starting to flag, we at last found our way to Matching Tye and the Fox pub – with two tandems still outside. We decided food and a hot drink was required and spent what was one of the highlights of the trip in the warmth, with good food and the company of four other tandemists.
After an hour and everything eaten, we once again went out onto the night and trundled our way to Roydon. My words that perhaps this time we could arrive in Roydon on three wheels rather than dragging three wheels, were spoken rather too soon as again, on an incline we lost a jockey. Once again, we managed to find it but this time we also need the bolt. Mark went back to start seeing what he could scavenge from the trike that might fit while I retraced our route with the light to see if I could find the tiny bolt. After a while, there it was. I shouted to Mark that I’d found it. “You’re joking!”, he shouted, No! So, within a short while, we were up and running again. As we were about to head off a driver stopped and asked if we were okay or needed any tools. No thank you, we’re fine and off we went, arriving in Roydon, intact. There we picked up the overnight bags and lashed these to the rack on top of the already-packed saddle bag while I lugged the trophies delivered in Ipswich to be returned to the club in a rucksack on my back. So, quite heavily laden, we left Roydon headed for Waltham Abbey. As we left the marina, one of the tandem pairs we’d left in the pub, came in. So, we weren’t last.
In the final few miles to Waltham Abbey we reached a descent which we flew down at ever increasing speed. It was dark, the road quiet and smooth and the night still. The exhilaration of it hadn’t changed since my first go on the back of a tandem trike – this same one – three years before and all the problems we’d had melted away with the sheer thrill of it.
So, despite the longbarrow having eaten a front wheel, some chainrings and a front mech as well as spitting – and us then finding – its jockey wheels – twice, a front brake being rather too intimate with the front wheel, two punctures and many, many additional miles, we still made it.
162.6 miles completed. 110.6 miles of those on a 24-tooth granny ring…. Proof that trikies never pack, or are simply incurable lunatics
Jane “Gurl Trikie” Moore