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In Tandem: Pedaling Through Midlife on a Bicycle Built for Two
Szifra Birke, author

Adult; Self-Help, Sex & Relationships, Psychology, Philosophy, Fashion; (Market)

An amusing and insightful memoir about building a new relationship. The authors’ new tandem bike challenges their fitness, their negotiation skills, and their ability to become a team as these two very different individuals strive to assemble a relationship on the debris of multiple divorces, breakups, and a death. In Tandem easily shifts gears between the couple’s efforts to understand and support each other emotionally and the mechanics of learning to ride a bicycle that demands cooperation. It captures the complexity of integrating personal responsibility and shared accountability, and the need to not just negotiate but to welcome differences when established adult lives are merged. Ride along with this remarkable couple as they work to become fitter in order to pedal themselves and thirty-five pounds of bike up long hills, strive to avoid encounters with bikes’ most dangerous predators (cars), and futilely resist the dress-alike tradition of many teams that ride bicycles built for two.
Local Authors Peddle New Bike Book

Local authors peddle new book on bicycling 

Riding and writing together, couple finds wheel love

By Scott Shurtleff           sshurtleff@lowellsun. com

LOWELL >> Szifra Birke and Jay Livingston will be reading from their newly published book, “ In Tandem: Pedaling Through Midlife on a Bicycle Built for Two,” Sunday afternoon.

The launch event at Lala Books at 189 Market St. is the first of three local opportunities to meet the authors, discuss the book and get a hand- signed copy of the 230-page, self-published book.

Originally dropped in early September, “ In Tandem” is more than an instructional manual for tandem bicycling. It is, according to the book’s cover, an examination of how those in midlife navigate new relationships after death and divorce.

Birke, whose name is an anagram for biker, is a lifelong Lowellian with familial ties to Birke’s Department Store, a bypast merchant formerly located a half- block from Lala on Market Street. Livingston is a transplant and avid cyclist who, along with Birke, is a professional executive coach.

This is his second major literary work. “Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life” was released in December 2014.

In the new book, Livingston serves as the narrative’s protagonist but it is the couple’s relationship that is really the central character.

The bicycle in the book serves only as a vehicle: both in the mechanical sense and the literary device sense. Early reviews from senior cycling coach Andy Applegate give a closer look to the inner pages.

“ Not just a must-read for cyclists, everyone will benefit from this introspective


Jay Livingston and Szifra Birke coast downhill on Lowell’s Tyler Park on their tandem bicycle. The couple recently released their self-published book, “In Tandem: Pedaling Through Midlife on a Bicycle Built for Two.”




view of our interaction with our significant others, ourselves and some of the best strategies to create of team of two,” he wrote.

The couple met in 1999, marrying in 2002. Now in their 70s, they have accepted their differences.

“We are very different people,” said Livingston. “But cycling is the glue that keeps us connected.”

Birke is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and much of those historical anecdotes weave through the memoir. The work is nonfiction, often comical and deeply germane to Lowell neighborhoods and byways and businesses.

“Having grown up in a family business that started small, I am deeply committed to helping small businesses succeed,” said Birke of Lala Books. “We are excited to support Laura’s business.”

They first engaged in tandem bicycling in 1999 but it really began in earnest in 2010. In those 12 years since, they have upgraded, now on their third, custom-built machine.

“The bike is always sized for the specific individual who sits in that seat, with the larger in the front,” Livingston explained.

And unlike most tandem bikes, this latest model, Da-Vinci Design Joint Venture, has independent coasting so each person creates their own horsepower.

“I am the auxiliary engine,” quipped Birke of her backseat workload.

The reading starts at 2 p.m. Sunday in the intimate backspace of Lala Books, where there is a section dedicated to local authors.

“It’s part of our mission to support local writers,” said owner Laura Lamarre Anderson. “I am looking forward to welcoming them and their fans.” 


For those who can’t make it to Lala Books on Sunday, Birke and Livingston will also hold readings at the Pollard Memorial Library on Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. and the Andover Bookstore on Nov. 19 at 12 p.m.


Szifra Birke and Jay Livingston pose with their tandem bicycle, the inspiration for their recently released self-published book, “In Tandem: Pedaling Through Midlife on a Bicycle Built for Two.” aptly dual titled as it offers the dual complexities of a bike’s mechanics and the maintenance of a relationship for a relationship for folks in their 60s.