CYCLING FEATURE: A tandem ride with Roger Morris of the Psychedelic Furs
DISPROVED two clichés when writing this column: firstly that you should never meet your heroes and secondly that tandems are for weirdos.
I had not realised how many friendly Journal2 readers own tandems, one being the guitarist who performed on two of my favourite post-punk albums by the globally successful Psychedelic Furs.
Roger Morris not only inspired me to try a tandem for the first time in my undistinguished 25-year cycling career, but he and partner Ali showed how to make it fly along this perky ten mile circular route around what is geologically known as the Petrockstowe Basin.
My only disappointment was no hangover evident in Roger's personal fitness from the rock'n'roll lifestyle, as I struggled to match his and Ali's pace over the first hill at Winswell, along the departing southward road from the Yarde orchard café near their Peters Marland home.
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Roger revealed that when living in Los Angeles, he raced around velodrome tracks as well as in the punishing street criteriums.
The physical demands in both types of racing would have required the mental safety catch switching off to sustain masochistic pulse rates for up to an hour. From my own experience, I knew such asphyxiating efforts could be just to finish in time before the spectators went home, never mind any podium ambitions.
It takes two to tango, so it was no surprise to also hear of Ali's testing exploits on two wheels towing as many children as passengers across European boundaries.
In demoralising awe at the sight of Roger and Ali far off in the distance about to crest the next hill, I was glad to also be in the company of Journal2 editor Rosanna Rothery seated behind tandem pilot Jon Bowen.
People often fear riding as a passenger on a tandem without control of either the brakes or the steering, but Ali clearly revelled in it. The faster downhill, the better for her while the rest of us cautiously pulled at the anchors.
After chasing a rock star along steep country lanes, the farmland gates provided useful emergency respiratory support. They also made convenient observation windows in passing between hedgerows to snatch each reorienting glimpse of the dramatic landscape.
Teacher Ali explained that the scenery across to Dartmoor was geologically shaped many millions of years ago by a huge river, its sedimentary legacy being the clay still quarried mostly for export.
Our first gate-stop enabled Ali to share her extensive knowledge of the area's history, which on record goes back 12 centuries to the Domesday Book, when William the Conqueror gave to one of his knights the settlement now known as Merton village across the Mere valley.
The next resting point was however only just over a mile away below Moorhill at the Tarka Trail entrance for a rendezvous with Yarde café owner David Job and his all-cycling children.
By the words "all cycling", I mean five children as young as only 22 months mounted on two wheels. To make the numbers add up in terms of wheels and bottoms on saddles, two children were passengers on David's trandem.
David claimed that a three-seater should be called a triplet, but this was not how I remembered it being described in the Goodies TV comedy shows of the 1970s where it was called a trandem.
Passengers Adam, 6, and Ollie, 4, didn't seem to mind what we called it, so long as dad kept pedalling fast enough.
Tandems have always provided good vehicles for lively grown-up debate. They certainly put relationships to the test, especially if one rider has been suspected of not pulling their weight on the pedals.
The Tarka Trail carried our banter and convoy of stretch bicycles northward to David's busy café at a slight ascending gradient between sleepy meadows and through the small patches of the moody woodland, throwing in some muddy puddles for an entertaining splashy knees-up.
Boys will be boys I admit now, remembering Roger throwing down the gauntlet in a buccaneer sprint along the next 20 lumpy metres towards the café.
Before he'd even finished declaring: "last one buys the drinks," I was away at a muscle wrenching full pelt for my first win of this year's racing season.
I even succeeded in claiming two pints of the locally brewed, deliciously hoppy Litehouse Ale for also finishing ahead of Ali seated as tandem passenger to Roger. In conclusion: tandems certainly can deliver a double dose of fun and heroes really can remain so when you meet them too. Cheers.
East Yarde, Peters Marland, Torrington EX38 8QA
www.yarde-orchard.co.uk 01805 601788
Torrington Cycle Hire
Station Hill, Torrington EX38 8JD
www.torringtoncyclehire. co.uk 01805 622633