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A Perfect Tuesday Night in Lennon with Jess on the Tandem: Three Tandems, a Chucker and a Clark Edition
We’re into the last three or four Tuesday night club rides of 2022… and that’s if the weather is perfect. It never is in October.
The weather was amazing. 74 marvelous degrees with a 4-mph breeze out of the west and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. I readied the tandem as soon as I got home because we’re rolling a half-hour early this time of year because it’s getting dark so soon. As part of the preparations I slid each of my wife’s seat posts (there are two seat posts for the stoker on a Periscope tandem – one slides into the other so you can adjust the stoker position for anyone from 4’2″ tall to 6’2″):
The second post, the brushed aluminum one, tends to creak a little from time to time so if you raise and lower it a few times then tighten the quick release fully, the creak goes away.
We got there early enough we could check to make sure I got the saddle height right and make a few adjustments before we rolled out for real. We were staged at the start when everyone rolled at a minute past 5:30.
We started out fast right out of the gate and I was breathing heavy and nervous by the time we hit the first mile mark at 24-1/2-mph (38 km/h). I didn’t see how we were going to keep that up, but Jess was surprisingly strong in the rear admiral’s position. We took second bike as we turned north and took our turn less than a mile later and my breathing normalized up front, maintaining right around 25-mph (39 km/h). We took about three-quarters of a mile and slid to the back. I took a glance at our average pace… 23-ish-mph.
We eased into last bike after peeling off the front and drifting to the back to a fantastic draft. Jess was hammering the pedals and I actually had to scrub speed with the front brake quite often. I was getting the breaks I needed and really settled into the ride. A couple of miles west, a mile north and we turned hard left onto the vaunted Shipman Road. Shipman is a life-sucking southwest facing road. We rarely get a tailwind and often get hammered with a crossing headwind or straight headwind all summer long. This Tuesday was only different in that the wind was barely there. The pace didn’t waiver. We held 23 to 27-mph all the way south and west.
We were in excellent position, in the mix with the A-Elite group, as we hit the first hills and Todd, one of the fastest guys we know (his nickname is Watt King), waived us to second bike so we could take the lead on the way up the first two hills and control the pace. I almost fell off my bike at the classy move. Todd, I know you read this; chapeau, my friend. Thank you, that meant a lot to we three tandems.
We stayed with the group, who held the pace steady up the last two rises, and descended to 71 before hitting the next series of hills. The next hill, over a set of tracks, was too much for us, though, and we slipped off the back. I reached back and squeezed Jessica’s hand and reassured her that we gave it everything we had and I was perfectly okay with dropping. She’d been stellar and we just got caught a little out of breath at the same time. We’d made 15-miles at just shy of 24-mph for the average.
We didn’t watch the weed grow on the way up the hill, though (there’s a pot farm on the right). We both knew we needed to be on the gas so we could catch up with the Shiatown short route group and w got to it. We took a little bit of a rest to catch or breath and hammered the rest of the hills, trying a few new strategies along the way to see if we could maximize the downhills without over-hammering the descents to the detriment of the climbs. It worked out quite well, actually. We caught the Shiatown crew at the regroup spot. Two more tandems (Mike & Diane and Dave & Val), a Chucker and a Superman, Clark Kent (I kid you not).
We rolled out after a short respite and took advantage of a downhill to cut short a steep uphill that tends to crush our spirits a little before heading up one of the strangest hills I’ll ever climb. It’s clearly uphill but it can’t be as steep as it appears because we routinely climb the silly thing in excess of 20-mph… on the tandem. After that punchy climb, we descend into Vernon full speed ahead. With three tandems in the lead (two of the teams are exceedingly experienced, Jess and I are the babies of the bunch), using gravity to our greatest advantage, we shot into town topping 30-mph on the way down… and we coasted a quarter of the descent.
We took it easy through Vernon, as we always do, then Clark came through to clear a difficult intersection so the tandems could get through without having to drop a foot. It was a perfectly executed clearing of an intersection and we rolled through. Jess and I had the lead at that point and we worked up a short hill before hitting a fast descent. The rest of the ride was perfectly fantastic with the three tandems outnumbering the single bikes.
We took it to the barn with a wonderful 22-mph average for the 28-mile circuit. There were plenty of hi-fives and pats on the back on the way to the parking lot on the cooldown mile. The story of our ride has to be Jess. She was truly brilliant last night… and we talked about that a little bit on the way home. I overheard her talking to Val about how she worries about keeping her single bike prowess up while spending so many miles on the tandem in the Rear Admiral’s saddle. I made peace with my own personal demons in that regard as captain, but it’s different for Jess, being the stoker. Riding in a group setting is a perishable skill and she doesn’t have the same duties as the Rear Admiral. We’ve talked about this a bit and I don’t have a good answer, other than to hope the gravel bike season helps with that.
