Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fulshear Heat

We've backed up our meet time in Fulshear to 7am to beat the heat. 34 miles today. Eric, Ben, Liz, Harding, Robert, Henry, David, Ken, Wayne, Danny, Coleman and Jim rode. Blake's Bar-B-Q & Burgers afterwards.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The "Flea Bike"

Now that my recovery is nearly complete, my thoughts turn to riding my favorite tandem, The Flevo back to back or, as Z-Man calls it, the Flea Bike. It's the only bike in my stable I haven't ridden since I broke my femur almost 5 months ago. That's partly because I didn't think I could handle the very high bottom bracket until now and also because I felt the bike needed some minor adjustments.

It wasn't long after I got the bike that I decided it needed headrests. That was an easy fix and improved riding comfort considerably. After getting a few miles under my belt, I noticed a couple of other issues. First, the handlebars got in my way when I stopped the bike and tried to stand. I could get my feet from the pedals to the ground quickly enough, but standing up meant wriggling out from under the handlebars first, and that's not a good feeling. It's even more of an issue since my accident. I wouldn't say I'm jittery now after the fall, but when I want to stand up on the tandem I WANT TO STAND UP. So, my first priority was getting a flip-it handlebar I can push up and out of the way quickly when stopping the bike. Enter Danny Savitsky at Cycle Genius. He installed the flip-it attachment and then had me try out several different handlebars. I wanted something low and sleek that wouldn't hit my knees in turns. I settled on the arrangement below. Problem solved.

Next we faced an issue that seemed unsolvable: a kick stand. The Flevo is long and unwieldy when it isn't moving. On long rides, particularly when the bike is stopped out in the open where there is nothing to lean it against, the bike must be held up by the stoker or captain. That can be very inconvenient, especially during repairs. Mounting a conventional kickstand presented some problems. First there is nowhere on this elegant but unconventional frame to attach a mount. We considered several attachment points but each one involved drilling through the aluminum skin of the frame plywood interior. Danny felt that those materials would not stand up to the weight and leverage the bike would put on it. Finally, Danny had an idea. He found a piece of steel rod that fit tightly into the end of one of the female pieces on the bottom joint of the bike. Then he took the aluminum handle bar we had just discarded and slipped it onto the rod. Viola!

It may not be the prettiest kickstand around, but it's light and very functional. When it's not in use we'll sling it on the outside of our equipment bag that hangs between the seats. I think this can be refined a bit, but I'm very pleased with this solution since I was convinced that a kickstand just wasn't going to happen on this bike. I told Danny he was a genius. He shrugged modestly and said, "I'm not a genius...just a cycle genius." He is indeed.
I hope to put some miles on the bike this weekend.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Seat On My Tandem

This well written, plucky piece by Colin Nissan sums up in a few tight paragraphs everything I've ever wanted to tell my stokers over the years.

- - - -
It's somebody's lucky day. There's a free seat on my tandem bicycle, so saddle up! Soon you will experience the feeling of four male legs moving together in perfect synchronized harmony.

First, let's go over some rules every tandemist needs to know prior to mounting the "long bike," as we say, things that will help ensure your safety while maximizing what I like to call your tandemusement.

Just as with dance partners, someone has to lead, and that person is me. The front rider is commonly referred to as the captain, the pilot, or the steersman. Other names I'm fine with are El Capitan, Mule Calves, and Lance.

From this point forward, you will be referred to as my "stoker." I may also call you Tail Gunner, Backdoor Pilot, or Rear Admiral. I will switch up these names throughout the ride to keep things festive.

As captain, I will be controlling the bicycle's balance, steering, shifting, and braking. I know what you're thinking: What's left for me to do? Well, there's plenty left. And, frankly, that's exactly the kind of insolence I don't need from my stoker. So let's nip the credit mongering in the bud.
There's plenty I need you to do back there, and even more I need you not to do.

The first thing I require is your trust. I need you to trust me like you would someone who didn't just ride up to you and ask you to get on his tandem bicycle. There may be things I ask you to do in the heat of the moment that you're not altogether comfortable with. Well, guess what? I'm not comfortable dying—which is exactly what will happen to both of us if you second-guess me.

The second thing I need from you is communication. Remember I can't see you, so when I ask "How are we doing back there?," I need an answer. A clear answer. Either verbally or through one of the physical signals I will teach you. A simple squeeze of my hips, for example, means "I'm good."

