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Managing the Difference Between Hammering and Cruising on a Tandem with My Wife. The Deeper Side of Tandem Riding.

My wife and I bought our tandem a little more than six years ago – I think it’ll be seven this coming spring. I’d seen some of the other tandem couples and had romantic ideas of my wife and I enjoying bombing down the road, putting the hurt on our friends with a smile stretched across our faces… into a headwind…

Well, it didn’t exactly start out that way. We’ve always been decently fast but my wife had a negative view of many of our rides on the tandem. A lot of her issues with our tandem time had to do with perception and because we were both walking on eggshells in our marriage, we tended not to talk about those things to keep from rocking the boat and having a simple discussion and negotiation turning into a fight. In hindsight, that’s no environment to learn how to ride a tandem together. The more we ride and the better we get at it, the more important it is that we talk, reasonably, about how a ride goes.

Recently, my wife and I started looking at it as a good date or a bad date on the bike. I suppose it’s necessary to add this most important point about judging a bike ride as a good or bad date… we don’t try to hurt the other’s feelings with our assessment. We always talk about what we can do differently to improve a “bad” date. My biggest problems arise when I get antsy about time, or lack thereof. My wife’s arise when she believes I get antsy or our goals for the ride (which aren’t always discussed before the ride) aren’t clearly articulated.

Our good date/bad date issues really started manifesting when we started trying to keep up with the A-Elite group on Tuesday nights a couple of months ago. Until then, our best was around 20 to 21-mph (32 to 34-km/h). All of a sudden we jumped to 22 to 23-mph over 29 miles. That’s a heck of a jump and it was entirely unexpected – and my wife was the one who initiated it by suggesting we should try it.

Where I went wrong…

The “bad date” rides often center around a difference in thinking about how we should be working together. For example, if I think we should be going faster – whether we have somewhere to be or we’re going really slow – and I start hammering the pedals to the point I blow myself up (yes, I’ve done it, and fairly recently), Jess is in the rear admiral’s saddle thinking “WTH?”.

The key is communication and if it’s not happening, it’s easy to run into difficulties.

Going back to the period in our marriage where we were both walking on eggshells so we were afraid to have a decent negotiation, you can see how that will create tension in an environment where you literally have to communicate well with someone. Well, the key is in the negotiation. When we don’t try to win a fight, rather find a path to peace through a fair and respectful negotiation, good things can happen.

It helps to know when you’re trying to win, your spouse loses. Let’s just say the potential for happiness and peace is negatively impacted and call it good.

Oh, and one last thing! Once I realized how much fun a 16-mph ride could be with my wife, it wasn’t so important to hammer it when we went out for a ride. Last night we had a phenomenal date on the tandem. 15.9 miles in 59:30… for a 16.1-mph average (25 km/h). We talked the whole hour and it was outstanding.

Gratitude

Recovery is a funny thing. Some days you wake up and you can’t put your finger on it, but you’re simply grateful.

I can’t explain it or define it. More important, I don’t think I’d want to.

It’s enough to simply acknowledge it and be… well, grateful for it.

The two things I do know to avoid are fighting it or overanalyzing it.

It’s best to just be thankful and roll with it.

The Happy Life of a Cycling Enthusiast… Post Wakeup.

I’m usually knocking on 7,000+ miles for the year at this point in the season. It’s just barely above freezing outside this morning, unseasonably cold for the end of September (no doubt due to global warming [TM]). I’ll be lucky if I crack 6,000 miles for the year… I still have more than 1,500 miles to go and I don’t care if I hit it. I’m in fine shape, though a little on the heavy side, and I’ve had more fun on two wheels than a human should be allowed (with four legs pushing those wheels lately).

I peaked at slightly more than 10,000 miles in 2018.

I’m happier at half that… and I never saw it coming. I thought I was happy with all of those miles (I sure was skinnier), but hindsight being what it is, I’ll take days like yesterday over a century any day, and with a smile on my face. My wife and I headed down to Ypsilanti to see my daughter’s university football team play their homecoming game. The weather was amazing and the game, horrible. After showing up a couple of hours early and having some tailgate chili, we headed in to get our most amazing third row 50-yardline seats. We watched until halftime and started talking about heading home early. Eastern didn’t have their heart in the game and they were being dominated by an inferior U-Mass team. We took care of a family matter with our daughter and headed for Parker Mill Park, halfway between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

My wife and I held hands, talked and walked the trail for hours.

