LOVE RESURRECTION: JOHN AND JANE MOSS'S TANDEM TRICYCLE
It was often said that if a couple emerged from a full-blown tandem tour still in love, then their marriage would last. The moment Michael Stenning clapped eyes on this bold yellow tandem trike while mooching around the Midlands, he knew there was a special story behind it and had to know more.
Our story begins in 1979. John and Jane Moss were planning to marry. John had always loved bikes since receiving one as a Christmas present in 1962 when he was 12 and had been taught by his father to strip and rebuild it on a monthly basis. Like most of us, he was keen to share this passion.
Jane cannot ride a solo as she is partially sighted and born without cones, robbing her of colour vision - a condition further complicated by cataracts. A tandem was the obvious solution and passing a Hinckley bike shop, John happened upon a silver Peugeot tourer hanging in the window and the rest they say is history.
Ah, but the course of true love never runs smooth …
Soon afterwards, John was offered a job in Ireland. Jane was studying for her ‘A’ levels but after a brief discussion, they decided to marry pretty much immediately and begin a new life together in County Clare.
Upon their arrival, John’s new employer loaned him a VW microbus and they drove back to Coventry to collect the tandem and John’s beloved solo. A chain of unfortunate events signalled their return to Coventry and an extended hibernation for the Peugeot, which languished in in a shed; loved but unused …
There’s nothing like a disaster to sort things out. During Christmas 2006, John’s heart stopped and he collapsed on their landing. Luckily Jane was home and raised the alarm. Paramedics managed to resuscitate him after eighteen minutes “This was a seriously close call - I had been clinically dead for two minutes and after twenty, the physical entity may recover but the person has long died,” reflects John pondering a hub strip. “I was rushed to Walsgrave ICU and placed in a medically induced coma for some time”.
Jane visited him daily and slowly but surely he was strong enough to return home.
“Unfortunately, those minutes of oxygen starvation took their toll - I suffer from both short and sporadic periods of long term memory loss, although these quickly return with minor prompts.”
This road to recovery was slow but successful. He was admitted to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham and fitted with a pacemaker. During this period, doctors tweaked his medication until episodes of fibrillation had ceased. “I was permitted to ride motorcycles and drive cars again-on the proviso I didn’t do so for three months after each episode of fibrillation.”
A Return to cycling for utilitarian purposes was somewhat inevitable…
“One evening, the local news channel ran a feature on the Coventry “Peace House” charity, based in the city’s Foleshill district. This serves as a housing mutual which as the name implies also runs related not for profit community based services. They needed volunteers for their cycle repair workshop, which takes in unwanted machines, restores them to a roadworthy condition before selling on at affordable prices to promote sustainable living and good health.”
Jane suggested he should give it a go and it formed an essential part of his own rehabilitation.
“My memories were few and incomplete during this period - everything seemed familiar but I just couldn’t complete the circuit - at least without prompting. Then Brian - a former jet engine technician had me do some basic vice work. I was completely stumped to start with but as he explained the processes, muscle memory literally took over and these particular mental processes came flooding back.”
This was particularly significant given John enjoyed a successful career as a highly skilled technician in a variety of environments. “I was determined to avoid the monotony of factory/assembly line work - pretty much default options for school leavers given the car industry’s dominance in Coventry during the late 1960s.” Having dodged that particular draft, he worked as a technician at various levels, rising to production manager for some very prestigious firms.
Before long John and Brian had become firm friends “He’d often drop by the house and give me a lift in. After a while he made motions towards our Peugeot, asking if I wanted to give the tandem a new lease of life or donate it to the shop. Despite countless years of neglect, I was still able to ride it along to the workshop, doing some fault diagnosis en route. The steering stem was right royally stuck but we succeeded where a bike shop failed, liberating it with oceans of WD40, dogged persistence and brute force.”
Following some other light remedial works and a full service, disaster struck during their first quick spin. Having reached down for the gears, to his horror, John began to pass out. “By this point, I was feeling somewhat dejected but able to wheel it home between us and discuss our options.” After doing some research, Jane discovered Roman Road cycles offered a Newton trike conversion kit. “We talked a bit more and sorted the logistics of getting it from here to their workshop in Wales.”
At the risk of causing offence, I assume the role of devil’s advocate and suggest the cost of conversion (£1400 upwards) was uneconomic on a relatively modest production tandem, although John saw this differently.
