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A New Tuesday Night in Lennon Record for Jess and I on the Tandem (and For Me in 2022)!

First, my apologies that this post is a day later than usual… I didn’t have time to write it till this morning and I already had a post written and scheduled.

Friends, my wife and I killed it Tuesday night on the tandem. We were so fast, the Rear Admiral didn’t have time to snap one photo…

We’d had a good run the Tuesday Night in Lennon route the week prior but got held up at an intersection when a lady in a Cadillac SUV decided it would be a good idea to text someone while stopped at a stop sign. Much of the group made it through by “parting the sea”, but we were somewhat forced to stop as we were a little slower to react driving the bicycle equivalent of a bus. Once we were dislodged from the group, there was no catching up, so we ended up riding back with a few friends who had been shaken off as well.

My wife, much to my surprise, had a blast and was looking forward to trying it again.

And so we did.

We had an NNE wind in the upper-single digits. Anything below 10-mph I consider good riding conditions. The sun was shining and it was mild, but not hot. Fantastic cycling weather, really. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and got ready while chatting with friends. We were sitting at the start-line when the clock struck six and rolled out shortly thereafter.

We were on the leg throttle, as is usual, right out of the gate and slowly rose to 23-mph over the next mile. Heading north, into the wind, the front barely showed signs of slowing and we kept on at the back of the pack. Being only our second time riding with the A-Elite crowd on the tandem, I didn’t want to risk taking pulls up front until I was sure we could last until the hills. There’s no pretty way to put it, we were sucking wheel at the back so, in the event we couldn’t hang, we didn’t dislodge anyone else from the group if we dropped.

We hit Shipman Road with a rare tailwind and the speed showed it – between 24 & 28-mph. I can recall thinking a few times that I’d pop if things didn’t slow down but Jess would kick in a little extra just at the right time to give me a few seconds to catch my breath and I’d be right back at it again. The same, I’d feel my wife drop off a little so I’d give it some extra… what I’m getting at is we worked together really well. And we made it through the first and second sets of hills with a little help from a friend who gave us a boost by pushing on my wife’s back. That extra wattage helped out immensely.

Sadly, we popped shortly thereafter. I felt my wife flag a little bit and I simply ran out of “want to” to answer with. We unceremoniously slipped off the back.

This week, however, we didn’t die out like we did the week before. My wife and I kept a pretty decent pace going as we negotiated the rest of the hills… and we saw a few ahead of us make the turn for Shiatown which meant we’d have some help for the ride home. Dave, Chucker, Clark, Dale and Dave and Val had made the turn, and we rounded out the group.

And we took it to the barn, pulling across the City Limits sign with a 22.3-mph average for the 28-mile course. It was an amazing ride and I literally couldn’t have done it without my wife. I’d tried a few weeks earlier and got popped off the back after just eight miles.

What a ride! We’re becoming quite the dynamic tandem couple and I’m really digging it.

The only photo of the night… after. We were both done.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Three – What To Change; Stems, Handlebars and Brakes

Part three of my bike makeover series is going to get into messing with the stem, handlebar and brakes… the stem and handlebar for fit and aesthetics and the brakes for better braking and/or aesthetics.

The photo on the left is of my 1999 Trek 5200 T shortly after I brought it home in 2012. The photo on the right is how the bike looks today. Let’s ignore for another post the fact that its color changed drastically, as did the entire drivetrain (those posts are coming), and I covered the wheels, saddle and seatpost in part two. For this post, we’re going to start with the stem…

So, if you are an astute, knowledgeable bicycle aficionado, you’ll note the old-style quill stem on the left and the threadless stem on the right. It’s a cheat workaround, not a change from threaded to threadless. Now, threaded/threadless refers to the fork’s steering assembly. The old way of attaching the stem to the fork was a threaded upper portion of the fork – you literally screwed the headset to the fork and that locked everything down. Nowadays they use a threadless system that’s infinitely easier. I’ve got a quill stem adapter that allows you to use 1-1/8″ threadless stems because they’re infinitely more adjustable. Finding old quill stems with the exact drop and reach is getting, well, difficult. Finding them in anodized black? Well, good luck chasing that unicorn. So, I dealt with a little bit of a weight penalty to have the cockpit I wanted. Oh, and it looks fantastically better. For the current cockpit, I’ve got a -17 degree 90mm Bontrager Light alloy stem on my quill stem adapter.

