Monday, March 12, 2018

All The Leaves Are Brown

I am tired. Exhausted, really. "Springing forward" likely didn't help matters, but I've found myself feeling as though there just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. All things in life have suffered. I've volunteered myself and taken on too many projects and have worn thin. It happens to us all at some point, I suppose. Some days, I just want to take a long, long nap, hoping that it will reinvigorate me. I feel spring coming and the panic of all the projects that need to get completed and I get overwhelmed. We've worked through winter to attempt to limit what needs to be accomplished in early to mid spring, but the tasks seem to keep multiplying.

We did manage to get out and ride yesterday for a short bit. Which was nice. This always clears my mind (at least for a short time) and makes me appreciate everything much more. What I realized while riding though is how very brown the world is here this time of year. I see photos of other locations and flowers are blooming, trees in some parts are even starting to turn green, but I know we are still two months out for any of that sort of happening (other than tulips, which I'm convinced are going to pop up any day now). Since we can get snow through mid-May quite commonly, it's not surprising that most of the green waits a bit longer to bud and bloom.
As we rode, I couldn't help but be struck by the immense dullness that covered our surroundings. The fields have all been plowed with nothing growing, no trees have bloomed, grasses are waiting to show signs of life. Even the asphalt on the roads seemed to blend with the empty fields. Everything is just kind of the same shade of drab. I've commented in the past that I don't find winter to be uninteresting as there can often be different shades and tones of tan, yellow, orange and brown, but at the very tail end of winter, I often find this very similar dustiness to take over all color variations, particularly when moisture hasn't been as plentiful as usual. I suppose it gets me that much more anxious for spring to arrive.

Riding this time of year also helps remove some of the panic that can take over knowing that the warm months seem to be short and the list of things to do quite long. We have plans to attempt longer distances on the tandem, races to ride and run, and personal goals to complete before we are sent back into the colder temperatures.

I have post plans for this space as well, if life will just cut me a bit of slack. I will say that our tandem rental adventure was quite the disaster. After a lot of chatting with the shop about our needs and our lack of height, we thought we had a possibility settled, but it turned out that it was still too large a bike for us to test. We were disappointed to not have an opportunity to test out a bike that could be more appropriate for road rides, but we realize (and did prior to the rental as well) that tandems are not made for those of shorter stature -- at least in standard production. So, we may have to jump in with both feet and try a custom purchase in order to truly test our theories. Time will tell on that front.

The "new" single bike for me has not seen much use yet. I have hopes to get out for a longer ride this week, assuming that the weather cooperates (and it appears it will). I'd love to have a better sense of that bike, but thus far it's been comfortable and a good ride given our limited time together thus far.

In the meantime, I am anxiously awaiting blooming flowers and green to have a break from the dreary colors of winter, and am thankful that we are able to get out and ride occasionally. I hope you're enjoying some good rides as we inch closer to spring. Feel free to share what you are up to in the comments as well.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Short February Catch-Up

The beginning of 2018 has not been horribly kind to me health-wise thus far. I have managed to contract the flu twice in the span of about 30 days, once from Sam bringing home a strain from work, and the second (I suspect) came from helping someone who was sick. It's not been the most conducive means of being able to start the new year riding. The first round knocked me out for about a week and a half, and the second round (that I'm still dealing with) has been quite intense and debilitating too. In between the two bouts though I have been able to find a small amount of time to ride, which has been nice.

Of the approximate 150 miles I've ridden thus far in 2018, about 85 of them were on the tandem and another 25 have been on a trainer. Which means, if my math skills are working in conjunction with my still cloudy head, I only have about 40 miles of solo riding on the roads thus far. Not exactly the stellar start to riding I had hoped for, but a start nonetheless.

Having so many down hours provides time for thinking and daydreaming about future rides though, which has its benefit too. I'm pondering an early season race to see if it will motivate me to push the miles a bit more than I have thus far, Sam and I are likely going to enter a fairly early-season ride on the tandem too, and there are several local rides I'm anxious to get to in the near future.

As far as bicycles go, the cleaning out process has gone fairly well. I'm still debating one more potential sell-off, but the new frame from the UK arrived (mostly) in tact, so that's been exciting to watch become a bike. I was able to even sneak in a couple of short rides on it before this round of illness took hold. I am very excited to get to ride it more and at some point report back here on details. Thus far, I've found it to be smooth rolling and comfortable, and those are my two highest priorities with any bike.
The new bike and me out testing the waters... or testing the ice? 
Several of the parts for this build were scavenged from other bikes that were sold or that no longer needed the parts. I did "splurge" on a new set of wheels (mostly because I had no choice), but didn't end up spending much on those. I'm interested to see how the wheelset does as part of this build too because the cost-to-value ratio seems to be a winner.

Sam and I are scheduled to rent a different tandem soon too. We wanted a real-world test, even if it isn't long term, to see if a better fitting/lighter weight tandem can aid us in our quest for longer distances (How could it not?). A shop in Denver happened to have a workable sized tandem for us to try, so it made sense to ask to rent it for a few days.  Hopefully, we hold up health-wise so that we are able to thoroughly test this loaner out, but the shop has been very kind and told us if weather or other factors arise, we can postpone the rental. Winter can be a challenging time of year to plan rides, but thus far, it looks like we may have found a nearly ideal window. Keep fingers crossed for us.
This little lady separated and cracked pretty badly during firing, but I plan to try again (with some modifications) - hopefully, before the tour.
In non-bike related news, if you are local, I will be participating this year in the East Boulder County Artists Studio Tour at the end of April and hope you'll stop by and say hello. I've primarily focused the last couple of years on clay work, rather than painting, so I'd love to hear what others think about the work I've been doing. It should be fun to open up my work space to visitors as well, as spring will likely be well under way by then. Most of the pieces won't be related to bicycles but they are whimsical. Do stop by, if you can.

