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Switching from Single Bikes to a Tandem for a Married Couple

My wife and I are a tandem couple. We still have single bikes but don’t ride them regularly anymore, unless you count winter riding on the trainers next to each other in the living room.

Our first tandem, a Co-Motion Periscope

Now, if you’re reading this and shaking your head, “No way”, I get it. Hell, if your wife is reading this and shaking her head and saying, “No chance”, I get it. My wife and I weren’t much different. Until we started riding our first tandem seriously during the Covid debacle (and the Governor of Michigan was paying me to be a pro cyclist – and writing that line will never get old). One day, a friend of ours asked on a Sunday Funday ride why we didn’t ride our tandem more. He pointed out that Sundays would be perfect for that bike. So we gave it a go. A new attitude later and we haven’t looked back.

Now we’ve gone so far as to buy matching helmets, glasses, jerseys and even socks

Then we picked up a new tandem:

At the end of last season actually chose a top-end custom tandem as a work-sponsored bonus over new single bikes. So, are we nuts?

Prior to tandem cycling, we couldn’t pilot a canoe together without the adventure devolving into a massive fight.

So, tandems are either marriage makers or marriage breakers, another tandem couple we ride with likes to say. Their tandem is a marriage maker. My wife and I started out rocky, but we really worked at it and we’re in the same boat now.

Here’s how we did it…

From my wife’s saddle, she’s the rear admiral. I’m the captain. She gives the orders and I execute them. She trusts me implicitly to pilot the bike. She does not back seat ride. She provides power and for that, gets to enjoy the scenery, not about the wheel we’re trying to hold. I should ask her to write a post about this, actually so she can put her perspective down, rather than me writing about my understanding of her perspective.

From my saddle, I changed a lot so we can be happy on our tandem. First, I gave up the “aggressive” cyclist me, as I’ve written about before. The speed did come, eventually, and I’m better for it. Patience is indeed a virtue. That aggressive cyclist guy doesn’t mesh with my wife. I found I didn’t like being that guy anyway. Second, I’ve come to realize I’m happier on the tandem with my wife than I am on single bikes. After taking the time to learn how to really communicate on the bike, we reduced our difficulties on the tandem to afterthoughts.

The communication is really the key to our happiness on a tandem. Without it, we’d be sunk. That’s the key, but that’s not even the biggest part of what makes us a successful tandem couple. That biggest part is desire for it to work. Well, patience would be the third. That’s pretty big, too.

We wanted it enough to make it happen, and it’s fantastic. We never got smiles like that on the single bikes.

Hold the Phone! An Even Better Ride on the Tandem… A Monday Crank Up the Jams Ride

We started out Monday’s Memorial Day ride with a bunch of questions. I thought we were going for somewhere between 45 and 50-miles but Mike had it pegged at something like 37. I was hoping for 50 but I could have lived with 40, I told my wife. She was good with whatever we ended up with… as long as it wasn’t more than 50. The time was set for 8am.

We had a fantastic group show up. Mike, Matt, Diane and Jeff on their singles, Ukulele Dave, and we knew Joe was meeting us out on the road – we snapped him up at mile two. Then Phill jumped on, but he’d been riding with two mysterious riders… and I recognized the jersey of one – Greg, when we were still a half-mile out. The other was perplexing. He turned out to be Greg’s neighbor, Kevin. Looks a lot like Todd “Watt King” King. Tall, lanky, powerful-looking. I gulped. My wife said aloud, “Oh, Great! Greg and Todd! Here we go”!

It turned out, Greg isn’t the same way with Kevin as he is with Todd. It didn’t get chippy at all. Normally, when Greg and Todd show up it turns into a Sufferfest video in a matter of minutes (though not as much in the last couple of years, Todd has been through a change of heart and is much more easygoing depending on the group he’s with). Greg and Kevin went to the back and caught up with everyone, then moved through the pace-line talking with each of us. It was very much a casual, social affair and it was fantastic. Greg is always a fun gentleman to ride with – his neighbor, Kevin is as well. In fact, Kevin even came up and talked with Jess and I a bit about riding with his wife and how we get along on the tandem. We gave him the same advice I write about here… which he remarked about. It’s so cool running into someone who says, “oh yeah, you wrote an article about that”.

Thanks, Kevin. You made it worthwhile to write. I appreciate you.