For the handlebar, I went through some serious gymnastics. First, I hated the handlebar on the left. Measured, I should take a 42cm-wide handlebar. Newer ergonomic though would even suggest a 38 or 40, but let’s not get too lost in the weeds, here. I’m a 42 for all intents and purposes. The bar above/right is a 44. Riding on a bar that’s just two centimeters too wide, when you’re on your bike 8- to 10,000 miles a season, sucks. For the longest, I had a Specialized Tarmac bend handlebar on the Trek – an abomination to be sure, but I loved the ergonomics of the bar. The drop and reach suited me perfectly. I’ve since upgraded to an aero Bontrager model that suits the bike perfectly and even allows for internally routed cables.

The funky bar tape has since been replaced with Supacaz Sticky Kush Black. The bike, as it sits now, is absolutely perfect (the reach may be a cm too long, in all honesty – I couldn’t remember if I needed an 80 or 90 when I ordered the 90… it’s livable, though).

Finally, as an afterthought, when I upgraded the brakes on my Venge from Shimano 105 to FSA Energy calipers for Christmas several years ago. They matched the red/black scheme of the Venge perfectly (astonishing, really, they look amazing), so I had an extra set of brakes laying around… that just so-happened to look awesome on my newly black and red Trek. So on they went replacing the (heavier) bushed aluminum 1999 Ultegra brake calipers. There was no difference in performance, just looks.

There’s no question, the black 105 brakes are a massive improvement.

When I changed components around, in most cases there was an aesthetic purpose at the start, but I made sure to incorporate functional use as well. The 105 brakes were fifteen years newer, so massive improvements over the old Ultegra line that came on the original bike. Getting quill stems for the bike was ridiculously difficult (and I ended up having to settle for something a little shorter than I wanted, but it “worked”), and the handlebar? Well, I couldn’t live with a Specialized handlebar on my Trek. My friends wouldn’t let me live that down.

Many would opt to keep their old-school bike looking original, and I certainly get that. I’m not that guy. Next up we’ve got the drivetrain. There’s an interesting story behind that.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Two – What To Change, Saddle, Wheels and Seat Post

A blog friend from Texas, Jeff, asked for this series. My friend, here you are…

So, the other day I posted all of the photos linked to changes in my Trek 5200 over the years that took it from a 21-ish-pound behemoth to a svelte 18-1/2 pound speedster. That was Part One of what will become a series, and I’m about to share those changes with you… and some of the deeply technical aspects of those changes so, if you decide to undertake updating an old-school steed, maybe you’ll be able to avoid a few pitfalls.

First things first when I brought the 5200 home, I put a new saddle on the Trek. The old saddle was, thankfully, way too wide. I currently ride a 138mm Montrose comfortably. The saddle that came on the bike was a 155 and hurt me massively, especially in the hamstrings as the pain radiated down over the miles. I had a 143 mm Specialized Romin on the Trek for years but switched to the Bontrager Montrose carbon saddle a couple of years ago because it was much more… erm… Bontrager (Trek) is phenomenally comfortable (and is also very light, ahem). I’d be willing to bet, from the original saddle to the svelte carbon beauty that’s on there now, I’d dropped at least a half-pound, possibly more.

I also upgraded the seatpost from the alloy one that came on the bike (left) to a wonderful Easton carbon model (right). The reason for the change was that the seatpost’s leveling mechanism on the left was “notched” so that you were limited to the nose up and nose down positioning of the saddle. One notch meant the saddle nose was either too high or too low for me and I hated the feel. The Easton post was infinitely adjustable so I could put it exactly where I wanted it. That, and “carbon fiber”. It has been written that, when the option for alloy or carbon fiber exists, one should always opt for the carbon fiber (unless the cost of said component exceeds one’s reasonable cashflow). Joking aside, there’s an interesting footnote here that made the carbon fiber post a wise choice over another alloy model. It is well known that alloy to carbon fiber creates a funky reaction that will, over time and without proper lubing of the parts, fuse the two parts together (seat post and seat tube). I wanted nothing to do with having to worry about this, so, again, carbon fiber.

