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I’m Having a Bit of Writer’s Block… But Because Life Is Grand?

I haven’t written a word in three days. I had a work thing pop up that’s provided a lot of unnecessary stress that I’ve been processing with the help (or hindrance?) of my new sponsor. I had an awesome meeting Wednesday night with some excellent friends. I’ve been working hard with a couple of sponsees, enough I don’t think I’d pick up another till I get done with my own fourth.

I’ve also been doing my GCN research and I should have a ton to write about… like their latest video about the differences between a modern road bike vs. Si’s 10-year old Specialized Tarmac SL3 – a fantastic video that shows a massive gap between the two… if you’re riding with shallow alloy wheels on the Specialized. I’d love to see the difference were they to put a set of period carbon wheels on the bike (or even something a little more modern). Many in the comments agreed that the gap would close to a margin of error. Still something, but not much of something.

Anyway, while I’ve got a little stress at work, I don’t believe it’s something that can’t be sorted out quickly and be back to better than normal with a little more “give a $#!!+”.

Everything else, my wife and my marriage, our home, our kids, the people we work with in recovery, and our cycling friends are, for the most part, cruising along and awesome. We’re into planning rides and signing up for them at the moment – planning our summers out. It should be a great one and I’m entirely looking forward to what my wife and I can do on our new tandem and her new (old) road bike.

My wife and I wake up together, thanking our HP for another day and for the journey we’ve been on (and what remains ahead).

It’s good times and noodle salad. And thank God for that.

At What Price Point Does a Road Bike Become Unattainable?

I watched an interesting video on YouTube yesterday where a very British announcer posed the very question in the Title. The announcer stated there was a 40% 14% tariff* on any bike made outside of the UK – apparently the UK went all Donald Trump on evening up China’s trade imbalance… so if you add 40% on top of a normal bike price I don’t know if that would make them unattainable, but it’d piss me off covering a 40% tariff, though. And, should that have been the case in the US, I’d have thanked God both our old and new tandem are manufactured, made, built, painted, partially assembled, shipped and will arrive at my door step after the final assembly, entirely in the United States (it’s made in Oregon, Eugene, I believe). If you think a single bike expensive, get into the world of top-end tandems! WOW!

Anyway, it’s hard to believe, but now that I think of it, between my wife and I the three main bikes in our stable will all be hand-built in the USA. My Trek 5200, Jess’s Assenmacher, and our tandem.

The question is, though, at what point does a road bike become unattainable? How much is too much?

I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Bikes have gotten a little heavier, so if you want a 16-pound bike, it’ll cost you. They prices haven’t outlandishly for what we get, though. At least, in my personal opinion. I looked at a nice Trek Emonda the other day that was fantastically well appointed for $5,000 with the new Shimano 105 Di2 drivetrain and decent carbon wheels. At 18-pounds, it’s heavier than I’d expect but the price looked quite fair to me… and with the worldwide economic downturn (caused by the way in which Covid was handled by politicians, not just Covid), manufacturers are going to have to start cutting prices to move bikes sooner or later.

One thing is for sure, I’m sure glad I have a full stable. This is a great time for a gravel bike that’ll pull double duty as a road rig with a different set of wheels and tires.

UPDATE: The OMIL pointed out in the comments that he thought the duty on foreign-born bikes was 14%, not 40%. I had to go back to the video and sure enough, the announcer had a bit of a lazy tongue and I misheard 40%… it’s only 14%. Still, that’s an extra $140 per thousand that goes right out the window. That’s a lot better than $400, though!

I’m Starting to Fantasize About Riding My Trek Outside…

I’m sitting here at the dining room table, trying to figure out what I want to write about and I’m looking over at my Trek sitting in the trainer. I’ve been daydreaming about taking it outside for days… just not in the amount of winter gear it would take to legitimately ride the thing without getting hypothermia. In my daydream, I’m in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey, bombing down the road with my wife and friends. The sun is shining and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, even if you could catch me.

Yep. A lot like that.

That’s not all, though! In fact, the vast majority of my rare daydream time is spent daydreaming about rocketing down the road with my wife on our new tandem… the silver paint job, the special factory applied decals on the top tube with our names and anniversary date… all light and sassy (the new tandem is going to be sixteen pounds lighter that the one we just sold). I actually dreamt about it last night.