I hope winter has been kinder to all of you than it has to me and that you've been able to get out and ride as much as possible. If you have the time, I'd love to hear about any adventures taking place for you, so feel free to share in the comments or send me a note.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Of Bikes and (Wo)Men

As a person who tends to make decisions about selling and purchasing bikes from about mid-fall through winter, we are now smack dab in the center of bike chaos in our household. Maybe it's the colder weather (though we've had an incredibly mild season in Colorado) or perhaps it just tends to be a natural time of reflection, purging, and renewal, but I've already said goodbye to three bikes in the fold and have one on its merry way from the UK as I type.

In some sense, I don't enjoy having too many bikes (what too many is defined as is still up for debate, I suppose). Options are always nice and if there's a flat or mechanical to deal with at the last second, it's easier to put the fix off until a later time and just make another selection. The problem is, these troubles don't materialize as often as one might think and then bikes tend to sit around gathering dust and I forget why I own the superfluous bike(s). Usually, this means a round of rides to find out if I still enjoy the bike or not, whether it's a near-duplicate of another, and generally results in selling something off (and more often than not, also buying something else).
Definitely not an all-inclusive photo collage of the bikes that have come and gone, but a smattering nonetheless.
These rounds of purging and starting new have become a rather bad habit. If one has the means to do so, I suppose there's nothing wrong with the cycle, but it still feels rather wasteful of funds (and, we don't really have the funds to be wasted). The reality is, however, that there always seems to be a reason for the exchanges being made. The bike doesn't quite fit properly, it doesn't perform in the exact way we expected, it's a too-close duplicate of another bike, and on the list can go. They are perfectly valid reasons to sell or exchange a bike, but I can't help but wonder where it ends.

We have had conversations about the amount of money being invested in bikes and parts and discuss whether putting more into something could result in a better outcome, or in the possibility of finding that mythical one-bike-to-rule-them-all. However, we've both had frames from the very inexpensive to those that required a more substantial investment and there doesn't really seem to be a correlation between cost and enjoyment necessarily. Granted, our "expensive" frames are still not considered costly by many in the cycling industry, but most everyday people probably aren't forking out thousands for a frame, I'd guess, unless it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime, keep-it-forever sort of frame - and even then, I'd guess there's a lot of faith being put into the outcome of the build and a lot of crossed fingers.

While I do enjoy having the opportunity to ride different bikes, I don't know that I want to own a multitude of bikes that aren't being utilized. Evaluating what is actually usable seems to be more of a conundrum than one might think. How many different types of riding can a person truly do? And yet, I'll find myself perfectly ready to move forward with a similar bike purchase, despite having just rid one from the stable. Sometimes it is because I have need or want to replace a particular type of bike that just went wrong, and other times it feels more like a bout with insanity - repeating the same mistake and expecting different results.

I remember a time when I had one bicycle that was used for whatever type of riding I may have done. It was not suitable in theory for most of the rides I undertook, and yet, it was one of the happiest riding points in my life. There are times when I miss those days, but I also understand that I cannot turn back the hands of time and recapture the sort of innocence that existed then. Knowledge is power, but there is a sort of bliss in ignorance as well. While I don't wish to release information from my knowledge base, I do find myself longing for the simpleness that existed with having one bike to ride everywhere.

Realistically, I understand it is unlikely I will ever be a one-bike-only person in the future, but I do have hope to settle in to a small number that get used on a regular basis. The problem seems to come in finding that "right" number and the ideal combination, and so the cycle continues each fall/winter in which I reevaluate, purge, and restock. I know it's possible to have a bike long-term, but finding the right one(s) to keep around seems to be the portion of this puzzle that eludes me. Perhaps it's just in my nature to want fresh starts, or more truthfully, it is that there is always an aspect of each bicycle that doesn't quite suit me or my needs, and since needs and wants can change over time, maybe I'm trying to fix something that isn't repairable.

Still, I forge on, believing that one day the right tools for the right jobs will be apparent and will stabilize this madness that lingers and repeats. Hopefully, information and experience will settle the revolving door, and rides will become less about feeling out a particular bike for its workable/non-workable characteristics and more about enjoying my surroundings on a bike.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

All That Glitters

I freely admit that I have been more than a tad enamored with the tandem bicycle we picked up in the not-too-distant past. I spend a lot of free moments daydreaming about tandem rides, thinking about potentially picking up a race (or at least lighter weight) tandem at some point in the future, and smiling to myself about past rides we've shared together. It's a little sick - and not the good kind of sick.

I have no doubt much of it has to do with the newness of tandeming for us, but I feel as though everywhere I go I have to tell anyone who will listen about the awesome ride we had or how climbing a particular hill was so slow (still smiling though, because I can't help myself), or how the tandem is just sooooooo much fun. For those who have to hear it from me on a regular basis, I truly apologize. I'm not trying to be irritating, but I really have enjoyed this bike so much that it's hard not to want to share the excitement with others.

For those who keep wondering when I'm going to come down off of my tandem high, this is the story for you. Which isn't to say that I've come out of the euphoric bliss, but rather that this tale will be a brief respite from the annoyingly sugar-sweet, happy tales of riding tandem.

