Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bicycles and Dogs

Images of dogs running trails/roads with people on bicycles is not an uncommon find on many social media feeds, outdoor websites and the like. In the summer months, this is a very common happening for individuals across the US and the world. I find myself with a bit of envy as I watch others ride trails with their off-leash dogs and consistently also find myself wondering where they are riding that allows this activity.
*Image from Redstone Cyclery's feed
Locally, there are designated off-leash trails that can be hiked with dogs (assuming that the proper paperwork/classes have been filed/taken), but most riding trails I've discovered do not allow this activity. I suppose it's entirely plausible that people ignore the signs and let their dog off leash anyway to follow and romp while they ride their bike. But, when I see these images online, it causes me a bit of pause as I find that I feel guilty leaving my own pups at home to go and ride. While the dogs most definitely get more than their share of exercise, I often think it would be such a fun activity to share with them - at least in the right circumstances. Granted, one of them is nearly completely blind now and can't run very far at this point in life, but the other would completely enjoy this activity, I'm certain.

With short and rare exceptions, I have had a dog the entirety of my life. I consider them part of the family and treat them as such (perhaps they are treated too much like family in some people's eyes). I consider them my "children," though I'm entirely aware that they are canines and when I communicate with or scold them, it is really more for my benefit than theirs. Still, I like to include them in as many activities as possible throughout the day. Dogs are people/pack-creatures and don't like being left alone for long stretches of time (or at least, I've never had a dog in my life that enjoyed being alone for several hours).
*Image from Ten Meters from the Hut feed
Over the last several years, I've tried to come to terms with having dogs and enjoying riding bikes. It may seem a strange thing to struggle with, but these are probably the two biggest joys I have in life, and often I find that they can be at odds with each other. My dogs are nearly always with me, a habit that has developed over the years of primarily working from home. They know there are certain times of the day that they will be alone and they are fine having that time, but if I'm gone for several hours during the day on a regular basis, they start to find ways to show their dissatisfaction.

This reality is one of the biggest factors that has kept me from moving in a direction of bike touring. I simply cannot imagine leaving these furry, four-legged loves alone for several days or in a dog-motel. At one point, I had pondered taking them with me - towing them in a carrying container; however, pulling 115-120 pounds of dog, not including the gear we'd need just strikes me as unreasonable - at least for me, though I'm sure there are those who have done it.

These fur-loves of mine are also a big reason I don't pursue longer distances on a bike. I watch others who participate in brevets of varying sort and I find myself wanting to push some of my personal limits to see what I am capable of doing. While I know it's possible to do these events and still have dogs in my life, the amount of saddle time training required of me and knowing that I'd be leaving them for very long days unattended breaks my heart. An occasional century or all-day ride is doable, but multi-day events become a much bigger challenge.
*Image from Randi Jo Fabrications feed
There are many people who have dogs and still ride bikes. These two don't necessarily have to conflict. Obviously, I do ride a bike and have dogs, but I cannot help but find myself wanting to combine the two facets of life and enjoy them simultaneously.

Admittedly, I seem to have made my choice, whether it's a conscious one or not. I have definitely chosen to limit time on a bicycle to have the ability to devote an equitable share to these critters I love so much. I suppose in some ways it is the best balance I've been able to achieve to date without feeling as though one area is lacking. Maybe one day I'll find these mysteriously hidden trails where dogs run freely, but until then these two areas of life remain separate. Thankfully, I don't have to choose one over the other, but I do have to make periodic concessions in order to keep the balance.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Bring on the new year!

It has been a bit of a struggle to write an end of year post, as must be obvious given that we've now entered the new year. Though 2018 wasn't a horrible year by any means for me personally, it's always a challenge to figure out how to sum up the prior months without sounding at least a bit trite and/or making myself somehow feel bad about what I didn't accomplish. Still, I find myself wanting to review a bit and acknowledge both the good moments and the areas that could use improvement in the coming year.
The year did not start off as great as my brain seems to want to recall, but this lack of riding is typical, I suppose, when the weather turns cold and snow is expected. However, there wasn't much snow to contend with, so I suppose this fantasy memory is more a way to mentally deal with my own failure to get motivated by blaming the weather.

February was my absolute worst month of 2018 in regard to both working out and riding. I rode to the gym twice that month (I went to the gym slightly more regularly, but didn't ride there), and that was the extent of my riding for February, sadly. Not even a single tandem ride that month, which, when pointed out to Sam, surprised even him as we both felt like we rode quite a bit during the prior winter. I was also quite sick during this time and that's something I suppose should be accounted for in my lack of activity for February. When feeling near-death, it's difficult to do much of anything (for anyone who went through the rounds of the nasty flu spreading around last year, I'm sure you can identify).

Oddly (though not surprising to me, as I've stated prior that the end of year tends to be a good time for me), December was my best ("best" in this instance being defined as longest amount of time spent doing an activity) month for both working out and riding a bike. Truly, October through December I was in my groove for the year, which gives me hope for 2019, and a glimmer of possibility that things will improve from that point. But, I am also aware that I cannot control the weather, and while I'm willing to brave the cold, I am far too klutzy to venture out on two wheels when ice is covering the roads.

I spent a good portion of the year trying to "figure out" my bike situation. Having sold off several bikes, I was at a bit of a loss as far as which direction to go to settle in on a small group of bicycles that would suit my purposes. Road rides (or dirt ones for that matter) were taken on with my trusty Hillborne for much of the year. I went through a trial with an adventure bike that I believed I could turn into a road bike, which was quite unsuccessful. I also tried out another Rivendell as a road bike and found that it was just too much a duplicate of the one I already own to be practical as a true road steed. Another trial made its way to me later in the year (I'll be writing about that at some point too, but want to spend some additional time with it before sharing more) which helped add to my road mileage for the latter part of 2018.

A mountain bike came into my life during the summer, and while a mountain bike itself is not all that surprising a purchase, the type of mountain bike and the fact that it's been a bike I've truly enjoyed was quite a shock. Riding some technical routes has been an interesting change up to my typical riding habits and hopefully will provide additional strength for all sorts of activities.

Sam and I continued to ride our Hubbuhubbuh tandem throughout the year and even added another tandem to our bikes. We still haven't decided which is our favorite (we've had good and bad rides on both), but we found ourselves doing our best to switch back and forth between the two so that neither is favored over the other. Still, the HHH wins as far as mileage is concerned for 2018 - by far, with about three times as many miles traveled.