We saw beautiful trees that had to top 150-years-old, deer and enjoyed a wonderful wooden trail though a wetland that included several stops on streams and one glorious benched seat alone on a river where we sat and talked for a good 20 minutes, hogging the space to ourselves.

Not a pedal was spun yesterday, on a Saturday, no less, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve woken to good times and noodle salad.

I would rather be on the tandem…

We had the choice of gravel bikes (singles) or the tandem this morning. It’s cold. Very cold. Barely above freezing cold. In years past we’d unquestionably choose the gravel bikes because they’re slow, over a road bike, even the tandem… but not this year. My wife asked what I’d like to ride before we started getting ready. I already had the water bottles filled and on the tandem before it even dawned on me that it might be a cold ride on a road bike.

I’d rather be on the tandem.

100%.

And for that I am so very grateful. So shall it ever be.

Everybody was Gravel Biking (I Think I Will Too!)

I picked up a new set of gravel tires for my 2017 Specialized Diverge AL-Sport. Truthfully, there should be a class-action against Specialized for producing this bike. While the Sora 9-speed drivetrain is decent and everything works, the frame is only slightly better than useless (the fork, however, is fine). You can barely fit a 32-mm tire in between the chainstays. God help you if you get a little mud build-up on the tire with a 32, though. It’ll rub the paint and the aluminum right off the frame. Enter the Kenda Kwick K879 30-mm Cyclocross tire. Thankfully they’re thin enough with some decent tread that I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I really like that tire!

There’s nothing better than gravel biking in the fall, though, even on skinnier tires. With the cooling to cold temperatures (35 to 50 F or to <2C to 10 C), it’s nice to slow the train down and forget the need to go fast and just have some fun talking with friends while we ride. In my world, the season’s all but over and it’s time to sit back and relax a little bit. Oh, we’re not done yet, of course. There are plenty of miles out there for October and even into November and December yet… but the clock is ticking and we’re into full cold weather gear now. Arm warmers, long-sleeve jerseys, neck gaiters, leg warmers, tights and wool socks.

The true joy of riding dirt roads is avoiding traffic. Nobody drives a car on our dirt roads for enjoyment – they go the mile or two they have to to get to a paved artery and they’re gone. That means it’s rare to get passed by a car on a dirt road (we rode at least ten miles on dirt yesterday and didn’t get passed once). After a full season on asphalt, it’s always nice to experience the quiet solitude of dirt roads… and of cleaning my wife and my gravel bikes at least twice a week. Or more. Hang on, I have to get a tissue.

Anyway, I rolled out with my buddy Mike and Diane yesterday morning for some pre-breakfast groad. The new tires are fantastic and my bike is running excellently. We laughed and talked and generally had a great time of it. My wife had meetings all day, so it would have been better had she been there, but it was still fantastic – though I still had the same problem with the gravel bike that I have with my Venge and Trek; single bikes feel weird. And thank God for that.

The gravel season has begun…

Saddle Height, Leg Length, Cleat Shims… and the 10-Second FREE Alternative to Addressing Having One Leg (Slightly) Longer than the Other.

My wife and I both have a one leg shorter than the other. Ironically, mine’s the left. My wife’s is the right. I don’t quite know how that would throw a tandem off kilter, but we manage. Happily. To an extent.

There are two things you can do to address one leg being shorter than the other on a bicycle; lower the saddle height so the shorter leg gets its proper extension, or shim the shorter leg by putting a shim betwixt the cleat and the shoe sole.

For me, I can live with lowering the saddle to my left leg’s length. That doesn’t work for my wife. The issue is that with the saddle lower than you’d like, when you start putting power to the pedals, you tend to sit harder in the saddle which creates all kinds of bad interactions with the saddle. With the saddle high enough for her left leg, her right hip socket bothers her immensely. That meant we had to go the shim route.

