Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Our RAAM training is progressing well, and we have just returned from an excellent training camp in Tucson with the other riders and most of the crew. It was an intensive weekend involving riding and organising in almost equal measures. It was a great learning experience, and we know whatever happens next June, there will be a lot of laughs with our amazing crew. Most of whom we were meeting for the first time, and we seemed to gel really well - we’re looking forward to more opportunities to get to know them before the Big Opportunity next June!

The team also had the privilege of being invited to lunch with the McAllisters, a local couple who have two granddaughters with cystic fibrosis, who we got to meet. It was a very touching reminder of the larger goal and why we’re putting ourselves through this, and we are grateful for the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for organising it. There has been a few big steps forward in the treatment of CF in the last few years, and there is at least a glimmer of hope for some sufferers. While a complete cure is still some way away, the treatments now available and (hopefully) those in development offer a better standard of living for longer. The development cost is huge, but it is one of those problems where the money is having a real effect and the new treatments are making a huge difference to suffers. The sheer number of genetic variants of the disease also increases costs - there is no silver bullet here.
So, thank-you to everyone who has donated money so far. It’s making a difference!

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Love Sweat & Gears Tandem Team 2015. - racing so kids can breathe.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy 10 years of Tandem Things!

This weekend my brother Mike and his wife Thea are out in London celebrating 10 years of marriage - and along with wishing them well,  this got us thinking about how it marks 10 years since we received our first tandem, Dobbin, and made out first tandem tour. And a very memorable few weeks it was -- let me retell the tail.

Dobbin on his 10 year anniversary - riding Stevens Canyon today

Dobbin was delivered to us around the 1st September, 2004. That first Dobbin was British Racing Green in colour. Unfortunately, he had a nasty dent in his top tube from a fork-lift accident in shipping. [And unfortunately the ravages of time against digital filing discipline mean I no longer appear to have any photos of him -- there maybe some analog photos in our loft back in London!].
Anyway, he was still perfectly ridable, so after a short and slightly wobbly test-ride out from the flat we lived in at the time, we decided to participate in a group ride from Richmond to Windsor that coming weekend (on Sunday September 5th, I believe). At this time, nether of us had ever been on a bike club ride of any sort; never worn lycra padded shorts; never even heard of drafting. It felt a bit like an induction by fire! The ride was a charity event, but we knew it was on because some participants in the "Cycling Plus" online forum were arranging to meet up "in real life" at it. We'd been following this forum closely while planning our first tandem purchase, mostly as "lurkers". We didn't even mention we'd be there for this ride: we figured we'd check them out from a distance and if they looked suspect, we could then slip away without notice! How different events could have been: as it turned out, IRL they looked safe enough (looks can be deceiving!!) so we went up and introduced ourselves, and met a number of friends that we keep in contact with to this day; mostly via the forum that is the great-grandchild of the C+ forummers. Charlotte, Vicky, Graham, and Spesh were amongst those on that ride. Not only did we meet some good friends that day, but some of our greatest inspirations too: when Charlotte visited us in California this summer I mentioned to her how she was the reason we ever got into longer (>200km) distance randonneuring. We followed her complete her first SR series (200, 300, 400 and 600km rides) a few years later, and I think that's the moment I thought to myself, if someone perfectly normal and pleasant like Charlotte could take on and achieve such feats, maybe I'd be able to one day too!
So, the ride went really well. We learnt so much. We had our first experience of a group of pretty serious looking cyclists hanging on our back wheel. We saw our first Brooks Swallow saddle (and how horrid I thought it looked!). We discovered the plastic saddles that had (incorrectly) shipped with our Thorn Adventure where not for us, and redoubled our resolve to get the B17s we had ordered. We surprised ourselves by not only doing the "long" route option out to Windsor, but also riding right the way back home with our new friends - possibly making it a 70 mile day, our longest to that date.

Having succeeded in such an enjoyable and noteworthy ride, you might have thought we were done for tandeming for our first month. But no! Just a short 5 days of work later, Friday evening on the 10th Sept found us loading up our tandem with 4 panniers stuffed full of camping gear, clothes, and everything we'd need for our first week-long tour. Neither of us had cycle-toured before. Neither had ridden a fully loaded bicycle before, let along a tandem, so setting off through the Friday evening SW London commuter traffic was again rather a trial by fire! We made it to Richmond park and were able to ease off a bit and take stock. Tempting to camp there our first night? No.. we pushed on and got all the way to the East Horsley campground - some 20 miles from our London flat. The following day we topped it with an 80 mile fully-loaded ride to Portsmouth and over the ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. We found our campsite and checked in just before 8pm - I remember the girl at the checkin desk (in the adjoining pub) saying "sorry, the kitchen has just closed" and the landlady overhearing, taking one look at us both, and declaring No it Had Not just closed, grabbing the phone and telling the chef to bring up whatever two hot meals he had most readily to hand. Our first experience of the wonderful kindness you can receive when traveling by tandem!
So over the next week we toured the Isle, back over to the New Forest, Salisbury, Wylye Valley, and finally arrived at the Best Western just outside Bath on Friday 17th, looking rather road-weary but happy, and ready for my brother's wedding the next day!

