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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Is Riding Tandem Worth the Work?

Tired of riding solo? Think the journey would be a breeze on a bicycle-built-for-two? It’s not as easy as you think.

Last week, Mike and I had the opportunity to talk about marriage with a dozen different couples representing multiple nationalities at the church we’re serving this fall here in Norway. We did some teaching from Ephesians on the sometimes confusing nature of spiritual leadership, emphasized the need for mutual submission in a marital relationship, and unwound the spool of love and respect. Most of all, we talked about the trickiness of riding tandem.

For Mike and me, morning worship is the apex of our Sabbath. A Sunday afternoon several years ago sloped off like any ordinary day until a scheduled meeting was postponed, and suddenly the time previously spoken for broke open like a geode.

Blessed with a gift of hours, we grabbed a gift certificate to a local cyclery that had been gathering dust in the bureau drawer.

“Are you open today?”


“On our way!”

When we arrived, the unusually fine day had claimed most of the rental bikes, and the only one left was a tandem, a bicycle built for two.

But if anything’s easier than peddling a two-wheeler it’s doing it with four legs, right? With a tire inflated here and a seat adjusted there, we hopped on and set off.

It’s harder than it looks.

Maybe you’re already married, and while you’d choose your spouse all over again, you’ve experienced the work a successful marriage partnership entails. Or maybe the one who promised to love you forever remembered his vows at the altar but forgot them when times got tough.

You might still be single, wondering whether God’s the one with the bad memory. Has he forgotten your heart’s desire for someone to cherish you above all others? Most of your friends from college have paired off by now. Will there ever be anyone special for you?

I hear you, and you’re not alone. I know friends and family members in each of those places and then some. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but after forty-plus years, Mike and I have learned a bit about riding tandem.

It’s natural to wobble at first. You’re working as a team now. It takes time and practice to learn the rhythms of grace of riding with a partner.

The first big argument Mike and I had about six months into marriage was how we’d celebrate Christmas. Would we observe traditions the way his family had (wrong!) or the way mine did (the right way, of course)? We argued the point down to how long the needles on the tree should be. Another blowup had to do with my unstated expectations about our first anniversary plans. Unstated expectations are unfair expectations.

Riding a tandem draisine in Norway, originally designed for railway personnel servicing the tracks.

Before we hopped aboard our tandem bike, the technician advised us to lean into the curves. The pastor who did our premarital counseling said the same thing. Life throws those at you. If you’re bending one way and your spouse insists on the other, slow down and get your signals straight.

And another tip for the road? Yield to each other when you get to an intersection where the right-of-way is unclear. Instead of traffic lights, Norway uses roundabouts (sometimes called rotaries in the US.) Drivers must always yield to the car coming from the left. Yielding is not a sign of weakness but of discernment. Two vehicles or people can’t occupy the same space at the same time or there will be collision.

Prepare properly before you set out. We’re grownups, right? People have been riding bikes since forever, so who needs advice? We did. “You won’t get far with a chain like that,” the technician observed. We listened, made some adjustments, and were better for it. How many relationships might have been saved if the couple spent more time preparing for the marriage than they did on the details of the wedding day?

Riding tandem gets easier with practice. (Gosh, tell us something new, please.) But it’s true. Farther down the bike path we were starting to peddle in sync. And after decades of marriage we’ve learned to put each other’s needs above our own. In some crazy strange way, we both win.

So yeah, you go faster alone, but you travel farther together.

And those riding partners who bail out or push you off? It happens and it stinks. But the journey’s not over.

“So how did it go?” the technician asked when we returned, laughing and a bit out of breath. “Worth the ride or wish you’d gone solo?”

We’ve been riding tandem for over forty years, Mr. Bike Man. And yes, it’s been worth the ride.

Every mile and every minute.

Copyright 2019 by Maggie Wallem Rowe, adapted from upcoming NavPress release This Life We Share: Journeying Well with God and Others (May 2020).

My nephew Greg and his bride Sarah on their August honeymoon. We pray for all couples learning the art of riding tandem.



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