Sam and I had just finished our longest tandem ride to date. It was over 50 miles (80 km) and included a climb that I had never ridden, even on my own, so I was happily bouncing around, excited that we'd accomplished something that felt more significant and still arrived home feeling good about our tandem experience.

"Maybe we should try one of the club dirt rides sometime," I threw out as a suggestion later on that evening of our long ride. We both know that our tandem was not built for racing, fast rides, or anything of the sort, but the dirt rides tend to be slower with this group, so I thought that even if we couldn't keep up when climbing, we'd catch everyone on the flat and downhill portions.

As it happened, there was a ride taking place just two days later, so we decided to show up and hang with the single-bike dirt riders for the planned route. I was not personally aware of the specifics of the ride, but Sam had printed out turn-by-turn directions and had ridden this route with the group in the past, so we believed that when we fell behind we could be responsible for finding our way back to the rest of the group.

I have not ridden with this group in a number of years, so when we arrived at the meeting/starting location, I was surprised to see more all-road type bikes than I had in the past. I wasn't worried about keeping up with those on mountain bikes, but because the other riders were on road bikes with slightly wider tires, my concerns began to grow. Still, we had the power of two people, so I put my mild worries aside and chatted until everyone arrived. There were comments about the tandem and a couple of riders even wondered if we'd be able to complete the ride. I reassured all that we'd ridden on fire roads and dirt paths, so we should be just fine. We also informed the group that we had directions, so they needn't wait for us if, or likely when, we fell behind the pack.

As we started out, we dropped to the back as there were a couple of tight corners and I'm still not sure how to quite maneuver these gracefully (or often at all without stopping) on the tandem. But, we caught up to the back of the group fairly easily and were able to hold a few places behind for several miles as the paved path turned to dirt and then to gravel.

"They're riding awfully fast for the advertised speed, don't you think?" I asked of Sam. "We are going about 18-19 miles per hour and not quite catching them, and they said it would average 13-15."
Sam agreed that the speed was faster than either of us anticipated, but because Sam rides with this group more frequently than I do, he said this is just what tends to happen when one of the organizers isn't present to keep speed under control.

Sam and I chatted and noticed the last single rider in the pack would occasionally turn around to check on us and then assure the group that we were still within a reasonable distance. At times, we'd be right with them and at other moments we'd drop behind several lengths, but we were always within a catchable distance of the group.

Or, at least that's how things went for awhile.

As we rounded a corner, all of a sudden we were face-to-face with a steep hill. On a single bike, it would be more manageable, but hefting our 50(ish) pound tandem along with two bodies up it is more of a challenge. I started laughing and told Sam that this would be where we would lose everyone.

Still, despite our slow pace up the dirt climb, we weren't doing too badly. We reached a fork in the path at the top of the climb and Sam assured me that we should continue on to the portion of the path that led us straight ahead. So, we powered along, climbing a little more and eventually hitting the end of the trail.

Literally, there was no more path to continue on, so our choice was to cross the busy road or to turn around and go back the direction we'd just traveled. Sam believed that we were still going the right direction and assured me that we'd just be on the paved road for a short while, making a turn at a main intersection just ahead.

We rode on the paved surface for a couple of miles with Sam's assurance that we'd be turning back onto dirt in the near future. But, the more we rode, the more I worried. Where were we headed exactly? And how had we lost everyone so quickly? I knew they were pedaling at swift speeds, but this was perfectly open space on the road and I could see no other people on bicycles.

The biggest problem for me at this moment was that I was experiencing incredibly painful tailbone bruising from our longer ride just a couple of days prior. Because the tandem is on the large side for me and it sits quite upright (and, frankly, I haven't done a lot of longer distances on my own this year), I have found that I seem to experience tailbone issues over longer rides or during multiple days back-to-back. I'm sure it's something that can be sorted out with adjustments, but at the time, it was all I could focus on.

After a handful of miles, Sam and I agreed that we should make a turn at the next intersection if we did not cross the road we were looking for to continue on our path. Just as these words were uttered, the road appeared as if by some magical happening. We made our right turn and were confronted by a very large, locked gate to a neighborhood.

"I'm confused," I said aloud. "This is the correct road, right?"

Sam looked a bit perplexed as well. We dismounted the bike and decided to walk around to see if there was some sort of trailhead we may have missed.

"I guess we could just turn around and do our own thing?" I asked of Sam. "We could ride on the road and get back to a path we are familiar with."

We continued to look around and just as we turned and realized that there was in fact a trailhead just feet away from us, the rest of our riding group appeared.

I laughed out loud. "How did we end up in front of all of you?" I couldn't help but ask.

One of the riders said, "Didn't you hear us yelling for you at the fork in the path?"

Sam and I looked at each other. We hadn't heard anything during our own debate about which way to go, but apparently the group had been just a few yards away trying to get our attention. They assumed that we were trying to avoid the tight turns that were coming up and figured they'd meet up with us exactly where we did.

Feeling relieved that we were on the right path (and personally relieved that I hadn't had to navigate any sharp turns on the tandem), we prepared to follow the group again.