In the ten years since then, Dobbin has toured with us on many occasions and in several continents. The winter we returned him for frame repair which is also when he changed from BRG to the custom dark metallic blue he sports today.

Dobbin living in our First Floor Flat, July 2005

Dobbin in Ireland, May 2007

Dobbin adventuring in Patagonia, January 2011

Dobbin touring in California, 2012

Dobbin filling in as Rando-Tandem last year

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Eat, ride, sleep. Repeat.

Last weekend was spent exploring some of the issues we'll encounter on RAAM outside of our normal riding profile. In summary we've started to explore how a disrupted sleep pattern and riding multiple time trials with a break in between affects us. We've also had a lot of fun with tandems, had our behinds well and truly kicked by another tandem and put a little back into the sport of randonneuring by volunteering. As ever, we didn't really set out to do all that but it just sort of happened, and we need all the experience we can get! As the teams racing the 2014 edition of RAAM, including our teammate Lori, are coming to the finish line, it also marks a year to go for us. Gulp!
tandems everywhere on the Sunday ride!
Our weekend started with an early start on Saturday when we set off to ride in the final edition of the Beat the Clock time trial series, twice. Our race next year will involve us riding a series of (approximately) 30 minute efforts with (approximately) 30 minutes rest between them. One of the best ways to train for this is to have multiple entries to a time trial. We didn't know the other mixed tandem on the start list but hoped we could beat our previous two attempts and win the tandem category. It can be difficult to judge whether a bike starting a minute behind you are slower or faster. In this case there was no doubt at all as they flew past us just after the turn around on their way to breaking the course record. To compound things, we didn't manage to beat our previous best time over the course either. There were some positives to come out though, as there was only 9 seconds difference between our two runs and a very close power average. It has also given us a whole list of things we need to improve before this time next year.
Next on our agenda was a shower, snooze and brunch before doing our main home based tasks of the weekend including reconfiguring Roberta to be ready for the hilly tandem group ride on Sunday. By mid afternoon we were ready for some more food and another snooze. We had volunteered to spend between 1am and 5am that night manning the finish control for the Davis 600k. So after waking at about 9pm we set about packing the car with tasty snacks, a slow cooker containing vegetable soup and several warm blankets. We arrived in good time which was good as both the previous controllers had had a mix up with times and dates and were quite keen to get back home. We also found a friend who had returned from working at the Tobin control having a snooze on the ground in front of the tables. A true randonneur!
Sitting in a lonely car park in the early hours of the morning must be one of the least interesting or glamorous tasks associated with randonneuring. It is necessary however, and it seemed like a good way to pay some of debt to the organisation and organisers. After handing over to the next set of controllers, we got back in the car and headed back via Sunday breakfast (part 1). We had also gained another traveler in the form of John Guzik who had finished just before we left, and who we were giving a lift home. A quick shower and change later we were heading out to our meeting point for the tandem ride, in time for a hot drink and breakfast (part2).

There are few things as fine as riding in a group of similarly matched tandems, and we had a great day exploring new roads and catching up with people. It was interesting to us to be cycling when tired, but without having cycled 400km the previous day. The body may be physically capable, but getting warmed up and getting our heads in the right (mental) place is much harder than normal. It's something we will need to practice doing in the next year.

The boys let off some steam playing in the park while their stokers relax

After the ride we had lunch in Los Gatos and then back home for a well earned, but short, snooze. Then we set out on our bikes for our final engagement of the weekend - a steak dinner with friends. A great way to end a fantastic, and interesting, weekend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Riding through the night: Santa Rosa 600km

