It didn't take many simultaneous bike rides before Carol and Alan McBride realized that, when they were riding together, they weren't really riding together.
Oh, they might have headed out together and rolled up together, but in between :
"He's so much stronger," Carol McBride said. "On singles, he'd keep within my field of vision, then he'd circle around so I could catch up. But there was not really any way we could carry on a conversation. I kind of always felt sorry for him having to wait around for me."
Carol still sympathizes for her husband, but for a different reason.
The Lawrence couple has all but scrapped rides together on two bikes in favor of rides together on one.
"I can keep up with him now. No matter how hard he rides, I can keep up with him," Carol McBride said. "Now I feel sorry for him because he has to pull me."
She says that with a self-deprecating chuckle, but apparently it's an ongoing joke.
During one ride, the McBrides were headed uphill, and Alan, up front in the tandem's "captain" position, was huffing and puffing, while Carol, in the back seat or "stoker" position, was chatting merrily away.
"I got busted," Carol recalls. "He said, 'How come I'm out of breath, and you're still able to talk?' I learned to stop talking when we're going uphill."
Then, a little later in the conversation, as Carol explains how tandem riding could be good for a person with a visual impairment, she admits to another ride during which she didn't pull her weight.
"One time," she said, "I fell asleep back there. I obviously wasn't putting in my part then."
The great equalizer
Division-of-labor differences aside, the McBrides are thrilled to have discovered tandem cycling close to two decades ago.
As Alan recalls, the two became avid cyclists back in the early '80s, "just as a form of exercise."
And while they enjoyed cycling singles together, there was an obvious disparity in their abilities.
"When I ride, I ride faster than my wife does," Alan said, "so we kind of decided to ride a tandem so we could do it together and stay together. It's been a true test of marriage."
Alan McBride, 58, says the two got their first tandem bicycle - a used, rusted model a dealer threw in with a commuter-bike purchase for $100 - about 19 years ago.
It wasn't quite love at first ride.
"You have no control in back," Carol, 60, said. "You can't guide, you can't brake. Also, he sets the cadence. The first time, we went on my normal route, maybe a 15-, 20-mile route. The cadence was so much faster than I was used to. And we went faster than I was used to. I was, 'We're home already?' It was a big surprise how fast we went. To keep up and help at that cadence was shocking to me, but now I've adjusted."
Carol also had to adjust to the lack of control.
On a tandem, the captain steers, brakes and sets the cadence - the pedaling revolutions per minute.
"You can't just put any couple on a tandem," Carol McBride said. "Fortunately, we're pretty compatible. It's not a big issue. But when we first started, it was a total trust issue. It's not that I didn't trust him, but if he did something different from what I would have done, I'd let out a whoop. It's scary back there when you're first back there and you don't have any control."
The McBrides have ridden a few tours on singles - across Iowa and Rhode Island - and have ridden in France.
They still ride singles. Alan said he averages close to 5,000 miles a year, while Carol is right behind at 3,000.
Their longest tandem trek was a 75-miler from Topeka to Lawrence and back.
Bigger rides loom.
"We'd love to go to Ireland," Carol said. "We refer to this as our RV. Instead of getting an RV and following the sun, we got an RV tandem, and we'll ride with the wind. He wants to ride from Arizona, where we travel a lot, to Lawrence. Tucson to Lawrence. We're thinking about that, but this has been a horrible year weather-wise for training."
At least the McBride's won't be able to blame the bike.
Last fall, they sprung for a custom-made titanium tandem. It's their fourth tandem, and it's designed to be their last.
"I retired last summer, and we thought as long as we were at the end of a career of making money, we decided to invest in a bike we thought would last a long time and be state of the art," Alan McBride said.
The McBrides went to Cycle Works and dealt with owner Gary Long, who suggested a custom-built ride made by legendary titanium cycling manufacturer Litespeed.
Titanium is a desirable yet pricey material for bikes because it's strong, light and durable and is said to have a unique comfortable ride character.
The bike has top-shelf parts and has unique titanium couplings that allow it to be broken down into parts. It thus can be packed away into standard luggage for transport.
"It's a very special bike," Long said. "It's about as exotic as they come."