On the other hand, she let me in a little bit last night after the ride when she said that she truly loves riding with me (which I did know), adding that she knows she was born to be a stoker, that she enjoys being our stoker immensely. I didn’t know that second part. I love captaining our tandem. I love having my wife right there and sharing our riding experiences so closely… Last night was yet another example of what we can do together and it was awesome.
I also reminded my wife, the one time I tried to hang with the A-elite group this year I was dropped after eight miles. We’ve done better on the tandem than I could do alone. Sadly, there won’t be many of these left this year:
This post could end up being a massively difficult task, because there are so many moving parts to a bike’s drivetrain. Ten and eleven speed road groupsets were easy for older bike frames (steel and carbon fiber – aluminum not so much). I’ll stick to what I know, which is admittedly little.
The Ultegra shifters on my 9-speed triple went first. I tried to find replacement shifters to no avail, but I did find a small company new in the drivetrain component market called MicroShift. They made Shimano 9-speed compatible integrated (road) shifters… in a triple, that were priced well and worked as good or better than the original shifters had for a couple of years. Good enough I’d have been fine to keep the bike as it was… until a friend sold me a gently used Ultegra 10-speed groupset that I could use on my Venge. That freed up the 105 10-speed groupset for my Trek.
My ’99 Trek 5200 Triple fitted out with MicroShift’s finest.
The Shimano 105 upgrade – 1999 Ultegra to 2013 105 is a massive leap in technology and a decent drop in weight – was going to be a game changer, but I had to change a lot to make it happen. Here’s how the bike sits today:
So, the crankset is a low-end Shimano. It’s much the same tech as a 105 or Ultegra crankset, just a little heavier. I needed a new English threaded bottom bracket (BBR-60 if memory serves, but I’ll find out for sure and update the post as soon as the shop opens). The crank fits perfectly with no shims to that bottom bracket. That bottom bracket change did lead to the need for a shim change to the cassette at the rear wheel, though. The 11-speed wheel requires a shim to get to 9 or 10 speed… but I needed another to force the cassette out a little further so the chain line worked with the new crankset and bottom bracket, to get the front shifting matched up with the cassette.
There was another massive issue that required a little fabrication trickery. The front derailleur clip for the frame wouldn’t allow the front derailleur cage to drop far enough to work well with the 50/34 chainrings (52-36 worked but had a cadence hole with an 11-28 cassette that I absolutely hated between 18 & 22-mph). Finding a new clip that’ll work with a compact crank and fits a Trek 5500/5200 frame is impossible, so our shop owner welded a bit onto the bottom of my original clip and drilled out the hole (elongating it) so I could get an extra 2 to 3-mm worth of drop to the derailleur cage. That fixed the shifting and the smaller compact crankset worked fantastically.
The final issue I had to deal with was difficult to figure out. I had some chain-drop issues with the small chainring because I was using aftermarket “Amazon” SRAM labeled chainrings. That issue could only be resolved by installing Shimano 105 110-BCD 5-hole chainrings. With the aftermarket chainrings, once in a while, under climbing power, the chain would drop into the bottom bracket for no apparent reason. The problem was the cheap aftermarket chainrings. I believe they worked fine new, but probably needed to be replaced every couple of years – more often than I wanted to bother with. The true Shimano 105 chainrings fixed that issue completely, though.
Other than those solvable issues, everything was bolt-on and simple and I went from a 52-42-30 triple with an 11-26 9-speed cassette to a 50-34 double with an 11-28 cassette.
With those issues corrected, ten or eleven speed will work just fine on my 5200. I’ve heard we may get into trouble with 12, though. That’ll be a post for another day. In the meantime, my old Trek 5200 is riding like a new, much lighter, vastly more enjoyable bike.
The only question left is, should update a classic bike like that? Well, that answer depends in how you want to ride the bike and how long you’re willing to wait for replacement parts when something goes bad. Me? I’d rather ride my bike. Lots. So the change made sense.
Now that I think of it, in all fairness, the S-Works milk would end up weighing a half-pound less…
I’ve been an unpaid, walking advertisement for Specialized for the better part of a decade. I ride their bikes (3 – road, mountain & gravel), I sport their kit (mainly because it’s awesome), I ride with their shoes (S-Works & Torch 2.0), their gloves, and until just last year, their helmets.
You get the idea…
Specialized bikes were the best as far as I was concerned. Sleek, aero, lightweight, fast… they seemed to have everything.
They’ve always leaned on our local shop owner pretty hard, though. He was grandfathered in as a Trek and Specialized store, though, so they “technically” couldn’t touch him. They found a way to punish him with the pandemic, though. He hasn’t displayed a Specialized road bike in his store for going on two years. They won’t ship him any. Hardly a mountain bike, either. Oh, he gets plenty of leisure bikes and cruisers, but that’s about it. They’re currently telling him he’s as far out as 2024 for orders that used to take two or three weeks. It feels like they’re trying to choke him.
