It’s all about compromise

I have thought of a synonym for partnership:  Compromise. Because essentially that is what a partnership always is. Whether it’s marriage, a business partnership or two people cycle touring together the greatest challenge to success lies in the level of compromise that can be achieved.

Gill and I spent last weekend at the first ever Cycle Touring Festival at Waddow Hall near Clitheroe and it was amazing how often this topic popped up in conversation. There were many touring couples there, some of whom gave inspiring talks about journeys half way, or even all the way, around the world. Nobody talked about falling out, though obviously we may have been missing those that did, but they all agreed that touring as a couple is not dissimilar to marriage or a partnership in that it’s a long learning curve and it ain’t easy.

By the time we got back to our starting point on our tour last year there was some question as to whether Gill would ever get back on a bike again and this caused me to think long and hard about why that was and if I was in some way responsible. It was obvious that she had become exhausted after 3,500 miles of riding and coupled with a lot of pain she experienced in her hands it was all just too much for her. Why didn’t I have these problems? We talked a lot around the issue and eventually we came to the conclusion that we hadn’t managed to compromise enough. Or to be more honest, I hadn’t managed to compromise enough. Day after day I had been enjoying what to me was a reasonable and not too arduous pace and distance whilst Gill had been pushing herself just that bit harder to keep up. My compromise was probably waiting regularly at the top of hills whilst Gill’s was riding harder than she really wanted to all the time. It wasn’t fair or balanced.

Re-grouping at the top of the hill.

Re-grouping at the top of the hill.

We met a cyclist at John O’ Groats who had completed the ‘end to end’ ride of around a thousand miles in eleven days.

Not learning lessons at John O' Groats

Not learning lessons at John O’ Groats

He was totally exhausted and bitterly disappointed in the experience because he hadn’t enjoyed it. It turned out that having originally conceived of the idea as a solo effort he had subsequently agreed to ride with a younger friend who had totally outpaced him every day. Rather than split up or compromise this chap had pushed himself to the limit day after day and as a consequence his dream ride from Land’s End to John O’ Groats had been ruined. What a terrible waste of a dream. Sadly, even listening to his story a third of the way through our trip we were completely unaware that we were doing the same thing, albeit to a lesser degree.

Loading up our bikes to cycle to the festival last week couldn’t have made me happier. The fact that Gill is now talking enthusiastically about another big tour is music to my ears but I am more conscious than ever of the need for compromise. The answer may lie in a tandem but I am not yet convinced. Just about every aspect of a cycle touring trip is a compromise, from which route to take to what to have for dinner at night. We seem to manage about ninety percent of it really well so if we could just crack the pace and distance conundrum I think we would have a winning partnership. We have managed sixteen years of marriage, surely a few thousand miles of cycling together in harmony can’t be that hard can it?

Somebody at the festival thought a good solution would be for me to carry a lot more of the heavier kit on my bike to reduce Gill’s load. I’m not convinced. You can take this compromising lark a bit too far you know.

I'm not convinced this is a good idea.

I’m not convinced this is the answer.

There are no immediate plans for a long tour so we have plenty of time to get it right. The kit from last week has been cleaned and sorted is ready to go. I’m looking forwarding to finding our solution. It’s all about balance, in more ways than I thought.


10 thoughts on “It’s all about compromise

  1. Getting the pace and distance right is definitely the challenge, especially when the partners have different abilities, for whatever reason.

    We haven’t yet attempted a tour of the length of yours, but what seemed to work for our Scotland trip last summer was:

    * I planned the itinerary. Not only did this mean that it was the slower, weaker rider in charge of how far we went each day, but also I got to plan when and where to take a rest day. Also, I became very familiar with our route and had a good idea of what to expect in terms of gradient. Managing expectations is the key, I believe. (It also helped that I had driven much of the route before, 10 years previously in a 602cc-engined Citroen which, it turned out, gave me a surprisingly accurate feel about hills.)

    * We did divide up the weight unevenly! About 1/3 to 2/3, I believe. This handicap did make a different to how much time Adam gained on me going up the hills… and how much time we spent at each re-group, admiring the views, drinking, nibbling and chatting. Win win.

    We do have a tandem and we love it. We’ve never toured with it but it’s wonderful on long rides and I’d definitely consider going on tour with one, though maybe not the one we have.

    Good to hear Gill is recovering from the trauma. As for her hands, at risk of asking a stupid question I’m sure you’ve heard before: has she considered a proper bike fit?


