Monday, June 3, 2019

Blog Move

In not very EVL-like behavior, I'm going to keep this short. I have decided to no longer post here on Blogger. Never fear though, there will be a new spot to find me... If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already received this news, but just in case, I want to be sure there is a record of the change for those of you who look for me here. I have tried to be patient with this platform, but it seems as though there are always issues with commenting, posts disappearing, and other reasons I won't bore anyone with at this point.

So, it's time for a change.

Although I intend to leave prior posts up here on Blogger, they have also been imported in to the new site on Wordpress. It may take a bit to get things in order, but I hope you will follow me there as I change things up just a bit. Thank you so much for continuing to be a part of this blogging journey and for sharing your bikey experiences with me and those who read here. I look forward to hearing from you over at the new blog site!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Shredly's MTB Curvy Line

I was browsing through Instagram one morning not long ago and came upon a promoted ad. It was from Shredly and I couldn't help but pause momentarily. I've been drawn to the fun patterns of their MTB shorts for a few years, and the photo and caption was no exception. About a year ago, after drooling over a pair of their shorts for months, I decided to go ahead and order a pair. It was questionable as to whether or not they would fit, but I thought if I didn't give them a try, I'd never know for sure. Unfortunately, I just couldn't quite squeeze myself in... and who wants to squeeze into a pair of cycling shorts - particularly MTB shorts anyway?

As I passed by the Shredly photo on Instagram that morning, I felt the need to leave a comment -- something I generally don't do on promoted content.  My comment was something to the effect of requesting that they start carrying larger sizes because try as I have, my giant backside/legs just aren't able to squeeze into their shorts. I didn't really expect to get a response, but I thought I should at least put it out there, as I know I'm not alone in my struggle to find appropriate gear. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?
*Image from - "The Tina"
Within seconds a response popped up informing me that they have begun a new line of shorts that they thought would work well for me: the MTB Curvy. I was ecstatic! I rushed to the website and discovered that in fact this new line of shorts is running the span of size 4-24. Fan-freaking-tastic! Although I wasn't in love with the idea of a yoga waistband, I thought that I'd give it a chance and see if it could work. I ordered a couple of sizes, just to make sure I'd have options to try as size charts don't always tell the full story in regard to fit, and set to waiting for them to arrive.

This short comes as an outer short only, without a chamois or liner. Liners are available to purchase separately or buyers can use one from another maker that is comfortable for the individual. Personally, I prefer this option as opposed to being forced to use a sewn-in liner, so I was pleased to see Shredly kept this for the MTB Curvy. Because the line is still on the newer side, there also aren't as many pattern options as with the other, longer-standing options from the company (or so I've assumed this is the reasoning). I have no doubt there will be additional choices down the road -- or, at least I will say that I hope this is the case, as I don't have any insider information on this matter.

I'm adding a couple of photos of these on just to
give an idea of fit. My sincere apologies about
the quality of the photos. I am 5'3.75" in height and
these hit below the knee on me.
When the shorts arrived, pretty quickly after ordering I should add, I tried them on and modeled for Sam to get his feedback. They seemed slightly on the long side to me, but I am not a very tall person, so I suppose that's to be expected. Plus, I knew they'd ride up as I pedal. I was also a bit thrown with the "curvy" label, given that the size chart didn't seem to be that of a truly curvy fit (I feel the need to insert a comment here to state that bigger doesn't necessarily mean a person has a curvy figure - one can be larger and have straighter measurements, just as a smaller person can have straight, curvy or somewhere in between measurements. Personally, I would define "curvy" as someone who has at least a 10-inch difference between waist/hip, but beyond that, I consider myself more of a blocky-body type, despite having a large difference between waist/hip). Even with the drawstring at the waist tightened up significantly, there was still quite a large gap at the back of the waist and I felt as though there could've been more room through the hips. Sam thought they looked fine and in keeping with the spirit of mountain bike gear, and his opinion was that if there was room to move and they didn't feel too tight, they'd probably be worth a try.

As it happened, we were preparing to try out a route that was a bit more appropriate for this type of gear than the rides I sometimes take on my mountain bike, meaning more climbing, rocks, roots, and so on.  I have to admit, as we got pedaling, I was grateful for the longer length as they ended up settling in just above my knee as we rode.

Despite the horrible photo, you may
get a sense of the wrinkling/excess
fabric at the waistband.
After a couple of hours of riding, I noticed that the waist had become even looser than it was at the start. Although I never felt as though the shorts were slipping off my body (there is a drawstring after all), the amount of excess fabric seemed a bit much and there was still quite a large gap at the waist, even with the adjustment cord. Personally, I felt as though the fabric used for the waistband could've been different so as to not create so much stretch while riding. It's nice not to have a button or snap digging in, but it's as though this fabric goes overboard with too much give.

I am so grateful to see a company like this offering bigger sizes and realizing that people of all different body types ride bikes, and I don't seem to be alone. The line has been out for a very short amount of time and many of the styles/sizes are already out of stock. I hope other companies take note and realize that there is a market for cycling clothing in larger sizes. I do, however, think this particular version could do with some additional tweaking. Ultimately, I'm not sure the label "curvy" is truly the best descriptor for this line. I think it's more accurate to describe it as a line keeping with Shredly's standard MTB shorts that just happens to have a really stretchy waist with a drawstring and comes in larger sizes than their others. If a person has a straighter lower body waist/hip measurement, these may be a great fit, but as someone with a waist that is about 13 inches different than her hips, I could've done with a smaller waist and a smidge more material in the hip area. I ended up having to go up in size to accommodate my hips and legs, which may have created the issue with excess fabric around the waistband, but if I went down in size, I am certain the hips would be too tight.