Just two months to go and we’ll be outside again. I’m ready.

Picking the Right Co-Motion Tandem for You… A Look Through Our Eyes At Our Choice.

I did some research yesterday morning for a friend looking at picking up a new tandem and I thought it would be fun to go over our choice and why we made it. The coolest part, and I mean this down to my baby toes, is that my wife took such a big role in the choice. I expected she’d just sit back and let me roll, but she was right in there with me as we kicked around the choices for different tandems. She made two excellent points that led to us getting the exact bike we wanted.

She also just got upset that I’m typing too loud and fast… so, it’s not all palm trees and paradise. She says it is palm trees and paradise… paradise doesn’t have the staccato notes being drummed out on a keyboard. I’ve softened my tapping. And I’m laughing out loud.

Anyway, I knew we wanted to go with a Co-Motion tandem. Our first tandem was a Co-Motion Periscope and we absolutely loved it. Our experience with our first tandem made the choice of manufacturer easy… all we had to do was figure out which model we wanted. Now, I had lightweight horse blinders on, so when I figured out how to pay for this (cash, no financing), I was stuck on the Macchiato – Co-Motion’s top of the line race tandem. They use the highest grade aluminum tubing you can get, with carbon fiber everything and a Gates belt drive instead of a sync chain. It is, without question, the best of the best (unless you shell out $20,000+ for a Calfee).

When I got all googly-eyed explaining the Macchiato, my wife let me finish and said, “Well, if we’re truly going to ride this bike everywhere, why don’t we get the gravel bike version like Chuck & Libby”. I checked the specs on it… the only difference was alloy bars, seat posts and crank and we could fit 45mm tires on the bike instead of a 28mm max on the Macchiato. Oh, and internally routed cables. I don’t know how much I like that, by the way… that’s a long rear derailleur cable! Anyway, our friends’ Kalapuya (it’s pronounced Calapooia) is quite light, in the upper 20-pound range. My wife’s second fantastic idea is going to knock ours out of the park. She said, “Oh, and I want a second set of road wheels so we don’t have to mess around with changing tires to ride on the dirt.”

We had to pick my jaw up off the floor with a spatula. I love my wife! So I ordered a set of Rolf Prima tandem wheels with the bike, so now we have one tandem that can do anything we want.

Now, cycling is an exceedingly expensive hobby when you want all of the bells and whistles. Co-Motion tandems are that, times two. This is the place where one bike with two sets of wheels for road or dirt makes sense because buying a road and gravel tandem is simply a monetary and logistical nightmare. For us, because our plans involve traveling by car with our camper, we chose the lighter alloy gravel bike. They make a fantastic steel version that can have couplers added to it so the bike breaks down into sections for travel overseas. A friend chose the steel version of that bike for exactly that reason.

So, the choice can be broken down into a few sections.

Who will be using the bike? Is this for a tandem couple or the couple and kids? If you’ve got kids who might want to ride on a tandem, the only option I know of is the Co-Motion Periscope (Scout or Torpedo – flat or drop bar). The stoker (or rear admiral) position can be adjusted to suit a rider any height between 4’2″ & 6’2″. The flat bar version is a mountain bike while the drop bar can handle pavement or, in a limited sense, gravel. You would definitely need a Thudbuster seat post for gravel and the tire width would be limited to 32 mm, but it’s a great family tandem.

For my wife and I, we had a Scout that was turned into a Torpedo for six or seven years and it was awesome. We’d high hopes of involving our kids in cycling and that worked to an extent, but not quite as well as we hoped. Still, we made tremendous use of our tandem but with the kids getting older, it was time for us to look into something that fit us as a tandem couple better. As I wrote above, the Kalapuya was the natural choice for what we needed the bike to handle. The flip side to the alloy Kalapuya, but with a steel frame, is the Steelhead. Same components, just on a steel frame so the couplers can be added.

For those who have eyes on racing, or flat-out speed, the Macchiato or Robusta (alloy) or Supremo or Carrera (steel) are the four racers. Again, for travel you get the steel frame with the available coupler option (it isn’t cheap but beats renting/hiring a bike abroad).

There are a few more models out there, but that generally covers everything… except learning how to ride a tandem with your partner. It takes a lot of want to, but my God is it worth the effort!

