The day we broke Donkey (our tandem bike)

‘We broke Donkey!’ Was the cliffhanger ending to Kellie’s last post.

In fact we completely buggered him up, making him impossible to ride. We were 13 miles from our Airbnb destination, and worst of all it was a Sunday.

Unlike Britain, our home nation, France still holds certain days sacred. On Sunday everything comes to a stand still. Well everything except cafes and patisseries. I normally love the French priorities; except on this occasion where a repair shop for our tandem was a necessity and delicious pastry was not.


Our tandem bike all shiny and new before we broke him

The morning had gone like clock work, a short ride into Amiens to catch a train to Creil, before cycling the last 13 miles to Orry La Ville. After landing a weekend house sit on the outskirts of Paris we needed to make haste with our journey, rather than pedal for 7 days straight we decided to take it easy and catch a train and have a day off to rest our achy limbs.

Breaking the bike

It was a bit of risk attempting to catch a train, after Googling ‘can you take a tandem on a French train?’ I discovered the official answer was a firm non negotiable ‘NON!’

Thankfully the bicycle forums/chatrooms (they do exist) are full of people who have navigated this country by tandem and train. Basically, the advice being show up, smile at the conductor and hope for the best.

There was not need to stress on this occasion, as the conductors also seem to get Sunday off. We wedged the bike in the last carriage and sat down, ready to go.

And that’s when the shit hit the fan. The train lurched heavily away from the station, instantly Donkey became un-wedged and in slow motion fell to the floor.

I picked him up, checked him over. The tandem still seemed to be in one piece, despite the huge crash. But then I tried to move him. His back wheel was jammed, brakes locked on. After 30 minutes of tinkering, the wheel was freed. Good to go, I thought.

Relieved, I held on to Donkey for the rest of the journey making sure he survived intact.

Unfortunately the first hill out of the train station proved to be the end of our trip. The chain crunched, bits snapped and pieces fell off. The rear derailleur (the bit that changes the gears) was destroyed. We were stuck on a hill, going nowhere.

I tried for and hour to perform a make do a mend job, hoping in vain to get us to our Airbnb place, but even with the help of two passing cyclist who took pity on us, there was no fixing this.

I admit now, I was/am pretty clueless when it comes to the mechanics of a bicycle. A bike maintenance course may have been a good idea before we set off, but no point worrying about that now. We thought our bike was finished with, but the passing cyclists assured us he wasn’t beyond repair.

So after the meltdown and panic, thinking our beloved Donkey was a gonna, we had hope of a resurrection. Although breathing new life into our machine would most likely be delayed until Monday.

Well and truly stuck

Donkey had now become a really heavy anchor. A normal bike is pretty easy to manoeuvre when it’s broken, but the weight and awkward bulk of a tandem takes much more effort and thought.

This left us with the difficulty of moving a huge beast the last 13 miles of our journey. Not a f@!king chance were we pushing it up and down hill in the baking sun.

After the last few days, where France had tried to break us, we’ve become pretty adaptable and can think on our feet fast. First decision made, we pushed the bike back to the train station, and discovered there was a train that would take us within a mile of our destination!


Oh hang on though, what’s that on the station monitor flashing away at the side of our train?

A bus? No. Please. Not a replacement bus service.


Ok, so there is no chance of getting this massive mother flippin tandem on a bus. Why didn’t we get separate bikes again?!

Right, what’s the next option?

Erm. Can we leave the bike here and get the bus? It’s shifty as hell in this town, not a chance. It would be gone by morning.

So… Erm. Yeah… I’m out of options. Kellie is looking at me blankly. We eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Perhaps that will help us with a flash of genius.

Nope. Nothing.

We could get a local hotel and lose the money we paid on our Airbnb stay. We decide we don’t want to do this. Creil is a bit of an armpit town, we are refusing to stay here.

When does the bus go? Three minutes. We look at each other agreed. It’s worth a shot!!

We jog to the bus with our anchor and look at the conductor and driver pleadingly, then look to the bike and finally to the bus and say “possibleh?”. Body language gets you through most situation when language fails you.

The conductor looks skeptical, the driver is eager! It looks like it’s a challenge he can’t wait to take on.

One problem though, we have no tickets. Kel sprints off to get them, whilst I do battle with bus and bike.

The driver opens the compartment underneath the bus. It’s tiny! I don’t care anymore. Donkey is going on this sodding bus. I rip off the panniers, flip donkey on his side and try sliding him in. He gets wedged instantly, half in, half out. The conductor is getting antsy, the bus must go on time, with or without us. I start sweating profusely.