The fabric itself is a nice weight, particularly for summer conditions. It seems sturdy enough to hold up over time, yet lightweight enough to allow the wearer not to become entirely drenched in sweat when hot temperatures hit. The fabric does not seem to be as thick as that of the other line I've tried from Shredly, but neither is it as flimsy as some other brands I've experimented with in the past that have felt as though there was no substance at all. I would describe it as a lightweight running short fabric that has another light layer inside to create a very small amount of structure.

The thigh vents are an interesting feature. Both thighs are made with a long zipper that opens to create venting for air flow. I'm not certain this is a feature I will use, but for those who need it, it's great and it didn't bother me to have the zippers present either. Both hand pockets at the hip are functional and while they aren't super deep (meaning, I wouldn't carry things in them while riding), they are suitable for after-ride items when walking around. One deep, snapped pocket can be found on the right leg. It contains a small fabric loop to attach items such as keys. Most phones will likely be accommodated in this pocket as well.

If you are someone who doesn't fit into standard/straight sizes of cycling gear, these could be a great option to check out, or if you fit into standard sizing but would prefer a stretchy waist as opposed to a snap/button, these may also be to your liking. As stated prior, I am thrilled to see sizing options opening up like this new line from Shredly and the idea of making a different shape is also something I must applaud. That said, I believe there is room for improvement, or perhaps it's something that can be considered in a future line -- to keep this model, but offer a truly curvy fit for those with bigger waist/hip ratios. All in all, I consider this a decent effort by Shredly and I hope they continue to grow and expand their options.

*Just a note to say that I have not been paid or gifted any items by Shredly, nor any company for any reviews on the blog unless otherwise indicated. Opinions are my own and may not necessarily align with another user's thoughts/opinions. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Is it possible for car-less/car-light transport to become normal?

For those who may not know, during the school year I work as a crossing guard. It was something that just kind of fell into my lap after we moved a few years ago and even though I wasn't certain I'd continue on after the first year, the kids that come through are such amazing people that I continue to come back. It doesn't take up much time either, so it's an easy way to have some interaction with other humans since my primary job is pretty solitary.

The year is getting ready to wrap up (it's hard to believe that this week is the end of the school year) and as part of the end-of-year festivities, the school reserves a day during which students are encouraged to walk or bike to school. This day was supposed to take place a week and a half ago, but due to a forecast of severe weather, the date was changed to this past Friday instead (of course, it is spring in the Rockies and it was thundering and hailing that day too).

Normally, this crosswalk is not horribly busy. Although there are many children in the area, most of them are driven to school by a parent, grandparent or another individual. I was amazed to see that for this "event" on Friday there were easily twice, if not three times the number of kids walking or riding bicycles to school -- Which was fantastic!

What was rather disappointing was the high number of parents who parked on the street next to the crosswalk and walked their child across the street to the school so that it appeared that they had walked to school for the event. There were possible prizes for students who walked or biked to school and fresh fruit being given out to parents and students alike, so I suppose a free piece of fruit was motivation to lie about having walked from home to school? I think many of the individuals missed the point.

Although I don't have precise or verified numbers, I would estimate that more than half of the students live within a walkable distance of the school (within a half mile), and about 80% live within an easily bikeable distance, even for those who don't regularly ride (within approximately a mile), and yet, parents continue to drive their children to school.
*Image from Google (w/indicators drawn in by me)
The schools in this neighborhood are set up very close together, with an elementary, middle and high school all within three blocks of each other. Even for families with children attending different schools, it would be reasonable to walk or bike them all together or to have older kids escort the younger ones on foot or bike. The speed limits on all of the adjoining streets are a maximum of 25-30 miles per hour (depending on the street) and at the schools when the children are going to or leaving classes, the speed limit drops to 20 mph. There are abundant sidewalks and bike lanes on all the major thoroughfares.

I suppose I am disappointed in a few things that took place during this walk-or-bike-to-school day.

The first is that it is perplexing that the school waited until the end of the year to encourage students to walk/bike. In my mind, it would make sense to have this day early in the school year (say mid-to-late September) and encourage the children to continue to do this throughout the year. Creating a single day for this activity, at the end of the year no less, makes it seem as though it is out of the ordinary or special, when in reality there are students who do this on a daily basis, throughout the seasons of the year.

As indicated above, it's also disheartening that the biggest pull for parents and students to participate in this day was to receive a piece of fruit or an inexpensive toy, even at the cost of "cheating" and driving to school while pretending to have walked. I have a difficult time understanding the motivation to pretend to have transported oneself under their own power to receive something that is of very minimal value. I also wonder about the lesson this is teaching the kids.

Perhaps the biggest point that sticks in my mind is that it would be great to see more of a push to integrate this behavior into the everyday lives of students, rather than a singled-out day. It is a similar issue that I take in life when others make a fuss about walking or biking to a destination instead of driving. It happens regularly to me when meeting up with friends or colleagues. When I show up on a bicycle they behave as though I am some type of super star because I rode a couple of miles to meet up instead of driving, when in reality I find it's often easier (and certainly more fun) to bike to a destination than to drive (there are exceptions to this - but as a general rule, I've found this to be true).

I have reached a point in life in which I understand that cars are deeply ingrained in U.S. culture/society and the likelihood of this country becoming a car-less one is unlikely. I don't pretend to never drive a car myself - it is a convenience that I am grateful to have at times and in some situations makes for a more efficient mode of transport. Still, I believe it's possible for things to change dramatically if more people can actually experience for themselves what it's like to walk and bike to destinations that are relatively close to home and/or work.