Now, shimming a cleat works a treat for a road shoe where you duck-walk with exposed cleats anyway. On a mountain shoe, shimming the cleat exposes the metal to the ground instead of the sole lugs. That, my friends, is no bueno. If you’ve never tried to walk metal on rock, tile, hardwood, laminate or concrete, that would be because you’re smart or lucky (or both). This makes shimming the cleat on a mountain biking shoe a little more dangerous… and that’s what we use on the tandem, so it was suggested, rather intelligently by our local bike shop owner, that we simply take an insole from an old shoe and slide it beneath her cycling insole. Brilliant!!!

Now, me being me, rather than get my wife an insole, I bought her a new pair of exceptional cycling shoes. They’re not top-end, but they’re a fair bit nicer than mine. Then, I took the insole out of her old mountain bike shoe and slid it into her new shoe beneath the new insole.

38 miles later and my lovely wife reports the hip pain is gone. I may update this post if we run into problems in the near future, but those of us who have put an obscene amount of time in on a saddle will tell you, generally speaking, you know when you get the saddle right. My wife is one who puts an obscene outstanding amount of time in on a saddle.

Note: While the additional insole is a fantastic idea, it’s not exactly a scientific remedy to a short leg… for instance, what if the width of an insole is too much shim? We could be throwing too big (or too little) a fix at the issue and create another. However, free is worth a try to see if it works.

Dealing with a Loose Spoke… and a Jinx

My friend from Ireland, the Unironedman, called it when I wondered in an earlier post if I’d jinx myself by touting my luck with zero mechanical issues so far this season in a post I’d written about some maintenance I’d done on the fleet. I knew I was pushing my luck, of course, but the Unironedman knew by exactly how much: 100% Jinxed. One part of the maintenance I was referring to in that post was rotating the tires on the tandem.

After work Wednesday, I readied the tandem for its duties. We had our last nice, warm day of the summer upon us and we wanted to make the most of what could turn out to be our last shorts/short-sleeve ride of the season (doubtful, yes, but it’s pretty stinkin’ cold out here right now – you never know).

We pushed off to go and immediately heard a strange “clinking”. Actually, “tinking” would be a better word if it were a word. It certainly more aptly describes the sound – and in the world of the mechanicary, it’s all about aptly describing the sound (think apothecary, only with bicycle mechanics – Shakespeare would be proud, I like to believe).

I tightened up the quick release skewers on the ride, the proper first thing to do. That appeared to help at first, but in the end, the tinking sound was still there. I knew for a fact it was one of two things; a ridge had developed where the spokes cross and there was a spoke or two loose that would create tension every revolution or bump in the road and release, causing the “tink”, or it was simply a loose spoke.

For the first, you simply spread a little bearing grease/lube betwixt the spokes and squeeze the spokes where they cross to work the lube in. You’ll go from that tinking sound to almost nothing when you squeeze the spokes together. In really bad cases, you have to file the ridge out.

In my case, that didn’t completely fix the problem, though it helped, so I knew I had a loose spoke.

Now, I’d like to think I have enough miles on bikes to know how to diagnose an inappropriate sound emanating from a bicycle, thus bicycle mechanicary, however the second I truly believed that to my baby toes, I’d run into one that I couldn’t possibly diagnose. It is the way of things, just as I jinxed myself in an earlier post.

I shan’t make that mistake again, ye jackanapes.

And so, after a bit of mild consternation at not finding the offending spoke, I decided to give it another try before I found the thing by it breaking… and voila! I found two, one right next to the other. After a quick tightening, I checked to make sure the wheel didn’t pull out of true or develop a bump (from pulling the spokes too tight, you can actually pull a rim out of round).

Our next 38 miles on the tandem were enjoyed in utter silence. So shall it ever be. Minus jinxes. I should have known better, but the things I subject myself to so I can call myself a writer…

There is a Cure for “Get-there-itis”. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train…

I am a results-oriented person. Have been my whole life. When I go shopping, I know what I want and I go get the best version of what I want and I’m done. I put a value on my free time… about triple what work is willing to pay me. If I can’t save three times what someone else is willing to pay me, I don’t worry about cost savings.