Now, I’m usually not one for big corporate conspiracy theories, but what’s happening at our local shop just doesn’t pass the smell test.
The rumors are bad enough I’m actually thinking about retiring a lot of my Specialized kit and getting the Venge painted to cover up the “Specialized” and “S” markings. I’d void the lifetime warranty on the frame, but it’d be worth it.
If anyone at Specialized is paying attention, you’ve got a crisis on your hands, boys and girls. You’d better get to work on damage control. If someone as level-headed as I am is thinking about quitting you, you’ve got major PR problems.
I know, I know, I said I was going to take a little more time off in yesterday’s post…
My low-grade fever broke (99.4, I usually run about 97.8) early yesterday morning. As the day wore on and I felt better, taking the tandem out for a spin with my wife looked pretty fantastic. She’s two days ahead of me, as our bouts with Covid went, so she feels a couple of days better than I do. She also wanted a nice, slow, short return to riding so the tandem was the perfect choice.
We only did eleven miles at 15-ish-mph, but that was perfect. My lungs didn’t bother me a bit and we had a lovely conversation along the way.
I also brought Gatorade with me in lieu of my normal plain water. That agreed with my throat a little more than anticipated.
And so it was, my wife and I out on the tandem for a short little spin to shake the cobwebs out. There’s no place I’d rather have been. It was beautiful.
Life on two wheels is a blessing.
My wife had to work late into the evening last night so I decided I’d take my Covid laden butt outside for a much needed session on the Venge.
The first mile was awesome. Slow, but awesome. After that first mile, though, my throat started aching with the minimal effort – and I mean minimal. I knew I was done before I crossed the 5k mark. After a while, I realized it wasn’t my throat, it was the upper quarter of my lungs that were hurting. I’d felt that before… but it’s worse this time. Not much, but noticeably.
So I did the second smart thing; I took my toy and went home. I pulled into the driveway with just shy of nine miles and a healthy desire to not be on my bike anymore.
Now, strangely, once I got into the shower I felt markedly better. My lungs stopped hurting and I regained my strength and desire to stand up in said shower. I knew long before I got into that shower that riding was not my brightest idea. I had to give it a try, though.
Today will be another glorious day, so I’ll try again (hopefully on the tandem with my wife).
UPDATE: On further introspection, perhaps I’ll wait till my fever breaks for real…
Assuming we’re not dealing with the “more padding is better padding” crowd, who are simply misunderstanding “padding” and how padding relates or “works” in regard to to riding a bicycle in general, I’d like to take a moment to delve into one of my favorite topics of late since I started working with my wife on her saddles, saddle tilt. As I’ve written here before, I consider myself quite picky as saddle height, setback and tilt go. If I’m a millimeter off in either, I can feel it and I don’t like it. Too much height and I feel frontal pressure, which differs from the frontal pressure of having the nose too high. With the saddle too low, I feel back pressure on the glutes. With the saddle tilted too far down, I slide off the saddle and that drives me nuts… but not near as nuts as when I’ve got the nose too high!
My wife is unquestionably more sensitive than I am. She feels pressure at half-millimeter increments. It’s almost a little unnerving, but I’ve taken to the challenge and dedicated myself to figuring this out for her. Once I took the issue on like that, it seemed less daunting because, well, I love a good challenge to be vanquished. Doubly so when my wife is the benefactor of my diligence because being on a tandem, I can’t truly be happy as the Captain until my wife is happy as the Rear Admiral.
I had an extensive Body Geometry fitting on my Venge that took something like three hours after I tried setting my bike up myself with the knowledge I’d accrued watching YouTube videos. The only change the fitting showed I needed was to drop the saddle by about two millimeters. I was really stoked that I’d gotten it that close on my own. From that point I’ve simply fine-tuned everything by feel.
My issue is in translating what I have in my melon to what my wife is feeling, without knowing how to make the translation. It’s interesting to say the least, but we’ve begun the process and it’s exciting.
The key, as I’ve written numerous times before, is in getting the saddle to cradle the rider on the bar tops, hoods and in the drops. How I get to this is simple. First, I know my saddle height; 36-5/8″, give or take. Next, I level the saddle to zero, then drop the nose 2 degrees. From there, I go for a ride and adjust by feel. If I feel pressure at the front in the drops, I lower the saddle nose. If I feel no pressure at the front but feel like I’m sliding off the saddle, I raise the nose a smidge. It’s really as simple as that. Once I get that “cradled” feeling, I’m done.
I’m back to writing today, after what very well could be my longest break from writing since I started – I took a full ten days off.
Sadly, we brought an uninvited guest back with us in the form of Covid. Technically, I don’t know I have it, but I’ve been playing kissy-face with my wife the entire time and she showed a positive test result eleven seconds after the drops hit the “S” reservoir on the test.
