Has lockdown changed these pedalling partnerships for the better or worse?
The lucky ones
We realise we are some of the luckiest people currently living through the pandemic. Our adult children are both living independently, we don't have to do homeschooling, we have paid work, and thank goodness, easy access to bikes and nice places locally to go cycling. Most importantly of all, we are currently in excellent health after Rol's admissions to hospital with two separate serious illnesses in the past 18 months.
But, like many others, not only are we living and working together 24/7, happily (mostly) sharing an office space in our dining room, we are also each other's sole exercise partner, having decided to stop riding with friends when the third lockdown started, as Rol is now classified in the extremely clinically vulnerable group.
So what is it like to ride with the the same person regularly, perhaps daily, when group riding is no longer permitted? Has it led to the wheels coming off the relationship or will a happy harmony of handlebars last post-pandemic? We decided to speak to different pairings from a range of Cycling UK groups to find out:
Roland and Julie
Happily, cycling together in lockdown is mostly brilliant. We've got into a good routine of riding first thing in the morning, completing a 10 to 15-mile circuit before work in lieu of daily commutes to the office. I prefer a small group ride anyway and, knowing each other so well, we can quickly decide on a route but vary it if we feel like it.
There's no longer the responsibility of leading others and the accompanying anxiety of getting lost or going at the 'wrong' pace; we can opt for road, off-road or a combination of the two if we prefer, cancel if it's cold and wet or head out in the spur of the moment, if conditions improve. But I do miss chatting with other people, the different perspective they can bring to the ride and the new route suggestions, the banter in the pub that glues the social bonds together and, of course, the interesting post-ride gossip.
Rol says: "I ride differently with others to when we go out just the two of us. When I ride with a group of male friends or a mixed group, I do often ride a bit like a teenager - no disrespect to teenagers - in the sense that I may ‘muck about’ more, overtaking or riding closer to others, that type of thing. When I cycle with Julie, I’m a bit more conscious of not doing that because it can unsettle her a bit.
"My mountain biking friends down the years have probably been about 80% male. There is always a bit of egging-on and daring-do, even if some of us are in our fifties and sixties. There's also a bit of competitiveness as well. I don’t tend to take so much notice of where I am going if in a group when someone else is leading, I’m too busy chatting and having fun riding. When Julie and I ride together, I’m still chatting and having fun, but trying to think more about the route so she doesn’t have to lead all the time.
"Cycling with another person is a very social experience, even if you can’t talk all the time due to riding and road conditions. You have a shared sense of adventure and can swap ideas on routes. It's more practical and safer too in case of emergencies or mechanicals. Also, if there are two of you, your companion can watch your bike while you nip in the bushes for a wee!
"Seriously, though, I think it's great for our relationship to share an interest like cycling. If only one of us were a cyclist, then it could mean a lot of leisure time apart or feeling pressure to not ride as much as we might like to."
I definitely agree with him there. I think we also complement each other pretty well: he fixes the mechanicals (I know, it's pretty remiss of me not to get my hands dirty), but I am usually the one who knows the way and thinks of new and interesting places to go. However, sometimes this can lead to discord, especially if he wants to lead and then hates it if I point out alternative or better routes! I, on the other hand, can find his habit of riding next to me whenever possible a bit unnerving, especially if it's on a road with a fair bit of passing traffic.
Sam and Daria
Cycling UK's communications manager, Sam Jones and his Italian partner, Daria suffer similar issues. Sam says: "While of course you’re allowed to ride two abreast, sometimes it’s just inevitable, you’ll play the dropping back/surging forward game as you move into single file. That’s fairly frustrating when it fractures your conversation for the umpteenth time". He adds: "And somehow it’s usually my task to clean and make sure the bikes are shipshape condition for the next ride."
While for Daria, there is the not-so-small matter of Sam's superior fitness to contend with: "Sometimes I have to deal with his happy-go-lucky whistling, whilst behind him there’s me, struggling for air in my lungs, completely drenched in sweat, desperately hoping that a last push on those pedals would finally take me over the peak of that hill and not kill me for good! How does he do it?"
But regular riding with the same partner is not always as disharmonious as Sam's whistling. In fact, for many duos, the time they are able to spend cycling in lockdown has provided them with the opportunity for quality time together, away from the anxiety of everyday life, and added an extra dimension to their riding. This is perhaps especially important for couples who spend all day, every day together as well.
As Daria says: "Going for a bike ride together allows us to have time for ourselves and our thoughts and chats, away from any kind of modern distractions such as phones, tablets, computers etc. We almost get into our own little world where we can finally be alone-together, and most of our ingenious ideas for saving the world come together during our daily rides."
Mark and Eric
For good friends Mark and Eric, both roadies, cycling with each other has been great. Originally from the north-west of England, they met through Cycling UK-affiliated LGBT cycling group CycleOut London, and there are "absolutely no cons to mention".
Eric says: "Mark has proved an excellent companion, even though left to his own devices, his pace is much quicker than mine. In fact, we’ve both improved our fitness." They have been riding together nearly every weekend during the various lockdowns, sometimes venturing as far as Windsor Great Park, but more recently, in the stricter lockdown, they’ve done a 50km ride to Sandown racecourse in Esher.
Will they continue riding together after lockdown? "Of course" Mark says.
"It's a permanent fixture for me now, riding just isn’t the same without Eric leading, and what would I eat at lunch without his Parma ham on ciabatta with lettuce posh sandwiches? He shops at Waitrose since he moved south."
Robert and Garrett
Robert and Garrett are close friends from CycleOut London, too. They've been enjoying a strengthened bicycle bond in lockdown. Garrett is benefiting from Robert's experience as a ride leader and discovering new routes together, and, because they ride at a similar pace, he says cycling together is "easy", though they have not been getting out riding as much during the colder winter months.