Although I usually try to throw in some kind of race or event during the year, the only athletic event that made the list for 2018 was the Fight for Air stair climb in March. I try to throw in at least one event to keep myself in training mode, but the right event just never materialized. I had hoped we would complete one on the tandem too, but I suppose there is time for that in 2019. I suppose we did ride in an ALS fundraiser on St Patrick's Day, but that didn't quite qualify as a true athletic event in my mind.

This is the first year in many that I have felt at all capable. Which is not to say that I am in my prime -- I certainly am not -- but it is the first in several that I have felt the fire inside, that drive to do more and actually had the ability to, at least partially, execute. Whether this is actual, physical improvement to injuries or just a stronger will to push past them, I frankly don't know, but it's been nice to feel things -- strength, good pain, internal changes to my body -- that I haven't felt in some time. This feeling didn't quite get to me until about halfway through the year, but I'm glad it made it and hope that it is a start to build from and that the current year will bring further improvement.

I am doing my best to be cautious with ambitions for the new year. As has been stated in the past, I'm not one for making resolutions this time of year, but I also don't want to sit back and allow excuses or injuries to take hold. I want to set myself up for successful moments, but don't want to become overwhelmed by too much either. It's a tricky balance sometimes to find the right amount of push with an appropriate dosage of rest as well. I can easily be taken in by an all-or-nothing type of thinking, and I don't want that to be the case, especially when it comes to riding.

One of the things I'm grateful for is that riding in adulthood didn't start out as an attempt at racing, as it does for some. I enjoy being on a bicycle because I get to experience sensations that I wouldn't while driving, like smelling bread baking in a shop or seeing the first blooms in spring, and I don't want to lose that side of riding a bike with a desire to go farther or ride faster. It's always important to stop and smell the roses because it's one of the beautiful things about riding. I am continually striving to find the balance between stopping to observe moments and pushing limits, and which side of me wins out on a particular ride seems to be very unpredictable.

I have hopes to write more on the blog this year too. It's slowed down over the last few with life happenings and time just feeling as though it's at a premium. Being able to ride has taken precedence over writing about riding, certainly, and I think most of us can understand that. Still, I want to make time to share and to hear about others adventures, so perhaps the balance in this area will become better in 2019. Only time will tell.

Knowing what is coming this year is not something I can foresee, but I look forward to continuing to ride and enjoy, as I hope you do too. I'd love to hear what others have planned for 2019 as well, so please do share your goals, dreams, and aspirations for the coming year as you see fit.
From the EVL family to yours, wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year with the most fun riding you've enjoyed yet! Happy New Year! Let's make 2019 a great year!

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Yeti Beti Tale

It's interesting that over the years of riding bicycles what I find enjoyable has a sort of ebb and flow to it. There are times when I want to ride only on paved roads and push as hard as I can, or only ride roads at a leisurely pace; and then there are stretches when I want to avoid roads traveled by motorists as much as possible and seek out dirt, gravel and other pathways to ride more regularly. This year has been kind of a mixed bag for me, having done a fair amount of paved road riding, but also seeking out off-the-paved-surfaces possibilities too.

Over the past winter, I ended up selling my fat tire bike during my "everything must go" phase. It wasn't that I didn't like it, but we haven't seen any significant snow here for a few years, and I am not a big fan of driving somewhere to ride (at least not on a regular basis). I had intended to use this bike as a mountain bike as well, so it made sense to keep it, but it was on the heavy side to use for that purpose, so it ended up sitting around far more than I wanted.

Then one day I got on a kick searching for Yeti mountain bikes. I wasn't really looking for a mountain bike - I have a sketchy past with mountain biking - but I was finding myself riding mildly rougher terrain, and wanting to do so, which was causing me to think a mountain bike might not be entirely unreasonable. I have been particularly drawn to Yeti because it's a local company, and I have appreciated that they've listened to the women who race and ride their bikes and then modified appropriately to make the Yeti Beti line.

It was all a passing fancy sort of thought though - nothing seriously would come from it. But, once the thought was in my head, I wanted to try out some different manufacturers bikes. Finding bikes to test was more of a challenge than I expected. Rocky Mountain was doing demos at a local bike shop, but I managed to miss out on that due to some miscommunication. We tried a couple of shops in Denver, but it's fairly difficult to find a shop that carries smaller mountain bikes, and I have grown weary of having to buy before I can try. I knew that I could demo a Yeti at their home location in Golden, Colorado, but the time frames for testing were making it challenging to get there and deep down I knew that I would never plunk down the money for a new Yeti.

As Sam and I sat talking one afternoon, he reminded me that we know someone who owns a Yeti and is about my height, and she might even be willing to let me test it. A quick message was sent off and after some back and forth I was informed that she had sold the Yeti but that she was in the process of trying to sell a Trek mountain bike that she would be happy to let me test.
2012 Trek Lush carbon mountain bike
Sam thought it couldn't hurt to try out her Trek and at least it would give me an idea of sizing and even what I may or may not like about it, so we took our friend up on the offer to let me test out her carbon Lush. After riding it around the neighborhood, it seemed nice enough, but I wasn't really able to test it on anything other than cement. She offered to let us take it home. "Ride it as long as you like and if you like it, then we can talk," was her statement.

It's hard to say no to an offer like that. A test ride for as long as I desire? That just doesn't happen. The Trek was super fun to ride and I even fussed with changing handlebars and saddle to make it something that I would want to regularly ride. Maybe it was all of the rigid steel I'd been used to riding, but something about the full suspension, carbon frame was speaking to me. It was a strange feeling for someone who is used to more classic looking and riding steel bicycles, I confess.

During the process of riding the Trek, Sam and I spotted a Yeti frame online that happened to be for sale by a local. It was an incredibly good deal, but it was a frame-only sale and it was still more than I really wanted to spend to test out my interest in mountain biking. I kind of kept an eye on it but noticed about a week or two later that the frame had sold. I figured someone had got themselves a great deal and I moved on with life, enjoying the Trek.

Unbeknownst to me, Sam had bought the Yeti frame and was setting it aside to give me as a birthday/anniversary gift. To my surprise and delight, Sam hauled out a Yeti Beti SB5... while I was in absolute shock. It's something that honestly neither of us would ever splurge to buy new, but since the frame was a year old (and the deal of the century) and the parts could be sourced at bargain/sale prices, it made something that would never happen into a reality.