Greg and Kevin split to head home shortly after we chatted, sadly.

We, however, rolled on. We headed south to the sod farm (Van Agen), then east to Byron where we stopped to top off the water bottles in the sun-soaked heat. From there we rolled for home, looking like 40, almost 41 miles.

We’d spent a good bit of time up from and I expected to be wiped out on the way home but my wife and I were absolutely kickin’ it. Into the wind, what little there was, and it was little, we were having to dial it back to maintain 19-20-mph. It was pure awesome sauce.

Taking it to the barn the last three miles, I felt we could have done another ten, easy. Still, it was nice to get home and we didn’t stick around to watch the grass grow.

We pulled into the driveway with an 18.4-mph (29.6 km/h).

I was exceedingly happy with that ride. I thought about it a lot, and let Jess know how I felt. We really worked well together yesterday. It was awesome.

The Sweet Success of Our First Horsey Hundred on the Tandem

The night before the ride, my wife was nervous enough about the 100k on the tandem to make me nervous about the 100k on the tandem. We talked at length about doing the 50 and adding on at the end to get 100k if we felt good enough. My wife almost had me convinced – I even relented, because the route was actually around 65-miles and we’re not the best on the hills. Put us on the flat or on a downhill and we’re hammers. We struggle on the hills and I had no desire to hurt my wife… on the other hand, 100k. Horsey Hundred. [Yes, technically it’s 100 miles but even I knew we couldn’t do that]

We rolled out to a cool but perfect 50-ish° with arm warmers and normal summer kit. With the hills, we’d be sweating in no time.

In the excitement, I went out way too hard and had myself nervous after the first ten miles that 65 might be too much. After eighteen, my legs started protesting and I asked my wife if we could dial it back on the hills a little bit and spin them. Back home, where we have about three legitimate hills, I push a little harder on the way up and my wife gives me a break on the downhill and flats. On the horsey hundred, there’s a hill every 45 seconds, so there’s no break whatsoever and I was pushing way too hard and too often.

We calmed it down around mile 20 and things got decidedly better for us. By contrast, Jess was perfect as the rear admiral. Unfortunately, it seemed Mike and Jonathan got a little bored waiting for us on the ups and then trying to keep up on the downhills. They’d ride up ahead and Mike would come back and collect us now and again.

I was way too focused on all of the little details, mainly because we were topping 30-mph (around 50kph) on the downhills and I had my wife on the back to think of. The new Co-Motion performed admirably, though. It was really awesome, actually. Vastly superior to our old steel Periscope.

About 40-miles in, when I could see that taking it easier on the hills was working wonders, I began to relax and have a little more fun with it. I’d been reassuring my wife along the way but really picked it up after 40. We met up with the main group at a rest stop as they were on the longer 72-mile route and regrouped for all of a few minutes. Jess and I rode our ride and I was finally to a point I could really enjoy it.

As the group pulled away we started talking in between climbs and even on some of the easier uphill efforts.

At the 55-mile mark we were really feeling excited about the ride. We were all by our lonesome and having a fantastic time of it. It was our first Horsey Hundred on our tandem and I’m here to tell you, I’ve never had more fun on a bicycle. We absolutely rocked it.

As we approached the finish, my rear admiral asked if I wanted to finish at the finish line or just head back to the hotel, taking a shortcut. At first I said I wanted to take it to the finish line, but after thinking it over, the hotel sounded better. We made the right turn and skipped the last hill… a leg-burner and ego-bruiser.

We were well over the 62.5 mark by then. 100 kilometers and over 4,200 feet of climbing. On the tandem. I think I might need a couple of days to process exactly how cool it was to ride with my wife on the tandem for such a tough ride – to gut it out together. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put it into words.

Oh, and the bike performed perfectly.

Ready for the Horsey Hundred… On A Tandem(!)

We’re heading down to Kentucky for our annual trip to do the Horsey Hundred, one of the best supported rides in all the United States. We’ve been making the trip since 2014 or ‘15 with the exception being the Covid year.

This year will be different from all the others, though. This year we’re taking our new Co-Motion tandem.

I’m giddy but my wife is nervous about the hills. This isn’t the same terrain we’re used to. With a 50/34 compact crank and an 11-40 cassette, I believe we have enough gear for anything we might run into down here.

