Do couples who cycle together stay together?

Valentine's Day - love it or hate it, we've all got stories when it comes to riding with our companions, you told our Agony Aunt, Rebecca Charlton all about them

February 14 fast approaches, and we're feasting upon your Valentines anecdotes. We asked members of the Cycling UK's Women in Cycling facebook group if they ever have flaming rows with their partners, whether they or their partner encourage each other to ride together, or whether they feel better riding solo. They answered empathetically, hilariously and insightfully. 

So, let’s start with the positives. A partner can of course be wonderfully encouraging, inspiring you to embrace two wheels more regularly, as one reader found: "My partner loves cycling and re-introduced me to it in the first lockdown. He has encouraged me to push myself and go further. Now it's quite a regular thing that we go cycling together at the weekend. He is happy to match my slower pace and encourages me when I just want to give up.

"I would say it's been a really positive experience for us and fits with our ethos of trying to be more sustainable too so we are cycling the school run and to each others houses too."

She continued: "Whether it’s a partner, friend or family member, I’ve always found communication to be key in harmonious riding at different ability levels. Choosing a day to head out together when there’s no pressure on either side, when there’s not a certain training requirement or expectation on the ride means you can purely enjoy each others’ company, or indeed the practical benefits and freedom."

Joan Sherriff Alexander met her husband through an online cycling forum

During these unprecedented times cycling has played a huge part when it comes to our mental health too, noted by this lady: "My husband and I love cycling together. During the pandemic it's been the one thing that's kept us happy and sane! We road ride and mountain-bike together... and the greatest thing is that I am now faster than him!

“We always motivate and encourage each other, and I probably wouldn't cycle as much as I do if it wasn't for him. I'm a nurse and he's a social worker, and after the stress of the day, it's always good to get out on our bikes for some mindfulness."

Another reader found her harmony on family rides after road riding didn't exactly lead to tranquillity: “My husband introduced me to cycling, and we do family cycles together, but I don't road ride with him. He's too fast and has no patience for the fact I'm rubbish at hills.”

This, of course is so common. If you're both wanting to push yourselves and would like to head out together, it's important to acknowledge the differences in your ability or fitness level. The stronger rider can always throw in a couple of hill reps and come back down for their companion, for example. There are ways to even out the effort without anyone getting cold waiting at the top! 

This couple have that honed to perfection: “My wife Ruth and I cycle together. I re-introduced Ruth to cycling when we met. It's now our main hobby and pre-coronavirus we had been cycle touring in Europe - a week long Brompton tour in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2018, and before that a week (on 'normal' bikes) in Brittany in 2017. Initially Ruth was slower than me, so we decided that she would cycle in front and set the pace. Now I struggle to keep up with her on the flat!

“We are lucky because we both do it for pleasure, not speed. One of our motivations is wildlife spotting, and we;ve enjoyed some fabulous rides. As well as our usual rides from home we have also enjoyed day rides on loads of Scottish islands, exploring in France, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands - we also crashed into each other once on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides as a white tailed sea eagle flew over us. We ended up in the roadside ditch laughing in amazement! Cycling together has given us 10 years of amazing adventures together so far. Long may it continue.”

Just like Ruth and her wife do it, the slightly weaker rider goes in front to determine the pace and add motivation, or on a road ride for example, it often only requires the stronger rider to knock the average pace back a small amount in order to keep their partner on the wheel. This makes for a much happier ride for both parties, rather than shooting off up the road and having to stop and wait completely. And, it means much better chat when you’re not shouting into the ether! 

It often still feels like a good workout for the person in front as they’re in the wind and the rider at the back gets plenty of gains, in every sense, sitting on the wheel. Be mindful as the incline increases, it may feel like nothing for one rider and send the other into the red, making for a miserable ride experience. Combat that by choosing flatter riders as a pairing or ask that person in front to be aware they’ll need to start backing off at the sight of a changing gradient.

Rachel Bennett and her partner try to outdo each other with their bikes

And remember, your other-half can always make a brilliant wind-break: “Love riding with my other half. He either rides in front to break the wind, or rides behind and out a bit to protect me from the traffic.” 

This sentiment was echoed by many: “I’ve cycled with my other half for the last 24 years, from cycle touring in Europe, daily commutes to work, raising and pulling 3 boys on our bikes round Orkney and the Western Isles. There's no one else's wheel I'd rather be on in a head wind.” 

Another reader shares more of the positives that this wonderful sport can bring: “My husband is known as half man half bicycle, as he rides every day. When I met him ten years ago he was looking for someone to cycle with and I was looking for a sailing companion. I taught him to sail and he drags me round Audax rides. At the moment I am poorly with breast cancer treatment, so he is letting me ride on the back of the tandem to even us up a bit. I love it!” 

And then came the hilarity, the niggles, the proof that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on every couple’s ride. If you’re reading this having retuned from a ride, barely speaking to your ride companion, and wanting to throw their (or your) bike in a skip, well, you’re not alone. 

“I only just tolerate cycling with the husband. Much prefer going out on my own. And don’t even get me started when he takes a wrong turning on a ride that I’m ‘leading’. Oh yes...I do get a bit shouty and sweary,” said one member.

Another responds: "My husband is a bit annoying as he sits behind me letting me do the grafting and the navigation."

And it’s not just the roadies: “I get told quite often 'you can do it with a bit of a run up'. I can't, he is younger, fitter and stronger than me. Also if the bike has any kind of mechanical, even a stuck twig, I'm eyed suspiciously as if it's my fault. But I'm much better at navigation, and he hates it if I question him when he's leading. Otherwise, we get on pretty well!” 

The best love is bike love

Last but not least, cycling with others could lead to someone popping the big question, and I don’t mean ‘can I fix your puncture?’. Anna has done lots of cycle touring with partners in the past which often resulted in tears or arguments - mainly due to differences in fitness levels. Her current partner however, is the perfect cycle buddy: "We did the Portuguese Camino with zero arguments, matched pace, super chilled and he let me navigate. It resulted in a yes to a marriage proposal at the end!”

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. Whoever you choose as your exercise plus one, I hope it’s harmonious or at least hilarious. I’ll be at home on the turbo with my perfect companion - my Zwift avatar, when she can’t keep up, I only have myself to blame.