Assorted notes from this weekend's 600km

Stuff that worked well

  • Hydration
    • According to the Garmin the temperature peaked at 113F, on the way out over Sulfur Banks road . In reality probably a little less, but still it was certainly hot. Lots of white clothing, having enough water with us to hydrate and also douse clothes, and keeping up with electrolytes right from the start all helped.
  • Food
    • No stomach troubles, ate regularly on the bike and at controls. Didn't have any of the low glucose grumps.
    • Wish there was a formula to explain what it specifically was we did right but can't say!
    • Particularly surprising as through a lot of Saturday we struggled to eat much of substance as it was so hot. Went back to getting more carbs we could from drinks.
    • Used a couple gels on the way out, and Clif Shot Blocks heading back at the end. These are not our normal feeding strategy but good to tied us over low patches in long stages. Again, easier going in the heat too.
    • From 4am onwards Sunday morning I had ongoing craving for hard boiled eggs!  Need more protein? (We did eat increasing amount of protein as it went on, but avoided Hammer Perpetuem after prior experiences.)
  • Riding right through without a sleep stop
    • We tried this a couple times before (2010, 2011) and both times came unstuck around 4-5am, and ended up stopping anyway (one time, lying down on the tarmac in a quiet lay-by, I was that pooched!). This time, we were much faster on the road so pulling through the small hours is much easier knowing you only have maybe 4 hours to go, rather than 10.
  • 2x Fenix torches mounted on the aerobars as headlights.
    • A new departure for us, having always ridden with a dynohub on prior bikes, I was in two minds how I'd get on with battery lights.
    • At first they rattled around and I couldn't get them angled right, adding extra cable ties fixed both these problems (although doesn't win any awards for looks)
    • Having one set to medium (quoted as 4 hour) and the other on high just used when needed worked great. Runtime on a pair of lithium cells each was enough to ride right through the night (8pm to 5am, minus 3 stops) just fine.
  • Aerobars
    • I switched from Profile Designs bars to USE Tula / Boost / Rock N Roll (I don't know why it has 3 names) clip ons, with Specialized extensions and the Shimano extension Di2 shifters. Compare to Profiles which are just "clip on and go", this setup is a lot more fiddly to get dialed in and comfortable on, I reckon I'm about 93% of the way there now with these. But the benefits are great: really low weight, and minimal design leaves the hoods and tops freely accessible so I have loads of different, useful, hand positions. Just what you need on long rides.

Stuff that didn't quite go as expected / hoped

  • It's always the same on a 600: it was tougher than we expected!
    • A ride report from several years back had referred to a tandem being first back, and (knowing the SRCC 200km is very tandem friendly) I'd sort of convinced myself this was a particularly tandem friendly route. It certainly has a couple stretches (first 70km, and up around Clear Lake) that I could hunker down on the aerobars and bash out miles, and I know about the "headline" big climbs, but overall there was just a lot more sections with sustained undulations than anticipated. Not that tough in the grand scheme of 600s, just a bit more than I'd mentally prepared for.
  • Heat + headwind
    • As mentioned above, pretty pleased with how we dealt with the heat, but it started to unravel when we left Lower Lake heading to Middletown. The wind seemed to cool us less than traveling through still air, and our speed dropped right away just as the remnants of the group we were riding with got ripped up by the wind.
  • Finding a small group to work with around the whole ride.
    • Normally we just go out and see what happens, but this time, as we were thinking to try and ride right through, we knew if we could get in a small but fast group it could be a big help.
    • So the plan (such as it was) to start out fast, see who stayed with us (usual tandem situation), try and take it in turns for a bit and see if we could team with anyone to ride right through.
    • As it turned out, we dragged about 20 bikes to the first control (right on its opening time) several of whom later packed as they'd spent too much too early on this hot day (sorry folks! That was not part of the plan). Then the big climb out of Hopland we were down to about 5; one of whom packed at the second control leaving us and 3 solos.
    • It was great company while it lasted - especially enjoyed the banter on that big climb. But it turned out we were not really that matched a group, especially as the heat got up it affected everyone differently. Also to work well in front of a tandem takes fairly reasonable level of "club riding" skills and experience (i.e. holding a steady pace, no sudden speed changes) otherwise it causes more effort that gain. Around 200km (when the headwind hit; ironically when a group can have most benefit!) we got split up by the differing speeds, and so rode the last 400km on our own.
  • Chain could do with a clean
    • While Di2 is magicness of gear shifting, on this ride it had an annoying hesitation shifting from 5 down to 4 that got worse as the ride went on. Turns out even with magic, it still needs regular cleaning. (Especially when new, getting that sticky factory wax off the chain).
  • Handlebar
    • A mistake in ordering means Roberta has "standard" rather than "compact" FSA bars. Not a great issue on shorter rides, but I didn't use the drops anywhere near as much on this ride.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to connect the spring inside an Ultegra Di2 9070 rear derailleur?

Cleaning our new tandem the other day, I noticed that the rear derailleur mechanism had a spring loose!

Amazingly the gears were shifting fine without it, but still, this doesn't look right?

This doesn't look right.