I was physically shaking when I realized what was in front of me. And then, I became a bit terrified which caused a whole different type of shaking. What if I didn't like the bike? What if it didn't ride the way I expected? I didn't want to seem ungrateful, but even at a great price, I knew this was not an inexpensive gift!

As if reading my mind, Sam stated, "I figured, even if you end up not liking it, we can always sell it as a whole bike and at least break even - or maybe even make a few bucks."  That seemed to put my mind at ease and I felt as though I could try out this new-to-me mountain bike without the pressure of anything else looming in the background.

For anyone who has read here for a longer amount of time, you are well aware that mountain biking is not really in my wheelhouse. I've had some terrifying mountain bike rides that have kept me from ever really wanting to be on a mountain bike - even on tame terrain. But, the fat tire bike that had been sold off did help get me over many of my fears and while I still wouldn't claim to be the bravest individual when it comes to rocky surfaces, I have become a little more confident with at least giving these types of rides a chance before running away crying like a scared little girl.

What exactly is on this mountain bike? Though it's not a stock build, it has many of the parts that are found on the SB5s: Yeti Beti SB5 Turq frame, Rockshox Recon Silver fork (Sam has a personal aversion to Fox forks, and I have no personal opinion on the matter, so thus the Rockshox), a mix of SRAM Eagle GX and XO1 drivetrain, and two different wheels (because we had one and weren't concerned about having a matching set) - a WTB rear wheel and a DT Swiss front.  I know a lot of people love their trigger shifters, but this build has a twist shifter -- and I have to say, I really like it. Because of my hand/wrist issues, I think having the twist is easier and even if my hand isn't feeling great, I can still shift easily/smoothly.

Although Sam is known here as an endurance mountain bike racer, regularly racing in 50-100+ mile events, I definitely do not fall into that category. If I complete a 10-15 mile mountain bike ride, that is "long distance" for me. I don't know why, but mountain biking has just never been something I've been able to do for any sort of distance. It's not just the terrain, but being on a mountain bike tends to do me in quickly. I can ride mileage on a road bike, but settling in for that length of time on a mountain bike has just never appealed to me, nor been possible as my body simply fatigues very early on.
For the first test ride on the Yeti, Sam came along so that he could adjust things for me if needed/wanted. I hadn't ridden the bike yet, other than down the street at home just to make sure nothing felt strange, so when we set out I expected that we were only going to ride at most 10-15 miles (and that would only be the case if things were going well). Instead, we ended up riding just shy of 30 miles. Score one for the Yeti.

I was surprised by how comfortable I was on the bike, honestly. I'm not sure that I've ever had an experience quite like it on a mountain bike (and there have been many attempts over the years to turn me into a mountain biker). I was a little fatigued when we arrived home, but the saddle wasn't quite adjusted to my liking and I'm sure I was death gripping the bars a bit just being on a new-to-me bike. Still, I had fun!
The next couple of rides were solo adventures in the mid-20ish mile range, but they were pleasant as well. By that third ride, I'd managed to add just over 2 mph to my average speed too, which was pretty shocking (but exciting).

What I was noticing early on was that I really like the 1x12 gearing. The simplicity of having just one front ring and only needing a rear shifter was fantastic. Plus, the gear ratios seem to be a good fit for my body. Having a 10-50 tooth on the rear pretty much gives me what I need with a 32t crank. I have yet to find a hill I can't climb, so that says something, I think... and even when that day comes (because it will - I certainly haven't been on the steepest terrain possible yet), I'll just get off the bike and walk. Truthfully, I have more of an issue with spinning out downhill than I do with climbing gears, but that just keeps down hill speeds in check.

It's strange to be so giddy over this type of bicycle, particularly as it's been several months now and I don't tend to be visually drawn to the modern shapes and forms of carbon, but I really do get excited about riding this little lady! Oh, I'm definitely not of the stock that this type of bike was meant for, but I've tried to reassure myself that just because I'm not out shredding, doesn't mean I can't enjoy this bike. And it is a sweet ride. Plus, I feel a little like a bad-ass riding it - even if I really am far from that descriptor.

I've now had the opportunity to ride this Yeti on several rides over the past months and it has yet to disappoint. There are times when I'm tired and not quite up to par, but it's always fun to ride -- even when I'm not at my best. There have been some modifications as I've continued to ride it -- the handlebars were way too wide for me and needed to be cut down (more than once) to get to an appropriate width for my body. We also switched out the short 50mm stem for a 70mm, which helped both a bit with handling and positioning (I do realize most mtbs have short stems, but the slightly longer one seemed to help in this situation). I'm even trying out a non-leather saddle currently - something I've not done in several years on any bike (I do love my leather saddles). While the leather rides nicely on this bike, I worry about it getting muddy and wet frequently, so I think a synthetic might wear better over time.

This bike came into my life at a time when I was adrift in a sea of road-bike hunting, and not having settled on any particular one (and having sold off any incarnation of road bikes I'd had), actually allowed me a lot of focused time to ride the Yeti, which was a blessing in disguise. Had I owned a road bike, I doubt that I would've realized just how much fun this bike really is to ride. I've even taken it on solo, mainly-road rides when we've had cold/icy days, just because it was comfortable and fun to use. Though it doesn't allow for typical road speeds, sometimes enjoying the ride and having the ability to veer off into dirt or gravel, just makes it that much better.

There are days when I've wondered if this is a short-term infatuation or something that will last. It's partially why I've waited a bit to write about the Yeti. It's as though I keep waiting to go on a ride and decide that I no longer like this bike because, typically, that is what would happen with me and any mountain bike. But, I keep waiting and that ride or day has yet to materialize.

A few days ago, I took the bike on a more technical ride and realized I have a long way to go when it comes to conquering my trepidation with certain terrain; however, I also didn't have a complete meltdown when obstacles were presented, as would've happened in the past, and instead dismounted and walked through the area to a place where I felt comfortable to get on and ride again. I think this speaks a great deal to the bike's abilities (and what it's given to me). I know it is capable of far tougher riding than it's been put through to date, but it has also inspired confidence in the rider that hasn't been present on any mountain bike in the past.  Every time I ride, I become a little more bold with tackling something I never would have in the past; and for that, I am so grateful.