Next, I blew out the original Rolf rear wheel at the brake track. Too many years of braking wore the alloy rim thin and it eventually blew out, so the rear wheel was toast – and good luck finding a replacement! I took the wheels from my Specialized Venge and put them on the Trek after buying a new set for the Venge. Later, when I bought my first set of carbon wheels for the Venge, I put the better, lighter alloy wheels on the Trek (Velocity). Then I bought a set of carbon 50s for the Venge and put the carbon 38s from the Venge on the Trek – that’s where the wheels sit today. The Ican 38s are special and well suited to the Trek because they’re 23 mm wide (old alloy wheelsets are 19.5 mm wide at the brake track). The wider rim means you can use a wider tire (up to a 25 mm, though I prefer 24 mm) in betwixt the skinnier chainstays of an older bike like my Trek. A tire wider than a 25 (even a 26) will rub the chainstays when I climb, though, even with the 23mm-wide rims. Now, the interesting thing is, even a 25 would rub when using a 19.5 mm standard alloy wheel. Using the 23mm carbon wheel eased the “lightbulb” effect of the tire which meant the tire would fit with the wider rim. Food for thought, anyway. I dropped well over a pound upgrading the wheels, upwards of a pound-and-a-half (almost 1kg). Sadly, there once were photos of the damage, but I seem to have lost them and deleted the last two from the blog…

Now, in case you’re wondering, the Ican 50s on my Venge absolutely will not not fit on the Trek. The 25mm-wide rims are simply too wide to fit between the chainstays. The point is, you have to watch the chainstay width when upgrading wheels. Go too wide on an old bike and you’ll be sending the wheels back because they won’t fit.

I think that’ll do for this post as it’s getting a little on the long side. Part three will be coming up soon.

When It’s Acceptable to Make a 100-Mile Pre-Ride a 100k…

My wife and I have had a limit of about 50 miles on the tandem. Once we got over 50, we run the risk of one or the other of us (or both!) bonking. That said, there are a few longer rides that we both love that go over that mark. Some by a lot. Well, this year being the year of the tandem for Jess & Jim, we decided to break our 50 mile limit rule and expand our horizons a little bit. We completed our second 100k yesterday, to much fanfare. Well, not so much fanfare, really. I bonked almost exactly at 62.5 miles. We hung on for a bit after, but I sat up with almost two miles to go and said, no mas! Our average dropped almost three tenths in that mile and change.

While that may be the end of the story, I’ve left out 62.4 miles of absolute awesomeness on two wheels – and that just won’t do.

We were set to roll at 8am but the weather report was sketchy. All week long it showed rain on Sunday, but in true Michigan fashion, the rain kept creeping into Saturday evening so by the time I checked at 4am Sunday, the rain had been called off… and sure as s#!+, when I walked out to see if the asphalt was wet, I felt a light mist in the air. But the roads were bone dry and whatever misting had happened dried up before the sky started to show signs of morning.

Which was good, because I’d taken the fenders off the tandem.

We packed up the tandem in the car, along with all of our riding gear and headed out for the middle school parking lot. We unpacked, got ourselves ready, turned on blinking lights and computers and mounted the tandem to ride.

The morning was perfect. Overcast, cool and barely a breeze to speak of. We started out in arm-warmers but I quickly regretted having chosen to wear them. They were too much, and came off at our first stop. We had a really tight group that morning, probably twelve to fifteen of us and we were all very used to riding together. The speed was controlled on the hills for the tandems and everyone played nice, kicking the average up to a 19.5-mph pace before we hit 15-miles.

The ride was a fantastic display of social cycling. People talked and caught up, we laughed and told jokes, and had a massive amount of fun. Though the skies looked liked they’d open up a time or two, we stayed dry the entire ride… and we absolutely rocked it. Right up till the aforementioned bonk with just a couple of miles to go.

