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Goodbye Second Summer, You Weren’t Around Long Enough… But We Appreciate the Tandem Ride(s)!

Jess and I were in shorts and short-sleeves yesterday afternoon/evening when we rolled out on the tandem. We talked about heading up to Lennon for the Tuesday night ride, but chose instead to ride just the two of us so we could hang out and talk. It was also appealing that we’d be home early to get dinner ready rather than pay an arm and a leg’s fee at a fast food joint for dinner. We’d had an intense discussion the evening prior and I think my wife wanted to be able to cruise… well, for the most part (I’ll get to that in a minute).

We headed for our old weekday haunt, the Jimmer Loop as it’s been named. The once-worst road in our county was repaved last week and our route is now a complete joy… because the second-worst road in our county was repaved earlier this summer as well. We only have about a quarter-mile of choppy pavement on the entire 20-mile route.

Unlike the evening before, we didn’t talk about anything heady; we’d worked it all out before we fell asleep, something that we’ve become quite good at and fond of.

Last evening’s ride was, as my wife put it, a fantastic date on a bike. We talked and laughed, we went for (and acquired) a QOM for my wife (we’re now tied for second on the segment), then we took it easy for a bit before putting some leg into the pedals, then we eased up and talked some more. All the while my wife would reach up and pat me on the hip and I’d reach back and squeeze her hand.

Friends, they like to say that, in relationships, nice guys finish last. I think they’re talking about dating because my wife disagrees vehemently… and I’ll stick with her on that. And, well, anywhere else. I’ll get into this more in a future post.

As for last night, we let summer slip away with a wonderful evening together.

Velocity Dyad Wheels for a Bomb-Proof Tandem Experience!

Look, if you want to put the serious big bucks down on a set of tandem wheels, there’s only one brand out there.

On the other hand, if you want a bomb-proof wheelset that’ll last the test of time and is reasonably lightweight, there’s nothing better I know of than the Velocity Dyad tandem wheelset.

My wife and I have had our tandem for six years and have never needed to true the wheels. I did fix a loose spoke the other day, though. Oh, and I cleaned the cassette body the other day, too. After six years and thousands of miles. One loose spoke and a dirty cassette body.

It doesn’t get any better than that when you’re talking about that kind of stress on a wheelset. I’ve been a fan of Velocity for a long time, now. And I’ll remain one for a good time to come.

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:

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.

Two Tandems and a Mike on a Sunday

It was supposed to be a rainout Sunday. I had visions of chilling out all morning long. Maybe cooking Jess some breakfast, a little bit of laundry, and a whole lot of lazing around. My wife even had me check the forecast before we fell asleep Saturday night (after a wonderful day together). It would be raining at 5am and solid throughout the day…

Until we woke up at 6 and I checked the weather again… barely a light blip on the radar at 7 followed by 30 minutes (ish) of rain and nothing. And the amount was 0.00 inches of that rain. My wife cursed. So did I. Then we laughed out loud. We hemmed and hawed for a minute, flipping back and forth between riding and not, but we were always going to ride. It was just a matter of how happy we’d be about it.

We talked to Mike and decided on 8:30 to give the rain its chance. I wasn’t going to bother sending the text out but did at my wife’s urging. Doc Mike and Diane pulled up just as we were getting our vests on. The Michigan summer was over Wednesday and it’s acting like it. It was chilly. Mike and Diane (the other Mike and Diane) showed up on their singles just before we were set to roll out.

My wife is sporting some new mountain bike shoes, a step up from mine, with a new shim to help equal out her unfortunate right leg/left leg length discrepancy (more on that later this week).

We rolled out exactly at 8:30, just the six of us. We started the pace out slow because Mike gets a little cranky if we start out too fast, and started ramping it up as we moved out.

We were into the northwest wind but it was one of those odd winds where it was heavy and you could feel it but it was barely registering in the trees and leaves blowing. Diane and Mike and Jess and I took turns at the front on our tandems, taking three to five mile pulls each. There’s nothing like a couple of legit tandem couples drafting. It was fantastic sharing the load. Sadly, Diane had things to do so she split off early…

As we hit tailwind and the pace started picking up. My wife and I were riding astonishingly well and I was having a fantastic time of it, Jess, too.