Imagine if every household makes three trips by motorized vehicle a day and just one of those was replaced with a trip by bike or on foot. In reality, it's estimated that each household takes somewhere around 10 trips per day (the data linked is about a decade old, so it may be different today). What if three of those trips were non-motorized transportation trips? Taking out just some of the driving could have such a profound impact on individuals, our communities and the environment (not to mention bank accounts).

Having bike or walk to school (or work) days are a great way of bringing this idea into the consciousness of individuals, but the day itself seems to become more of an event and less of an educational process or a means of illustrating to others how simple, efficient and fun it can be to use alternate methods of getting from one place to another. Since the majority of the educators don't walk or bike to school either (though I admit many of them may be traveling much greater distances), it seems as though it would be more challenging to ask this of the students (and their parents).

I used to believe that modeling the action would be enough to help others see that biking and walking can be very efficient ways of getting around, but I now think there has to be something more. Although seeing others participating in an activity may encourage some to try it out, I don't think it's enough to bring about real and permanent change. It almost seems as though there can be too much extremism on both sides -- both those who believe we should never use individual motorized vehicles and those who will only use individual motorized transportation.
*Image from City of Longmont, see video link below
There was a study done locally in which the researchers found that 55% of respondents (*note this stat can be found at 8:20 in the video) would like to try riding a bike for transportation, but don't due to one or many factors such as not feeling safe or other reasons. So, more than half are interested in riding, but don't for one reason or another. I will also add that 30% of the respondents said there was no way they would ever ride a bike, regardless of infrastructure or comfort on roadways.  Still, that leaves 70% of the local population (which I assume would be similar to statistics in other towns and cities across the US) who are either already riding and at least somewhat comfortable doing so, or who are willing to try it if given the right infrastructure and feeling of security.

So, how does actual implementation and change take place? When I stand at the corner each school day and watch all of the single-occupant vehicles buzzing past, I wonder what has to happen in order for people to begin to make small changes in our lives so that we aren't always traveling in multi-ton, personal cars. I realize this is a complex issue and that there are so many factors at play such as city sprawl, income and disposable income, terrain/geography, weather, physical ailments or challenges, lack of infrastructure, personal history or anxieties, and other aspects, but is it possible to shift the consciousness of most of the population so that more people are willing to give up personal vehicles some of the time?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Another Road Bike Testing Adventure: Bianchi Titanium

Road bikes and I have a painful and somewhat traumatic history. I go through spans of time during which I want to be able to pick up speed a bit easier and find myself on a hunt for a lightweight road bike. Generally, after riding the road bike for a short amount of time, I realize that while I am faster on a lighter bike, I am also uncomfortable and end up riding something heavier/slower to not be in pain. At some point, I pretty much decided that I wasn't going to put myself through the agony of a thin-tired road bike anymore. While my body is pretty adaptable to this type of bike, injuries to my hands have made riding such a bike a chore and just generally unpleasant.

But, we all know how things can go. After a few frustrating rounds with various types of bikes and trying to find a happy point with speed, I had decided that I needed to give a dedicated, lightweight road bike a chance again. After a few rounds with bikes that I thought could be happy compromises between comfort and speed, I started to realize that if I genuinely desire a fast road bike, I needed to seek out that sort of bike and stop playing in the middle ground.

In short, I was on a hunt for something that typically doesn't appeal to me, though I still hoped to find the road bike in a steel version. There simply aren't a ton of these available and although there are custom options, goodness knows I have not had great luck with custom made frames, so I was doing everything I could think of to avoid this route. However, not having any luck finding what I wanted, I had given in to the notion that a custom frame was likely in my future yet again.

As stated though, I had no desire to go custom and after hours and hours of researching, I had decided on a stock titanium road frame. It wasn't steel, but it also was not a custom frame, which seemed to put my mind at ease. The one hiccup was that I'd have to wait about six weeks as the frames were still in production. I plunked down my deposit and decided to bide my time while waiting for the frame to arrive.

This frame was being funded with the sale of multiple other bikes, and the thought of spending so much money on something I couldn't test was not ideal nor was it settling well in my mind. After many back-and-forth conversations with the manufacturer, I was pretty convinced that the geometry would work for me. Still, the thought of spending so much on one bike - and not even the whole bike - was really eating at me. Surely, there must be something that would work that I wouldn't have to spend so much money on, I thought.

A few weeks into waiting for the frame, Sam sent a link to a frame that was for sale at a local bike re-seller with the question attached, "Do you think this would work for you?" After taking a peek at the geometry, I really wasn't sure. It had the potential to work, but knowing my history, I was hesitant to even consider it. However, the price alone was reason enough to give it a try. Plus, the company has a 30-day return policy so it seemed a no-brainer, particularly given that the new ti frame I'd planned to buy was going to run 7-8 times the cost.
To be honest, I was a little confused by the frame. I had no idea that Bianchi had ever made a titanium road bike, but here it was, sitting in front of me, clearly marked as such. The fork had been replaced with a new one - nothing special or out of the ordinary - but definitely not the original. So, a full-out internet search was done in an attempt to get any bit of information I could find. Sadly, there really wasn't much to be found.
This 2004 Bianchi EV Titanium frame was a bit of a mystery. There were a few random questions/posts I could find online, but nothing was giving me much information in regard to what to expect of this bike. Having a Bianchi dealer nearby, we went in to see if they could provide any information on the bike, but that was fruitless as well, as they could only share what I'd already been able to determine for myself. I was incredibly curious about this frame though and I just couldn't find answers.
So, I decided to just ride the thing and see how it went. On my first outing, I got a flat early on and didn't have the means to address it, so after a bit of grumbling, I ended up walking the bike home. It wasn't the best start (though I can only blame myself for not being prepared), but many first rides don't begin well for me.  After getting set up to deal with a flat if it should occur, I began riding the Bianchi for test purposes.
The stack of spacers on the fork is a little intense, but with the short headtube, it's necessary for me. It would likely have helped if I cut a bit off the top end, but I'm always hesitant to lose too much on the steerer too soon.
It was a little strange, I must admit. After not riding a true road bike for several years, my body was not used to the positioning and I couldn't determine whether the bike fit me or if I'd just forgotten what it's like to be more leaned over (read: sore neck muscles). The ride itself was smooth, as I'd expect from titanium, but it was going to take a bit of time and miles to see if this bike worked.