We can’t take money with us when we go and our existence on this rock is finite – we won’t get out of this alive. You have to save money for the future, of course, but I make the most of the time I have as well. Or so I thought…

As a sufferer of “Get-there-itis”, I’m always pressing to get wherever it is we’re going. That’s the mission (a lot like shopping), to get there. As a result, I’ve been quite anxious, often pushy, and sometimes a downright butthole until we reach whatever destination it is we’re heading to.

To make this exceptionally fun and exciting, my wife likes to take the scenic route. The long way. And she’s an absolute nut until we get out the door. The kids were traumatized when it came to vacations. Any kid would be fortunate to have parents who care as much as we do, but we owe them an amends about getting ready and getting to and from vacation destinations since they were little ones.

I won’t focus on my wife’s numerous quirks in this regard because to do so is an exercise in idiocy that never turns out well. I know the fix to mine, though.

“Get-there-itis”, viewed honestly and open-mindedly, is a self-centric behavior. We have to get there because I am a results-oriented person. There’s no scenic route worth taking, no road but the quickest/fastest way there worth it. Once we get “there”, I can relax and enjoy it. I would actually get fidgety and anxious when we deviated from getting there. I hated it.

This makes life sad and difficult for someone who likes to take a road trip from time to time. Who likes to get there, but to enjoy the trip as well.

So, here’s the trick. First, I fell in love with my wife all over again after 25 years of marriage and 27 years together. This takes a little more than a decision. It takes practice and a whole lot of “want to”. When we fell in love again, I focused on fixing (or at least working on fixing – it’s a massive battle) my self-centeredness. And that’s how I learned my “Get-there-itis” was a result of being selfish. Oh, it’s great when you’ve gotta get the wife to the maternity ward, but it sucks on vacation.

My wife and I went on our first trip together after these changes started manifesting with all of the angst we normally would – thankfully, the kids were staying home for this one. On the way up, because I knew the route to our destination (I’d traveled it regularly with my parents when I was young) I asked my wife if we could take the longer route up the coast because it was vastly more visually stunning. I didn’t have to scrape her jaw off the floor, but it was close. Then, on the way up the coast (east coast of Michigan, in Tawas and Oscoda), my wife kept seeing public beaches and as we passed one she blurted out, “Oh my God, that’s beautiful!” I asked if she wanted to see it up close and whipped our SUV, camper in tow, into a gas station to turn around just as she answered, “yes”.

We walked the beach for ten or fifteen minutes and took a few selfies and photos of the magnificence of the Lake Huron beach.

If memory serves, my wife actually cried as we got back into the car because I’d never been willing to do something like turn the car around in mid-trip to check out a beach! I simply smiled and said, “The change is real, sweetheart.”

Later, during that trip, we were riding our tandem and my wife spotted a beautiful stream passing under the road. It was so gorgeous she couldn’t help but holler out. I checked traffic was clear and whipped the bus-like bike around and we took a ten minute break to take in the scenery. It was amazing. More selfies and regular photos.

It was shortly after I realized my “Get-there-itis” was capable of being “cured”. In the changes I’d gone through, I learned I could have fun with my wife on the journey to the destination… without messing with the thrill of getting to the destination. My vacation time was literally extended by the length of the trip, both to and from.

Friends, my “Get-there-itis” ceased being something my wife and kids had to put up with. Now I watch for its signs so I can stomp the anxiousness out before it has a chance to start because it messes with some great time spent with my wife and kids. My life is vastly more enjoyable without it.

A Little Rain Day Maintenance; A Couple of Drivetrains and A Surprise Flat on the Tandem

I arrived home Tuesday to reports of rain looming just short of the time we’d be finishing the Tuesday night ride in Lennon. I gave my wife two options; we could risk it and see how things shook out, or we could ride from home just the two of us and have a date on our tandem. I was hoping for the latter and was quite happy that this was my wife’s choice as well. She still had some remote work to do so I went to work readying the tandem. I wanted to lube the drivetrain as well as tend to the water bottles and air the tires… and I knew I was in for a little more than that as soon as I tried to move the bike. The rear tire was dead flat.

