A bicycle built for two: What Chicago Area Tandem Society cyclists love about biking in pairs

"Double your pleasure, double your fun ..."

While that catchy Wrigley's chewing gum jingle may be outdated, it's still a genuine mantra for Chicago Area Tandem Society members.

As the recent "Tour the Heart of Illinois" Rally suggests, CATS is a lively collection of cyclists keen on biking in pairs, sometimes triples, and, naturally, socializing. Over Labor Day weekend, nearly 60 volunteers welcomed 212 tandem teams from 28 states, Canada and France, plus several "half-bikers" to Decatur for the 46th Midwest Tandem Rally.

Gary, Deanne and Stephen Browning from Carmel, Indiana, mount their tandem triple at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel at the Midwest Tandem Rally in September. Courtesy of Greg Browning

Based at Decatur Conference Center and Hotel, the MTR encompassed four days of riding, initiated with Friday's ice cream ride and citywide photo hunt. Saturday and Sunday rides offered route options with rest/lunch stops that facilitated mingling.

The Labor Day breakfast ride concluded the rally and its seminars, vendors and social activities, including a banquet and square dancing.

Besides rallying 400 cyclists, CATS vice president and MTR chairperson Ford Sakata was extra challenged dealing with shutdown after-effects. Imagine the effort planning the MTR once. How about twice?

2020's canceled rally switched to Racine, Wisconsin, in 2021, meaning any 2021 rally arrangements for Decatur needed reconfirmation for 2022. "Double your pleasure, double ..."

Ballet on wheels

Tandem "pas de deux" is truly ballet on wheels. Not only are mounting and dismounting critical skills for tandemists, so is balancing while rolling. Partner trust and communication are key, especially the "captain" (front rider) calling out bumps/hazards for the "stoker" behind, whose forward vision is limited to jersey logos.

Consequently, tandeming may not suit every biking couple. It can be a challenging partner experience, like wallpapering a small bathroom together. It can also be positively affirming.

"No matter which direction your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there faster," Sakata said.

Former CATS board member Susan Pribyl and husband Grant Benjamin of Ingleside have been tandeming 35 years, admitting, "We love to hang around other tandem couples."

Sakata of Arlington Heights agrees. "People that ride tandems tend to be very social animals."

Maurice and Pascale Furgerot from St. Brice, France, who cycled the 2015 Midwest Tandem Rally in Rockford, reunited with American friends at the Decatur rally. Courtesy of Ron Spears

Such sociability transcends nationality and language. Even Frenchman Maurice Furgerot, who cycled with wife Pascale in 2015 in Rockford, concurs. "What's similar between French and Midwestern rallies - it's friendliness and the welcome everyone gave us. Some in the Rockford MTR recognized us seven years later in Decatur. It's very nice!"

CATS President Kim Messina of Elmhurst also notes that socializing reveals itself in scheduled "themed rides," like mid-October's "Road to Ribs" ride in Willowbrook or December's Holiday Lights Ride.

'Pigs, cows, muts'

Currently claiming 58 teams, CATS was founded as an offshoot of coordinating the 1984 Dundee rally. Originally named Chicago Area Tandems, it was changed to CATS, leading other U.S. clubs to adopt animal acronyms: Paired Iowans Going Somewhere (PIGS), Couples on Wheels (COWs) in Wisconsin and Michigan United Tandem Society (MUTS).

Illinois has hosted the MTR seven times since 1979, alternating with tandem clubs from surrounding states. Wisconsin organized seven rallies, Michigan six and Indiana eight. Other states have also hosted. Always held Labor Day weekend, 2023's MTR is planned for Fort Wayne, Indiana, by Hoosiers Out on Tandems - HOOTs.

CATS has demonstrated regional leadership in other ways. Tom Masters, club founder and 20-year president, organized the very first Midwest rally in Kokomo, Indiana, (1976). Pribyl compliments Masters, who died in 2021, as very organized, expanding CATS' monthly rides to include weeklong trips.

CATS includes cyclists with visual disabilities who enjoy tandeming. Villa Park optometrist and CATS member John Loesch's involvement with the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association led to organizing bike rides for the visually impaired. CATS includes two members who ride as blind stokers.

Besides the MTR, CATS' schedule offers multiple organized rides run by the club or by others, including Wisconsin and Indiana groups.

The smaller scale Prairie State Tandem Ride has been held throughout Illinois. On 2021's ride out of Decatur, rally planners scouted restaurants, local landmarks and other sites for this year's MTR.

Holiday Lights Ride

Elves Brian and Susan Patterson join Mrs. Claus (Susan Pribyl) at the December 2019 Holiday Lights Ride, organized by CATS and the Arlington Heights Bicycle Club. Courtesy of Grant Benjamin

A winter tradition since 2011, CATS members, along with the Arlington Heights Bicycle Club, ride decorated bicycles through that village on their Holiday Lights Ride. This year's ride starts at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, from Runner's High'n Tri, 121 W. Campbell St.

Per Sakata, a longtime AHBC member, "It's typically about 10 miles, but adjustable depending on weather," noting measurable snow twice. "Route takes us around downtown, with a North Park photo stop, then we proceed to downtown Mount Prospect before finishing in downtown Arlington Heights.

"Actual routes change yearly because we pick streets with as many holiday decorated neighborhoods/homes as we can find. It's a festive ride for both cyclists and observers. People exit their houses and stores applauding and cheering us on," Sakata said.

Annual Grand Illinois Bike Tour

The 2023 Grand Illinois Bike Tour, June 11-16, is open for registration and filling quickly. Northwest Illinois welcomes this 20th annual bicycle tour and largest fundraiser for Ride Illinois, the statewide, nonprofit bike advocacy organization.

Riders pedal at their own pace from Kewanee High School, overnighting twice in Moline, once in Savanna, and twice in Rock Falls before returning to Kewanee. Like years past, routes follow quiet rural roads and paved trails, with six-day total mileage options ranging from 210-375 miles.

Ride support includes luggage transport, on-route pickup when needed, audio navigation, rest stops and more.

GIBT is limited to 190 cyclists, with hotel accommodations for 130. Group camping is also available.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

U.S. tandem clubs adopt animal acronyms

Creativity prevails among U.S. tandem biking clubs:

• Florida: PANTHERS (Partners Aboard Neat Tandems Happily Enjoying Riding Simultaneously)

• Georgia: PEACHES (Pairs Enthusiastically Astride Cycles Having Experiences Simultaneously)

• Maryland: CRABS (Couples Riding a Bike Simultaneously)

• New England: NEWTS (New England's Wicked Tandem Society)

• New Jersey: DOGS (Doubles Of the Garden State)

• Illinois: RAPTORS (Rockford Area Pedaling Tandems on Road Society)

• Texas: TX-CATS (Texas Capital Area Tandem Society of Austin)

• Virginia: WABITS (Washington Area Bicyclists In Tandem Society)

• Virginia: RATS (Richmond Area Tandem Society)

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