What I had determined is that I have become noticeably slower over the last few years, even though my mileage has actually increased. It was a little disappointing to make this realization, but the full build of the bike came in at just about 17 pounds (7.7kg), including my leather saddle and platform pedals, so I knew I certainly could not fault the weight of the bike for my slowness [insert frowny face].

After a few rides on the Bianchi, I was becoming frustrated. Sam followed behind me on one ride to see what was happening and to check my positioning to see if I looked "off." There had also been an annoying grinding sort of sound that I couldn't seem to get rid of over the rides, but I had shrugged it off thinking it had something to do with my bizarre road set up.

We had built this frame up with the same gearing I'd had on a previous bike, giving it a compact crank and 11-40 cassette in the rear. In order to do this, we have to use a special part and I had assumed that the grinding noises had something to do with that.

As it turned out, the chain was actually running through the derailleur incorrectly. In Sam's haste to reassemble after cleaning the chain after my first ride, he had inadvertently reassembled things wrong. Who knew the derailleur would even work like this? After making the change, the grinding noise went away, but the drag that had been created didn't seem to speed me up [insert another frowny face].

I did keep riding though. I was annoyed that I was slow, but I was also determined to figure out if the slowness was entirely me or if it was partially the bike. We did a couple of swaps on the stem to see if that would resolve some of the neck soreness and I would leave for rides determined to push as hard as I could.

The results were a mixed bag. I had days when I was faster and I had days when I was just as slow as I am on any other bike. Sam came along on a couple of rides with me, trying to help me understand if I just wasn't pushing as hard as I thought I was, if I've become slower, or if the bike had some part in it. To be honest, we both have our theories, but my suspicion is that there is a combination of factors at play.

One of the big realizations we made was that I have been comparing rides that are nearly identical to those I'd ridden several years ago and was seeing that I was at least 0.5-2 mph slower overall, which was angering me. What I hadn't calculated is that those rides didn't have a climb at the end of the ride (because we've moved since then). As Sam watched me virtually on one ride he noted that I had been averaging a faster speed, but as soon as I hit that steep climb back home, my average dropped dramatically. Not being a good climber, it started making sense to me and that the only way I'd be able to match prior speeds on the same route would be to go even faster on the ride before I hit the climb at the end. Whether or not that's possible for me remains a question mark.

I pretty well put the Bianchi aside from mid-January until mid-March. The roads were not ideal for this type of bike and I was spending more time on the Surly, so when the season started to have some nicer, sunnier days, it seemed appropriate to get back out and try riding the Bianchi again. I wondered if I'd want to ride it or if it would feel strange after spending so many hours on the Surly.
It surprised me a bit when I took the bike out and found myself happy to push my body. It was nice to have the lightweight option and my legs felt strong, capable even. I still wasn't hitting those average speeds of several years ago, but for some reason having a bit of a break from the bike seemed to let my brain settle and be okay with the fact that I may just be a slower version of myself today than I was 6-8 years ago.  I'll always fight that thought a bit (it's just who I am), but it seemed as though I wasn't as hung up on that piece of things as spring started rolling in. The bottom line is that I can be faster on this bike than any of the other bikes in my fold, I just may not be able to compete with my former self or speeds.

I've realized that the Bianchi is comfortable for what it is, which is not to say that it's "comfortable" in a traditional definition of the word, but rather that I have made peace with the reality that a road bike is a road bike and not a comfort/cruiser/city/all-road/mountain bike. It's just going to feel different than other types of bicycles. I know that I have to be in the right frame of mind (and body) to fully utilize this kind of bike and that's really okay as it was the point of this one.
There may always be a small part of me that will wonder if the newer titanium frame would've suited me better, but deep down, my gut sense is that it would not have been better-enough to justify the difference in cost. The Bianchi has been and continues to be a spirited, excellent ride and if it weren't for my hand/wrist issues, I doubt I'd question anything about this build/bike for its purpose. Even Sam returned from a test ride recently on it and said it's the nicest bike he's ever ridden.

I feel fortunate to have happened across this frame (or rather to have had Sam come across it), and although the first few rides weren't necessarily entirely pleasant, the bike has grown on me as I've reacquainted myself with riding a road bike and I've slowly come to appreciate it for what it is. It is certainly excellent as a road bike.

It is said that titanium is a lifetime-bike material, and given that this frame is 15 years old as of this writing, I hope that those sentiments are in fact actuality. I hope to have this one stick around for many years to come. I may not always want to ride and push myself, but when I do, I think this is and will be a fantastic choice. I'm looking forward to some longer, faster rides on this Bianchi as the weather continues to improve and am glad to have this one among my bikes.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Century Ride Attempt... Nearly Six Years Later

***I've debated for about a week whether or not I wanted to write about this, but ultimately decided to go ahead. In some ways, it feels unnecessary, but I think in the back of my mind, I want some sort of record of it and my brain seems to misremember details as time goes on. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time for photos during the ride, but here is the tale regardless.***

In 2013, I wrote about my first time riding a century. A few weeks after, Sam and I rode another one together (which was his first century). We both had big plans to do more of them as we rode into the future. For Sam, that was reality (he's ridden many more since then, all much more challenging than that first, and most on a mountain bike). I, however, haven't ridden that distance since then. When I think about it, it's difficult to believe that it's been so long since I've even attempted it -- especially because I really wanted to extend to do a 200k or maybe even a 300k.