Carlos and Neil
Life partners Carlos and Neil, also from CycleOut London, have discovered that lockdown has had the benefit of whetting their appetite for cycling as a couple. Carlos normally rides with his cycling groups and is a fast and fit club rider, but as he is not allowed to mix with other households during the pandemic, he says that riding with Neil is not a poor substitute, as it is "perfect."
Previously, when riding with Neil, they went at a slower pace and avoided the hills. Now, however, Neil has got an e-bike, so they ride everywhere together - every day if it's not raining - which normally equates to about four times a week. Their favourite route is from Surbiton to Laleham along the Thames and back via Bushy Park and Kingston.
However, there are some minor drawbacks to the new arrangement, with Carlos not feeling so free to "weave around the traffic" as he would do on his own, and, because he doesn't drink tea or coffee himself, he sometimes feels like he is waiting an awfully long time for Neil to finish his essential caffeine fix. But, they are definitely planning to continue riding together and are even dreaming of many longer adventures, including riding London to Paris, after the pandemic.
Kalsum and Shabnum
Kalsum, from another London-based Cycling UK-affiliate group, Cycle Sisters - largely run by and for Muslim women - says her chosen riding buddy is friend Shabnum. They only started riding together at the start of the crisis and Kalsum says that for her and Shabnum: "Cycling together is a great relief from the pandemic, but we won't be stopping when it's over."
She explains that being with someone else is not only nice, but also motivates her to cycle further. They mainly road ride or sometimes hit the gravel, with their favourite route taking them from Woodford Green via Valentine's Park to Buckingham Palace.
Zameera and Saif
Zameera, who also usually rides with Cycle Sisters, is now only going out with her husband Saif and their children - not just for the exercise, but also for the health and environmental benefits it offers.
She says: "Cycling is our new way of enjoying the time we have as a family, and together as spouses. It has improved our mental wellbeing, both as a couple and as a family, and helps break up the monotonous daily routine."
Before the pandemic, they had hardly any time to ride together due to Saif working late and kids' clubs and activities, but Zameera says: "We have seen more of London and our local area on our bikes than we ever did before. We try to avoid using the car and cycle for leisure, exercise, shopping and errands, which is a great way of saving money on petrol."
In fact, the family has enjoyed cycling together so much during lockdown, they are even thinking of organising a family cycling holiday when restrictions permit. For now, though, their favourite routes include trips to Epping Forest, the Olympic Park and into Central London.
Yusra and Faisal
Fellow Cycle Sisters club member Yusra, pictured with husband Faisal below, has also been riding with her family more, going out at least five days a week: "Cycling with someone else is encouraging and helps us perform better, such as going a greater distance and helping each other on climbs, resulting in overall greater performance."
Salma and family
Cycle instructor Salma, who normally rides with Cycle Sisters too, is also cycling a lot more with her friends and family since lockdown. She's started taking her two boys, aged seven and nine out for a short time each day to build their confidence cycling on the road and "because the children are also enjoying being able to explore by bike". She says: "We're racking up the miles and our health is also benefiting. It's a win-win."
During the second lockdown, she cycled alone a lot to build up stamina and miles, trying to hit daily targets, or sometimes rode with her siblings. Now it's harder to get out in this third lockdown, Salma has started riding with her husband, something they wouldn't normally do without the children; they are using Zwift to set themselves a weekly goal to complete on their indoor trainer.
For Salma, although she does enjoy solo cycling, there are no downsides to riding with a partner: "I love to have a natter and catch up and it's nice to get away from daily chores!" She adds that if she's heading out to do 'big miles', she also needs a buddy that's going out for the miles too. One of her favourite rides is going through the marshes near her home in East London, to Walthamstow Wetlands, saying: "I love greenery and water. I just love nature! I also love to cycle around Victoria Park. I’ve got lots more to explore."
Salma thinks that the pandemic has actually slowed us all down, and made her prioritise health and family connections a bit more, but she still has some ambitious goals to work towards: undertaking some charity rides in the future, hopefully to Cambridge and Paris, and possibly even further.
Gill and John
Cycling UK members Gill, and her husband John have been enjoying getting out on their tandem more during lockdown. Normally, they ride with South Devon CTC, either on solo bikes or the tandem, Gill having taken up cycling only when she met John, who had been widowed, eight years ago. They even rode tandem to their wedding breakfast!
They find that riding the tandem in lockdown has helped them re-evaluate what it is they love about cycling: free from the pressure of having to be somewhere at a certain time to join a group ride, or get to a specific coffee stop, they are noticing much more along the way.
For example, in the first lockdown, they took part in South Devon’s iSpysolation game, which gave them a focus to their rides by listing things - such as gnomes - to look out for en route. Now, they are taking part in the group's Alphabet game, looking for items beginning with a certain letter.
Of course, the tandem makes it easier for the duo to spot things while they ride and allows for more social interaction than on solo bikes; it also obviously solves the problem of riders being at different levels. In fact, Gill stresses that all pairings should try riding a tandem as you "have to work in partnership" and, as the stoker, she is certainly not ‘cheating’ but in fact is the “powerhouse at the back”.
Post-lockdown, Gill and John plan to continue their tandem jaunts as they’ve realised how much they both get out of them.
Send us your story
It seems that the pandemic, whilst limiting much of what we are able to do, has in some ways at least given a few of us a new lease of cycling life - while we are missing our regular riding companions and favourite haunts, it's shown us that perhaps all we need to do to find the perfect pedalling partners is look no further than friends and family.
Who are you cycling with? Tell us your stories of lockdown life as a cyclist.