And just like that, our 50-mile limit on the tandem was blown out of the water – and my wife asked if we could do a few more longer rides before the year was up, that she had a few that she liked on the single bikes but wanted to try on the tandem.

In a way, I let my buddies down on the 100-miler to ride the 100k with my wife. They’re used to me letting my wife do her thing while I hang with them. As my wife and I have learned to love riding together, things have had to change a little. And almost all of those changes are for the better.

The “Why” of Going from Single Bikes to a Tandem with My Wife; It Ain’t Pretty, But It’ll Be the Truth…

My wife and I had a history of making incorrect assumptions and holding those assumptions against the other. Now, at first blush most will wonder why we even stayed together. Well, the truth of what we did writes out a little uglier than how it manifested in the marriage. For the most part, we had a fairly decent run of it and were happy more days than not. There were trouble spots, though.

Take, for instance, cycling.

Ooh, my wife and I could get into some gnarly fights whilst on our bicycles – and I was a complete d*** when certain buttons were pushed… and believe me, my wife liked pushing those buttons. On several occasions I’d ride off in a fit of anger and leave her to her own. I felt justified, at least at the time, of course, and we’d make up sure and soon enough.

We purchased our tandem on a lark to hopefully get our kids into cycling. It’s a neat bike that allows for the stoker’s position to be easily modified to fit anyone from 5′ to 6′. This meant my wife could be fitted as well as both girls in a matter of minutes. Sadly, our daughters never took to cycling, so my wife and I rode the tandem now and again.

At the start of the Covid pandemic, we decided to ride the tandem more. Nobody else was riding together, so we figured we may as well ride the tandem so we could talk while we rode. I loved it, and my wife was pretty happy as well. We instituted a “Sunday Funday” where our pace was kept to a reasonable 16 to 18-mph average. We rode the tandem every week and both grew to enjoy the bike – we even became quite enthusiastic about it – as long as we weren’t trying to ride too fast. If we got involved in a fast ride, my unstoppable desire to stay with the lead group would mess with our serenity. We got into a few heated debates if we struggled when a Sunday Funday devolved into a fast group ride.

I thought it was my wife’s fault because I was strong and fast. My wife thought it was my fault because I always had to be up front – I couldn’t just be happy to ride our own pace. And that gets fun in a minute (because my wife was a lot more right than I was).

I had a massive awakening in March of this year (2022). I saw, for the first time in my life, all of my flaws laid out before me and I did not like who I was. Being in recovery from alcoholism, I knew exactly what to do to fix those flaws and I didn’t hesitate. My wife didn’t get a free pass on her issues, but mine were the only one’s I could fix, so I got to it.

My wife, if you asked her, would tell you that I am a changed man. Reformed and healed down to my baby toes.

With that process of allowing my defects of character to be fixed, my wife and I fell in love again. We started riding the tandem a lot. To the extent we both have more miles on the tandem that the single bikes this year (I have more miles on the tandem that both road bikes combined this year).

I made my amends for my past behavior and have set about making it right with my wife – and my wife made her amends and went to work on her issues as well. In the end, I came to see that having fun with my wife is vastly better than being able to ride fast. Riding with my wife has been the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels.

Tomorrow, we’ll be riding a pre-ride of a main event on our tandem but we’re going to opt for the 64-mile route rather than the full 100-miler I’ve done for the last decade. My wife asked if I’d really rather ride a single bike with my friends – something I never would have passed on in the past… and I said, simply, “My past behavior when we rode together has been being a jerk, leaving you on your own in a temper tantrum and of not being a very nice guy. I’d like to change that. There’s no place I’d rather be than on the tandem with you”.

Folks, it’s this simple; when you love each other enough, a tandem is easy. There’s no place I’d rather be.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part One

I’ll have more on this later, but this is the journey my 1999 Trek 5200 took from the day I brought it home in 2012 till today. The changes were worth every penny. The 2012 5200 weighed more than 21 pounds. The 2023 5200 is a svelte 18-1/2 pounds and is a wonderful bike to ride.