For your first few rides, I will be paying very close attention to how you're doing—listening to your breathing, reaching around to take your neck pulse, and rubbing your hamstrings to feel for the beginnings of a dreaded leg cramp. As the one seasoned tandemist on this bicycle, I will take it upon myself to make sure you're OK back there. Your vision of the road will be slightly limited, so, as captain, I will warn you of all obstacles up ahead. I will say things like "Pothole at three." By "three," I mean 3 o'clock on the dial of a watch, and by "pothole" I mean a cavity in the asphalt. I need you to familiarize yourself with watches and terms like "asphalt."

In the realm of physical responsibilities, I will need bursts of power from your quads during climbs. I will need this power to be smooth and uniform. I will need you to hold my hand during these climbs. Pumping through a hill requires impeccable coordination of movements and clasping each other's fingers will facilitate this coordination. I don't expect you to understand how at this point—you're too new to the tandem world.

This brings us to fake peddling. If you're wondering why my stoker seat is open in the first place, there's your answer. I will know if you're fake-peddling and I will find a new stoker without batting an eyelash. I can be the most loyal tandemist you've ever met or a real son of a bitch of a tandemist. Just try me.

It is very important that you don't disturb the equilibrium of the bicycle. If you're shifting your weight, you should do so very carefully. If you're taking a drink, I need you to say, "Drinking, El Capitan!" At which point I will say, "Roger that." I might not always reply so militarily, but sometimes I will.

I will be calling out gear shifts, as well as initiating sing-alongs. It's all part of the free-spirited enjoyment that tandem riders experience on a daily basis all over the world. I'll warn you now to watch for clever lyric shifts along the way. For instance, instead of "Row, row, row your boat," I may change it to "Ride, ride, ride your bicycle." These changes will be whimsical, to say the least, so stay on your toes.

As we log more and more miles together, we will be well on our way to forming a special bond—communicating without words, shifting our weight and maneuvering our two bodies as one. Before long, I will be your Fred and you will be my Ginger. I will be your John and you will be my Yoko. I will be your George and you will be my Weezie. It's time for you to see the beautiful sights of our country through the eyes of a tandemist: Things will look different and, dare I say it, twice as beautiful. Things like mountains, oceans, fields, urban environments, deserts, ponds, lakes, forests, and suburban environments.

So welcome aboard and buckle up, Stoker! It's going to be a wild, non-gender-confusing ride!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Pedaling the Prairie"

Liz and I rode the "Pedaling the Prairie" ride in Katy yesterday while the rest of Team Bent headed to Angleton for a Brazoria County ride with Robert. "Pedaling the Prairie" is an annual ride benefitting the athletic department of Faith West Academy. I was excited about this ride. I haven't done an organized ride since the accident and Liz hasn't done one ever, at least not in daylight (she and I did the "Moonlight Ramble" a couple of years ago, but that ride starts at 2am). I considered riding in Angleton with the rest of the crew, but 55 miles seemed like pushing it at this point, so we opted to do the 45 mile route at "Pedaling the Prairie."

Debbie forwarded her pictures from the Angleton ride and they appear at the end of this post.

The ride started at 7:30 so we were on the road by 6am. The weather was cool and overcast. The skies threatened rain, but by an unusual stroke of luck the downpour didn't start until half an hour after we finished the ride. It was just cool enough that once we got the bike rolling I wished I had brought my wind breaker. Liz felt the same way.

One of the primary sponsors of this ride is Sun and Ski Sports at Katy Mills Mall. We registered the morning of the ride and were given tag number 531. I expected more riders. The start was staggered by ride distance, although with such a small number of riders it's hard to see how it made any difference.

This has to be one of the world's smallest bikes!

My happy stoker, glad to be getting back on the road.

The route for this ride was mostly familiar territory: Winner-Foster Road, Bois D'Arc Road, Poole Hill Road etc. These are all weekends haunts of Team Bent on our Saturday morning rides. I was impressed with ride support on this ride. Officers were at almost every intersection with traffic to wave us safely through.

Since we were riding the tandem we got the usual "Did you know she's not pedaling back there?" from 30-40 riders. Once I get the Flevo up and running I want to make a sign for my stoker to flash at bikes behind us saying: "Yes, he knows I'm not pedaling."

Rest Stop No. 2 in Fulshear by the barbecue place on 1093. The stops were well stocked with the usual fruit, Oreos, Chex mix and even homemade cookies and brownies.

My stoker-navigator checking our position and the route ahead.

We sighted a Cruzbike. This one looks a little awkward to me.

We made a stop at P Wall. I don't think I can pass this spot without getting off the bike.

Here we see some in-flight refueling. This is one of the benefits of the tandem recumbent: the stoker can enjoy hands free riding. Thus she is free to answer the phone, map read, eat, drink, take pictures, etc.