Sometimes though, life has other plans. In my case, it started with a domino of bad bike decisions and then having to deal with more significant injuries and other things that seemed to keep popping up. Before I knew it, the only time I was riding was to get around town (not that there is anything wrong with that by any means) and I rarely if ever set out to do concentrated, longer-distance efforts. Over the last couple of years though, I've started to find somewhat of a groove again. It started out slowly, but with the addition of the tandems, I've found it easier to get out and ride like I used to do, even on my own. Though I beat myself up over speed sometimes, I try to remind myself that enjoying the ride is, in the end, more important.

Toward the end of 2018, Sam and I had talked about riding another century together but on the tandem rather than singles. I was somewhat reluctant. The idea seemed a bit much for me, but I also knew that part of having the tandem (for us) was to be able to do longer rides. While we've completed many 50-65 mile rides, I have felt that those distances were really my max for the time being. After all, I'm broken (at least that's what my mind continues to tell me), older, slower, and so on. Couldn't we just be happy with those distances together?

But, there was a part of me that did want to try to ride a 100-mile ride again. I tentatively agreed to do a century ride on the tandem, provided we could come up with a flat (or flat as possible) route. The thing is that living in Colorado it is quite difficult to come up with a route that is a hundred miles long and doesn't involve climbing. So, when we were chatting about possibilities, we came up with the idea of doing a loop-route. Basically, we would find a 20-25 mile route that was flat(ter) and then ride it 4-5 times consecutively.

It seemed brilliant. So, we planned to do the route before winter set in last year. The right time never presented itself, but when spring rolled in, we knew that we wanted to give it a try before all the events and other happenings in life begin to take over. The first weekend in April, we decided it was time.

The night before, I went through my usual couldn't-sleep routine, waking up more times than I could count. I don't know why I get so worked up over distances, especially because this wasn't an event, but rather the two of us simply going for a ride. Maybe it was the history of knowing that I'd been able to ride that distance before and the thought of not being able to do it today would be crushing. I really did wonder if I'd be able to complete the distance and I was concerned about how much discomfort and/or pain I'd have to endure. With the length of time and happenings that have transpired between the last century attempt and this one, it's not unrealistic to think I'd struggle with a long ride today.

The morning of our attempt, I couldn't eat (as is typical), but we had a plan for nutrition along the way. It is one area that I struggle with while doing longer distance rides... we have to eat - something - whether Gu or bananas or some sort of food, but I don't really want to eat actual food most of the time. However, I knew I'd have to have a time/distance plan to consume something in order to complete the ride.

My other struggle is always time. The longer we are out, the worse I feel (probably partially because I don't generally have a good refueling plan in place), so I knew that time was not going to be my friend. We needed to complete the ride as swiftly as we could, without it feeling like we were racing through an event. I had estimated that we'd likely end up around 8 hours of ride time, given that longer rides tend to be significantly slower for us; but I had mentioned to Sam that I would be thrilled if we could come in at around 7-ish hours. He agreed that somewhere around 7-7.5  hours would be fantastic. Obviously, we would not be averaging the speed of many tandem teams or single riders, but we were going to do our best to complete the ride.

We had decided to leave earlier than we normally would for an early spring ride to try to avoid the winds that were supposed to happen that day. The forecast had shown that up until around noon, the winds were supposed to be between 2-4mph, which would be very mild; however, after around noon, the speeds were supposed to increase to up to 16+mph (which means gusts would be much higher). While that's not the worst our winds can be, it's also not horribly fun for me to captain the tandem when it's extra windy, so we thought that if we could avoid the vast majority of the worst part of the wind for the day, that would be great.

As we set out on our first lap, the winds were pretty strong - much stronger than the 2-4mph predicted. We were also dealing with headwinds but figured when we turned around, we'd benefit from the tailwind. Sadly, that didn't happen. Instead, the wind (so famous for doing exactly this) shifted and became a headwind yet again when we turned to head back. It just didn't seem right, but what could we do about it?
This was the lap/loop we had planned for our ride... an out and back, with spots where we could stop, if needed. 
Our first lap went off pretty well, despite the wind trying to throw us off. Our speeds were lower than we had hoped, but I tend to warm up slowly, so I had kind of already figured that the first one wouldn't be our best, at least until closer to the end of it.

We were, however, having a lot of shifting issues. It seemed as though every gear we really wanted to be in was having difficulty, so I was spending a lot of time fussing with gears as we tried to plod along.

I think riding slower than we had wanted on the first lap kind of gave each of us a kick and we picked up the pace for the second lap, still being blasted by the wind which was only getting stronger.

One of the fun things about our route is that it's pretty much a mild climb out so we got a mild descent on the return (not perfectly up or down either direction, but as close as one could really expect). Although each lap only has a minimal amount of climbing, we did all of it during the first 12-13 miles and then got our break for the second half of each lap, which I personally found to be a good motivator. If we got through the mild climbing, then we could really push on the return.

At the end of our second lap, I was already concerned though. We were only about 51(ish) miles in and I was not feeling great. We had definitely traveled faster the second lap, but I was starting to think that I wouldn't be able to make it to the end.
I was pretty concerned about fatigue at the end of lap two. I was holding on to the bike and it just slipped out of my grasp and landed in this spot. Fortunately, I was able to hold it well enough that it didn't fall on any working parts or do any damage. It may be time to put that kickstand on it for just such occasions.
I shared my concern about potentially not being able to finish the ride with Sam but he didn't seem alarmed. On one hand, I appreciated his confidence in me, but on the other, I was a little miffed that he wasn't taking my words with any sort of seriousness.

