WHEN THREE IS NOTHING LIKE A CROWD

We all make unfortunate impulse purchases online: clothes that don’t quite fit, toys that we don’t really need, and exercise equipment that never gets used. My folly was buying a used triple tandem.

I am still not entirely sure why I bid on it. What I do know is that after winning the auction I tried to rationalise my purchase. I told myself that that it was a great deal—a bicycle for three people for only $360. Wow, that’s only $120 per seat. Bargain. My heart told me that riding this bike would be great fun. Don’t I enjoy doing something a bit different? Hadn’t I loved cycling a tandem through the Middle East? Surely if a bicycle with two seats was good, then one with three seats would be even better? My friends told me that I was insane.

Once the euphoria of winning the auction wore off, I realised that I now owned a three-metre long problem, currently parked behind a pizzeria in Mission Bay, 1100 kilometres from my house in Christchurch. After a few phone calls I also learnt that the bicycle was too long to fit in a plane or a car, and shipping it would cost more in freight than it was worth. I had only one option. I asked my dad, who lived in Auckland, for help.

There are few things more pathetic than riding a tandem alone. You may as well have a flashing neon sign above your head, emblazoned with the words ‘I have no friends.’ But riding a triple tandem alone is exponentially worse. So I am eternally grateful to my dad, who collected my triple tandem in Mission Bay and took it on a ride of shame along the waterfront, while the patrons of the local cafés yelled out helpful advice.

With the bicycle safely stored at my parents’ house in Auckland I needed to figure out what on earth I was going to do with it and how I would convince people to ride it with me. A few months later a plan started to form during a biketouring holiday with two great friends: Byrdie and Jimmy. Byrdie is a part-time GP and full-time cycling fanatic. She wanted to do something to encourage non-cyclists to be active and to participate in the sport she loves. Jimmy runs a hostel in Nelson and the Shortbread Trust—a charity that works with disadvantaged people in Nepal. He wanted to raise some more money to support the Kalish Bodie School in Jumla. I just wanted to get the bike to Christchurch.

Over a few beers we developed a scheme to raise money for charity by riding the triple tandem from Auckland to Christchurch. We realised that a charity cycle ride wasn’t an original concept, so we decided on a unique twist—we would auction off the third seat. Each day of the three-week trip a new winner could choose what to do with the seat. They might enjoy a quiet ride to their local café, donate the seat to a friend as a unique present, or even take the plunge and join us for the whole day. We looked forward to finding out.

We each chose a different charity to support, one per week. First up was Big Brothers Big Sisters, as Byrdie had been inspired by a family member who had mentored with them. Jimmy chose the The Shortbread Trust for the second week and I chose Gap Filler, who were injecting some much needed fun and vitality back into Christchurch.

What had seemed like a simple project in that Central Otago pub quickly became more complicated. There was so much to organise: finding comfortable saddles, building an online presence, and (most importantly) sourcing three harmonious bicycle bells. Finding a catchy name was a high priority. We started out as the ‘Threesome Charity Cycle Ride’ and acquired the unforgettable web address www.threesome.org.nz. Unfortunately we discovered that people were getting the wrong impression about the ride, so we changed to the more demure ‘Threeseater Charity Cycle Ride’. We also secured some very generous sponsorship from Ground Effect, One Square Meal and Sella Anatomica.

One-and-a-half months before our departure the Christchurch Press ran a feature about our upcoming trip. This was our first media coverage and I was hoping for a flurry of emails from interested people. I received only two, one of which was from an engineer who warned us that “Your Threeseater does not look strong enough (from the photo in the Press today) to support three [riders]. The frame is not triangulated—all bike frames are, for strength—and [the] upper and lower bars will probably bend and break during the journey. Good luck.” Bugger.


Threeseater---Marathon-Photos---Le-Race-2013sm

Riders: (l-r) Richard Steane, Tom Steane, and unknown (for now) /
On: Le Race, Christchurch,
New Zealand /
In: Summer 2013 /
Shot: Marathon Photos /

I started having nightmares about serious accidents. I imagined the newspaper headlines if the bike did snap in half: “Half wit with half a bicycle” or “Three seats, two pieces, one bike, no idea.” I couldn’t ask people to bid for a seat on the Threeseater if I didn’t know that it was safe.