Everyone mounted and started off and we were close behind. For the first several yards, things went okay. The path was loose gravel which was tolerable, but it was also very worn in spots both of which were creating some traction issues. The tires we've been using work fine on paved surfaces or packed dirt and even a small amount of gravel, but when it gets too deep or loose with gravel or dirt, we tend to have problems. The path then quickly turned into deeply cut single-track and I began to panic.
I didn't have enough sense about me to take a photo of the actual trail, but this is a close approximate as far as the depth of what we were met with. From what I've been told, the trail typically isn't as bad as it was on this late-November day.
*Photo found here
My mind was telling me that we couldn't make it through and I continually worried about pedal strike against the packed sides. Combined with the feeling of responsibility for Sam's safety in the stoker position, I could feel my body tensing up quickly.

"We need to stop," I announced to Sam. I stuttered a bit, "I... I just don't think I'm comfortable with this."

We dismounted the tandem and looked at each other. The thought of continuing on was more than I could handle and I strongly implored Sam to agree to my request to turn around and head back. He concurred and we set back to find more navigable roads.

It seems simple enough - to turn around when the path was unsure - but I felt as though I had failed. We hadn't had a ride we couldn't complete together yet, and I was upset that I was unable to overcome my mental hesitation. My concern had been that the same type of path appeared to continue on endlessly (or at least as far as I could see) and the last thing I wanted was for either of us to end up injured. Still, it was disappointing to realize that there are limitations and that, at least for that moment, I was not comfortable proceeding on.

We continued our hike-a-bike back to the trailhead as my internal thoughts began to get the better of me. It was frustrating that I couldn't mentally force myself to continue on, but I had to remind myself that this is still a relatively new activity for us, and even on my own I would have been uneasy on this particular path.

As we reached paved roads again, my tailbone was really giving me trouble. I couldn't sit on the saddle any longer. Additionally, the wind had picked up and pedaling was taking more effort. We would stand for a bit and then get back into the saddle, but each time my backside hit the leather, pain would shoot through me. It felt as though we would never get home.

"I am NOT having fun," I announced (just in case it wasn't obvious). "This is the first ride we've been on with the tandem that I haven't enjoyed." I was tearing up. I couldn't help but wonder if this was going to be the end of riding tandem together. Maybe the newness of the tandem had been what kept us going and now we would start hating riding together? As we barreled down a hill to the highway that would lead us home, I let the tears freely fall. This felt like it could be our last ride. Between the tailbone pain that wouldn't stop and my inability to properly pilot the tandem through tougher terrain, I could already see the for sale sign gracing the side of this bike in the near future.

Sam suggested taking the most direct route home because of my physically obvious problems sitting. I just couldn't stop fidgeting in the saddle. We paused several times in order to give my tailbone a rest, but I knew that stopping was just prolonging the pain and the ride, so I did my best to power through the discomfort and make it home.

We had told the group of riders that we'd meet them back for coffee at the end of the ride, but it just wasn't in the stars. Sam suggested leaving a message for them later just to let them know that we were okay, as we did our best to get home swiftly.

When we arrived back home, Sam (ever with the quick wit) proclaimed with a smile, "Well, at least you didn't throw the tandem on the ground!"

He always knows how to make me laugh, even when I'm in pain. He was referring to a ride we'd gone on together (on single bikes) a few years ago that I believed I was unprepared physically to do. When I reached the point of exhaustion, I pulled off to the side, threw the bike into the dirt and announced that I never wanted to ride again (in fact, I even tried to give my bike away to passers-by on that ride). I have to say, it's nice to have a partner with a sense of humor in these situations!

Indeed, I hadn't tossed the tandem to the ground, but mentally I was concerned that this would be the end for me and riding tandem.

Fortunately, we had some time in between that day and our next ride which gave the soreness time to heal. We also didn't travel as far on our next outing which helped reinvigorate my enthusiasm and also illustrated that one bad ride, which we were ill-prepared to navigate on a tandem, didn't and doesn't mean that we won't continue to enjoy the bike.

Thankfully, we've had a handful of rides since then that have all gone well, so despite my belief that the demise of the tandem was imminent, I think my sickeningly-happy tales of riding the tandem will continue (I'll apologize now to those who have to hear these).

I'm grateful though for a more difficult ride - at least in some sense. In many ways, it forced me to look at the tandem more objectively and to realize that not every ride will be perfect, comfortable, happy, fast, enjoyable, and so on. Like any activity that is done repetitively, there are going to be bad moments, bad rides, or bad days. Those moments don't negate the positive, however, and they help me appreciate the good times just that much more.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

May all your days be bright!

It is truly amazing how swiftly a month can pass! I suppose during the holiday season, time seems to pick up a quicker pace anyway - though that was definitely not the case as a child. I can recall my parents talking about time moving faster or slower when I was young, and it made no sense at all. Everything seemed to take an eternity. If we were taking a trip to a location I was excited about or was anxiously awaiting a holiday, that, in fact, seemed to move time in reverse.
*Image found here
Of course, as is almost always the case, as we get older, we begin to realize that much of what our parents stated can often truly become our reality as well. I'm not certain I care for this process of figuring things out, but it is what it is and I suppose there isn't much to be done about it. Just as I cannot seem to stop the wrinkles from coming to my hands and face, time will do what it does, moving at exactly the same standard, even if I perceive or experience it at seemingly different rates.

Although I've never quite identified with trying to keep wrinkles at bay, I understand wanting to maintain a youthful appearance in some manner. To me, wrinkles have always signified wisdom (at least for some individuals), and what could be more wonderful than to have knowledge and experience under my belt? Growing older though also means we are coming ever-closer to the end of our physical existence and that can bring up a whole slew of thoughts and emotions too. Perhaps this is all a part of societal need to maintain a youthful appearance.

