Over the years we've found a tandem bike to be a valued means of family outings for two - a time for parent and child to be alone together - talking, discovering, sharing a common activity.
Our daughter had her first short rides with me when she was five. The rear seat on our green tandem can be adjusted to accommodate a short person. And the high-rise handlebars I bought at a discount store tilted to be within Jenny's easy reach. I knew her feet couldn't follow the pedals all the way around, but the extra biking effort this required of me was a small price to pay for the joy of Jenny's company.
I'm careful to tell Jenny (now several years older) of anything that will change the bike's motion: turns, bumps, stop signs. I let her know we'll be braking at intervals going downhill; then the jerkiness isn't an unsettling surprise. Above all, we keep the pace unhurried.
On the tandem there are no little brothers or sisters to interrupt the flow of conversation. This a time for confidential chatting.
We also talk about what we see. Our neighborhood has a great variety of housing styles: Tudor, Georgian, colonial. We're trying to learn the distinguishing characteristics of each. Sometimes we come upon an old farmhouse that has been surrounded by development.
When Jenny was seven, she was ready for the added range a used five-speed tandem gave us. She enjoyed our 45-minute bike rides to my soccer games.
Then came the summer day when we decided to take a 13-mile bike hike to spend the night at my brother's house. Visiting cousins added incentive and reduced baggage. We packed a lunch, canteen, camera, book, tire tube, wrench, pliers, underwear, and pj's in the bike's front basket.
After two hours of biking we stopped for lunch in a meadow by a tree-lined river. Jenny ran off on a butterfly chase. Later we had dessert at the ice cream parlor next to the waterfall in the town near my brother's home.
Between stops, we had the special pleasure of viewing our surroundings at the biker's slower speed. At bike speed much more becomes visible: the tiger lilies waving in the breeze, the boulders resisting the river's motion. One can hear, too, the red-winged blackbird's call or the greetings of playing children.
After a camp-out with cousins and an unhurried morning, we were ready for our return trip. Our different route home required pushing the bicycle up the hill from the river. When we reached the top, there was a picnic area where we could eat the lunch packed for us by Jenny's aunt.
As we continued homeward, the back-seat driver called for other stops to take pictures. We could take the bike off the road into places no car could fit. It was no problem, for instance, to photograph an abandoned barn. And as we neared home, we enjoyed being able to track down the ice-cream truck by following its pied-piper music through the side streets of our city.
We don't remember the story I told Jenny on and off during our hours of travel, but we do remember our two happy days together. Now, with summer approaching, Jenny is prodding me to get this tandem team going again.