"You'll be fine," he said.

As I've said, Sam is a man of few words. I hoped he was right and swallowed another Gu pack to try to get my head out of the foggy space it was entering.

One of the bad decisions with our lapping route is that each round we came back by our home. In some sense, it was great to come by the house every 25 miles. Since this wasn't a supported ride, if we needed something, it would be easy to stop and pick up (or drop off) whatever may be needed at home; but on the other hand, we hadn't considered how easy it would make it to give up before finishing. Each time we rounded the corner near our house, I tried to keep focused. If we didn't need to stop, there was no reason to do so.

We began lap three and I told Sam that I was going to try to tell myself that it was our last lap. I figured if I could somehow convince my brain that we were almost through, maybe I could make my body push a little harder. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest move given that I was already feeling lightheaded, but sometimes I just have to play games with myself to make things happen.

When we reached the end of our climbing for that third lap, I remarked to Sam, "Well, we've officially ridden the farthest we've ever ridden on a tandem!" It felt like an accomplishment, even if we still weren't through with the task at hand.

While we continued on, I realized that I actually felt better than I had at the end of the second lap. Weird, I thought, but I was happy that the fog had lifted and that my body was back to cooperating. If we kept up this pace, we would definitely be able to make our goal of 7-7.5 hours.

Our third lap wrapped up even faster than our second, much to our surprise. We've found in the past (at least during "real" events) that 4-lap routes tend to have a pattern... the second is usually faster than the first, the third is slower than the second, but faster than the first, and the fourth is just about getting through the pain and is always the slowest of the laps. It is, of course, what we expected for this unofficial ride too.

As we continued, my body was doing fine and my brain fog had lifted, but I was feeling quite queasy and couldn't figure out why. I had been eating as planned and drinking water, but I still had this weird lump in my throat and that uneasy feeling in my stomach that just wouldn't go away.  I tried drinking more water, but it didn't do much of anything.

We were on our last refuel stop and Sam made a comment about the caffeine in the Gu he was eating when all of a sudden it occurred to me that every Gu pack I'd consumed had caffeine in it. I have fairly high sensitivity to caffeine and try not to have much of it, so it suddenly became clear why I wasn't feeling all that great. Why it hadn't occurred to me prior to consuming half a dozen packets, I have no idea, but the nauseated feeling suddenly made sense (and the crash that happened afterward wasn't all the fun either).

Anyway, we were on our fourth and final lap and we joked briefly about continuing on for a fifth lap, but neither of us was quite ready to actually deal with that and instead just wanted to ensure we could get to the completion of the goal at hand. As we wrapped up our final mild climb and started back on the downhill portion, I realized that we were actually, truly going to be able to finish this ride.

I still felt better at this point than at the halfway point, which was shocking. In fact, we both felt pretty good. We were fatiguing, but neither of us was in pain or felt as though we couldn't carry on -- which was a far cry from the century we'd done a little less than six years ago. We stopped when/where we'd planned, but hadn't spent too much time stopped. We didn't make any unplanned stops either, which I considered a win because I was convinced I'd struggle to make it past the 3/4 point and would need to stop a lot more frequently. There was no whining or 'I can't possibly go on' type of sentiments being expressed (or felt for that matter). It was strange because I've not experienced a 100-mile ride that went this well.

As we closed in on the end of this ride, we realized that unlike what has been typical during lapping routes, we'd actually increased our pace every single lap. Why/how we're still not entirely certain, but the numbers don't lie and we got faster, even as we became more tired.

Sam has an app that tells him what percentages of a ride are headwinds, tailwinds or crosswinds after it's uploaded, and at the end of this 100-miler we learned that we never had a tailwind at any point -- something we knew even before the fancy application confirmed that we hadn't imagined the battle against the elements. Even though we had a pretty flat route, those winds sure made for some interesting moments.
We were still smiling (and upright) at the end of 102 miles, so I guess it wasn't so bad after all. 
Perhaps what I found most memorable about this ride is that it wasn't a big deal. It really did feel as though we were just going out on a typical ride and pedaling through. I expected things to go much worse than they did, I anticipated that we would be pretty slow (because of me), and I really didn't think I'd be able to complete the distance, but it was, as simply as I can put it, uneventful. We ended up finishing with a just slightly over 6.5 hour time, besting what we thought possible... and for an early spring ride, we didn't think that was too bad a job for the two of us on one bike.

We have talked about potentially doing another 100-mile ride later in the year, but we'll see how things play out. Sam has plans for a variety of events, so it may not quite be realistic. Knocking this out early in the season made the most sense and perhaps it will motivate us to do a longer distance at some point as well. We know now that we can get through a hundred miles on the tandem... and that was really the only goal.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Change Your Handlebars, Change Your World

When I wrote about our custom tandem bike, I mentioned that we didn't get off to the best start. The bike just felt unsteady to me as the captain and I struggled for months trying to determine whether we'd ever really be able to ride the tandem together.

Before it had even arrived, we had conversations about the possibility of needing to put different handlebars on the bike. We'd asked that it be built with drop bars, but knowing that I sometimes struggle with that type of set up on a bike (sometimes it's worked well and other times it just never quite works for me), we wanted the option to put more upright bars on the bike. The builder was aware of this and told us that the bike could be easily switched to other handlebars, perhaps needing just a change of the length of the stem.
Drop bars on the tandem the day it arrived. It didn't stay this way for long!
Immediately after the first test, I was aware that the drop bars were not going to work for me on the tandem, but we gave them a try for a few rides. Being shorter and having drop bars with bar end shifters, I was struggling both with mounting the bike without shifting the gears accidentally with my thigh and the actual feel of the bike while steering. Already feeling uneasy about piloting the unsteady bike, I didn't need any extra trouble.