The last leg of our ride was down Old Katy Highway from Brookshire to Katy. This was the worst part of the ride with lots of traffic and rough shoulders. Not that bad though.

I would do this ride again.

Debbie's pics:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tandem Talk

All things considered, I prefer tandem riding to solo riding. I love the teamwork, camarderie and just plain quality time spent with my stoker. All of those things require good communication between captain and stoker. For the first few years after I discovered tandems, we communicated by voice only. This meant having to repeat things, some yelling and a few scares. If I told my stoker we were slowing or stopping or coasting and she didn't hear me, the bike could easily become difficult to control or, worst case, we could take a tumble. This is especially true on the Seavo which has IPS. (the stoker cannot tell whether I am pedalling just by looking). Also it was impossible to have a private conversation when riding in a group.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across Precision Tandems and the Tandem-Com intercom system. I bought one and was immediately sold on the benefits of an intercom system. Now we talk in a conversational voice or even a whisper with no need to repeat anything. By simply lowering our voices we have private conversations that passersbys can't share. We are hooked and wouldn't think of riding without this system.

The unit is small and light. There are ports for headphones for the captain and stoker and individual volume controls for both. There is also a port for an outside input such as an ipod or bluetooth. The unit takes two AAA batteries. Our rides in the country usually take 3-4 hours and this intercom typically lasts 15-20 rides on a pair of batteries. The headsets are very light and comfortable. I often forget that I'm wearing them when I'm riding. One drawback to this unit is that it's wired. Everytime you get off the bike the headsets have to be unplugged. We've forgotten to do this a couple of times, only to have the headsets ripped off our heads as we got off the bike and walked away. We usually carry the unit in the seat bag behind the captain. The stoker is in charge of the unit and responsible for unplugging us both when we stop. The other drawback to this system is that, unless you adjust volume before you get on the bike, one rider must make adjustments for both crew members, since the unit is stowed behind the captain.

This year I decided to upgrade to the wireless Tandem-Com Digital Wireless System. The system comes with two headsets, two chargers and two comm units. There were issues right off the bat. This system uses rechargable internal batteries. When I tried charging them, they would not charge. I returned the units to Mark at Precision Tandems and he found that the battery packs were not plugged in to the units. Problem solved. After fully charging the units, we took them out for a field test. To our disappointment we found that the volume level was very low, even at the "Max" setting and there were frequent cut outs, such that communication was impoossible. I contacted Mark again and he suggested we try our old headsets. I was skeptical, but it worked. Volume was restored and communication was great. I am shipping the bad headsets back to Mark for a new set.

Having said all that, I can recommend the wirelss units. We'll keep our old setup for backup.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Return to Normal

Aimee and I logged a great 20 mile ride at Memorial Park last night after work. This was my first chance since getting back on the Seavo to do some real cruising. The Memorial Park Loop is closed to traffic and contains no intersections. This is what I need at this point in my recovery since the most awkward operation for me on the Seavo is getting the bike started (and that operation is improving rapidly as well). We were able to maintain good speed for the whole ride and even passed a few wedgies. I can't wait to get the Seavo back out to Fulshear on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a large group rode in Fulshear this past Saturday. I didn't ride because the winds were pretty strong. As usual Debbie took lots of pictures and I've posted a few of them here:

Debbie and Pat sported new tail socks on their bikes. I'd be interested in figuring out if these add any speed

Friday, May 2, 2008

Back on the Tandem

Almost 4 months to the day from my accident, my stoker and I took a short, tentative ride on the Seavo. I haven't ridden it since my fall since I haven't been able to. The captain on this bike sits high off the ground and the bottom bracket is higher. I've commented here before about the incredible speed with which muscles atrophy from disuse. When I came home from the hospital after just 5 days in bed, I was utterly unable to lift my leg while lying in my own bed. I have memories of my in home therapist working with me for a couple of weeks before I could get it even an inch off the bed. That's been steadily improving over the past weeks and months with rehab.
The first bike I rode after the accident was the Tour Easy. Even with the low bottom bracket, it was a bit tricky to get the bike going. From there I worked up to the V2 and now the V2 Formula. The Seavo, however, has been my Mt. Everest on the road back from my accident. I sat on it about a month ago and found it impossible to lift my right leg high enough to pedal. Tonight, however, it was different. After seeing that I could now control my leg and get it up to the pedals, we slowly pushed off.
It only took a couple of miles for me to remember how much I love this bike. I had forgotten how stable, fast and quiet it is and how comfortable the cockpit is. It was like coming home.
I'm back tandeming and loving it. Thanks, Liz, for getting back on the stoker seat.