The driver nips around the other side, opens the compartment and starts pulling. I push. Still he won’t budge.

My 4 panniers and two bags are scattered everywhere, they contain a laptop, iPods, kindles and expensive camper gear. Right now I am praying this town isn’t as dodgy as it looks.

I quickly grab my bike tools, loosen the handlebars and make them flat against the bike. Surely he will go in now!


His front wheel is still sticking out. One last shot! Remove the pedals. Thank god I keep my tools to hand. Pedals off, he’s almost in. The driver looks at me with a grin, gives Donkey one last heave and quickly pulls the door down.

He’s in!!

I’m dripping with sweat; Kellie’s running towards me. The conductor is pushing us on the bus. We hope we have all our bags. A quick check round, we do!!

We did it! Adrenaline pumping. Big smiles. We collapse in our seats. And celebrate with another well-earned peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Plans, plans and more plans

Over the next couple of days we locate a Decathlon (a huge outdoor shop), and get Donkey fixed. It involved a lot of pushing and train catching, but he lives to fight another day.

bike fix decathlon

The rollercoaster ride of bicycle touring continues. I’ve read a few blogs which romantacise such adventures, they make it all seem so easy. We definitely don’t.

We go through Plan A, B, C, D, right through to plan fuckety fuck!

The strange thing is, despite all the ups and downs, we love it. Battling through each day, all the unexpected problems, that’s what makes this so special.

We don’t give up, we get through it.

Then we appreciate the easy days and the times luck runs with us. Especially when we get to stay in beautiful locations like this


 Our beautiful airbnb stay – Orry-la-Ville

Yes indeed it’s a challenge, but a rewarding one.

10 Replies to “The day we broke Donkey (our tandem bike)”

  1. So, back when we were in Toronto, Tony & I watched this amazing film called 180º South (I highly recommend it if you guys have a Netflix account!) and it had this fantastic quote that really resonated with me then and I think perfectly applies to your situation: “”The word adventure has gotten overused, to me, adventure is when everything goes wrong. That’s when the adventure starts.”

    You guys are definitely having an adventure, that’s for sure! I can’t believe how much guff Donkey has given you, but clearly he’s teaching you just how resourceful and determined you truly are. I do hope that you start to hit a point in this trip where you have more days where things go according to plan than not, but no matter what, just keep doing what you’re doing and be sure to treat yourselves to plenty of cake!

    1. Yeah we watched it too in Canada! That comment stuck with me as well, as I use adventure quite frequently, for once I feel I can use it properly.

      Donkey is a bit of a pain in the arse sometimes, but usually it’s our fault rather than his, a tandem is great fun most of the time. Definitely have sampler mountains of pastries, France is definitely living up to that expectation!

  2. What a tough day, so glad you got through it and that Donkey lives to ride another day! It’s certainly a resilient beast. Last night we ran out of fuel coming home from dinner in the middle of a heaving thunderstorm here in Hanoi, our Little Cub is about 55Kg, and that’s a git to push, luckily there aren’t any hills in Hanoi though. 🙂

    1. Cheers Andrew, what didn’t break is only makes us blah blah blah. 55kg doesn’t sound like fun, good workout for the guns though 😉

  3. Phew!!! Glad donkey survived. Thanks for getting my heart pounding early in the morning (since I am definitely not getting the physical and emotional exercise you guys are!). Great post!

    1. Ta chuck! I think we could have imploded at one point, but we live to fight another day. Currently Donkey only has one gear, but we have stopped worrying about such things. We cn still move move but our legs spin around a ultra fast speeds!

  4. I’m just loving following your adventures, #1 because you’re such a great couple and #2 because it’s like reliving our Camino walk. I would go to bed at night, just exhausted and thinking, that’s it I’m done. But then the new dawn would come and I couldn’t wait to get out there and see what the day (and the Camino) would bring. It’s crazy, but it becomes your life.

    1. Thanks Patti, so nice! It’s nice sharing in each others self in-forced hardships, at least we are not alone in our misery 😉 Loved following your pilgrimage.

      To be honest without the difficult bits on this journey we would not appreciate the wonderful days and even the boring days. Boring means at least nothing has gone wrong today! 🙂

    1. Ha, it’s been a couple of weeks since plan fuckety fuck, but I’m sure it will crop up again. No major rows so far, although I’m not sure how long Kel will hold out having to watch my cake consumption

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