Perhaps this same journey could have happened on any modern mountain bike. After all, I am not so foolish as to think this is the only bike that would've been able to bring about more courage over rougher paths, but it is the tool that has taken me there and I have enjoyed every (sometimes overly challenging) minute of it. And honestly, if a bike can put a smile on my face even after I'm physically spent, I know it's a keeper... and this, my friends, is what I believe will be a keeper.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thankful for Bicycles

My foot hovered over the pedal of the bike, brain hesitating, unsure of whether or not I really wanted to set out in the cold. As I stood shivering on a cloudy, thirty-degree day, I questioned my sanity for a brief moment. Four brown eyes, attached to two furry pups, stared out at me from inside the house. The warm house.  It'd be so much nicer to snuggle up with them, I thought. There was a stack of dishes in the sink, a house begging to be cleaned, and a dozen other various "things" that needed to be accomplished, but none of that mattered. My leg pressed down on the pedal and I was off.

Fall is a banner time for me to ride. Nearly without fail, October and November tend to be the months I ride the most throughout any year. Even though the weather is entirely unpredictable during these two months, I find myself wanting to push and/or see what I can accomplish before the end of the year. In part, I ride more during these months because of that desire to give it my all before the year runs out, but it's also when I feel most connected to my environment and have settled into my bikes. It's that time before I know it will be difficult to find a day to ride that doesn't include iced-over roads or that isn't so cold I have to talk myself into even wanting to step outside.

On this day, as I set out, the air is beyond brisk. Somehow, when the sun isn't shining, low temperature days feel inequitably colder. My bones feel chilled, even with enough layers. Still, I have this unspeakable desire to be outside and to pedal out the chaos of thoughts running through my head. There's something of beauty in the rhythmic patterns of turning a bicycle crank that evens out all the other disorder in life.

Normally one to avoid climbing, I'm craving it today. I head in the only direction that will almost immediately have me head up a hill. Huffing and puffing, my body pushes to turn the crank, and slowly I make my way upward. My mind is telling me I can fly up the relatively brief incline, but as reality sets in, I have to make peace with my idealized self and the far more harsh reality.

I briefly chastise myself for not working harder through the summer and even years prior, and then ultimately relax and allow my body to work its way through the task. Berating myself will accomplish nothing. I continue to work, now in intervals, pushing as hard as possible for 20 seconds and then soft-pedaling for 40 seconds. This becomes its own rhythm through the ride that requires my sole focus. The thoughts that had occupied my mind just a few minutes prior have no space in this place. They are forgotten memories, or at least temporarily belayed, that do not require my immediate attention.

The wheels are flying, almost floating, breezing over whatever comes into view. Golden-red, deep green and brown leaves litter the path, creating shapes and patterns, images that my mind attempts to make sense of without success. The cold air freezes my face, but I can't help but let out a smile. My legs feel made of steel and simultaneously light as feathers. I could ride this way forever. There's a perfect cadence, whether softly pedaling or pushing, that seems to be bringing together a sublime pace. All that exists here in this time is euphoria.

It's one of the reasons I ride -- for these flashes in time that feel inexplicably perfect, when life melts away and the only thing that exists is a moment that makes me feel like a superstar cyclist that I definitely am not.
*Image can be found on this site
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving here in the US, I am grateful for a body that allows me to move (even if it has hiccups or doles out pain at times), for bicycles that allow me to transport myself with relative ease to get where I need to go and/or for sport (and often for head-clearing purposes too), and for those who continue to travel along life's journey with me.

May this autumn season bring you closer to those you love and provide a generous allowance of time for riding your bicycle(s). Happy Thanksgiving to all who read here on E.V.L.

Monday, October 29, 2018

First Impressions of a Steel Road Bike: The Rivendell Roadini

In prior posts, I've mentioned that over this past winter I was on the hunt for a dedicated road bike. The biggest problems I faced were my preference for a steel frame and that I really wanted a bike that would accept at least a 32mm tire. Although custom options are available, it always surprises me how few choices there really are in an era of bicycles becoming more wide-tire-centric. After trying out an "adventure bike" made of titanium, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I had been eyeballing the Rivendell Roadini with mild curiosity.

Despite being unconvinced it was the right bike for me, after riding my Riv Sam Hillborne nearly exclusively for solo paved rides over several months, I began to think that maybe it was not only a plausible but potentially smart option. For a Rivendell, the cost was somewhat reasonable and I could build it with up to 35mm tires. It met the steel requirement too, however, I wasn't convinced that it would actually ride like a fast road bike.

My desire was for something that felt swift (since I'm not a fast rider, being able to feel like my effort is producing something is important to me) and responsive -- not to have a duplicate of the Hillborne. The goal for whatever bike came into my life was to fulfill my want to occasionally ride solo and not feel as though I'm weighted down by anything other than my own lack of capability.

Secondarily, but also of great importance was to have a road bike that was comfortable or at least tolerable on road rides. I've owned far too many road bikes that were incapable of providing the comfort I always seem to be seeking. Between hands (and other body parts) going numb, to improper fit, I was fed up with road bikes that hurt.

The one bit I was hung up on in regard to moving forward with purchasing the Roadini was the fact that in the smallest size (that I would require), the bike takes 650b wheels. I don't have a problem with the wheel size in general (after all, we own several 650b-wheeled bikes in our home), but there is not a huge selection of road wheels in that size that accept rim brakes. I didn't want to end up with something that I'd be struggling to find parts to complete or to end up with inferior parts because there wasn't another option. While custom wheel builds are a possibility, it's nice to just be able to buy a wheelset off the shelf.

But, after several debates about whether this was a good option and looking around to see what else would potentially fit my desires and budget, I opted to take the plunge and see how this bike would do for me.
If you don't have interest in the parts build of this bike, feel free to skip down below, but for those who have the desire to know, here is the build:

- 47cm Rivendell Roadini frame/fork
- Pacenti 650b wheelset
- Shimano Ultegra R8000 11- speed shift/brake levers
- Shimano Ultegra R8000 crank (170mm, 50/34)
- Shimano Ultegra Bottom Bracket (BBR60, 68mm)
- Shimano M7000 SLX 11- speed cassette (11-40t)*
- Shimano XT rear derailleur*
- Tektro R559 brake calipers (unlike what was recommended on the Riv website, the smallest sized frame needs the longer reach of these or an equivalent)
- Continental Sport Contact 650b x 32mm tires (that are strangely marked as 650c tires)
- Compass Randonneur handlebars (42mm)

All told, with the Brooks saddle and flat pedals, the bike weighed in at just over 22 pounds.