… It’s 2023! Let the Fun (And Work) Begin!

My wife asked me last night if I had any resolutions in mind for this year. I put it quite simply, “I’ll continue what was started last year… just maybe a little thinner.”

My “eat anything” lifestyle has caught up with me. Not so much I have to go on medication, but enough that my doctor finally said it’s time I started on a low cholesterol diet. Well, my wife suggested we start looking at new dinner options today, and I agreed. I’m all in for giving it my best chance for a loooooooooooooooooong life. As good as our marriage and recovery are right now, I’m actually hoping for another 50-ish years. Life is awesome.

On the cycling front, and in typical fashion, there are changes afoot that begin today; I stop taking it easy on the trainer and start working for a strong start to the new cycling season. We joined MUTS (Michigan United Tandem Society) last week and we’re gearing up for a big year with the new tandem. So far on the calendar we’ve got the Ride for Recovery in Ypsilanti, the Horsey Hundred, we’re looking at a gravel ride in Ohio with a blog friend, and we’ve got about three or four tours on the slate… including DALMAC on the new tandem (more on that later). Then we’re absolutely doing the Sunrise Adventure (the date’s been changed to September) after the Shoreline West tour… and we still have to work in the Midwest Tandem Rally (though that looks to be a 2024 enterprise). In short, when it comes to cycling, we’ve got a lot going on this year and it all looks fun.

As far as work goes, well, work is work and there’s a reason they have to give me money to do it. I think there’s room for improvement, though, so I’ll tend to that in the new year.

Basically, that’s about the done of that. I’m excited and grateful for the new year.

Cycling and the Finer Points of Cockpit Setup (and I Do Mean the Finer Points)

Originally, I was going to start this post out by pointing to my Trek 5200’s setup as the pinnacle of my achievement in terms of bike setup that took almost ten years to perfect, but that isn’t the case anymore. My greatest achievement was setting up my wife’s new (to her) Assenmacher so that when she climbed aboard for the first time after all of the changes she said, “This feels great, let’s go with this.” My wife is exceptionally finicky about her bike setup so that was a massive compliment.

Setting up my own bike was easy. My wife, being tougher about her setup than I am, I also had to learn how to adjust her setup based on conversation rather than feel. As a true, “please let me fix this” guy, nothing was more satisfying than putting even more than I put into my own bikes into my wife’s bikes and having it work out to her satisfaction.

Our tandem would have to be next for at least a couple of reasons. I’ve got a ton of time into setting up our tandem, between the two of us. Again, setting up my wife’s half of the bike was even tougher because that was the first time I put my full effort into working setting a bike up for my wife. Normally, I’d always left my wife’s setup to the pro at the local shop. I figured he was way better than me, so it made sense. While there’s no doubt he’s more knowledgeable, he can’t possibly take the time I could to work with my wife. The best he could do was move a few things and say, “Try that”. I took my tools and rode with my wife, stopping every now and again to adjust things little by little until we hit pay dirt. The front half was a little easier as the shop had the cockpit setup done to match my Trek before I ever brought the bike home.

Finally, we get to the Trek. At this point, all of the bikes in my stable are set to my approximation of “correctly”, but the Trek is the one that blazed the way. Here are the little details in setting up the cockpit so it works with the bike’s geometry and my reach:

  1. The hoods are tilted up about 5°. This was a new revelation watching a setup video on YouTube a couple of years ago.
  2. There’s a 5mm spacer below the stem – without the spacer, the handlebar sits just a touch too low for comfort.
  3. The stem, with a classic frame and rake, is 17°, flipped to give it that parallel to the ground look.
  4. On a compact frame (with a sloped top tube), the rake changes and 17° is too steep, you’d need a 12°.
  5. The reach is standard, for the handlebar, but the drop is a little shallower than normal.
  6. I went with a 42cm wide handlebar and am quite happy with it.
  7. In order for me to ride comfortably in the drops, I’ve got the saddle nose down 2°.

For my wife’s bike(s), she’s more flexible than I am, but not by much. She doesn’t like tolerating the steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar that I do/can, so I had to learn a few tricks. Second, as can be seen in our tandem photo below, Jess’s saddle is almost exactly as high as mine. Her legs are actually a little longer than mine even though I’m a couple of inches taller. She’s also got a leg longer than the other, but that imbalance wasn’t fixed with the bike. We shimmed the insole of her shoe.