Oh, how I have digressed already and I haven't even begun! Apparently, age is not bringing me wisdom, it is simply having me ramble on sooner in conversation (and writing). My original point was that it has been a month since my last post and it seems as though it has been but a few days in my own mind.

This season brings with it interesting emotions. I am always a little anxious as holidays were not the best in my youth (though thankfully much of that has resolved now well into adulthood). I also feel a need to review the year, even if only in some small way, to remind myself what was (and wasn't) accomplished in the prior 365 days. But that, I suppose, in and of itself is arbitrary, as self-evaluation should truly be ongoing, I think. Although not really a resolution sort of person, I do enjoy reflection and possibilities.

As can happen, this space has taken a backseat to other priorities in life. I have accepted that I will have times when I feel the need (and have the time) to write more often than others and as long as I have some sort of desire to share bicycle-related items, I will continue to keep this space alive in some way. I am thankful for applications like Instagram and Twitter, where it is easier to make and read quick posts and share in-the-moment thoughts and experiences with others. I'm still not the best with regular check-ins to those places either, but I find it to be a much easier space to connect with others, so if you ever have the desire to check in without sending an e-mail, it's likely I've put a photo or some sort of communication up in one of those places.

I took a very part time job this year as a school crossing guard. It's provided more examples and perspective of both polite and completely unaware road users. Requiring relative stillness for a small stretch of time (meaning, I don't leave the corner during my shift), I've witnessed so many dangerous activities taking place in a residential area that has multiple schools within a couple of blocks of one another, so I can imagine it's far worse in higher density areas.

Despite my personal awareness that road users are often oblivious to pedestrians and cyclists, I find this little segment of time each day has reinforced and strengthened my belief that something needs to be done about distracted and dangerous drivers. These aren't intoxicated drivers; these are the people drinking coffee in their cars while driving to/from work each day, staring down at phones, speeding through areas at a velocity far exceeding the posted limit, most often highly unaware of their surroundings. I don't know how this gets resolved as more distractions seem to get added to automobiles regularly and few people put themselves in the position of pedestrian or cyclist on an everyday basis. Even injuries and deaths don't seem to rid our world of these tendencies toward distraction and inattention.

This year, a bike share system was added to our community. I tried it out myself and occasionally I see users around town, but it does not appear to be the most used service in our city. I am curious to see how this program evolves and whether or not it will remain a part of our area.

Participating in my first duathlon this year was a big milestone. When I signed up, I didn't believe it would be as difficult as it was, but I also didn't expect to be injured when starting the race. As with most challenging things in life, I learned my lessons and hope to find new ways to test myself in the coming year. Who knows? Maybe another duathlon is in my future.

Sharing some thoughts on my personal frustrations with they cycling industry was therapeutic, but didn't necessarily resolve much. Every year I hold out hope that one day it will no longer be a necessity for me to write about the shortcomings I see as a consumer. I know there are others who are frustrated as well, so I still hold out hope that things can and will change. Sometimes, it just takes enough voices willing to persist.
*Image found here, where you can purchase this card on Etsy.
Perhaps one of the most exciting activities/moments for me was when we received our tandem bicycle. I have become completely enamored of riding together to the point that it's all I seem to want to do (I still ride my own bikes, never fear, but often I find myself daydreaming about the tandem -- hello, infatuation!). The newness and excitement will no doubt wear at some point, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the together time and seeing what we are capable of accomplishing as a team.

On one hand, it's difficult to believe that an entire year has almost passed, but in the next breath I would say that much has also taken place in that same span of time. We have been presented with challenges both small and large, but these are the things that keep us interested in life and moving towards personal and societal betterment.

I am never quite able to predict what the coming year has in store, but I always look forward to it. I am grateful for those who read and comment here, whether or not we share the same opinions on a matter. Having some sort of connection with people just a few miles away, or across several hundreds or thousands of miles is truly amazing, and I do not for one moment take for granted our ability to have a small amount of space in each other's lives.

My wish for all who read here is that you have experienced a year full of all the best life has to offer, that you are able to spend the holiday season with those you love, and that the new year brings peace (though never at the expense of sacrificing morality or beliefs), success in whatever areas you choose to pursue, and of course, the most fantastic rides on a bicycle.

Happy Holidays and tailwinds to all, and a wish for a 2018 full of adventure!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's late in the day, but I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you've spent it with people you love and care about, and that you had the opportunity to get outside, if only for a brief amount of time.

We spent the morning and early afternoon riding together and had a wonderful time. We arrived back home tired, but grateful for the ability to be together, that our bodies allow us to move, and that we were able to spend a good chunk of the day enjoying the beautiful scenery around us. Despite believing that Sam was trying to kill me with a climb I wasn't quite prepared physically to complete, I am thankful that we were able to test some limits and that we made it back home in one piece. In the end, we earned our pumpkin pie today.

Happy Thanksgiving! May we find things each day to be grateful for as we move deeper into the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tandemania: First Rides with the Rivendell Hubbuhubbuh Tandem

Several years ago, the thought of riding a tandem seemed like something I really wanted to try. I spent months reading just about everything I could find on the subject, but ultimately came to the decision that Sam and I probably weren't a couple who would ever actually give this method of riding a try. I'm a bit klutzy and I had created a mental world of potential problems from what I had been reading, so after all the information I'd synthesized, the conclusion was reached that it just wasn't something for the two of us.