We ended up getting misted on for a few minutes, but nothing bad enough to get anyone wet. We rolled for home, topping 18-mph on the way back with a decent (if light) tailwind at an easy 22-mph, pulling into the driveway with handshakes and smiles as Mike headed up the road to go home. We ended up with a little more than 38 glorious miles on a day we should have been riding the couch.

It was a good date on the tandem for Jess and I… and that’s about how cycling is for me, lately.

How to Get Your Wife to Ride a Tandem with You; Some Tips and Perspective

First, for those in the know, forgive the clickbait Title. Second, for most roadies I know, the question isn’t “How can I get my wife to ride a tandem with me?” That’s too easy. The proper, call it more refined and properly narrow question is, “How can I get my wife to ride a tandem… so we’re as fast as I am on a single bike?”

That last half of the second question incredibly important because it’s what doomed my romantic idea of my wife and I on our tandem… and what does many tandem couples in. We’re very close to that fast today, but we absolutely didn’t start out that way.

For my wife and I to fall in love with riding our tandem together, a few things had to happen. While the changes were mutual, I had to initiate them because I tended to present as a pretty horrible riding partner when we rode single bikes. My wife rarely felt at peace riding with me on the tandem (at first) due to how I acted on a single bike. On single bikes, the main issue centered around the fact I was a lot stronger than she was and I became easily frustrated when I felt she wasn’t putting in the effort to keep up with the group. There were times I actually rode away from her, leaving her out there on her own. I still hang my head in shame that I did that to her, even though she’s forgiven me and we both know we had to go through all of that to get to where we are now. She was afraid, therefore, every time we rode the tandem I might find a reason to be upset about how we were riding together.

  • Whether we weren’t synched enough
  • If I had to work too hard for the speed we were generating
  • If we struggled to hold a wheel in a group
  • If we got dropped by the group
  • If we weren’t riding as fast as I thought we should
  • If my wife didn’t communicate properly

I’m sure there are a few more my wife could add here, but you get the point. Now, keep in mind as well, we have a printed note on our refrigerator from the owner of our bike shop that says, “The stoker never makes mistakes” and I thought I abided by that, too! The statement is much deeper than I originally thought, and I’ll get into that in a minute.

First things first, I had to make it safe for my wife to have fun riding with me on the tandem. That meant no more getting pissy about any of those bullet points above (or any others I may have missed). It also meant letting go of the idea that we should be as fast as I was on a single bike. That desire to stay fast was the cause of my problems on the tandem. Also, fairly stated, my wife had her issues, too but that’s not even for another post. If I worry about my wife’s (minor) issues, I tend to lose sight of my own to our detriment… and I think that gets to the real heart of “the stoker doesn’t make mistakes”.

As far as my part went, I had to figure out how to just have fun on the bike and let the pace bit go. I don’t think there was a clear path forward where I stayed the aggressive cyclist “me” and “we” had an enjoyable time on a bike together.

Enter the Covid pandemic. We started putting it together on the tandem when we couldn’t ride with anyone else. We’d head out on the tandem without a care in the world about where we were going or how fast we got there… or back. If I felt I needed a stronger workout after our time on the tandem, I was free to take my single bike out later to hammer out some miles (this didn’t happen often, but it did happen). After all, I was being paid to stay home! I always enjoyed riding the tandem, but with the pressure off, it was wonderful.

That little increase in frequency led to “Sunday Funday” where we’d head out at a semi-easy pace, targeting between 16 & 17-mph. My wife and I could keep up with that pace easily and that gave some of the other riders a break from crushing it two days in a row… and still others who normally wouldn’t ride with us a reason to show up. Sunday Funday was a hit… and we both loved it.

The biggest hurdle to clear for me was to finally see that I have a self-centered, selfish tendency to me that needed to be dealt with in the harshest manner. Put simply, it had to go. The hardest part was recognizing it was there in the first place. It was a small miracle that it happened. I thought I was a great guy… and I was unquestionably well above average, but there was a lot of room for improvement.

The photo above was the first one I posted on this blog after the Covid changes began. That was in June of 2020 and we were just back to riding with friends. Probably a Sunday Funday pic. This is just a few weeks ago:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that things have changed. It doesn’t matter where or how that change starts, but if I want to be happy on a tandem, and I want that more than anything, I have to make it safe and fun for my wife to be there with me. When I do that, we’re unstoppable.