  1. This isn’t technically a cockpit thing, but it absolutely is; I had to drop the nose of my wife’s saddle quite a bit to get the front of the bike to work properly. So, it isn’t a cockpit issue, but the front of the bike can’t work unless the back of the bike is in order first. My saddles are set between 1 and 2° down. My wife is 5°.
  2. My wife needed a shorter stem, I think that’s a 60 with a 12° rise, so I could keep her from stretching too far.
  3. I didn’t change the spacer stack from the way it came when we brought the bike home, I just relied on the rise in the stem to bring the handlebar up to where my wife needed it.
  4. Notice the handlebar isn’t rotated back to raise the hoods… I had to loosen and adjust them after I set the handlebar to get that 5° rise from parallel to the ground. Try to avoid over-rotating the handlebar to move the hoods as this leads to poor placement of the hands in the drops. You’re not going to be as comfortable in the drops, as a rule, but you should be comfortable enough you can ride in them without feeling like a fish out of water for ten to thirty minutes.
  5. The final trick I used for my wife’s cockpit setup was the short reach handlebar. This brought the hoods in closer to where she needed them. The original bar, a nice carbon fiber deal, had a massive 7″ reach. The reach had the hoods so far away, she preferred to ride with her hands behind the hoods. A normal handlebar has a reach between 4″ & 5″. She needed something short of standard, so I picked up the bar on her Assenmacher for $40 at the local shop. She’ll have a short reach carbon handlebar as a birthday or holiday present in the near future.

There are so many opportunities for jokes in Number 5, I can’t refrain from acknowledging them. I know.

What Does It Take to Make It Work on a Tandem Bicycle Part One: The Captain’s Perspective

This is going to be part one of, at least, two. Maybe three; I don’t know yet.

My wife and I have become quite the tandem couple. I didn’t see this coming, but I’m glad it did. I’m happier on our tandem than I’ve ever been on a single bike. Being on the same bike with her, while challenging at first, with a lot of work became a bright light in our relationship.

The following is how I approached going from a single bike and self-centered, selfish cycling to being a tandem captain to my wife’s rear admiral. And, as I’ve written here often, this is the proper way to look at the relationship. If I start thinking “I’m the captain and my wife’s “just” the stoker, I am going to create problems for us… because the second I don’t respect my wife and cycling partner is the second I might think she’s making mistakes. If we know anything about exercise, we know that when we start to get tired, our filter seems to let just about anything through and we become considerably more disagreeable. Those two together with someone else to blame are a recipe for disaster… and the tandem hanging on hooks in the garage.

Which is why the rear admiral never makes mistakes.

My wife and I started riding the tandem more during the pandemic because, well, with the government paying us to ride our bikes and everyone else too petrified to ride together, why not? We’d had the bike for something like four years but I had a tough time treating my wife like the rear admiral as I detailed in the previous paragraph. My behavior mixed with her misperceptions of my behavior and entire lack of decent communication had her falling out of favor with the bike.

As we rode alone, though, without my need to keep up with whatever group we normally rode with, I started to relax a little bit. I was getting a great workout and we had each other close by to talk to… and talk we did. I think that led to an opening up of the communication channels that benefited us massively. Then, as the group started riding together more often because we were tired of not seeing our friends (and it became glaringly obvious Covid didn’t transmit well outdoors) and rather than always trying to keep up, my wife suggested we try a Sunday Funday where we capped the pace between 16 or 17-mph for an average. With a few very fast exceptions, this worked a treat.

We’d ride the tandem when we rode alone and on Sunday and the single bikes when we were expecting a faster ride and it was quite fantastic.

At the beginning of last season, literally before the last of the snow melted, I had a complete change of heart regarding our marriage. I mean structurally down to my baby toes change of heart where I realized I had a lot of room to be less self-centered and selfish. I struggled along emotionally but the tandem always brought us together and I grew quite passionate about my wife and I riding it. We had an amazing time.

We took our tandem on our first tour in June, a camping trip up to a town I’d spent weeks every summer in when my parents would ship us off to our grandma’s house for a breather. Jess and I were the sweepers for the tour. She had work obligations to be there and we ran the registration, so after registration was complete and the riders were on their way, we’d suit up and ride. We spent most of the tour riding just she and I. We talked and looked around, and stopped every time the mood struck us to take in the scenery. We never topped 17-mph for an average on either of the three rides.

