Tandem Cycling On The Downs Link
PUBLISHED: 17:07 04 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:56 20 February 2013
Tandems have always amused spectators. Whether it's memories of The Goodies, Daisy, Daisy or just old Ealing movies - tandems make people happy...
Tandems have always amused spectators. Perhaps their finest hour came in the PG Tips advert when the chimp issued his immortal invitation but what are they really like to ride? Si Beale tries one for himself on the Downs Link.
There is something about riding a tandem that reminds me of my time as a classic car owner. In my days before fatherhood and responsibility, I used to scoot about Sussex in an old Fiat Spider convertible. Wherever I would go people would be friendly and chatty, asking me about the car and reminiscing on days gone by. But above all they would smile. And it's the same when you're on a tandem - people just smile. They also make the same old joke about the person at the back not pedalling - but it's all part of the fun. Whether it's memories of The Goodies (who rode what's known as a 'Triplet' as there were three of them), Daisy, Daisy or just old Ealing movies - tandems make people happy. And I spent a few happy hours the other day cycling, with my mate Christian Bolton, along The Downs Link.
Like many family-friendly cycling routes, The Downs Link runs along an old railway line. In this case its the Hundred Years railway- so called because it lasted from its opening in 1860 until the 1960s when it was closed by the infamous Dr Beeching. It runs from Guildford in Surrey to Shoreham-by-Sea, thus linking the North & South Downs.
The cycling, walking and horse-riding route is 37 miles in total but we chose to cycle just part of it from Southwater, where we hired our bikes, up to Baynard and back again - a two hour trip at most. We hired our off-road Dawes tandems from Southwater Cycles, who were extremely helpful. A four hour rental costs just 30 and it's 45 for the whole day or 75 for the weekend.
Having never ridden a tandem before, we had a few wobbles at the beginning. The first thing to get used to is that only the front rider has control of the steering, the gears and (most importantly) the brakes.
This means that the rear cyclist not only needs to trust his fellow rider but also be alert to when to pedal and when to freewheel. For the front rider it seems like you are controlling a particularly heavy bike with reduced manoeuvrability. However we soon mastered our new steed. Watched by a cheerful group of ramblers, we nervously set off but quickly got into our stride. It really is a lovely route, virtually all off road, passing through open fields, delightful woodland and with plenty of wildlife to look out for. It's also a great family route as it is pretty level most of the way and there are lots of pubs and restaurants to stop off at. There are also plenty of attractions to make a short diversion to, including Bramber Castle, Shalford Mill and Shoreham Airport.
An excellent booklet is available from most visitor centres in West Sussex and Surrey, with a route map and useful information. In fact we enjoyed the ride so much that we are planning to do the whole route in a few weeks - you never know, we might even try a triplet.
You can find more information at www.westsussex.gov.uk/downslink and details on hiring a tandem are available at www.southwatercycles.com