My instinctual thought was to put albatross handlebars on the front of the tandem. They are always easy for me to use, and with bar end shifters I figured that would help alleviate the accidental shifting when mounting. We also discussed the possibility of using trekking/butterfly handlebars because they've been a good option on some bikes too.

The easiest switch was to use the spare albatross bars, so we mounted them up with a longer stem and set to testing. This switch definitely helped with the shifting issue, and actually allowed us to ride the bike together; however, it definitely didn't make the bike feel much steadier when riding. For months, we struggled, riding the tandem this way. We were happy that we could actually ride the tandem, but the ride was still not what we'd expected. Honestly, we assumed that this is just how it was going to be and I'd have to come to terms with the reality that the tandem, while now rideable, was never going to feel the way we'd hoped.
Albatross handlebars on the tandem. We tried flipping them both ways to see if one way worked better than the other, but upright seemed to be the best position.
We had several conversations, often as we rode the tandem, that perhaps we just needed to accept that this was a mistake and that we should have just been grateful with the too-large tandem we already had. At least that one felt steady. I myself said more than once that I wished we'd never bothered because we just weren't getting what we'd hoped to out of the custom tandem and we'd invested a lot into it. We were able to ride it, but it just never felt quite like we wanted it to.

One day over the winter, I was riding the trainer (currently set up with the VO Campeur--a strange choice for a trainer bike, I'm aware-- which is built with trekking handlebars) and thinking to myself that we never actually tried putting those bars on the tandem and that maybe we should give it a try. My thinking was that at least it would provide some additional locations to move my hands around. With the albatross bars on the tandem, I always felt too shaky to move my hands, not to mention there aren't as many options for spots to move my hands to, which was causing my already bad hands/wrists to experience even more pain.
Trekking bars on the Velo Orange Campeur
I mentioned casually to Sam that we should try the trekking bars out on the tandem, who agreed it was worth the effort if it would give me more hand positions to use. He had a spare set of 3x9 trigger shifters, so he set off to get the switch done to give my hands a bit of a break.

I wasn't really sure what to expect out of the switch and had said to Sam that it might not work at all which would mean we'd be switching back to the albatross bars; but on the first little test around the neighborhood, it seemed good, great even. Suddenly, the tandem seemed stable and "right," and I wasn't having the unsteady feeling I usually get when riding it. I thought perhaps it was because I was riding it alone, but even when Sam hopped on the back to let me test it as we'd actually ride, I realized that something had dramatically changed.

It seemed insane to me that a simple handlebar could create such a difference in the way the bike felt, but here we were, having only changed those (and the shifter levers) and it felt like a completely different ride. Except for the small amount of testing around our neighborhood, our first test ride was over 50 miles, which was a little concerning having not really gone any distance with this set up.

Fortunately, the gamble paid off and as we rode, we both noticed changes very quickly. Sam commented that he felt as though the tandem was more steady, even in the stoker position, and he noted that my body position seemed to be closer to what it usually is when I ride and not as though I was driving a school bus as it had appeared with the other handlebars.
Current setup with the trekking handlebars... a world of difference!
I was enjoying having somewhere to move my hands when I needed to give them a break, and I was at ease moving my hands without feeling as though the bike would end up on the ground if I shifted positions. Strangely, I even felt as though my legs had more power. It was as though I'd been given a penalty with the other handlebars and now I'd been released to move my legs normally.

I'd thought perhaps I was imagining that I had more power until the end of the ride when we saw that we'd averaged a significantly higher speed than we had been on this bike on prior rides of the same distance/route.  It was as though the change in handlebars completely changed everything about the bike. It now behaved like a road bike and allowed me to be in a better position to use the larger muscles to push as I would naturally on a single road bike. I wasn't afraid to remove a hand or to adjust the mirror while riding because it felt steady and as though it would track forward even with one hand on the bars.

Toward the end of the ride, without even being aware of what I was doing, I intuitively stood up to pedal through a rough spot and then suddenly realized what had just happened. I had never stood up to pedal on the tandem before the handlebar change because it felt like I would lose control of the bike (honestly, even coasting and standing always gave me a bit of fright); but this was something that just happened naturally, as it would on my single bike when it was necessary and without any forethought.

I feel like a whole new world has opened up with this set up, and even Sam said he feels the change in the rear position on the bike. I would never have guessed that a simple handlebar switch would have created such a dramatic change in the way this bike rides! I keep thinking that I am disappointed that we didn't try the change months ago rather than waiting, but I am also excited that this has given us a tandem that is more in line with what we hoped to get out of the custom experience. Not only are my hands doing better being able to move around, but it has given us both more confidence and power while riding.

Over the years, we've switched out handlebars on many of my single bikes, and it's made a difference in some instances, but never have I experienced any type of change that was so dramatic as this. It's definitely been a positive difference - and something that I hadn't expected. Have you ever made a simple change to a bike that made a huge difference in the way it handled or felt?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

To Tandem, with Love

It's hard to believe, but Sam and I have been riding a tandem bicycle for just about a year and a half now. Even in that short time, we've had a whole array of experiences that have surprised, amazed and delighted. As much as I enjoy my alone time on a bicycle, I can't believe we've gone so many years not riding a tandem. In many ways, it feels as though we've been riding this way longer than we have, and I have a difficult time imagining what it would be like to not ride one now.