“That’s very compelling on paper but then; the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Sentiment aside, we weren’t completely sure whether I’d be able to ride properly again”.
John stubbornly modified the frameset to accommodate a more contemporary 32 -42-52 triple crankset and built the rear wheel around a NU Vinci N360 hub gear. Unlike other modern systems such as Shimano’s justly popular eleven speed Alfine and ‘Rohloff Speedhub 5-14’ internal gear hubs with epicyclic gears, the Nu Vinci offers an unlimited range.
“Given my underlying impairment, this ensures we can literally tackle any terrain and remain perfectly stable - even at 2mph!”
Braking has been greatly upgraded, too. “I had initially wanted two drums up front but was persuaded in favour of cable operated Promax callipers and 160mm discs given their relative simplicity, low weight. Bigger disc rotors disperse heat better too, minimising fade on long, laden descents”. After several weeks, the transformation was complete and reborn in bright yellow 2pac paint. Flat bars replaced drops and the right brake lever also incorporates a parking brake.
General tandem etiquette suggests that only the skipper should control braking. However, in certain circumstances a light drag brake commanded by an old bar con is permissible. John smiles. “Yes, this old thumb shifter controls a stay mounted XT V brake; this is Jane’s way of telling me we’re going a bit too quick - means we can dismount on an incline, safe in the knowledge it won’t run away - especially with the trailer en tow!”
Talking of trailers, John has recently upgraded to these Winnku mirrors with integral indicators and “dipped” safety lights, which he’s been rather pleased with. “The main advantage for us is the ability to keep an eye on the trailer when turning and cornering. Mono wheel models will track nicely behind whereas getting the angle wrong with our two-wheeler runs a real risk of it sliding, or worse still, tipping over.”
Two retina tickling 4,000 lumen lamps fuelled by a lithium ion battery pack, which he says will last all night when fully charged, although are “A little too intense for suburban runs.”
Not so the two blinkies, which oscillate at a very intense rate. In a box being investigated by one of their five cats sits the original dynamo lamp and a host of others rescued from the Peace House project.
By this point, my attention turned to the practicalities of running such a build given the huge wheel base and turning circle. “Yes, aside from the usual tandem stuff, even though the Newton is super stable and reasonably compliant, clipping a pothole with just one front wheel is seriously scary business - even at a very modest 15mph.”
“Obviously it’s more disconcerting for the stoker but there’s a real sense of being thrown sideways.” However, it’s clearly one of those “quirks” they’ve come to accept and overcome.
“Presently Jane is working at Fort Dunlop, although there is the possibility of her job relocating to the old Courtaulds building a few miles away - if so, we’ll take the tandem."
I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d owned a series of very interesting solo machines and the odd motorcycle too, so delved a little deeper.
“I’ve had several solos, most notably two Pollards, the latter joined by a Trek bought while I was working at the Peace House charity.”
Pollards were a small independent bike shop based in Binley, who designed their own range, outsourcing the work to local frame builders.
“The first was a tourer, based around an aluminium alloy frame and featured a nylon derailleur, which was pretty cutting edge back in 1967. Our bond was short-lived (Stolen from outside Coventry swimming baths) but I got some serious miles in, belting along to Matlock Bath and coming home again the same day on one occasion.”
Next in line, a Carlton Corsa Strada, this quickly became his 9-5 workhorse but by the early 70s most of the components were tiring fast. “So, I was queuing in Pollards again when I spotted this lovely frameset hanging on their wall. Money changed hands and I built it up as a tourer, though later discovered it was based around track geometry - think pared to the essentials messenger missile, not commu-tourer.”
His Trek came along with a pro-quality Park workstand and assorted components. “I was collecting donations for Peace House - a gentlemen handed me the bike, workstand and some additional goodies as one bundle. I subsequently gave Peace House £200 and the Trek proved an impeccable workhorse. I really didn’t want to part with either bike but was fast losing confidence on two wheels.”
His solos may have gone but he’s very keen to acquire a fully-faired, power assisted ‘Sinner Mango’ recumbent “Several thousand pounds is a sizeable investment but the build I’m contemplating will allow me to enjoy long, challenging rides but without fear of getting stranded.”
Our conversation meanders between recumbent trikes including Mike Burrows’ iconic Speedy, the best choice of SPD pedals for general riding and classic motorcycles. Interrupted by the neighbours Akita, our conversation meets a convivial end; John returns to the Nu Vinci hub and I to transcribe our meeting.
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2015