September 17, 2019

She’s the one pedaling in front. Finally!


Swapping seats, Bethany and Claiborne broke through a long prejudice against women. Blame me.

Swapping seats, with her in front, Bethany and Claiborne broke through a long prejudice against women. Blame me.

By John Guy LaPlante

Madison, Wisconsin –I spotted a tandem bike with a couple on board. Of course, the guy was in front and the gal in back. It’s the usual.

My son Mark, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin here, was driving me to his office. I’m visiting him and Stacie—a prof at UWI also– and my two grandkids.

“That’s all wrong!” I said to Mark, pointing  to the two. “This is a new world. It’s about time that a woman’s in front and the man’s in back.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” He thought a minute. “But there’s more to it than that. There’s physics involved. Usually he’s bigger, she’s smaller. If they swap seats, the dynamics will be way different. The bike’s balance will be off.

“In fact, Stacie and I found that out on vacation in San Francisco. We rented a tandem. And she tried the front. Not good!”

We went on to another topic.

A day later I’m on the road with Mark again. We swing into the University Arboretum. One of the biggest and finest in the world—1,200 acres! He wants to show me its wonders.

Right there in front of the impressive Visitor Center are a young couple resting on a tandem bike. He’s in front. She’s in back. Of course. By the way, have you ever seen different?

“Mark,” I say. “Please leave me off here. I’d like to chat with those two while you park.” And I walk over to them. With a smile.

She’s slim. Pretty. About 25. He’s big and muscular. Thick black beard. Three or four years older. A nice couple.

I notice their bike is a Schwinn.

“Hi! What a nice day to be out riding like this.”

“Yes,” and she smiles back. “Sure is.” And he gives a big nod.

“Well, I envy you. I rode a bike for years. But no more!” I look at her. “Do you always ride in the back?”

She looks at me uncertainly. “Yes.”

“Know what? I have never, never seen a gal riding in the front. You know, with the fellow in the back. Is there any reason why it has to be that way?”

They look at one another. “No,” he says. “That’s just the way it is, I guess.” She just shrugs.
“Well, I think that should change. This is a new age for women. As you know. A new world. They want to be equal to us. And that’s only fair. And they’re getting their way. Slowly. I’d like to see a gal up front now and then. Doing the driving. It’ll happen sooner or later. I’m sure. Hey, that way she’d see more, too.”

No comment. Then she ventures, “I’ve never given it much thought.” He nods. “I suppose it will happen.”

By now I know them by name. She’s Bethany Ness. Between jobs. Was assistant manager in a coffee shop. Is looking for something better. He’s Claiborne Seier. Works in a bike and kayak shop. They’ve been a couple for a while. Ride a tandem now and then.

Now Mark is with us. I tell them, “Oh, this is my son. He loves biking, too. He says if the girl rode in front and the fellow in back, that would throw the balance off. Because she’s usually smaller and he’s usually bigger.”

They just listen.

“Could I ask you for a little favor? I’m very curious about this. Could you switch seats? Then go for a little ride and then come back and we’d talk about it?”

He looks at me suspiciously, then looks back at her. They study one another. Then he says, “Sure. We can give it a try.” She smiles. “Might be fun!”

They switch positions. She adjusts herself. I estimate she weighs 125. She tries the brakes. Wraps her fingers around the hand grips and pivots the front wheel. Gets the feel of it. The rear handle bar is rigid, of course.

He has a harder time. “I’m an even 200 pounds, you know!” His seat—the rear seat now—should be higher. It’s a tight fit. He makes do.

They start off. They’re wobbly. They head down a gentle slope. Now they’re riding better. Steadier. We watch them roll out of sight.

They’re back in six or seven minutes. They haven’t swapped back. They pull right up.

“Welcome back!” I smile. “Well, what do you think?”

She grins. “It was okay!” She’s very happy. And he says, “No big problem. We’d have to adjust a couple of things. But I think we’d get use to it all right.”

“Know what?” I’m enthusiastic now. “What you just did is a breakthrough. A real breakthrough. Ride this way in public and you’ll be making history. For opening the door a bit more for women. For showing that women can do this, too. All while enjoying it. And men can be good in accepting it. Because it’s right. It’s fair.”

They just stare at me. Maybe they think I’m a nut?

“Believe me,” I say. “You’re breaking down another prejudice. And it’s about time. I admire you!”

She smiles. I can see she’s less uncertain now. He’s not saying much. He’s thinking it over. But he’s accepting the idea. I see that.

I tell them a bit about myself. Tell them I write a blog. Tell them I’d like to write this up because it’s such a positive and upbeat thing.

“Would that be okay?” I ask. “Of course, I’d have to put in your names and say a few words about you.”

She nods. I can see she’s pleased. “Sure,” she says. “Okay by me. Could we get to see it?”

“Of course. I’ll make sure you see it.”

They’re happy. I’m sure they’ll talk to their friends about this. We chat another minute or two.

Then they take off. She’s in front and he’s in back. Wonderful! They’re doing quite well.

I turn to my son. “Mark, this has made by day. I consider this a big thing.”

“I hope so,” Mark says. “I just hope they don’t take a spill going down a hill.”

“Me, too. But let’s hope they’ll be able to ride a bit before they have to confront that. You know, get to feel comfortable. If they’re uneasy, they can switch back to their original seats.

“And hey, if Schwinn hears about this and gives it some thought, they might do a re-design. You know, to make their tandem easier to ride either way. Gal in front or gal in back. They might even sell more tandems with a new model.”

“Maybe so.”

Later, writing this, I have another thought. Maybe I can do something about that. I’ll send this to Schwinn. Be easy to do.

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