Some people called riding tandem "the divorce maker" which didn't put it in the best light. Others proclaimed that it took a great deal of skill and compromise in order to ride together. Occasionally the thought popped back into my head, but I'd remind myself that it wasn't something for me. I would watch others riding tandem and think it was a magical activity for only the very few among us. I idealized the thought of being able to ride with someone else on a bicycle, but knowing that I tend to be a clumsy person and a bit in my own world when I ride, I had decided that it wasn't something I would ever do.

Over the last few years, Sam and I have virtually stopped riding together. There are a few factors that have played into this reality, but the biggest reason put mostly simply is that Sam has become stronger every year, while I continually stay the same, or some years even seem to get weaker with riding (which is not to say that I am a weak individual, but rather that he rides much longer and harder than I do more regularly). We ride around town if we're going somewhere, but that's about the extent of our wandering on a bike together. While I know he is capable of slowing to my speeds, I feel guilty any time we ride together because I am aware that I'm slowing him down, or I become silently angry because we go too far and I don't feel as though I am capable of the ride's distance.

You can see how all of this would play into my existing fears of riding a tandem. While it is said that a tandem is a way to balance out weaker/stronger rider combinations, I imagined that we would end up in arguments over speed, distance, cadence, and so on. I don't like fighting - with anyone - but least of all Sam, so I still wasn't convinced this was something we should try.

Early this year, the subject came up again though. Sam, having joked more than once that he wants to get me on a tandem so that we could do races together, was talking about the idea more seriously. I laughed it off, knowing that tandems probably weren't a good idea for us. Still, the thought that had started many years prior was lingering in the back of my mind. It didn't help that I was on the email list for Rivendell's Hubbuhubbuh (HHH) tandem bike and would occasionally get updates about its specifications and expected delivery date.

We chatted more seriously about the possibility, wondering if perhaps the HHH could be the right experiment for us, but we talked about it so long that we missed out on the opportunity as the small sizes went incredibly quickly.

In my research during the years before, I had learned that there is a tandem-specific shop in the Denver area. One weekend day when we'd become a little more serious about the possibility of a tandem, we took a trip down to this shop and spoke with the owner. He was very pleasant and allowed us to peruse the tandems he had on the floor. Of course, if we wanted a stock frame, there really aren't many options for us. With each of us being under 5'4", the bike world rarely makes frames that fit, let alone something that is so much more specific. The shop owner did have one stock Co-Motion frame that he thought would work and encouraged us to set up a time to come back and take it for a test ride.

Over the weeks that followed, we talked about the idea more and came back around to the conclusion that perhaps tandem riding was not in our future. Frankly, I worried about being in either the stoker or captain position for various reasons. I was also unsure of whether Sam would really want to slow down enough to be able to ride in tandem, together, or if I'd be able to keep up with his leg power.

Then, one evening when I couldn't sleep, I was reading an update from Rivendell and saw that there was a small tandem frame remaining (and that they'd be ordering just a few more before they called it quits on the HHH). Something lit inside of me again and I wondered if maybe we should give it a try. With all the back and forth we'd had over such a bike, and other bicycles that had been sold to make room for a potential tandem, we thought maybe it was time to take a leap and see where it would take us.

We knew the Riv would be a stable bike which we thought would be good for our first attempt at tandem riding, but still had some doubt about the size of even the small frame. Knowing that it would be a tight fit, we thought if we sized down a bit on the tires (Riv recommends pretty wide tires at 60mm) that perhaps we could just make it work.

Up front, we were also aware that the Rivendell tandem would not be meant for any sort of racing or club riding, but that isn't really what we were looking for either. We wanted to be able to ride some dirt trails and other local roads together and hoped that this would be the right decision.
Sadly, our HHH only has one headbadge as they were sent unattached to the frame and one was crushed in shipping.
Going with the parts Rivendell recommended, Sam built up the tandem (his first tandem build!) in our dining room. We quickly discovered (as should've been obvious, but wasn't something we really thought through beforehand) that the tandem is so long, finding a place to assemble, tune, or work on the bike in any way is a bit of a challenge. Even picking up the frame from the shipping carrier was a bit comical, but we made it work.

We ran into a few issues during the build. One of the problems was the seat post for the captain position. Because we both have short legs, the only way we could get the saddle in a good position was to lower it almost completely into the seat tube. The problem was that the top of the seat post sent is tapered and this is where the mount for the stoker handlebars would sit, so we couldn't quite get it to work. After obtaining a non-tapered seat post for the captain's saddle, we managed to get things working a bit better.

We had also decided not to buy new handlebars at the time of purchase since we have so many in the stash to choose from, but when we tried to use what we had, we just couldn't get the fit quite right, so we ended up having to get a new set of bars for each of us. After a couple of weeks of fussing and trial and error, it was time to set out on a test trip.

The decision had been reached that I would ride captain and Sam would be the stoker. It is, perhaps, a bit unconventional for a male-female riding team (though I have seen such duos on occasion), but fortunately Sam does not feel emasculated or lesser by allowing me to pedal in the front position. It also put me slightly more at ease (slightly) to be at the front than riding in the rear. This did, however, put a huge responsibility on my shoulders which I did not take lightly.

For our first tests, we each set out alone in the captain position to test out the bike. It did not seem wise for two new-to-tandem-bike riders to set out together when we had no idea how the bike would handle. Personally, I had visions of the bike flipping up or out the side with only one rider on it, but that is not what happened (Thank you television for putting that thought in my head!). Strangely enough, it rode pretty much like a normal bicycle with only one person, except that the handling was a bit different and the extreme length that followed behind, creates the need for wider turns.