We have had our share of good and bad moments on the tandem, but the overarching thought is that most rides, even if they are occasionally painful, are good. We've settled into a nice rhythm of riding when we can and making plans for spring and summer riding. Even riding through the winter was fun, although cold, and it's always nice to have the road shoulders to ourselves as we don't come across too many other riders when winter sets in.

One of our friends asked us recently if we only ride together when on the tandem, and I thought it a little strange because, of course not -- we definitely ride together on separate bikes. But, I realized that in truth the majority of our together riding is done on one of the tandems because (especially having two now) not having a ton of time during which we can both ride, it seems almost a necessity to ride the tandem when we're both available.

While we certainly haven't traveled the miles of many tandem duos, we have enjoyed the miles and always look forward to the next time. Some of my favorite tandem moments/discoveries to date:
- Riding with other tandem bicycles in a group. The looks we get and the comments we hear from those passing by are priceless. While it's not completely uncommon to see a tandem team on roads or paths, seeing 10-30 in a group riding is undeniably a spectacle. I can't help but smile when people are caught off guard seeing so many of us together.
- Going places on a bike that I hadn't prior or hadn't for quite some time. I know that my long distance riding took a nose dive after some injuries about 5 years ago. It was really far more difficult to get back into those long rides than I thought it would be. I struggled to find the motivation and then struggled physically (and sometimes mentally) once I was out on the roads. Riding a tandem together gives me both motivation and a partner to ride with and has helped push me whether we are riding together or I'm off on my own.

Together, we've also been able to ride places that I've been hesitant to go on my own. For me, there's something about having a partner to ride with, and even more so when we're on the same bike, that pushes me to give my best - because we're depending on each other to make it to wherever the destination is for the day.
- Finding strength again. I commented to Sam a couple of weeks ago that I really feel like I've become a stronger rider because of the tandem. Don't get me wrong, I'm still not a powerhouse and I will never beat people to the top of a climb (especially on the tandem), but I realized one day while we were riding up a hill we'd traveled early in our tandem relationship that it wasn't nearly as rough as it had been the first time about a year ago.  Since changes don't happen all that quickly, it's easy to think that there's no improvement, but I can definitely feel that there is a difference compared to a year and a half ago. Hills aren't quite as painful, distance (at least to a certain point) is easier most days, and I love knowing that if we want to go, we have the ability to push ourselves just a bit more.
- Having difficult moments or entire rides on the tandem. It may seem odd that having a bad ride is a "good" thing, but I suppose it's actually more so that I appreciate what it tells me about our relationship and that we are capable of working through things. We've had rides during which we bicker over seemingly inane matters, but on the whole, I think we have a good riding partnership. Still, when those more challenging moments arise, I have come to realize that the ride isn't going to go all that well if we spend it fighting.

While we generally don't argue in everyday life, the spats while riding can sometimes be amusing, particularly when we realize we are saying the same thing, but going about it from different viewpoints or aren't quite communicating in sync.

For example, we have had a mildly heated exchange regarding which direction we were going to turn on a particular route. I was asking about a turn that was several miles (and turns) down the road. While I thought I'd been clear about what I was asking, Sam assumed I was talking about the next turn we'd be making and we ended up going round and round a few times before finally realizing what was happening.  Ultimately, Sam ends up thinking that I'm crazy for asking about a turn that's miles down the road, and I start getting frustrated because he's not understanding what I'm asking. These moments are few and far between, but I'm always amused that we often just think differently. Much as in everyday life, Sam is much better at living in the moment, whereas I'm generally thinking about happenings weeks, months or even years down the road. But, perhaps that is what makes a good partnership!
- Comments from people can be kind of fun too. I know that some tandem riders get annoyed with the "musings" from others, but we've been pretty fortunate that 99% of the time, comments are more curiosity-based than anything else. Things like "Is it harder to ride a tandem bike?" or "Will the bike work if one of you isn't pedaling?" have been asked pretty regularly. Most of the time, it's someone telling us how "adorable" we are as they drive, walk, or ride past.

On a recent ride, we had a woman come over while we were stopped taking some photos of the mountains who said, "You two are so cute! You even have matching tops on (for the record, we don't always match our jerseys, but we were coordinating on this particular day)." She just stood smiling for a few minutes at the bike and then said, "I want to see you take off on it!" These moments make me smile too, and it's always nice to have a conversation about a bike with an interested person.

I am also fascinated that we've yet to have anyone say to us that Sam (who rides in the stoker or back position) isn't pedaling, which is a commonly referenced complaint of female stokers. Maybe in time we'll hear this too, but part of me wonders if there's something sexist taking place since the male in our duo rides in the back position.
- Riding as the only tandem in a group of single riders can have its benefits too. Although I do enjoy riding with a group of other tandem cyclists on occasion, it is fun to be the only tandem in a group as well. While single riders don't always understand our challenges on the tandem, there is almost always a level of curiosity and patience with us as we struggle up a climb or the singles draft behind us as we barrel down a hill. In fact, I've even bargained with total strangers on singles that if they help us up a climb, we'll let them draft down an impending descent. It can be a win-win situation if everyone works together.

Although it probably wouldn't make sense to ride in a formal group of single riders who were looking to maintain some type of race-peloton, on more casual group rides, it can be fun to see what we can do on the tandem to both help the singles and assist us in our average speed too.

There are so many other little things that I appreciate about riding a tandem too, but overall, I think we've both simply enjoyed the experience of riding tandem. Although we both have off days or times when we just don't appreciate the ride as much as others, we are always left with a memory of some kind. Plus, we can fill each other in on happenings from the week because we are attached to each other for a stretch of time. I am so thankful that we've had the opportunity to experience this joy and look forward to continuing to ride together.