*So, I have to note here that it is unlikely many bike shops would offer or attempt this setup, but fortunately for me, the in-house mechanic is used to my strange requests and is willing to try just about anything. I prefer a triple set up in order to get up steeper hills/mountains in our location; however, I have found that a double makes me ride a bike more like a road bike (meaning, I tend to push myself a bit more when I know I don't have the gears to fall back on). Still, I wanted to have some of the range I would get from a triple, so we decided to try out an 11-40 cassette and used a mountain rear derailleur to get everything to cooperate. This setup required the use of an extra long chain (I believe it took 118 links) and also required this little gadget in order to get things to communicate/shift properly.

Not mentioned above in the build is the quill stem. I know this is something that often brings about debate in the cycling world. It's not an item I take particular issue with; however, I will say that one of the huge annoyances with a quill is figuring out the right reach. Since I've owned several (too many, really) quill-necessary bikes over the years, we have several options in the parts bin. For those who don't have that luxury, it's important to know personal fit to be able to determine the right measurement on the first try, or you may end up purchasing (or exchanging) several sizes to find the correct one (not to mention the annoyance of removing the brifters and the handlebars in order to change the stem).

I did not choose the correct length for the first round build. Thinking that too short a reach would have the bike feeling squeezed, I opted for an 80mm, but it turned out that was far too long for me and it was immediately exchanged for a 60mm in the stash, which feels nearly perfect.
Of note with this particular Rivendell is its lack of the company's typical lugs. While there are some (seat cluster), the cost savings on this frame comes at a loss of all those beautiful lugs. I was perfectly willing to accept this, but for those who need to have every joint lugged, a look at the Roadeo or potentially a custom option is probably a better bet, though those options come at a much higher price.

With the bike built and ready to ride, all I had to do was actually go out and use it. After some delays due to out-of-town visitors and other various happenings, I was finally able to get the bike out on the road.

As I had anticipated, I was not particularly fast on this ride - but I had doubts that it was the fault of the bike, but rather my own lack of pushing myself over the prior couple of years when it comes to speed. Part of my hope for this bike is that I would actually want to ride it and therefore speed would come back to me over time with regular use.

What I did notice on this inaugural 30+ mile ride was that I was not in pain, and dare I say it, even comfortable. No doubt, having the wider-than-usual road bike tire played a role in that, but I also think my body just likes the way Rivendells ride. I've had success with the Sam Hillborne (obviously) and it's difficult to get me off the tandem, not to mention the others that have blown in and out over the years.

From Rivendell, I have ridden at various points the Sam Hillborne, A. Homer Hilsen, Betty Foy, Cheviot (which is much the same bike as the B Foy), Saluki, Hubbuhubbuh, and the made-for-Soma San Marcos. So, at this point, I think it's safe to say that they just make bikes I like. Likes aside, other than the San Marcos, none of these have ever felt road-bike specific, which isn't to say that any of them can't be ridden on the roads, but rather that they lacked the pickup and lightweight that is often expected of a road-specific bike. My biggest issue with the San Marcos was simply the size - it was just a bit too big to ride long distances with drop handlebars (for me) unless I hiked them up to a ridiculous level, which then changed the handling of the bike.
For me, the real test with a new bike comes around the fourth or fifth ride. It's easy to let the excitement of a new bike take over and sometimes I don't notice things that become apparent a little later in the relationship. About the fifth ride on the Roadini, I became keenly aware that I neither feel fast nor am I physically fast on this bike. Granted, as stated prior, the rider is not particularly gifted with the ability for speed regardless of the bike, but I was averaging even slower times than I had been on the Sam Hillborne. Minimally slower (which may have been the fault of the rider and not the bike), but still slower.

This frustrated me entirely. I came home whining to Sam about how slow I am, but he was convinced that it was all in my head. Not that I was making up the speeds I was traveling, but rather he believes that I get it in my head that I'm slow and then actually make it reality. It's probably a fair assumption, but I truly believed I was pushing myself, so it was all the more painful (mentally) to realize that I was actually slower on a road bike than on a bike meant for carrying luggage.
Sam theorized that perhaps lowering my handlebars would help put me in a better power position and that this, rather than the bike, had been what was slowing me down. So, the next time out, I lowered my handlebars about an inch or so and set out to test his idea. While I could feel that I was using bigger leg muscles that in theory should bring more power (and therefore speed), I didn't actually average much faster speed. Bummer.

What I realized after testing this bike is that it is a lighter version of the bike I already owned and that my initial supposition that it would ride similarly was absolutely correct. While theoretically the Roadini fits better than the Hillborne with the shorter top tube that allows for the use of drop bars, it just wasn't going to meet my wants in regard to a swifter feeling/pedaling road bike.
Back to a triple setup here... it really is a lovely bicycle!
What's great about the Roadini is that it is supremely comfortable! It pedals smoothly and rides the way one would expect a Rivendell to behave. If I were looking for a completely comfortable road/light adventure type of bicycle, this would definitely be on the list of possibilities because of these qualities. Unfortunately, I had high hopes for this steed to behave more like a road-race bike (a rather silly thing to think based on what the creator believes and manufactures), so it just isn't the right fit for my stable at this time.

Although I think the Roadini is a fine bicycle, I had to let it move on to someone else to enjoy and I hope it will find the use it deserves in its new home. Of course, that put me back on the hunt for something else that would fill the missing slot in my stable. It's as though the quest to find the "right" road bike remains elusive; but in the meantime, I've continued to ride my trusty Hillborne and have been riding a mountain bike (a post is forthcoming on that steed soon as well) a lot more regularly.

I've read on a couple of forums that people are truly loving this model from Rivendell, so if you've had the opportunity to test it out, I'd love to know what you think of the bike. I think if I didn't already have the Hillborne settled in, I would've definitely hung on to this one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Custom Tandem: Dream or Nightmare?

**For the squeamish, I thought I should preface with a warning that there is a mildly graphic (depending on your tolerance level for "graphic") photo included about half way through this post. It's not obscene, but I felt it only fair to forewarn those who are sensitive to such things.