A Monster 100k On the Tandem… Out of the Blue

My wife has never liked “the same old thing” when it comes to where to ride. She’s always thinking of new roads to travel, especially on the tandem. Well, she wanted to find out what the roads were like out in Shaftsburg, about 28 miles from our house. Greg, a friend of ours, rides out there quite often so we reached out to him, hoping he would help with a decent out and back type of route… 28 miles out is close to our limit on the tandem as it is.

He shot us back two options and we chose the shorter (65-mile) and set the gang up to ride Saturday morning.

We rolled out at 8 – the days are getting noticeably shorter, now – to perfect conditions. Single-digit breeze out of the south, mild temperature just below room temperature, and a wonderful weather outlook for the day. We had two tandems and four singles in our posse as we headed for parts unknown and an adventure. My wife and I had enough Payday candy bars, Cliff bars and gels in our saddlebag to last us into the winter… and new matching water bottles for the rig. I must say, with us in our matching kit, we must look quite fantastic.

The trip out was quite fantastic and we quickly upped our average to the 18-mph range where it stayed for the entire rest of the ride.

We started hitting roads less traveled (and never traveled, for that matter) around 23 miles in and I was immediately bummed we hadn’t ridden the area more often. It’s gorgeous out there.

As we rolled on passing 50 miles, I could feel my energy level dropping. It was one of those, “oh, no” feelings of impending doom. I hadn’t been drinking near enough and I’d hardly eaten anything. I could feel a bonk coming. By the time we rolled into Durand, with only ten to go, I was lightheaded.

Jess handed me a bit of Payday and I downed it like I’d been starved. That got me to the local gas station where I had a caffeinated root beer and a bag of M&Ms… and I started feeling better. Much better. Rolling out for home after our stop I was actually surprised at how much better I felt. It wasn’t perfect, but I could put some decent effort to match my wife (who was awesome).

We pulled into the driveway with just shy of 66 miles and I was in no mood to go an extra tenth to make it even. Let’s just leave it at, “nap time was AWESOME!”

Tuesday Night in Lennon: Yo-yos and Tandems Edition

Okay, my friends on single bikes! What’s the one thing you can’t have fun with on a club ride whilst riding a tandem?

Yo-yos!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Yo-yos.

My wife and I are quite keen on trying to hang with the A-Group on the tandem of late. Believe it or not, I didn’t instigate this. It was my wife’s idea. I’ve evolved to accepting whatever pace we can crank out on a Tuesday night. If that’s 17-mph, great. 19? Fantastic. 20? Wonderful. Whether we ride together alone or with a few friends, I’m a happy dude… though admittedly a little happier alone of late, but we ride with others a lot so I like being able to put some slow miles in talking as we roll. That’s not for a Tuesday Night in Lennon, though.

We’ve had a successful week and a few fantastic attempts with averages ranging from 21.5 to 22.5-mph for the 29-mile loop. Those are some pretty fantastic numbers on a single bike. For my wife and I, a 20-mph average used to be about as good as we could hope for, so breaking into the 21 to 23-mph range is a big deal.

Last night, with upper single-digit winds out of the west, I had hopes for a long ride with the group for the first 20 miles followed by a nice ride in with the short route crew to the finish.

We rolled out of the parking lot on our newly maintained and fantastically well-appointed Co-Motion Periscope Torpedo tandem. The thing is silent, fast, beautiful and heavy. A steel frame with decent-ish wheels (Velocity Dyad wheels – they’re absolutely BOMB PROOF – best wheels I’ve ever owned, and they’re damn fine on a tandem… put it this way, in six years they’ve never had to be trued. They’re still straight as an arrow). And it’s more fun than a couple should be allowed to have with their clothes on. Spirits were high and we were ready to roll. A half-mile in and one bike from the front (on purpose), the two tandems were side-by-side heading for the first turn. Todd and Dave were up front and we had Todd to hide behind. Todd is 6’3″ tall and can put out enough watts to break a bike… he’s like drafting a battleship. I reached back and my wife placed her hand in mine. I gave it a gentle squeeze to say, “I love you. I’ve got you. You’re wonderful”… which elicited a shout from Doc Mike on his single bike because his wife and Rear Admiral was up north tending to family matters, “Hey, that’ll be enough of that! There’s no hand-holding on a bike ride!” I smiled and gave her another gentle squeeze before tending to the brakes.