The Ten Commandments of Cycling: #7 Thou Shalt Not Squander Perfect Days…

If you’ve been around for a while, you may remember I’d taken a fondness for the Ten Commandments of Cycling… well, I felt yesterday’s ride rose to the level of a Commandment, and lucky number Seven at that: Thou Shalt Not Squander Perfect Days on the Couch.

My lovely wife had board meetings that I had a feeling were going to run late. Still, I thought, what if she actually gets to come home between them, as she normally does? I don’t want to miss her, I thought (I’d gotten home from the office just in the nick of time to give her a kiss before she drove off to that first meeting). On the other hand, it was perfect out. Barely a cloud in the sky, a barely there breeze… and the temp was even reasonable in the low 80s (probably 27 or 28 C if memory serves). It was literally a perfect day. There’s no way my wife would want me to miss riding in that, not today. Not the way we’re doing today. I reasoned, if she wasn’t on the way home at 5, I’d ride (she had another meeting start at 6).

I threw my leg over the top tube and was off at 5:10.

Tuesday night’s ride on the tandem had been hard. Strava and Garmin showed an estimated power output of over 360 watts for the hour and twenty minutes and I’d actually woken up the next morning with shaky legs, adding weight to the guesstimate… so I chose easy, recovery pace… for maybe one or two miles. It was just too perfect!

And just like that, at 5:20-ish, my wife texted me a simple, “I love you”. I took a quick selfie video from the bike and said, “I love you” whilst pedaling and sent that. Technology is grand. And I pedaled on.

I had a busy evening ahead so I had to shave the route and cut some corners to get done in time to pick up pizza for dinner and drop a love note off on my wife’s car on the way by, but I filled every spare minute I had on the Venge. I’d even dressed in my best Specialized peacock kit, with my racing helmet, S-Works shoes, and the whole getup. I was feeling quite spectacular as I rolled down the road.

I pulled into the driveway with just shy of 16 miles and a little better than an 18-mph average. It was no ride on the tandem with my wife, but it was a lot better than polishing the leather on our couch with my butt, too. Thou shalt not squander perfect days…

A New Personal Best for My Wife and I on the Tandem for a Tuesday Night!!!

Well, every once in a while a small miracle happens and Jess and I hit the perfect night on our tandem. The weather was wonderful. Partly cloudy, just a slight breeze out of the north, and my wife, the Rear Admiral to my Captain of the team, made the command decision that we should try to hang with the small-ish A-Elite/A-Group as long as we could. And I executed that decision.

We rolled out after fixing a timing chain issue – it pops when we take the bike out of the back of the vehicle every now and again. It’s happened twice, now, so I’ll have to be more mindful when taking it out of the SUV. Anyway, without a warm-up, we rolled out and went from easy-going out of the parking lot to 23-mph in a half-mile. Originally, I’d thought about staying in the rotation and taking our lumps up front with the rest of the group, but thought better of it. I chose, instead, to stay at the back… for two reasons. First, so I didn’t mess anyone up if we fell off the back. Second, well, it’s a lot easier at the back. Every time someone peeled off the front, I’d make room for them to slide over in front of us.

And we did well.

I’d anticipated we’d hang on for eight or ten miles, but I didn’t hold out much hope beyond that. I undershot our chances by a lot. Staying with the group, even at speeds upwards of 26-mph wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d anticipated with the gentle breeze and a whole train of cyclists ahead of us… and my wife absolutely killing it. I kept looking down at my computer, wondering if my wife saw how fast we were going. We worked together perfectly, that’s the best way to put it.

15-miles in we were still with the group and had a 23.1-mph average, but we were closing in on the hills. We rounded the corner on Lytle Rd and headed downhill for a quick few seconds before the pitch turned upwards… and just as my buddy Chucker took the front… and slowed the train down from 22-mph (which we normally climb those hills at) to 18-mph. Just enough for my wife and I to hang on. Unfortunately, we got stuck with a few other riders behind a lady in a Cadillac who decided it would be a good idea to text someone whilst waiting at the stop sign, so we got separated from the group who went around her rather than wait.

