Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Out of Retirement

No, not me. I'm still living the "retired" life, also known as having no tangible income. What I'm referring to is our tandem. If you recall back to last summer we had a rough spell on the tandem and had decided to spend some time away from each other. The bike sat sullen and quietly in the basement by itself, pondering it's fate for the fall, finally drifting off into hibernation through the winter months.

Alas, the spring saw a change of heart and we dragged her out from her slumber, refreshed and looking for some variety. A couple of good, enjoyable rides on her and we were all optimistic. I swapped a few things around and added a new handlebar I had acquired and a different, snazzier stem. Of course I cleaned the copious layers of dust from her back and shoulders also. She responded well.

Yesterday, since I had some time and no bigger projects on the immediate schedule, I decided to finally install the drive-train upgrade that I'd pieced together months and months ago. This would include 10spd STI levers to replace the 9spd she'd had since birth. That also meant new chain, cassette and rear derailleur with a slightly longer cage. I also swapped the old disc brake rotors for a newer and lighter set I had sitting in the bin. The rear rotor was swapped to a 185mm from a 203mm in order to save a little weight, albeit at the expense of braking performance. I wagered that we would be OK on the rear. The jury is still out though.

Our aging but still capable, tandem. It has seen many adventures over the years.

Yesterday was Tuesday and Tuesday night has come to be our local Smackdown training ride. After finishing the tandem upgrades by mid afternoon I though it might be a good test to try and ride the tandem at the Smackdown ride. I knew that this would be a challenge and that we would end up working really, really hard in some places but that we could cause lots of suffering to others elsewhere. The tandem is a tool that is really good at some things and really bad at others.

After a short shakedown and adjustment to make sure everything was working, Cathy agreed and the cast was set. Our arrival on the tandem at the start of the ride was met with some surprise but soon we started rolling and attention turned to the ride itself for all of us.

The tandem excels where it can maintain it's momentum. On the downs, flats and shallow or even short steep ups, it is untouchable. It has so much mass that it will coast much further up a grade change than a single bike. The downside is that you don't get that much mass moving quickly compared to a single bike. Sprinting up to speed is slow. Coming down from speed is also slow. When you get the thing rolling though it cruises nicely at 25mph for long periods.

Another tandem nuance is that they are terrible for riding in a group of single bikes. Again, the tandem wants to maintain constant, steady momentum. Speeding up and slowing down play havoc with the bike. We need to be on the gas or on the brakes or often times, both. You also need to pay strict attention so as not to cross wheels or roll into the person in front of you. Not easy work by any stretch and certainly keeps you on your toes.

The ride last night was fun. It was hard but we worked to control the pace in a number of sections. Because of the dynamics we spend a bunch of time up front, simply because it was easier and less work than trying to pace-line.

The final section of the ride is a 7.5 mile straight headed back toward Bedford on RT4. This section has only one traffic light and no other stop signs. The road is rolling and there are two notable little climbs on it. The first hill is one of the worst of the entire loop and I knew that we would be dropped. We went into the climb up front and hit it with as much speed as we could muster. That momentum and a mighty effort on the pedals carried us about 1/3 of the way up the climb. Then we lost momentum and it was a matter of settling in for the grind up the remainder. Shortly after the stall we were passed hard by two of the group, who I assumed would attack at that point. Cathy and I went hard and steady and kept the gap to about 50 meters, an easy distance to make up with the tandem on gently rolling terrain.

We slowly approached the two who were now soft-pedaling and attacked them hard for the pass. They managed to get back on so we dialed it back and waited, recovering. We hit a couple of rollers that took some wind out of or sails and I knew that an attack would be coming at the top of the 2nd one, which was the straight into the Bedford town line sprint. That was also the 2nd of the hills that would be a challenge on the tandem. The attack came as expected and we chose to just keep pace and recover some for the hill. This let us hit the climb hard and by the top we had the break minimized to about 50 meters. We kept pace and let him hang, waiting for an uptick in the grade to make a move. We could see it coming and accelerated hard to be going about 10mph faster and to make sure we would catch just as his speed started to drop in order to maximize the effect. It worked and we shot ahead. A while later he made a small gain which prompted us to dig deep and push hard to the end.

We "solo'd" into town for the win, Tuesday night Smackdown world champions of the world!

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