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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Bicyclists participating in the Midwest Tandem Rally ride down Lindenwood Avenue.
Couples cycling in sync

Tandem rally tours city for first time

Tom and Robyn Ratajczak, of Asheville, North Carolina, prepare to set out for the rally Sunday morning.

It was only natural that Dave and Mary Pakledinaz would meet each other the way they did.

Two cycling enthusiasts, they caught each other’s eyes at a bicycle rally about five years ago. Soon after, they began dating, which led to wedding vows and a life of hitting the roads of Warren, Michigan, where they live, on two wheels to enjoy the outdoors and the wind at their backs.

Only, since their cycling levels weren’t exactly even, they’ve been hitting the road on not only two wheels but two conjoined seats, too.

“This keeps us together,” said Mary on Sunday, motioning to the couple’s tandem bicycle they were unloading out of their sport utility vehicle just outside the back of the Botanical Conservatory downtown.

The Pakledinazes were just one of hundreds of teams – many of them couples – taking part in the Midwest Tandem Rally, an annual Labor Day weekend event that began in 1976 and is the largest tandem gathering in the United States.

It’s being held in Fort Wayne for the first time.

Dating back to the 1890s, the tandem bicycle was initially constructed with men and women couples in mind. The man would steer from the back while the woman sat in front, so as to have a better view.

These days, the person in front – on Sunday, it was mainly men in front – is the captain and has control of the steering. The person in the back is called a “stoker,” according to rally officials.

Those running the rally said tandems have been gaining popularity amongst baby boomers who are looking for a way to exercise with each other. And Sunday, many who may be in that baby boomer generation or on the cusp of it were out in full force.

“We’ve been married 44 years, and we’ve been riding tandem for 22 of those,” said Barb Derenne of her and her husband, Steve.

The Derennes, who hail from Wisconsin, have attended every Midwest Tandem Rally since 2000. Steve raced bicycles until “too many visits to the ER” put him out of competition.

Wanting to find an activity he and his wife could both enjoy, he suggested they try a tandem bicycle.

“He’s fast,” Barb said. “Although I’m getting better.”

There have been a proliferation of tandem bicycle clubs sprouting up throughout the country, including Hoosiers Out On Tandems, or HOOT.

This year’s rally began on Saturday with routes ranging from 35 to 75 miles through Fort Wayne and the surrounding area. Sunday’s routes ranged from 25 to 65 miles, and today the tandems will be out for a 17-mile ride to New Haven and back.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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