The bike is prepped and ready to go. The chain is lubed and everything is dialed in.

Let the good times roll! More later.

And Just Like That, The Tandem Is Ready to Roll

The Co-Motion is ready for riding. The last of the new parts came in yesterday and I put the bike back together after work.

It’s just like it was before the crank fell apart Saturday… only the cranks are tight now.

Jess and I are stoked everything came together so quickly after the mess over the weekend.

Let the good times roll!

Putting the Tandem Together Again

Our rear derailleur came in yesterday for the tandem. It was my late night at the jobsite, so I didn’t get to start dialing it in until after 9 last night. This one was a little trickier than I was expecting but I got it together and properly set before 10 (or just thereabouts).

Our Gates parts are due in tomorrow, so they’ll go on the bike as soon as I get home from work and we should be set for Horsey.

Fingers crossed!

A Fantastic Fifty… On the Single Bikes?!

Every long ride I’ve done since last August at the Assenmacher 100 has been done captaining a tandem with my wife in the rear admiral position.

With the tandem down for repairs, we had no choice but to take the singles out for a spin. I’ve made much ado over how I finally learned to ride with my wife so we can both have a marvelous time, no matter what the pace. It was employed yesterday and we had an awesome time. We needed that for Horsey.

The weather was perfect and the traffic heavy but polite (for the most part).

My wife just said I was a sight to behold, that rainbows must have literally shot out my butt as I helped her up many of the hills.

Folks, it was good times and noodle salad.

Now to get that tandem put back together! The tandem is WAY easier than singles! And more fun.

A Crash Averted on the Saturday Morning Ride

I had the tandem prepped and ready to roll. I had everything dialed in, down the the smallest detail. I aired the tires, filled the water bottles and got a few goodies ready so we could snack on the ride. Jess and I were stoked. Horsey is end of next week and we’re ready to roll!

We rolled the super-light tandem out the front door just after 8am and got the show on the road.

We were in synch as good as we’ve ever been and were cruising 20-mph into the crossing headwind. Even in the headwind we were in great shape. Everything was perfect. We had a great group, too. Both Chucks, Mike, Diane and we picked up Matt on the road. We were cruising at 19-mph into the headwind when Mike cruised by and said he wanted a turn up front so he could raise his heart rate and warm up (it was chilly for this time of year, and cloudy). We went to the back but eased in behind Diane when Matt opened a hole for us. Jess and I gave it some gas to latch on and, just as we made it, all hell broke lose. Literally.

My left foot, all of a sudden, started to roll wildly, then it flew away from the bike taking the left side of my crank and pedal with it. With my foot dangling out in the great blue yonder, all of a sudden the tandem wouldn’t pedal, forward or back. To make matters worse, the bike started fishtailing wildly. I struggled against each swing of the bikes rear end. Then, PSSSSSSHHHHHHHH. The tire flatted. I could feel it go and we still hadn’t stopped yet. Luckily, Jess had unclipped from her pedal and, as we came to a rest at the side of the road, put a balancing foot down to steady us. I put my foot down with the crank arm and Gates belt pulley attached to my shoe.

My crank had come undone and the synch belt had gotten caught on the wheel and wrapped around it, locking it up. It was a miracle we kept the bike rubber side down and an even bigger miracle that we were almost all the way to the back of the group when it happened!

Matt hopped off his bike and unclipped my crank arm and pedal from my shoe. I got off the bike and started assessing the damage. Our rear derailleur was in two pieces and hanging from the chain. The carbon drive belt was wrapped around the wheel and I unraveled it. Matt gave the wheel a spin… it was clicking against a cable, but there was no visible damage. The belt drive pully hit the ground at some point and had several splines that were ground out of shape. Finally, after close inspection, the belt had cracked when it wrapped around the wheel. Oh, and the derailleur hanger was bent.

Thankfully, in all of that commotion (pun intended), none of the paint was damaged. Not a scratch.

Our daughter picked us up after having ridden only 7-1/2 miles.

We decided to wash up and eat before we did anything about the bike. While we were cleaning up, our daughter place a container that once held twelve-day old oatmeal that had become a petri dish in her car somewhere. The house stank so bad, we went out for lunch. We laughed quite hard over the ordeal.

