Disappearing bikes

Saturday 27 December 2014, Filed in: General

Another great blog from Dom Irvine our elite endurance athlete giving us some insight into his views on the tandem.

It’s exciting testing a prototype bike. The first person to ever ride a particular model. It also comes with a degree of stress. You look at the junctions on the frame and hope they are as well engineered as they appear. As confidence builds the level of risk is stepped up. Eventually we’re hammering the hell out of the bike doing maximum effort intervals, or descending as fast as possible down a tricky descent. Phase two is the fine tuning. A few millimetres adjustment of the seat angle or brake hoods, maybe a change in the gear ratios. Gradually over time the bike disappears.

Don’t get me wrong, I like bikes and I’m interested in the kit that’s put on them. But it’s not the reason I ride a bike. I’m after what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’. It’s that sensation when you’re flying along and as stoker, your mind is lost in the sense of speed from the passing hedges, or as Captain when riding down a delightful descent when you are totally immersed in the experience. At these moments it’s as if you are outside of yourself watching yourself perform. Time both stands still and flies by. In all of these situations the bike is nowhere in the picture. You’re no longer aware of the machine. And that’s as it should be. If it was all about the bike, I’d pour a coffee and sit and look at it. But I’d rather be riding it.

Sometimes you are acutely aware of the bike, such as the wonderful memory of when we were both laughing so hard at something one us said there was a real danger we could fall off the bike. Or the occasion when the front tyre blew out at 35mph and the amazement at how true the bike tracked whilst scrubbing the rubber along the road.

This week we returned the Orbit Lightning back to John and Ruth. What started out as a test ride became 2.5 years of memories - some harder to take - like our failed attempt on the tandem end-to-end record. Others - pure joy - climbing over the Col de la Faucille on part of our ride to Geneva.

As I degreased the chain for the last time and washed the frame, I could see what a friend of mine calls ‘beausage’. It’s a polyglot of beauty and usage and refers to the lovely worn look something has from lots of use. Like the look of a Brooks saddle after thousands of miles. From cable rub marks, to those minor scratches from returning the bottle to it’s cage on those grim, wet muddy winter rides to the polished rubber on the hoods from hours and hours of being held in hands up and down dale.

It’s going to take a lot to beat this bike. I’ve ridden many tandems made from all sorts of materials: Titanium and carbon, scandium and aluminium. I’ve used steel forks and carbon forks. Our lightning, more than any other bike has had just the right amount of ‘feel’ for our taste. Stiff enough to take two blokes going hell for leather, and yet compliant enough that after 24 hours non-stop in the saddle I was ready for more. Best of all, once setup, it disappeared far faster than any other bike I’ve ridden and became something we simply stopped thinking about and instead just enjoyed the rides.

I have a new riding partner. Charlie is the same size as me and despite our best efforts, we can’t both get comfortable on the Lightning, the stoker position is too small. Next up we’re entering the world of custom builds, with a Reynolds 853 tandem to test. We’re both really, really excited. But I for one have more than deep twinge of sadness at leaving the Lightning behind.


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