It looked like the trip was over before it had started. Calling around bicycle shops and frame builders in Auckland returned no-one who felt confident enough, or had the time, to do the the necessary work. After two referrals, it appeared the only hope was Jeff at Kiwibikes in Rotorua. I spoke to Jeff on the phone and emailed him a few pictures. He quickly made two things clear: he loved the idea, but there was no way the bike would make it to Christchurch. However, he offered to donate his time to make the bike roadworthy. All we had to do was get it to him. After a few more phone calls Just Freight generously offered to transport the Threeseater to Rotorua and my dad (bless him) once again volunteered to get the bike across town to their depot.

Two days before our departure the Threeseater returned from Rotorua, reborn. The frame had been straightened and welded with extra tubing for strength. The rim brakes had been removed and huge disc brakes attached onto new brake tabs. There was a new fork and headset, new cable routing, and new bottle cage mounts. Best of all, it was now bright yellow! Genius.

Come d-day, we left from downtown Auckland among fanfare, press and politicians. With the Threeseater undergoing repair in Rotorua, we were unable to practice riding it. It proved to be quite a challenge. The pilot had to be hypersensitive to the other two riders, otherwise the Threeseater could develop an alarming wobble. We had a support crew carrying our luggage, but we still had a trailer on the back for our spare clothes and lunch. The combination of bike and trailer was over four metres long, so delicate manoeuvres were out of the question. In addition, we soon learnt that while the Threeseater was not particularly quick uphill, it was shockingly fast downhill. Fortunately the very long wheelbase meant that it was a very stable ride.

Once the ride started I was finally able to relax and enjoy the journey. I was struck by how the people who bid for the third seat were universally interesting. I guess anyone who is willing to jump on a bicycle with two strangers and ride 100 kilometres away from their home is used to taking chances in life.

One of my favourite days was spent cycling from Taupo to Turangi with Beth*. Beth had organised a big crowd of family and friends in Taupo who were all keen to go for a quick jaunt on the Threeseater. We ended up alternating between doing laps of Taupo Domain and eating generously donated fresh muffins. Feeling rather full, Beth, Jimmy and I eventually left Taupo along the foreshore path. After a few minutes we saw a backpacker carrying a huge pack. Jimmy and Beth convinced him to take my place on the Threeseater. He got on the bike still wearing his pack, wobbled, screamed and then jumped right off! Later in the day we picnicked by the lake edge, picked up Beth’s daughter and took the Threeseater on it’s first mountain bike trail along the Tongariro River, after which Beth guided us around the Tongariro National Trout Centre. At the end of this great day, we asked Beth why she had bid on the seat. Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although the cancer was now in remission, the experience had changed her approach to life. She had heard of our trip and decided that it sounded like fun. I am glad she did, as it was a memorable day for all of us.

Our days were packed with unexpected delights. One auction winner turned up with fresh home made pikelets, jam and cream (thank you Jasmine)! Another told us that it was International Hitchhikers Day, and that we were to give the spare seat to any hitchhikers we met along the way. We were joined by my dad to ride the Rimutaka Rail Trail. He would never have been able to ride this beautiful trail on his own. It was great to able to share this experience with him, particularly after the all the work that he had put in to support the ride. For the rest of that ride into Wellington we were escorted by Jonathan Kennett (one third of the legendary triplet-riding Kennett Brothers) to meet Mayor Celia Wade-Brown. The North Island leg of the ride ended with the Wellington Christmas Parade, riding the Threeseater covered in tinsel and pulling a Christmas tree in the trailer. Best of all, the auction winner really got into the spirit of the day, wearing reindeer antlers and waving to the kids. We were amazed by the huge amounts of generosity and hospitality we experienced along the way. I shall never forget the evening when the staff at the Rapaura Springs Winery insisted on filling their outdoor hot tub for us, then running a wine tasting while we were soaking in it. This was simply heaven after a day on the bike.

We arrived in Christchurch three weeks after leaving Auckland. It was sad to be finished, but we were all happy to have achieved our goals. Byrdie was thrilled that we had so many (over 100!) people join us on the bike. Jimmy was pleased that we raised good money for the Charities. And I was just grateful to have had an adventure, and that my impulse purchase had finally arrived in Christchurch.

Thank you to everyone who supported the ride, particularly Tom and Rosemary Steane, Nic Williams and Mike Travis.

*Beth’s name has been changed

journey logo

Links to the groups supported:
Big Brothers Big Sisters: www.bigbrothersbigsisters.org.nz/
The Shortbread Trust: www.theshortbreadtrust.co.nz/
Gap Filler: www.gapfiller.org.nz/

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