An extract from the book – Sports the Olympics Forgot.
The Tandem Tour in Hungary is the world’s only organized sporting event for cyclists on the same bike. The first event took place on May 10th, 1957 to commemorate 6 months since the forces of the Soviet Union brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising. The idea is to show that although the socialist ideals of helping each other are perfectly embodied on a tandem you also need freedom to enjoy that socialist ideal. What better freedom could there be than riding to the four corners of Hungary in a two-week long race that tests teams’ endurance to the limit.
In the 1957 all the teams were from Eastern Bloc countries apart from the Soviet Union – all the entries from teams in that country mysteriously disappeared due to an administrative oversight, which kept repeating itself until 1990.
The tour starts in western Hungary at Sopron with a short time trial to Gyor. The next stage is to the town of Balatonfured. This is just a warm-up for the hardest day of the tour – a double circumnavigation of Lake Balaton including sixteen separate sprints where time bonuses can be won.
Stage four takes the riders to Esztergom on the Danube Bend before they head into the Matra Hills for three days of riding between Salgotarjan, Ozd, and Eger. Next it’s into the Hortobagy National Park and a series of time trials between Miskolc, Tokaj, Nyiregyhaza, Mariapocs, and Debrecen.
The penultimate day’s ride takes the teams across The Great Plain to Szolnok via Bekescsaba. The last day’s riding takes the tour to Budapest for the finish in front of the Houses of Parliament by the River Danube.
The unique feature of the Tour of the Tandem is that both professional and amateur teams take part in the same race. Time trials are always organized so that the fastest teams go first thus reducing the chances of accidents. On the race around Lake Balaton the road is always wide enough for the faster teams to lap the slower ones.
There is also a prize for the unlikeliest bike to have completed the race. This is usually either a specially altered Penny-farthing bicycle or an extended mountain bike with smaller wheels.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the Tour of the Tandem has become increasingly popular with riders from Western Europe although it never really attracts the best riders, who are normally in training for one of the major cycling tours in May.
The first winners of the Tour of the Tandem were the Nagy brothers from Szeged who on different days alternated between front and back on their bike, which is not against the rules – indeed riders can change places during a stage if they so wish. Between 1958 and 1961 the Szabo brothers from Debrecen were the winners and they hold the record for winning by the largest margin, 45 minutes and 13 seconds in 1959, and the smallest margin 6 seconds in 1960. The race in 1960 was the first year when amateur teams were allowed to compete in the race and they often got in the way of the professional teams, which lead to pile ups on every stage including the infamous Lake Balaton Peloton Collision when half the teams finished in the lake after an amateur tandem team from Lodz in Poland suffered a puncture and swerved across the path of the other teams.
Several teams had to withdraw from the race due to their injuries and so it was decreed that from 1961 onwards all teams should wear safety helmets and that fancy dress was not allowed. This was because two teams from East Berlin, who had been wearing Josef Stalin and Nikita Khruschev outfits, seemed to suffer the worst injuries of all the riders. A lot of those injuries were caused by the crowd, who took the opportunity of the crash to make their feelings quite clear about the lack of tact shown by their socialist brothers from East Germany in wearing the outfits of the hated Soviet leaders.
In 1978 the race was opened up to teams of three riding extended tandems although these bikes weren’t considered for the overall race classification and they have proved to be unpopular because of their unwieldiness on the narrow bends in the Matra Hills. A team from the Isle of Man, called the Fun Boy Three, has won the triple classification most often, scoring five victories in their ten visits to Hungary between 1996 and 2005.