  2. Thanks for such a comprehensive response Rebecca. The thought of planning the itinerary makes me nervous but I can see that getting more involved is a good idea. We did discuss it more as time went on. We have learnt a lot about ourselves since we came back and I think the balance would be different on any future trips.

    As for the bike fit, I have a Hewitt which was built for me which is why I was so disappointed to have the problems. Since we came back I have taken it locally to our Bike Magician and he has measured and made some adjustments. I’m reserving judgment but from the short Bank Holiday trip I still feel that drop handlebars are probably not for me.

    Tony already carries more weight on the bike than me, I’m interested in the tandem idea and hope to give it a go sooner rather than later.

    I am happy to be back in the cycling world which is a good thing as there was a period where I really didn’t think I would be.

    • I will be interested to hear how you take this forward, Gill. I can’t ride with straight bars, even if they are slightly flared – something just puts my wrist at the wrong angle. Drop bars are a whole ‘nuther ball game as they say. What works for me is to “toe in” brake levers quite a lot! And my city bike has very swept back bars.

  3. Hi Gill and Tony,
    We met you at the Festival, I think it was during the tandem presentation, but didn’t get much of a chance to chat – there was so much going on! Like so many of the people we met you were very unassuming – little did we know of your achievements!
    We’ve never done any touring, but it’s something we’re keen to try, especially now after the festival, which was our first ever ‘cycle camp’ trip having biked it the 33 miles from home in West Lancs on our tandem. We bought ours from JD Tandems at Gargrave. The staff/owners couldn’t be more helpful and friendly. Nothing is too much trouble and they have a good selection of tandems available for test rides. We were out on one of there bikes all day on our second test ride.
    Tandems don’t suit all couples but we took to it straight away and absolutely love it. Not only does it ‘neutralise’ the difference in rider abilities but it creates a real togetherness. You work as a team, helping each other and there’s a different sense of achievement when, for example, you’ve had a particularly hard ride or challenging climb.
    There are downsides of course. Tandems are less easy to transport, expensive and slower up hill than solo bikes, (though they are also faster down hill and even on the flat.)
    JD don’t make specific touring tandems, there’s are described as being suitable for ‘light touring’ but a good test ride will give you an idea if it’s for you or not…….
    Cheers for now,
    John and Tracey

    • Thanks for the comments John and Tracey. I think you will find that you have actually done some touring. All you have to do is repeat what you did at the weekend and keep repeating it and before you know it you will be half way round the world! Lovely to hear from you. All the best, Tony and Gill.

  4. Hi Tony and Gill
    we are still cycling together after 44 years of blessed marriage and we are still learning to make compromises. I think as we grow older that change occurs and so the need to compromise more , increases. We have 2 tandems but barely use them now. DH finds that he gets more shoulder pain. However, on our touring bikes we both have butterfly bars and they make a huge difference so maybe we will have these fitted to a tandem . it is something we think about but like to ride solo. DH realises that I cant go as far or as fast as him so waits patiently or gives me a push now and again. As for weight distribution , he has always taken more of the load than me but I have always done he planning. he says without me , he would never have gone anywhere!!
    It was great to meet you at the Festival, even if it was very briefly and I do hope there is another.

  5. Meant to reply to this a while ago: have you had a look at a Pino style tandem, which has the stronger rider at the back in a normal upright position, and the other (is that what they call the stoker?) in front in a recumbent position.From where she/he can take photos, navigate,put on the music, reach the snack bag etc, but primarily see where they’re going and feel more like they are riding out front.
    French couple Greg and Regine (their blog is called Cycloterriens) just went round the world on one and loved it
    PS My custom made Roberts tourer also gets my hands, and I have some permanent loss of sensation now, but I noticed that I had less trouble on my off the peg Lapierre road bike, which had wider bars. I think the compression on the narrower bars comes from my upper arms, which are forced in towards my body more. The Lapierre has a wider more open angle for my shoulders. So I have bought new bars for the custom Roberts, but not been for a long ride on it yet, so don’t know if it will help.
    I find that all so called women’s bike are made with too long a stem, so I changed the stem on the Lapierre at the beginning, for a much shorter one (it’s actually a mountain bike version to get the size needed) which means less stretch to get on to the bars and a more relaxed riding position. Hope this makes sense.

    • Hi Jan, interesting comments about the handlebars. Mine are narrower. We’ve changed the stem for an adjustable one and I haven’t had much time to test it out yet. Maybe if that doesn’t work we should consider changing the handlebars. Recumbent tandem also an interesting thought.

      • Hi Gill and Tony – are you both OK? am missing your blog posts!
        Perhaps you are on another adventure…
        Best to you both
        Jan Walker

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