Thursday, August 19, 2010

Riding tandems in Hong Kong

Today I had the day off, so I was rudely awaken at eight by a thunderstorm, and then rudely awaken again at nine by another thunderstorm, and rudely awaken for a third time at 9:30 by m girlfriend telling me that I couldn't be a slugabed. And then it was off to Tai Wai to hire a tandem.

I've done one off-road ride in Hong Kong, and although that was quite exciting, it can't quite compare for white-knuckle terror with trying to steer a clapped out tandem with bald tyres, brakes that only hint at speed reduction, and a headset so loose you can tighten it with thumb and forefinger. (Not to mention the seat quick-release, which the guy in the shop 'adjusted' with a large hammer, or the gears (jammed in top) or the chain (slack) or the cranks (not lined up, so with every pedal rotation my girlfriend would kick me in the back of one ankle.)

Orange 66
Here's my mountain bike. To imagine the tandem, just coat it in black exhaust paint, weld another seat on the back, stick a basket on the front, and ... well, you get the idea.

I'm not trying to suggest that the shops in Tai Wai don't adequately maintain the bikes they rent out. (Although I think anyone who suggests you dismount and walk down a shallow incline doesn't have the strongest faith in their machines' brakes.) That would suggest they might be dangerous, when the far greater danger is all the other people on the bike lane, who swerve back and forth, speed up, slow down or just stop for a chat with alacrity and no apparent awareness of their environment.

Or indeed the bike lane, which is broken up at twenty-yard intervals by steel bollards for you to mash yourself into. It's almost as if it were designed by somebody who didn't like bicycles.

And that's not the case, given the lovely view of the highway as you cycle alongside it. Mm, warm, fresh diesel fumes!

To be fair, it's not that bad a route from Tai Wai to Tai Po, even if the estimated two-and-a-half hour distance turned out to be doable in an hour. I discovered that tandems are easier to ride if the captain is forty pounds heavier than the stoker, even if my girlfriend would panic when I put the bike up to ram speed and the chain inevitably fell off. There's a nice view of the sea to your right, which the stoker gets to enjoy more than the captain, concentrating as you have to on not stacking into one of the mobile chicanes bumbling down the path.

It's also almost completely flat: ascending on a tandem is not fun, and descending is only really enjoyable if you know the bike might stop, so it's ideal for civilian bicycle shenanigans (rather than when I want to armour up and go mano a mano with a pine tree). I was starving after an hour, so we hopped in a cab and headed to Sha Tin for a delicious local meal of ... Triple O's burgers. Which taste better than they do in Causeway Bay, surprisingly enough.


Anonymous said...

I really do need a photo of the tandem in order to visualise this scene properly, preferably a shot taken as you hurtle down some sort of incline madly pumping the brakes.

Mr Cushtie said...

I'm afraid I can't give you exactly what you desire, but try to combine these two images and you'll get the idea:

Does that help?

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