"Eeeeek!!" I screamed aloud, despite the fact that, as is typical during the week, I was alone in my work space. I had just received word that our new tandem had been shipped and would be arriving soon. My excitement was plentiful so off went a quick message to Sam to let him know that we'd be in possession of our new double-steed in the next few days. I sat smiling ear-to-ear, clapping my hands like a giddy school girl.

If you are unfamiliar with our tandem history, I was a person who swore up and down that Sam and I would never, ever, ever ride a tandem bike. I was convinced that we would end up killing each other. He would want to travel too far or too fast and I wouldn't be able to keep up. At least, that's what I'd convinced myself was the truth and was our general reason for not trying it out. Even after my mom and step-dad had offered to let us ride their single speed cruiser tandem as a test, I was insistent that it would not go well and I was in no way going to put us through that sort of pain. I really believed that our pedaling styles would be too different - not to mention all of the other potential pitfalls that ran through my mind.

Still, for years I had -- mostly silently -- dreamed that it could be a possibility for us. I often idealized tandem riding, but I'd quickly return my mental state to one of what I believed to be reality: Sam and I were not meant to ride a tandem.

Then, as you may recall, I started what some might term a mild obsession with Rivendell's Hubbuhubbuh tandem. I had been on the reading list from the time it was announced as a possibility and the more I read, the more I found myself wanting to try it out. Just when we thought we'd missed out on our opportunity, one appeared somewhat magically and before we knew it, we were riding a tandem.

We had our down points with it, but overall we really enjoyed riding together. The biggest problem, however, was the fit. The captain position is set up at its most compact and is still truthfully too large to be effectively piloted by either of us. Still, we powered on, riding like little fiends over hilly and flat terrain, through dirt and gravel -- we just couldn't seem to stop.

Over a very short span of time, we realized we were going to have to find a tandem that fit us better, particularly if we wanted to ride more than about 50 miles (80km). Neither of us wanted to go a custom route (both for the time involved and the cost), but after an attempt to rent the smallest tandem we could find locally, we realized that unless we were willing to wait indefinitely for a mythical x-small tandem to show up secondhand somewhere, we'd have to go the custom route.

We decided on Rodriguez Bikes to do the build after a fair amount of reading and chatting with our (relatively local) tandem dealer. The biggest reason for selecting Rodriguez over the local dealer was that I'd had a custom bike made with Rodriguez in the past and there was a level of familiarity.  I have not had good luck with custom bikes in the past, but this was a situation that was requiring a custom, as far as we were able to determine. With both riders being under 5'4", finding something out in the open market that might work would take nothing short of a miracle.

And so it came to the moment described above during which my insides felt ready to burst with excitement. We both had some trepidation in regard to this entire process. It's a similar feeling, I'd estimate, to someone who's only ridden a cruiser turning around and ordering a custom road bike. Perhaps it's not quite that extreme since we do have a fair amount of experience riding singles of all different sort, but knowing that we'd only experienced riding one tandem, we had moments of wondering (or at least I did) whether or not this new two-wheeled friend would be what we hoped for.  It meant putting a lot of trust in the builder to make something that made sense for us.

Since we were going custom, we also had the opportunity to choose the paint color. There are endless possibilities when it comes to paint and I don't have a great history of being decisive with these sorts of things. From single colors to fades to fancy specialized paint jobs, the choices quickly became overwhelming. I love having the opportunity to choose our own color, but it's easy to go from one extreme to another trying to figure out what we really want. Plus, we both had to agree on something and we tend to have very different ideas of what looks good. In reality, I know Sam would let me choose whatever I wanted, but because it is something we both ride, I really wanted us to both have input into the color choice.

After some discussion, we had narrowed the paint possibilities down to two. Sam decided that he wanted to be surprised and that I should choose between them, so after some back and forth (one option was bright and fun and involved some paint fading, but I feared we might grow tired of it over time; the other was simple, single color, and more subdued) I chose one and kept it secret (which was definitely not easy for me!!) so that when the box was opened, Sam would have a bit of that surprise moment he wanted.
The box arrived on a Tuesday and as the delivery company was bringing the box to the door, I could see a large indentation, as well as several smaller holes and impressions in the box. My stomach sank. Great, I thought, just what we need to deal with. The driver was kind enough to assist me with opening the top of the box to check on the contents and surprisingly, there didn't appear to be any damage to the bike. I breathed a small sigh of relief, but knew we'd have to inspect it further when it was completely removed.

The bike had been sent almost completely built with only the need to attach the handlebars to the stoker position, rotate the front handlebars, and attach our choice of pedals and saddles. Sam had protested the full build somewhat because he believed it would be better for us to choose our own parts, but ultimately we made the decision to go with a full build, knowing that we could upgrade parts down the road. We were told it should be just a mater of minutes before we would be riding our new tandem once it arrived. This sounded ideal.

When Sam arrived home, we pulled the bike from the box and the remaining items were attached. I was amused at the comically small size of the bike. "It looks like a tandem for kids," I said, laughing at the absurdity of its size, particularly in comparison to our current tandem. "No problem with stand over now." I'm not sure if we're both used to riding too large a bike or if it really is that small, but the tiny size had thrown me completely for a loop.

If I may take a brief detour from our present path in this tale, the two of us were holding on to a (misguided) belief that when this tandem arrived, it would be perfectly wonderful and all of our tandem woes would be solved. Having gone through two custom single bike builds in the past, I should have known better, but I was living in my dream land in which (apparently) all prior experiences disappear into another plane of existence, logic completely abandons my body, and utter bliss is all that exists.

We had shared some email conversations with MG of Chasing Mailboxes regarding tandems (we figured who better to offer some advice than a duo who ride long distances regularly on a tandem - and we must thank both of them again for sharing their thoughts with us) and MG had cautioned us with a bit of wisdom. One of her last statements read:  "As you know, it takes time to really dial in a bike, ESPECIALLY a tandem. They're like cats, each with their own distinct personality."

Ah, cats. They're so soft, fluffy and cute. Perhaps it was the wrong part of those words to focus on (okay, it was definitely the wrong part to focus on!), but when one is lost in the depths of excitement, it's super easy to ignore such sage words. Perhaps it wasn't so much ignoring this thought, but rather glossing over it a bit, believing that we would be okay because, you know, it's built for us - it can't be that bad to get 'er moving down the road, right?