We had the north mile and we hit the gas, taking it up to 25-ish-mph. Jess and I both love that section. After a half-mile we headed to the back for our rest but that was short-lived as the group started to yo-yo. The one thing a tandem is terrible for is a yo-yo in the group. The acceleration just isn’t there.

Every time we answered a surge and caught back up to coast, the group would surge again, leaving us three bike lengths to make up. This happened three or four times and we were off the back. I just didn’t have enough to answer the constant surges. Unfortunately, Clark had come off a pull up front and was behind us, so when we dropped, we got him dropped, too. In hindsight, I should have asked my wife for one last surge to catch Clark up to the group but I just didn’t think we could do it.

We rode with Clark for all of Shipman road before catching up to Dave & Val on their tandem and Chucker waiting on the side of the road for us… they’d gotten spit off with the yo-yoing as well. We teamed up and hit the hills as hard as we could, heading for Shiatown. We’d gone from a 22.6-mph average to a 20.4 when we caught up with Chucker, Dave & Val…

After the hills, the ride home was fantastic and fast. Clark and Chucker, both of whom ride tandem, know how to take hills with a bus. They were smooth and steady for the tandems. We hammered all the way home to the City Limits sign and raised our average to a 20.7. A wonderful effort after a bit of a sketchy start.

It fills my heart with joy, captaining that tandem with my wife.

How far we’ve come.

Are Tandems the “Better” Way to Bike? I Can Make a Compelling Case…

My wife and I rolled out on the tandem for an easy ride Tuesday after work. We decided to skip the Tuesday Night ride with the club as I was absolutely beat after riding from Lansing, MI to Mackinaw City a few days prior. Three centuries in a row will put a hurting on a fella who isn’t quite ready for it.

We cruised and talked the whole way, not worrying the least about the day past. I looked up at the driver of a pickup truck in a driveway as we passed… a grizzled fellow, unshaven, in a tank t-shirt that was white at some point early in its life. These are the pickup truck drivers who generally make a game of messing with cyclists in one obnoxious (and illegal) way or another. As my wife and I rolled by on the tandem, his eyebrows raised and a smile stretched across his face and he raised a hand to wave. I smiled and waved back.

Folks, I’m here to tell you, even the most obnoxious of drivers will cut a tandem a little more slack than they normally would. I’ve seen it too many times. I don’t know why, necessarily, but I’d imagine it has something to do with the assumption (correct in our case) that there’s a husband and wife on that bicycle… take them out and you take out a family – and they’re likely just out to justify a decent dinner with some exercise. I don’t know, I could be wrong. Having put more than 90,000 miles on bicycles in the last eleven years, I can tell you without hesitation, my wife and I are treated better in traffic on our tandem.

Just something to chew on for a Sunday morning.

Riding a Tandem Bicycle; Under the Right Conditions, It’s the Perfect Cycling Fitness Activity. It’s Like…

Talking to a friend after the Assenmacher 100 who has been trying to get his wife to stoke his tandem for years, he put it simply why cycling with your soul’smate is the pinnacle of cycling… and I’ll let the suspense build and get to the punchline in a minute.

The photo above was taken after six years of working together on the tandem. You cannot fake two smiles like that on married people. It simply can’t be done.

Let’s try another. Nope. Can’t fake it. How about a selfie from my wife?

Folks, that’s pure happiness on two wheels. In fact, I get a little weepy looking through selfie photos my wife takes on the tandem. I’ve spent a lot of years trying my damnedest to help her to a place where she was that comfortable… and to see it now, knowing I’ve done my part (as small as that is – happiness will always be an inside job), well let’s just say it’s fantastic.

And that leads us to the crux of this post. My wife and I have put in a ton of work on working together on the bike (and even more off). We’ve been riding tandem, on and off, for six years but all of the work we did on us culminated in a bumper 2022 where we’ve both put in more miles on the tandem than we have our single bikes combined. For me, for my personal part in this, the biggest advance in our enjoyment of tandem riding was my willingness to cease being an aggressive, go fast all the time cyclist. Letting go of that made it safe for my wife to have fun where there was always a worry I’d blow up if I thought she was under-performing.

When my wife was safe to have fun, we had fun… and riding tandem turned into having a date with my soulmate. On a bike.

Friends, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Thank you, God.