I was not surprised.

We hit a train track pretty hard Friday and when I aired the tires Saturday morning, the rear was down to 60 pounds from 100. It shouldn’t have been below 90 pounds. I new a flat was nigh.

I didn’t even bother with the tire irons. 28 mm tires on the Velocity Dyad tandem wheels slip off easily with no tools if you know the trick of leveraging the bead against the rim and rolling it just so… both beads at the same time, too. You just roll the tire right off without having to mess around with tire irons (or plastics, as they are, generally). I checked carefully for any foreign objects in the tire and took the tube in to the kitchen sink when I found nothing. I wanted to know where the leak was. A hole on the outside of the tube (toward the tire) generally signifies a foreign object piercing the tube. A hole on the inside, against the rim, generally signifies a pinch-flat.

I filled the sink a couple of inches and ran the just-filled tube ’round. No bubbles. I ran it again. No bubbles. I discarded the tube in the recycle tub and went about my chores. Chain lubed, water bottles topped… and I started a load of laundry as well. Then I pulled out the Venge to clean and lube its drivetrain as well. May as well while I was at it. Jess was still working. And that’s when the thunder became audible, way off in the distance. I wheeled the bike in from the driveway, leaned against my car. The rain was going to hit us well before 7.

We never rode. The rain came swift and hard. We decided on chicken noodle soup for dinner and Jess commenced to chopping veggies while I folded the clothes that had come out of the drier. Our youngest, driving on her own now, came home from practice while the soup was cooking, having been kicked out of the pool at the first sign of thunder.

With the bikes cleaned and readied and chores done, there was nothing left to do but let dinner finish cooking.

Rain days are a bummer, especially when you plan on being able to beat the rain all day and look forward to the ride.

Making the best of them when they happen, on the other hand, isn’t so bad.

Next it’s time to get the gravel bikes ready! Fall arrives today.

4,000 Miles in This Year and The One Thing I Haven’t Written About: Mechanicals!!!

Maintaining a fleet of bikes throughout the cycling season is no easy task. Between my wife and I, we’re looking at five bikes; two for her, two for me, and our tandem – the tandem being the more important of the five this year as we’re putting so many miles on it. I’ve been writing for something like eleven years (almost twelve) and every year I have at least a half-dozen posts on maintenance issues.

Well, I haven’t written much about that because, and God help me I hope I don’t jinx anything, I have yet to experience a difficult mechanical issue this year. The Trek and Venge are as near perfection as they’ve ever been. Additionally, my wife’s Alias, after getting a new rear wheel, is as close to perfect as I’ve ever had that bike. Then there’s the tandem, which got new cables last year and is just as good as the rest of the stable.

Now, there’s one interesting thread to this story, and that’s my wife’s saddle location on the tandem. As I said I would earlier this season, I’ve put more time into properly locating my wife’s tandem saddle that I did for my whole stable (mountain, gravel, two road bikes & the tandem). It took the better part of three weeks of stopping now and again to fiddle with the height, fore/aft location, tilt or skew (she actually prefers the saddle to skew ever-so-slightly to the left) but we’ve finally got it to the point she’s content. I almost wrote “happy” but we’re not quite there yet. Close, though, for sure.

Her Specialized Alias was an even bigger triumph. For that, we didn’t even mess around with the “now and again” approach. Before DALMAC we took her bike out and I set to fixing it on the road. We took more than an hour to ride eleven miles but we got the fore/aft and tilt just right before we hit the driveway (she already liked the saddle height, so that was one thing we didn’t have to worry about).

I should add, as well, it helps when major components of the drivetrains on my Trek and Venge were replaced last year. While the shifters, cranks and front derailleurs stayed, the chains, cassettes, rear derailleurs and brake and shifter cables (and housings) were all replaced. My wife’s bike got a new chain, cassette, and cables/housings… and the tandem got new chains early this season and new cables last season. There wasn’t much left to change!