And so, we return to our story as Sam and I prepared our newly unpacked tandem for our first test. At least we weren't being completely foolish and realized that I should take the tandem out for a quick spin around the block alone first, just to make sure everything was feeling good.
The Rodriguez built as it came to us with pedals/saddles added
Before even riding the tandem, we noticed that the color appeared more of a yellow-green than the darker, olive green we'd expected. With the dim lighting in the photo above, I'd say it looks a bit more green than in real life (though with time together the color doesn't seem quite as yellowed as it did initially). Still, we didn't find it unattractive... and, paint is fairly easily changed, if desired, especially on a steel frame, so we weren't particularly concerned with this bit.

The next issue we faced (and the more important one) was fit and feel. After a short run down the block with the tandem, nearly everything felt wrong. I tried again around a couple of blocks and things just continued down the same path. I felt as though I had absolutely no control of the bike -- and this was without another person on the back. I felt crammed into the cockpit when I stood between the saddle and the stem, something I'd worried about all along with the sizing. The bike seemed to wiggle all over the road whether at slow or higher speed. The only way I could explain it to Sam was that it just felt "wrong."

He rode the tandem alone too just to see if he could understand what I was trying to express. He came back unsure of how to help me feel more at ease.

"Maybe we just need to ride it together," I suggested.

So we set out on a short path around the neighborhood to see how it went. This was a complete disaster. Everything felt even more wrong with someone on the back. I felt as though the tandem's steering was under none of my control and it kind of just went wherever it wanted to go. Every little bump seemed to cause the bike to veer off on its own in an unintended direction.
The bruising (which was truly quite painful) that had developed on my abdomen from hitting the steerer tube each time I dismounted. If nothing else, it illustrates my determination to try to get this tandem to work (and maybe explains a few of the tears too).
I'll save the retelling of each round of this, but there were several, each time ending with me in tears and Sam silently angry. He wasn't mad at me necessarily (though I'm sure there was some of that too), but my frustrations tend to come out in tears while his turns to silent mulling.

Then, I thought perhaps asking the manufacturer for some suggestions to help us get through this initial stage would be helpful. Unfortunately, nothing beneficial came from that conversation. So, we went back to trying to figure things out for ourselves.

There were several weeks of trying to "figure things out" but not actually riding the new tandem. It was suggested by another tandem rider/builder that I try putting weight on the back of the tandem with panniers or something else loaded up so that I could do tests without feeling the pressure of another rider. This seemed like a good idea, so I gave that a whirl too. It was probably the best suggestion I received in regard to getting used to the new ride without putting two people in jeopardy.

We'd also made some changes, putting the handlebars lower and changing the bars themselves to another style, as well as trying different tires. Although the intention with this tandem was to be able to travel longer distances which was the original intention of the drop bars, if I couldn't use them effectively, then it was all for nothing, and I wasn't loving the way the first tires felt either, so both changes seemed like a move in the right direction.

Riding without another person went okay. I felt ridiculous pedaling around on a tandem without another body, but I also wasn't ready to brave it with Sam on the back quite yet. I just needed to feel at least somewhat competent with this new bike -- that at this point wasn't so new anymore. Riding around several miles with the back loaded and with the new set up actually went reasonably well, but the biggest problem was clearing my mind of the initial shock (and fear) of how different the two tandems are from each other.

We continued to make plans for a ride, but would always end up on the Rivendell tandem instead. Summer was slipping away, but every time I thought about riding the new one, I'd become physically ill just at the thought of it. We really were not off to the best start and I wasn't sure how to remedy the situation.

We were even riding occasionally with a tandem group and several of the riders continued to question why we were still riding the "old" tandem instead of the new, lighter one. I'm not sure we ever truly provided a coherent explanation, so I always felt the need to push extra hard to prove that we could stay with the group, even on our heavy (though a joy to ride) Rivendell tandem. I have no doubt that it seemed crazy that we continued to talk about this newer, lighter tandem, and yet never rode it.

One day, a couple of months after having received the new tandem, Sam was exasperated with our lack of riding the new steed. "Let's just sell it. If we're not going to ride the tandem, what's the point in having it?"

He had a valid point. Having money tied up in this custom tandem that just hung from our bike storage wasn't exactly ideal. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I truly believed that we were going to make this new tandem work for us -- we just needed to ride it and I needed to conquer my trepidation with handling this bike.

Then, one day in August, while Sam had a weekday at home, I suggested that we take the tandem out for a test. I think it shocked Sam just as much as it did me. As soon as the words were out in the universe I began to regret the suggestion. My insides started to turn and I instantly felt ill. However, I knew that if we didn't get some rides in, it was unlikely we ever would.
On an approximately 30-mile ride during our testing period -- The steerer tube still hadn't been cut (and may not get cut) because I always have a fear of wanting to raise the bars higher (or change them entirely). I've managed to "unbruise" though, so I must've figured out how to avoid hitting the steerer upon dismount. :)
The ride was short, but it went surprisingly well. I was still a little shaky and reminded Sam not to push too hard off the starts, but I actually felt somewhat in control. Then, we followed it up with a slightly longer ride, and that one went okay too. We had little hiccups along the way and brief moments of panic from me, but overall, it was performing as we'd hoped. Small bites at a time, this tandem was starting to feel like something I could handle.

Our next outing took us on a little over 50 mile ride with some extra climbing. I was frankly surprised at how I felt, especially given our very rough start with this tandem. We arrived home with me feeling far more confident and Sam grateful that things were heading in a more positive direction.

What was interesting to both of us was after our 50-miler on the Rodriguez tandem, we decided to take a 20-mile, fun tandem ride on the Rivendell, just to have a little time together the following day. We both commented on how much a difference having a lighter tandem made because our bodies could feel the difference in effort needed to move the Rivendell at the same or similar speed.

So, here we are now, several months into having the new tandem in our hands and I would say that the decision to purchase an appropriately sized tandem was a good one. I had my doubts initially because I truly didn't believe another tandem could feel so completely different, but despite the extreme delay in getting the bike moving on the roads, I think we made the right choice. Things that initially felt foreign and "strange" have started to feel normal and in some sense even good.

