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Sunday, August 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Like riding a bike — times two

Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA — Mel and Barbara Kornbluh met on a blind date in Atlantic City, N.J. After seven minutes, they decided to get married.

Bicycling presented an early crisis: He did, she didn't. But Barbara wanted to be with Mel, so she went on a three-mile ride with him over the hot Fourth of July weekend in 1972. "I threw up at the end," she said.

Mel wanted to be with Barbara, so he suggested a tandem bike. They found an old one on a trip to Europe, and waited a year for someone to build a crate big enough to ship it.

"Now it's part of our marriage. It was part of our children's childhood," she said. "We start our day together ... one hour ... alone."

Other "teams" tell strikingly similar stories about why they got, and stuck with, tandems. It's clear in interviews that these marriages are built on extraordinary communication and cooperation — otherwise, they'd fall off the bike.

"Whatever direction your relationship is going in, a tandem will accelerate that," said longtime cyclist Mike Repsher, who bought a tandem five years ago because he was crazy in love with his nonbicycling girlfriend and wanted to ride with her. Mike and Dawn Repsher honeymooned in Portugal — on a tandem — a year later.

Malcolm Boyd and Judy Allison were racing dinghies 30 years ago, and looking for something else they could do together while keeping fit and satisfying her competitive instinct. They bought a tandem.

Hop aboard, carefully

The trickiest part of riding tandem is getting on the bike. Without instruction, most couples fall. Here are directions:

The "captain" (always the bigger person, always up front) sits on front tube, legs 12 inches apart to hold bike steady.

The "stoker" mounts the rear seat, feet on the pedals.

Once situated, the stoker rotates left pedal to the forward position (3 o'clock), and says "ready."

The captain then stands on the left pedal (now also at 3 o'clock), forcing it down with his weight and simultaneously rising up onto the seat as the bike begins to move under both riders' efforts.

Source: Mel Kornbluh

"The bicycles were just, well, horrible," said Boyd, recalling the routine loss of two or three spokes on a 100-mile ride.

So the couple started the Tandem Club of America in 1976 as an information exchange. Coincidentally, the first Eastern Tandem Rally was held in Cape May, N.J., and Santana Cycles entered the market as the first tandems-only manufacturer during the same year. (There are tandem rallies in this part of the country, too. Last year, the Northwest Tandem Rally was in Lacey; this year, it was in Bend, Ore. Next year, it will be in Corvallis, Ore., and in 2007, Yakima.)

It was the beginning of a slow, steady increase in tandems that has often paralleled growing interest in cycling generally, and the more affluent boomer population in particular. "The women's movement made a huge difference," said Mel Kornbluh. "They wanted to be part of the team."

The Kornbluhs could be a poster couple for the tandem lifestyle. Mel, 58, still runs his syrup-manufacturing company, and Barbara, 55, still teaches classical piano; but riding together is their shared love: "138,000 miles so far," he said proudly.

Their first extended tandem trip came at a tricky time in their 22-month-old daughter's development. "We potty-trained her on the tandem," Mel recalled. They traveled through Florida in 1976 with Natalie on the back, behind Barbara, and the potty strapped to the front, ahead of Mel.


Northwest Tandem Rally:

Tandem Club of America:

After their son was born two years later, the couple discovered the Eastern Tandem Rally, one of numerous family gatherings around the country for enthusiasts who like to talk, eat and ride in multiples of two.

In December, the Kornbluhs will lead a tandem bike tour of New Zealand for the third time. And they still ride together several days a week.

"It's quality time with Mel, uninterrupted," said Barbara. "We solve the world's problems on the bike."

Incidentally, they got in a canoe together once and never will again. "She says I don't know how to steer," Mel said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company




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