Once we were off the back, that was it. We never came close to catching up with the main group but we didn’t call it quits, either…

With 13-miles to go, we gave it everything we had and kept our average over 21-mph. We’d catch and lose the wheels of the four riders ahead of us several times but when we hit the City Limits sign, we cruised across the line with a cool 21.4-mph. The fastest average we’d ever held on a tandem… and about 3-mph faster than our normal Tuesday night club ride.

We were both exceedingly happy with how we did, and my wife put it best when she said she didn’t think she could have done that on a single bike, but when we’re on the tandem, she knows I’ve got her back when she needs me and she’s got mine when I need it. And that’s exactly it. I won’t lie, either… I got more than a little misty when she was talking about how she knew I had her back and that she had mine. We’ve worked really hard on our marriage to get to that point. And the hard work is clearly paying off.

We do well on the tandem because we are the definition of a tandem team.

Good times, noodle salad. I slept like a baby last night.

My Best Worst July Ever! Finding Peace in Fewer Miles on the Bike

I’ve always, since I started cycling, been on the extreme side. Most will ride a thousand or two miles in a season and be happy. I would average a thousand a month through the summer season. Last month I didn’t even make half that. Now, in fairness, we went on a cruise and brought Covid home with us on the last day, so my wife and I were out a few more days just shaking the fever. Don’t get the impression I’m kicking my own ass for only racking up 474 miles in a month where we didn’t ride half of it, I’m not.

I am as strong as I’ve ever been, though. I’m riding very well. The tandem takes a lot more effort and attentiveness than that of my twitchy, ultra-sleek, race bike. And the quality of rides… well, I can’t even quantify that. Enjoying riding with my wife on a tandem is a gift beyond description. Hell, loving my wife enough to enjoy riding on the tandem is pure awesome sauce – having my wife feel the same (at the same time), well that’s just over-the-top.

I’ll have a lot of miles to ride this month and into next, though. Most will be on the tandem with the love of my life, but some will be on my Venge, or maybe my Trek. I am thankful our marriage made it to where I’d rather the former than the latter two. It’s taken a lot of want to and work to get here. I’m glad we made it.

Incidentally, I raised my wife’s bullhorn up a little bit so she’s a little more upright. I’ll write up a post on fitting her to the tandem in the coming weeks. It’s an interesting tale.

¡The Triumphant Return of Los Cuatros Amigos!

I didn’t intentionally blow off a meeting to ride with my friends, but that it wasn’t intentional didn’t mean I didn’t blow off the meeting.  I did.

My wife had meetings in the morning so the tandem was out.  Originally, I was just planning on riding with my buddy, Mike but Chuck and Phill showed up, too so it was a picture of the good old days when the four of us would ride all over God’s creation together.  My mind drifted back to the heady days of Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat when Mike managed to pause his Garmin on the way up Brutus Road, while Phill tried to see exactly how slow he could go without tipping over on his bike (1.2-mph).  Ah, those were the days!

Mike and Chuck showed up early so we rolled out well before 7:30, our scheduled departure time, and picked Phill up along the way.  It wasn’t long before we got into a great rhythm heading into the wind in a tight pace-line.  Unlike the pros, where they take twelve seconds of headwind before rotating to the back, we were up front for several miles at a time (we were also well short of the pro’s 30-mph pace).

The sun shone gloriously and the breeze was mild… and the four of us had our fun.

My 16-pound Specialized Venge was all pleasurable business, a model of mechanical perfection as we strolled down the road at a brisk (but fun) pace. Mike, Phill and Chuck had their “good” bikes as well. Phill has a Fire Engine Red Specialized Roubaix, Mike a Trek Emonda 7.0 and Chuck a Black on Black Ghost Giant TCR Advanced… We talked and laughed and caught up… and I pulled into the driveway with 35-ish miles at 18-mph and a smile on my face.

It was perfect Michigan summer cycling. With friends. The only way it could have been better would have been if my wife and I were on the tandem. There will be plenty of time for that, though.