February 3, 2012

Interview with Veronica and Colin Scargill

Veronica and Colin Scargill are cyclists I met on Col de Marie Blanque, in France in September 2011, when they were crossing the Pyrenees on a tandem and I was doing the same thing solo. The two of them made an indelible image in my head .... I was impressed at their traveling through those beautiful mountains on a loaded tandem and very much enjoyed visiting with them, partly because their enthusiasm and enjoyment of the world around them was infectious. We met again by chance two days later on Col du Soulor. I had ridden up the route from the north, they came over Col d'Aubisque. I am tickled to be able to interview them for this series.

Have you always ridden tandem?
We bought a tandem in 1971 soon after we were married. Colin has always been a stronger cyclist than Veronica so it made sense to combine our efforts. 

My instinct is that tandem riding seems much harder, though I don't know anything about it. Would you tell us a bit about the physics of it.
Tandems are generally faster downhill, because of the combined weight, but slower uphill depending upon the fitness of the riders. The two riders are known as steersman and stoker. There are no specific problems in cornering, but it does need a fair degree of adjustment to ride effectively together, so that the pedals turn with the same effort. We have the pedals sightly adjusted so that the stoker's pedals reach the top before those of the steersman. We do know couples who have never mastered the art of riding a tandem. Indeed some would say that the best stoker is someone who has never ridden a solo. We use hub brakes because with the extra weight of two people on two wheels, rim brakes can become very hot and we have burst tyres as a consequence. 

I am guessing that tandems might be much more popular in England than in the US, because I have met other English cycle tourists on tandems in France and virtually never see them in the US ... are they used often there?
There is an international tandem club, with members in U.S. but even in this country we attract comment as an unusual sight. In the U.K. efforts are being made to increase cycle use, and that will increase cycle touring. It could be that on the back of Olympic success and Tour de France success for British cyclists there is more interest. However in the U.K. the motorist is very dominant. It is hard to ease people out of their cars. A fair number of motorists feel cyclists have no place on the roads for which they think they pay with road tax. This is a myth since highways and roads are maintained through general taxation. The anti-cyclist motorist cannot see that by riding a bike there is less congestion on the roads, and a great savings in health bills. Moreover a bike is generally non polluting.

That attitude is common in the US also. Many motorists don't seem to understand or care that cyclists also pay for the roads through our tax dollars, and we have an equal right to use them! On a personal note I seem to remember that you ride without helmets....maybe not.... but was that a choice, or just what you do?
No, we choose not to wear helmets, since there is no purpose served, and the case has not been proved. Indeed we often think that it would make more sense for motorists to wear helmets since most head injuries occur to people in motor vehicles. 

Have you toured in England, if so where?
We have toured in U.K. notably in Derbyshire and Norfolk. And when the children were young we took them on cycle tours using a combination of child seats, "kiddi-cranks" and tandem or solos as needed.

Where else have you toured?
We went to Ireland one summer which we all enjoyed. Before the children we did tours in France, and in what was then Yugoslavia, and from Feb. 1974 – August 1975 we toured right around the world starting in New York. 

I had no idea! So, I googled you, and learned that your trip, finished on August 27, 1975, logging18,020 miles around the world, set an international record for touring on a tandem. That is an amazing trip, I'd love to learn more about it someday. Very very cool! Has your touring style changed since then?
In the early days we would camp carrying the tents and other gear with us or use Youth Hostels. These days we use Youth Hostels when available, but B&B sometimes as well, which gives a different perspective and needs a degree of adaptability since they can be so variable. 
I ride as a solo woman, you ride a tandem, but in some ways, the same questions pop up frequently ... the advantages of riding solo or with others, travelling as a solo woman ... or for that matter, solo man.
As to riding as a single woman, there are some famous precedents, Dervla Murphy being the one who comes to mind first, but there are several others. I suspect that the biggest problem is not so much the gender as the ability to maintain the bike, at least that would be Veronica's problem. She cannot even mend a puncture effectively. 

We met Heinz Stucke in 1975, touring alone all over the World. He had been on the road about 19 years when we met him, and we heard of him a few years ago still riding. He said that there were advantages and disadvantages to riding alone. For a man he could be seen with some suspicion whereas Colin accompanied by a woman was less threatening. But for a female cyclist this probably would not apply.

I knew vaguely of Heinz Stucke before you mentioned him, and just found this quote from his web site "...[my first]  trip was extended a bit longer than I expected, and a year and a half after my departure I decided to return to my hometown to work, marry, have children ... in short, all those things that one assumes one has to do. But after a year, I realized that was not what I wanted and not what I expected from life. On the 4th of November 1962, I took my bike and started a wonderful journey that has not yet reached its end."  That was written after 48 years of pedalling and 20 passports! 

I remember your saying to me something like you popped over to ride ... or some such... that made me sort of insanely envious! Would you compare touring in England and France? What draws you to France?
Riding in France is much preferable to that in the U.K because the French have a very different attitude to cyclists, and take pride in their cycling heritage. In defense of the U.K. motorist, it is true that French drivers have more room and that French roads are generally well maintained, even the most remote areas. Another personal reason to choose to tour in France is the language. Veronica speaks French moderately well having first been to France more than 50 years ago and frequently since then. 

After our interview, I learned that besides climbing Col de Marie Blanque (1035m) and Col du Soulor (1474m) last September you also rode up Col d'Aubisque (1709m) Col du Tourmalet (2115m) Col d'Aspin (1489m) and Col de Peyresourde (1568m) These are all famous Tour de France climbs and absolutely inspirational! I can't wait to go back and hope that we might meet again in the mountains of France. Your cycling story has been inspirational to me and spurs me on to try ever more ambitious climbing! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. 


  1. Wonderfully interesting interview.
    But I would never ever EVER get on a tandem with my hubby, much as I love him!

    1. Steph,

      Thanks! Even if my husband wanted to ride a bike, which he doesn't, I'd never ride tandem. Our marriage would last less than 5 minutes!

  2. Hi Suzy
    I take a look on your site and its amazing! Plenty of inspiring poeples and traveling story!You write me a comment on my blog, www.lavidaesmejor.tumblr.com but I can not find the ways to answers or your email adress so there is my loulou1314@hotmail.com if you still want communique with me.
    Have a great day and thanks for the comment,

    1. Hi Noemie,
      Thanks for taking a look, I'm glad you're enjoying the site. I'll email you, it's great to hear from you and I really enjoyed reading the story of your trip!


My blog is out of date, and so comments are closed.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.