Stress itself is a potential danger both on the bike and in relating. The risks are acute when clipped into pedals. Off the bike, when stress is expressed as accusations or accusations kindle stress, the results can be a festering threat.
If you’re anxiously alert, minor obstacles look like bigger dangers—adrenaline accentuates feelings of threat and reactions to threats. Every threat or minor spill increases awareness of the myriad of possible next dangers. And anxious awareness creates physical tension, which begins to upset flow and balance.
If Szifra or I get tense, the tandem is more likely to wobble or be hard to steer. Anxiety causes physical tension, which transforms the two-person dance into a struggle. You lose the smooth, fluid motions that allow faster maneuvering. Tense rigidity in either person, can turn a swooping corner into a desperate struggle to keep the bike on the road or in its lane, to keep the relationship wheeling positively along.
When we’re moving along and coordinating effectively on the bike, the revolving wheels and spinning pedals create a gyroscopic effect that helps us balance. But when we’re starting from a dead stop, balance comes exclusively from shifting our weight. On a tandem, both riders must intuitively feel any impending imbalance and shift their weight about half of the total needed. With experience, you adjust and unconsciously moderate your reactions, so the sum of both riders’ efforts doesn’t overcompensate and steer or tip the bike too far the wrong way. Information about the bike’s current state of balance comes tactilely. My points of contact on the bike—my butt, my feet, my hands—give me feedback that tells me what Szifra is doing. Over time I’ve become better at recognizing her reach for a water bottle on the frame, from a reach for food in the back pocket of her jersey, from her leaning to peek around me. She in turn has gotten less nervous when I lean into a turn.