Of course, riding a bicycle built for two as a single was not the goal, so we knew we'd have to actually try out riding it together. I did my best not to get panicked by the thought of being responsible for both riders, and we discussed beforehand our basic plan of starting and stopping, as well as a few minor things that I have to do because of injuries (like starting on a specific foot when stopped).

Initially, we had tried to start off as we had been told we should with Sam up in the stoker seat ready to pedal and me still on the ground to hold the bike; however, this was not working for us in any way. While I could hold and steady the bike with him in position, my back/hip issues prevented me from being able to steady the bike and get into the saddle. Instead, we decided to simply do a quick count and then both start pedaling from the ground together. This worked much, much better for us, though I admit it may not be the best for every tandem team.

The plan was simply to ride in a straight line down our street about 100 ft (30 m) and then stop (if we didn't have to do so before hand). Instead, we ended up going around a couple of blocks, stopping and starting (shaky starts, admittedly) and trying to get a feel for this new type of riding. We were both surprised at the ease with which we were able to get going. I think we each had visions of very short stretches of riding before we'd be able to go anywhere, but things had gone so well in our early test runs (we took a few more before setting out) that we decided to actually venture outside of the neighborhood.

Our first real ride took us just shy of 12 miles (19 km) over some back roads with a couple of minor hills to get a feel for how we'd work together. It was strange and interesting as we both quickly learned about each other's riding habits.

One of the first minor inclines we encountered, I could hear Sam breathing somewhat heavily behind me, after which he commented that I seemed to really like to "mash." I really don't think of myself as someone who pushes in harder gears, but when I realized that I felt like I would normally be in a more difficult gear, we were going to need to find some compromise between what each of us normally does on our own. It isn't that Sam doesn't normally push, but I was getting the sense that when he pushes, he does so in a lower gear. I asked Sam to tell me when he wanted to pedal easier or harder and we'd make adjustments as we went.

As we headed back to home, Sam suddenly made an unannounced adjustment on his saddle which caused me to let out a short screech while trying to steady the bike. We both began to realize that until we become more used to this type of riding, we really do have to speak out loud most everything we intend to do.

Surprisingly (at least to me), the first ride went as well as one could expect for a first tandem outing. In fact, we both actually had fun. We started to find our groove and we were able to start to find our way of working together. Even though I knew I had to announce everything going on (coasting, stopping, bumps, etc), I would occasionally forget or would make a statement too late. But, we both knew this would be part of the process and Sam took everything in stride.

Living on our tandem-high, the next day we decided to try again. We had made some adjustments to my handlebars in hopes of getting a bit more weight on the front end and made some saddle adjustments. One thing is for certain, the HHH tandem was not made for shorter riders, despite calling it a small. This time, we were planning a slightly longer route, but one that had lots of places for us to turn around and head home if things went awry. We had the potential to do 25+ miles (40+ km), but could also shorten the route quite a bit as well.

A few miles in to the ride, my hands started to have problems which meant pain. About 5 miles (8 km) into the outing, I had to pull over to stretch my hands. After a quick stretch, we continued on though the pain persisted.
Snow dusted Longs Peak in the distance distracted us while we took a few photos.
We climbed and descended a few short hills, discovered we already had some cable stretch and needed a quick tune-up, and were already starting to become more accustomed to pedaling together. Sam was taking on the responsibility of signaling turns and waving to others (people really like to wave to tandems it seems), I was getting better about announcing happenings, and it felt as though things were coming together.

Sadly, because of the handlebar flip, we had to head home sooner than we wanted and only ended up completing about 18 miles (29 km) of our intended ride. Still, for a our second ride out together, we thought it was all-in-all a successful trip.

It was the end of the weekend and we knew we wouldn't get time during the week to ride together, but would still ride individually. My first trip out alone on Monday had me far over-steering my commuter bike, which I found comical. It was almost as though I'd forgotten how to ride alone in a matter of two days. Sam didn't seem to have this struggle, but each of us adjusted quickly back to riding alone. I did find a bit of disappointment in riding solo though. Heading to the gym Monday morning, I missed that extra power from having a second set of legs. It's amazing how quickly we humans can become accustomed to things.
By the time our second weekend with the HHH rolled around, we were excited to get pedaling again. We didn't get to ride on Saturday because of commitments, but Sunday we were ready to go.
The dilemma was in regard to how far to go. We made a decision to head up toward the mountains to a town called Lyons and see how things went. As we set out, there were a lot of others out riding and we had a few brief conversations with people passing us or those who we passed (usually the former).

We arrived to The Stone Cup, a coffee shop in Lyons, fairly quickly, but took some time to stretch and admire our surroundings. If you've never been, the town is beautiful, particularly in the fall. The Stone Cup is also quite a gathering spot for cyclists, particularly in the summer. We were a bit late as we were riding in autumn, so there weren't quite as many people on bikes to be found stationed here, though we still enjoyed our stop off.
These stone bears really wanted to check out the Hubbuhubbuh.
Even if you've not visited, you may recall seeing Lyons in the news during the Colorado flooding four years ago. The town was pretty well completely under water and is just recently getting back to its full wonderfulness. Sadly, there is still evidence of repairs being made to structures and roadways throughout the area. For most, Lyons is a pass through on their way to the mountains or returning back to their Denver-area homes, but there is quite a bit to enjoy in this town at the base of the Rockies.

But, I've digressed from the original focus of this: the HHH tandem.

We had so much fun on our ride out to Lyons that when we got home we both felt as though we should've made a longer trip out of it. Instead, we decided to eat a bit and head out again in another direction, allowing us some more time to practice pedaling in tandem.