Sitting at lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, we started ordering parts. My wife picked up the Ultegra R8000 derailleur first. That comes in Monday. Then we ordered the pulley and belt. Those arrive Wednesday (enough time for me to put the bike together just before Horsey…

Then we went and had the wheel checked out at the local Trek store, and bought a new tire. The wheel was barely out of true, so Tommy got it back in shape. I paid and we rolled. I’ve put the new tire on and taken all of the parts off that will be replaced…

Then I checked Jess’s crank. It was loose too. Four turns, at least. It was only a matter of time before that went, too.

Note to self, always check the cranks are tight on a new bike! Thankfully, we’re just out some money – and none of it had to go to medical bills!

Oh, and we’re riding the single bikes today. Hopefully for more than 7-1/2 miles.

What You Need to Know About Buying, Riding and Fine-Tuning a New Bike; Also, “It’s Tandem Time, Baby”!

If you’ve dropped a good bit of money on a bicycle and you think, because you paid upwards of several Thousand Dollars, the bike will be problem free for the foreseeable future, you’ll have to think again… and likely a lot sooner than you’d think.

When you bring a new bike home from the shop, the chance it’s properly perfectly tuned and ready to roll is somewhere between slim and none. I suppose, before I really dig into this post, I should clarify that I’m exceedingly picky that our bikes (my wife and my bikes) are operating at their peak.

It usually starts out like this; you bring a new bike home, ride it a time or two, and things start creaking or rubbing or the derailleurs don’t shift quite as crisply as the bike settles in. Most shops give a free one month checkup to readjust things after they settle.

I’ve never taken a bike in for its one month. I can’t last that long knowing I’ve got something that needs correcting. I’d guess that the electric groupsets are a little less problematic, but I really wouldn’t know, it’d just be a guess. Mechanical groupsets, however, I do know something about and they require some tinkering. I’ve been working on our tandem, little changes here and there, for the better part of a month.

Today will be our first ride on the tandem where I’m totally pleased with the mechanics of the bike. The front brake was a quarter turn on the left pad too tight, the derailleurs were a half-turn (or so) off on the set screws, the rotors are trued, the calipers are set where I want them… and there are no mysterious “clicks” in the rear derailleur and the front only needs to be trimmed on the last two (smallest) cogs on the back and doesn’t rub in any other gear but the small/small combination (as it should, it doesn’t rub on the derailleur, it rubs the big chainring from being cross-chained).

The real question is, would our tandem have sufficed as it was when we rode it the first time? Well, it was really nice that first ride, but the adjustments needed to happen to really make the bike ride how we wanted it.

It’s been like this for every bike I’ve owned. Every bike my wife has owned except one (her Assenmacher is the lone exception – that bike was perfect right out of the back of my wife’s SUV) but that bike is a 2004 and was kept after quite well)… every other bike we’ve ever brought home has required a little tinkering.

The key is knowing this is coming and enjoying the process of sorting it out!

UPDATE: On a crazy fluke, the front crank fell apart on our ride today. Check the crank bolts are tight. Often.

Venge Day 2023 (Better Late Than Never?)

I’ve been writing about Venge Day since 2014… so nine years (!). Venge Day is simply the first day of the new season the weather is good enough that I’ll choose my Specialized Venge over my Trek 5200.

Venge Day normally hits in March or April. This is the latest by a month, I’m thinking.

I don’t know what I was thinking waiting this long.

Normally, after my wife drove us home on a Thursday evening, we’d take the tandem out. Last night she had a board meeting, though, so I had to ride alone if I was going to ride. The weather was about a 4-mph breeze out of the southeast shy of being perfect. Sunny, 70°, glorious. I was tired, though. Work has been brutal lately and I just wanted to lay down and chill for a bit, but having the argument in my head, all I could think of was what a waste of time that would be. I decided to get ready.

I almost took the Trek because I had a tough time finding my aero seatpost Garmin Radar Mount… until I remembered it was on my gravel bike. I aired the tires, put a full water bottle on the bike, got dressed in my Affable Hammers kit and rolled my Venge out the door.

The first half-mile was a bit on the “what am I doing out here, I’m way too tired for this” side… but then my legs got my heart and head into the game and it was on. My head cleared up and I started smiling.

Folks, I did all of twelve miles and had an ear-to-ear grin for eleven of them.

Venge Day was exceedingly late this year, but my God was it good!