It was at that point I’d realized what I had been missing out on by being too rigid about keeping up and riding fast. I decided that the aggressive cyclist me had to go. My need to keep up was killing our good time on the tandem. And so it was.

From there it’s just a massive amount of communication – and by that, I mean I had to learn how to properly convey what I needed to in a way that was reassuring to my wife, under pressure, while tired and sweaty…

Once you learn how to do that, and to apologize when you don’t live up to it, then you’re a captain.

Could There Be A “One Bike That Does ALL”? Would Anyone Even Want That?

I wrote a post a short while ago about a YouTube video in which the fella tried to make the case that the S-Works 1x electronic shifting Crux cyclocross bike is possibly the One bike that will do it all.

Of course, because there’s thankfully no such thing, his talking points were quite simple to dispatch. A 1x bike has no place in a paceline unless it’s a relatively flat course. Even then, it’s quite simple to show that’s not a good idea. There are “cadence holes” at important speeds that will have the rider feeling like they’re always in the wrong gear. For that reason alone, if a bike that will be ridden in a pack, especially a $12,500 bike, doesn’t have a 2x drivetrain, the rest of the group will put the 1x rider in the hurt locker. Unless they’re substantially stronger than everyone else they’re riding with.

I can make a legitimate case that I need at least three of my bikes and I can make a reasonable argument for a fourth. I could probably shave a couple off of that, though, if I limited my trail riding. And we’re off…

The first is going to be either my Venge or my Trek 5200. I like having a rain/trainer bike, but I could arguably live without one. The jury is out on which I’d choose. The Venge is the cat’s pajamas in my stable. At 16 pounds and aero, it’s a beautiful machine. On the other hand, my Trek is completely customized and incredibly old school cool.

To tell you the truth, it’s a tossup. The Venge is faster, but the Trek is mine. Completely custom from the ground up.

We’ll say, if you held a gun to my head, the Trek.

Next up is the tandem. Now, our new tandem, which should be arriving in the next month or two, will be able to pull double duty. We’ve got road and gravel wheels coming for the bike. A speedy set of lightweight Rolf tandem wheels for the road and the wheels that come with the bike for gravel. It’ll take up to a 45mm tire for gravel riding and we’re going to roll with 30s for the road. So that’s two. I wouldn’t want to live without a tandem nowadays.

Next up, we’ve got the gravel bike. I love my gravel bike. It’s awesome… and wonderful to ride after the summer road season. I gotta have a gravel bike. Now, if Specialized hadn’t screwed up and limited our frames to accepting just a 32mm tire, we’d have been able to ride the gravel rigs on trails. So that makes a mountain bike a necessity, though I really don’t ride the trails enough to “need” a mountain bike. That’s something I could currently live without. There are my four. And I’ve got five.

My wife has, counting the tandem as one also, six.

The question is, though, is there one bike that can do it all?

Leaving the obvious glaring point that we must possess at least one tandem in all of this; technically, I could see a gravel bike as a one bike does all solution. With the setup like we’re doing our tandem, two sets of wheels, one road, one gravel, a 2x 50/34 drivetrain with an 11-32 11 or 12-speed cassette, you could make the case that one really could do it all on a bike like that. It’d have to be a fairly high-end rig, though, so you could keep the weight down. Anything over 19-pounds simply won’t get it. We’re looking at the 17 to 18-pound range (7.7 to 8.1 kg range).

And if you’ve seen bike weights lately, let’s just say steel with rim brakes is back in the picture as a frame material again.

Why I Ride a Bicycle Part 2,279: A Hundred Great Memories from 2022

If you follow me on Strava, you’ll know that I’ve posted a veritable ton of photos on our rides this year. I’ve taken some, my wife has taken most from the Rear Admiral’s saddle of our tandem. It’s been the happiest year we’ve spent on two wheels – I’d defend saying it was my happiest year ever.

I think back on some of those moments that we shared together, growing from a lackluster union to one of peace, happiness and gratitude and, hindsight being what it is, am utterly flabbergasted at how things came to be. All I can say is, if I give my Higher Power just a little room to wiggle in, as my own willingness goes, it’s astonishing how much was accomplished in such a short time.