The weekend following we got tied up on Saturday fetching a Craigslist find which ended up occupying the entire day, but when we got out on the tandem Sunday we wanted to try to go a bit farther than we'd been pedaling in a single trip thus far.
Looking south from another small community, Berthoud.
About fifteen miles into the ride, we were chatting about whether we should head back towards home or continue in our outward direction. We decided on a whim to continuing going out which took us on a path of long, continuous climbing. Though I've ridden the same route prior on my own, it's been about four years and my mind betrayed me when trying to recall how much climbing there was to be done.

As we climbed, we both got quiet and then suddenly started laughing because we were so entirely focused on getting to the summit of the climb that we realized we'd stopped speaking at all.

Despite the more-than-expected climbing, we had another great ride. In fact, we haven't had a bad ride, even with the few hiccups along the way. We've taken the HHH on dirt trails and ridden on paved roads and it's fun to ride regardless. Of course, it's still early on in our time together with only about a half dozen or so rides of any distance undertaken together, so it will be interesting to see how things progress over the coming months and years. To this point though, I think we're both happy with the decision to try tandem riding. It's given us time to be together, to work as a team, and just enjoy something we both love doing.

Some observations we've made during our short amount of time riding tandem and about the HHH, in no particular order:

-- Even the small size of the HHH is likely best suited (at least for the captain position) for someone at least 5'7" or taller. At not quite 5'4", it's really a stretched reach (even for someone used to long top tube bikes), so it would've been nice to see an x-small frame for the HHH. Stand over is a bit dicey as well, even having it built up with narrower (42mm) tires, but it works - just barely.

-- Finding a middle ground for each rider to be happy hasn't been terribly difficult for us. As captain, I was catching myself constantly asking if Sam was okay until he became completely annoyed and told me just to pedal and he'd tell me if something wasn't working. As long as there's a system that works, I don't think it really matters what the specifics are.

-- All of the reading done prior to riding a tandem put a lot of fear in my head about what would happen when we were both on the bike together. It was really a relief when we just rode and realized it wasn't nearly as scary as we'd thought it could be. Part of this I would think is because of the way this particular tandem frame was designed/built.

-- Uphill can be quite a challenge and downhill can have its own problems with potential to get out of control easily. Though I've always appreciated on some level the work tandem teams do, I have a new found respect for people who do races or long-distance touring on tandems!

-- Thus far, distance seems to be a physical challenge for us. As Sam said on our last ride, "Forty miles (65km) on a tandem seems to feel more like 75 miles (120km) on a single!" I think that's about the best way I can explain it too. While in some instances it seems easier (having the extra set of legs is certainly beneficial), it seems to take a greater toll on our bodies over a shorter distance (we've presumed simply because of the additional weight, and perhaps the gearing as well). It will be interesting to see if this evolves or changes as we ride more.

-- Both others on bicycles and motorized traffic seem to be a bit kinder to us on the tandem, with rare exception. On one ride though, we crossed paths with another tandem and while we were (perhaps overly) excited to see another duo on a tandem, they did not seem to share our excitement. We smiled and said, "Hey! Another tandem!!" as we crossed paths with them and were met only with scowls and glares. Apparently tandem riders don't appreciate it when other tandem riders cross paths with them... or, perhaps they were just having a rough day.

-- Despite some thinking of tandem bicycles as "divorce makers," I think a tandem amplifies however the duo communicate and deal with each other in every day life. If you don't get along well in life, I can see how it could create problems on a tandem, but if you can get through things without too much drama, I don't think a tandem is going to make or break any relationship, assuming both are amenable to compromise.

-- Riding a tandem is fun! Personally, I miss it when I'm riding alone sometimes, but I still enjoy my single bikes too. The nice thing is that it feels like a treat when we have a day or two to ride together.

-- A mirror seems like a really important piece of equipment, on a tandem in particular. We mounted one to the front basket, but it moves around so much that it's not reliable at all. The next round trial, we'll try mounting one to my helmet to see if that stays put a bit better (or at least, it should be easier to adjust while riding).

-- It's a lot easier to hear each other talking on a tandem. We sometimes struggle hearing when riding single bikes together, and have been known to go back and forth with a lot of "what's?" as we ride. Tandeming seems to take that small annoyance away. Yay!

-- Speed: My average speed has increased riding tandem while Sam's has slowed. Of course, I'm used to riding about 5-7+ miles per hour (8-11+ kph) slower than he does on an every day basis (I'm a lollygager on the bike unless racing or training to race, which isn't often), but I ride bikes that are about 6-20 pounds (3-9 kg) heavier than his. Because of this...

-- I think Sam struggles more (though we both definitely feel it) with the weight of the bike because 1) he's the stoker and has the power to really push (or not) the speed of the tandem, so he often takes it upon himself to push, and 2) he's used to riding much lighter bicycles which obviously puts a greater strain on his legs.

-- Both of our posteriors hurt far more than riding single. Our hope is that we'll become confident enough at some point to try standing or even standing AND pedaling together so that we can get some relief for our sit bones. It's easy to forget that we tend to do this naturally on our single bikes, but when riding tandem, we have to make sure to coordinate such efforts.

Do you ride tandem or have you ridden a tandem bicycle in the past? What was your experience? Any thoughts or recommendations for people just starting out? Has anyone else ridden the HHH tandem? If you have thoughts on that tandem in particular, I'm sure others would love to hear what you think.