I’ve got the tiniest of headaches and a little bit of a scratchy throat. Other than that, if my wife hadn’t taken a test that showed positive, I’d likely put this to allergies or something less sinister (and this is definitely my second time around with Covid after having it in the early weeks of the pandemic, just before everything was shut down, possibly third just this past February). My wife, however, has it worse than I. She’s vaccinated and boosted, like me, but she’s got the full slate of symptoms (sore throat, sinus issues, headache, achy body, tired, etc., etc.), though she seems to have turned the corner enough that she’ll wait out the symptoms.
So, I’ll be write back at it in the morning with a new batch of cycling posts interspersed with some recovery topics I picked up on from my time away…
In a sport replete with peacocks, the question must be asked, is it gaudy (or outstandingly awesome) for tandem couples to match their cycling kit (clothes)?
I suppose I could start this post out with, “if your answer is gaudy, well, it’s unfortunate your being wrong and all”…
My wife and I do match quite often (mainly for weekend and big ticket rides). In fact, we’ve now got four matching sets of kit. We can match every day we ride on the tandem.
That last iteration, with the photo taken atop Presque Isle’s 1840 lighthouse, is obviously not a perfect matching kit, we call that our peacock kit, it’s close enough for government work.
Fellow tandem riders, embrace your inner nerd and match your spouse when you ride tandem (or even on single bikes). Off the bike, it’s kinda creepy (I’ve seen it, too, right down to the shoes and belts – shit is spooky weird). On the bike, however, it’s outstandingly awesome.
Thou shalt match kits on a tandem, was ever thus. Oh, and smile a lot – because tandems are awesome.
This year is a distinct departure from the last eleven. In an effort to be a better husband to my wife, I’ve let go of my need/desire (take your pick) to be an aggressively fast cyclist. This change in heart has been a long time in coming and, while my previous choices didn’t make me a “bad” husband/father, looking back I don’t think there’s any question I was selfish and self-centered. Now, you may wonder how this runs into golf. Well, I used to golf. A lot. I could regularly shoot in the 70s for 18 holes and would even manage par or one under fairly consistently on moderate to easy courses. I can still remember the first round I beat my dad (who spent double the time I did on a golf course and could kick my butt with fairways and greens). Then Alzheimer’s and what they call alcoholic “wet brain” at the same time for my dad. I met up with my dad every Friday for years for a Friday afternoon round of golf. We’d play 18, then get some lunch or dinner. Then I’d head home to my wife and kids. Speaking of kids, after our first was born, golf took a back seat. Practice four days a week with two rounds a week turned into one practice day and a round or two a week. My dad started breaking down in 2013 and we moved him to a home so he could be looked after. Our Friday golf outing dwindled from 18 holes to 14, to 9… and when my dad started teeing up the ball at me, I pulled the plug and stopped taking him.
Shortly after my dad died, I quit golf altogether. It just wasn’t the same without him and our Friday outings. I quit for a broken heart.
Well, this past spring, my daughter asked me to teach the game to her and, being the dad I am, I said I would. I had to find a way to get my heart back into it, though. I took my dad’s set of Callaway Big Bertha Irons in and had the shafts lengthened and re-gripped and I had a second set of my dad’s clubs regripped for my daughter. With my dad’s spirit in my golf bag, I started practicing again at the local driving range about five miles from my house. I’ve played four rounds in the last, call it five weeks, and I almost feel like my old self. When I get a hold of a drive, I’m hitting 270 to 280 yards (247 to 256 meters) and am starting to get quite proficient with my short irons (my 5 and 6 still need some work). Not bad for a 52-year-old who hasn’t swung a club in eight years.
So, uncharacteristically, twice last week I chose golf, or practice over riding. Once to take my daughter to the range, Wednesday, and once Friday for an invite to a supplier’s golf outing.
I played well, Friday – a four man best-ball scramble. I one-putted for holes to keep our team even or drop a shot – all over 20′ with the longest at least 40′ (12 meters) and hit several fantastic drives, as well as a few good iron shots. I started really getting warmed up in the middle holes, call it six to fourteen before sputtering out because I was hungry.
In that eight hole stretch I felt like the old me again, and it was good.
Saturday, it was time for a rowdy ride on the tandem with my lovely wife – my (new-ish) favorite mode of cycling. We did a nice 46-mile loop with an average pace over 18-mph. We were absolutely on as a couple and the ride showed it. We were laughing and talking and had two long pulls in excess of 16-miles, one dead into a high single-digit headwind. I love it when we’re on like that. The rest of the day was a special celebration for my wife that I need not get into here, but I will say it was a lovely day.
Today will be more of the same – tandemonium, yet again, followed by yard work and some flower planting and yardwork.