One thing we never anticipated with the lighter weight of the tandem was how much flex the frame would have. This was one bit that took both of us by surprise in the beginning. It took some time to adjust to, but I don't notice it nearly like I had in the beginning (or perhaps I've simply adapted). Although I initially felt cramped when standing over the bike, that seems to have disappeared too.

We still don't have the mileage on the Rodriguez that we do on the Rivendell at this point, but I think it's fair to say that things are looking up. Despite our very rough start with this new tandem, it has actually turned around and I am happy to say that we can ride the no-longer-new-tandem together without feeling as though everything is wrong. I still don't entirely understand why it threw me off so much initially, but it definitely got in my head and I needed time to accept that it just wasn't going to feel like the Rivendell.

Frankly, I didn't believe that we'd ever get to this point, so I'm grateful and thrilled that we've shed a few pounds (about 15+/-), which has helped ease the workload for our legs (especially when pedaling uphill). I don't think it's made us any faster, but having less weight to roll is certainly a welcomed relief (and a properly sized tandem is certainly beneficial as well). Hopefully, we'll continue to enjoy the "new" tandem and have many more opportunities to ride together (or two-gether, as the tandem couples sometimes say).

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Riding with saddle sores - What's the solution?

Over the just past Labor Day weekend, Sam and I had an extra long set of days together because he had a couple of days off at the end of the week leading up to the holiday. This allowed for a lovely five-day weekend -- a luxury we rarely experience. But what to do with this time? There are always projects around the house that need to be done, but instead we decided to try for a ride-every-day-together extended weekend.
On Wednesday, the day just prior to the start of our intended riding festivities, I ventured out alone on my newer road bike to give it another test (looking forward to writing about this soon after having a few decent tests now completed). All went well on that ride and I ran into a friend near the end, which made for a fun cycling finish. I'm breaking in a new saddle on this bike, however, and that's always a bit of a concern as I tend to end up with saddle sores during the initial couple hundred miles on new leather.

Thursday, we decided to ride the tandem -- the new one, that isn't really so new any longer (again, there's a post in the works to discuss this bike that we've had in our possession for several months now), so we didn't take it too far. Still, it was great to be out together at the start of our long weekend of riding together.
Unfortunately for me, there is also a new leather saddle on this bike that needs to be broke in, so once again, the saddle sores were becoming quite apparent, despite keeping the mileage on the low side.

Undeterred, I was personally determined to keep riding through our long weekend. When Friday morning rolled around, Sam suggested that we take our mountain bikes out and give them a shake out ride. Sam had bought me a frame and we'd recently finished building it up so I was anxious to do more than a couple of miles around the neighborhood. I assumed that a mountain bike ride would be shorter (silly me!), so I wasn't particularly concerned about the fact that this new-to-me bike has yet another new leather saddle on it that needs break-in miles.
What I had guessed would be a 10 to-no-more-than-15 mile ride turned into about 30 (which is a long mtb ride for me personally!), and the saddle sores that had started to develop were now in full-force. I winced every time I was on the saddle for the last 10 or so miles of that ride. Although I enjoyed the ride, being together, and the bike, my soft parts were not at all pleased with me.

On Saturday, I was not looking forward to getting on any bike and having to sit on a saddle, but I really wanted to keep riding. We ended up on a tandem that day and I did my best to enjoy the ride, despite being in pain throughout our time riding.
Sunday morning, we both got dressed and intended to do a longer-mileage ride on the tandem. After getting out to the bike though, I knew that I was in trouble. Not only were the saddle sores completely inflamed, but my hip and pelvis issues had started up (I presume due to constantly shifting my body while riding to keep from rubbing the saddle) and I knew deep down that there was no way I was going to make it through a long ride.

We debated completing a short ride, but I feared that if I didn't give my body the rest it was asking for, I wouldn't be able to do a longer ride the day following, so Sam ended up going for a ride on his own and we planned to do a longer mileage day on Monday.

My regular routine when riding anything other than short distances or around town is to use some kind of cream or glide on my chamois to prevent the saddle sores from ever starting. However, in this particular scenario, there was no escaping the reality that I need to break in a few new saddles and I know that is quite often a trigger for me to develop saddle sores (thankfully, it's a rarity for me to have need to break in a new saddle - I just happen to be in the midst of breaking in three at once right now). Usually, I'd just stick to short distances until the saddle has conformed a bit, but because of our goal to keep riding, it just didn't work well in this instance. Since the glide did nothing to prevent the problem, it then became a situation of dealing with and healing what had developed.

On Monday when we headed out, I went through my usual application to the chamois, but also added A+D directly to the affected areas (I've read that Bag Balm works well and had ordered some, but it wouldn't arrive in time to work for this situation). I think having the day off in between was definitely beneficial, but obviously the sores were still present and easily-agitated.

I was shocked that after completing a 50+ mile ride with a fair amount of climbing, I had actually been able to survive and was in very little pain. Granted, it wasn't the longest ride by any means, but it was significant enough that I was surprised that the sore spots were relatively okay.
In reality, I know the best means of dealing with saddle sores is prevention. If I never have to find a solution in the first place, that would be ideal, but saddle sores are going to happen from time to time and it got me thinking about what the best methods are for dealing with the issue once those little buggers are present.

It seems as though (for me) the best method to get them to heal up is to obsessively bathe and to stay off the bike, but since that isn't always possible, I started wondering what others do, particularly those who have to be on a bike for long distance rides -- whether brevet, touring, or endurance racing?

I've read a variety of solutions such as using Vaseline on the affected area, Bag Balm, wearing double sets of padded cycling shorts (layer closest to the skin worn inside out to prevent additional chaffing issues), bandaging the area (again to keep the sores from rubbing/creating friction - though I'm still not sure this is entirely practical, particularly for females), and obviously, keeping the area clean (including the shorts being worn) is important.

The A+D combined with chamois glide seemed to do pretty well for me, but I'm curious if there are other methods that work well. What solutions have you used to help speed up the process of healing saddle sores and/or have you found a solution that allows you to keep riding with these spots when staying off the bike isn't an option?

Ultimately, Sam and I enjoyed a fun, long weekend of riding together, but in the event we're ever blessed with this amount of time to ride together again, or if I'm riding alone and develop problems, I'd love to be prepared if saddle sores make their way into riding plans.  So, please do share if you've had success with a product or method for keeping the pain out of saddle sores.