I haven’t cracked 5,000 miles for the year yet, though I’m close. I have zero regerts (misspelled on purpose, Todd). On the contrary, I happily traded in those extra miles needed to get me to my normal average for a marriage I am excited to have and be a part of. It is a worthy tradeoff I’d make over and over again.

As we approach my 30th anniversary in recovery and aptly, Thanksgiving, I thank God several times a day that I’m on the right side of the grass, pumping air. I am thankful for so much, not least of all, that I have something worthwhile to pass along to those new to recovery. Our recovery and marriage is an average story of pure awesome.

Thanks God.

Jim

How To Ride a Bicycle with Your Wife (Without Blowing Up Because She’s Too Slow [Or Vice-Versa]). Five Fantastic Tips That Will Having the Two Of You Riding Off Into the Sunset Together

The title says wife, but I’ve heard a few stories where the wife is the stronger cyclist, so this post can cut both ways. I’ll simply say I know a bunch of guys who wish they could ride with their spouse but can’t get over the slow ride. Take it easy, Foghat. I have help to offer.

There are at least five great tips I can give that helped get my wife motivated and riding to a point we were planning next season’s tandem trips before the first snowflake ever hit the ground on this season (hint: it looks like the new tandem is going to Kentucky next year).

The first great tip I can give is, if you want your wife to ride with you, go out on a ride first to wear yourself out, then ride with her after. She’ll appreciate being able to go her own pace, knowing you’ve already gotten your workout in. And you’ll be tired enough to freaking relax a little bit, there killa. My wife and I had some pretty fantastic rides together after I was already beat up.

The second great tip I can offer is this; buy her a nice bike. It doesn’t have to be better than your race bike, just nice enough that she knows you value riding with your spouse regularly. Bonus tip for the husband buying for his wife; don’t go too nice. She doesn’t work like you. She’ll probably feel too much pressure to perform with too nice a bike. I was able to carefully ride this ledge on the side of a cliff. It’s delicate. I also bought her a triathlon-specific road bike which showed I was paying attention to what she wanted out of cycling.

Third, you can ditch the aggressive, fast, have to use every minute on the bike to get faster bit when riding with your wife. She doesn’t care and a slow ride every now and again is freaking fun and amazing. Especially if you get into riding dirt roads. I can already hear you, though. “But my wife likes to test my patience by seeing just how slow she has to go before I’ll blow up… if I try to match her 14-mph, she’ll just drop to 13. If I drop to 13, she drops to 12! Why?” Ah, the speed test. This is a tricky one. And the fourth tip will solve this problem in its entirety.

Tip number four, the magic, loving push. If your spouse begins to tire out, rather than get into the aforementioned power struggle, try riding up along side and place your hand on the small of their back with a little bend in your elbow. Ride like that for a minute or two, then gently start increasing your wattage. You act like your spouse’s very own eBike. The help should be greatly appreciated if done in a genuinely loving way. Personally, I love the connection so I’ll simply ride with my hand on my wife’s back just to let her know I’ve got her back if needed and I’m happy to be there with her. We’re both happier for it. Then, if I see her struggling on hills later in the ride, I’ll give her an extra 30 or 40 watts.

Tip number five: Buy a tandem. Now, this tip comes with a massive caveat, thus why it’s last. A friend of mine often says of tandems, “they’re marriage makers, or marriage breakers“. As a couple, especially as the stronger cyclist in that couple, you’ve got to be willing to work together to a level you probably haven’t attained before to successfully ride a tandem. They’re hard… but rewarding, if you put in the work. From my perspective, it’s meant giving up who I was on a single bike (and I did it gladly, and would do it again). The truth is, I’d rather ride tandem with my wife, whatever the pace, than ride solo. Cycling is vastly more enjoyable on the tandem, but it took a ton of work to get there. The big down side is, tandems aren’t cheap. You’re looking at $3,000 for a low-end tandem with the better brands and lines topping $14,000 for a complete bike. It’s an investment that should only be entered into with a full commitment. If you need to test it, try a used tandem first, before you buy the space-grade aluminum frame with a Shimano Di2 drivetrain and custom carbon race wheels.

The main point to remember is to be patient so that riding together can be enjoyable. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.