On closer inspection, I could see a "spare peg" (a cross head screw) in the mech, visible just behind the loose end of the spring here:

With a bit of careful pliering, I was able to hook the spring to said peg. This looks more natural when operating:

But the question I still have is, did I get that right? Answers on a postcard please! (or the comment box below will also work)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Our new Paketa, and the many decisions of tandem buying

Last weekend we collected our new Paketa tandem, as we mentioned over on Facebook. While flying back from Colorado I jotted down some of the thinking we'd been going over in the prior months that led to this new addition to the Tandem Thing stable.

The original requirement on getting a new tandem was a fairly simple single item: it must have couplers. We already have two fantastic machines in Dobbin and Katina, which cover a wide range of needs from adventure touring through to fast randonneuring respectively, but for various reasons (primarily: we never anticipated living in USA) neither came equipped with couplers to dismantle for travel. While we'd taken steel framed Dobbin on a number of flights, checked into the aircraft hold whole, we'd always found it a harrowing experience, and never dared contemplate doing this with our carbon tubed Beyond. In London we had plenty of Europe within a day's drive or train journey; even Paris-Brest-Paris was a day and a night's cycle from our door. But the USA is big. Really big. While the locals don't flinch at the thought of 20 hour drives, we're not in that mindset yet. And besides we'd also like to do some more brevet rides overseas at some point, so having a faster rando bike we could fly with in a more serene state of mind was our goal.

Jay, our RAAM team crew chief, first pointed us in the direction of Paketa, and two of our co-teams already owning Paketa tandems, it was an obvious choice to investigate further. The first thing we found on contacting them was how open and responsive they were to our somewhat unusual requests. As we already had 2 extremely enjoyable and highly reliable rides, we decided to take some balanced risks with this one and see what we could achieve embracing the latest tandem technology and designs -- quite appropriately, given Paketa build frames exclusively from Magnesium tubing. First up was switching to a Gates Carbon drive belt for the sync "chain". Paketa have developed a innovative adapter to allow the belt to run on the right-hand side of the frame. This decreases weight and improves power transfer through the the drive wheel: less frame flex, and less torque across the rear bottom bracket. Having already become used to the "direct drive" (albeit with a traditional chain) on our Thorn, Dobbin, this was a natural choice for us to go for.

Next is the groupset proper: we'd had an inkling towards electronic shifting after reading numerous reports on the interwebs about how well it can work on a tandem. Then on the gold-rush 1200km last year, I had found numerous stretches of road where I wanted to stay on the aerobars, and a couple where I really wanted to stay up on the tops, but in neither place could I shift gear and so ended up pushing some horribly inappropriate gear by default. Electronic shifting with Shimano Di2 opens the possibility of multiple control positions, and so this sealed the deal in my mind. Only snag was that the most popular tandem Di2 groupset is the Dura-Ace 7970 series, as it has various adaptations available to expand to the widest range of gears possible, however that is not compatible with the readily available extension shifters as it pre-dates the newer Shimano "e-tube" standard for interconnecting components. So decision time: keep with the older (obsolete) technology, or buy into the new and compromise on gear range. As our theme on this tandem was embracing the new tech, there was only one choice: go with e-tube and hope we're strong enough for the gearing options available!
With the newest Ultergra rear mech, we can get a low gear of 33x32 which is looking good enough so far for all but the silly steepest climbs. Also a risk will be the 50x11 top gear will have us spinning out too readily and become a limiting factor on improving our overall moving average. At least by buying into the newest tech, we have the best chance of being able to make incremental upgrades as new options become available. The long rumored XTR Di2 groupset would make a world of difference for our setup: if any Shimano reps are reading and would like a test-team for the XTR rear derailleur, we'd love to help you out!

The third theme for our new bike turned out to be weight-reduction. We'd never thought too long on this before: certainly in touring and a large part in rando we just accepted the sum of the weight of the stuff we felt we needed on the road was the weight we were destined to carry. Weight saving implied cutting back on food or clothes, and (especially in English weather) we were reluctant to cut corners on either those.

Buying a Magnesium tandem, while simultaneously working hard to loose kgs from your own body weight, puts you in a much sharper mind for finding weight savings though. The single best number for predicting a cyclist's potential is look at their power:weight ratio, and so it's obvious why cyclists obsess so much on this point, even if your primary goal is not all-out hill climbing.
Getting a "coupled" travel tandem is generally contraindicated for weight-weeny wins, as (depending on specifications) the couplers add over a pound of extra metal, so we knew we were setting out from an awkward starting point. However Paketa have previous made a sub-25 pound travel tandem so this gave us hope we could make a competitive build.

[At this point I must apologize for the repeated use of pounds. While I'm resisting the pressure to go-native on units of measurement, bike weights do just seem easier to compare in pounds now. I'm sorry. I still use grams for individual components, so there's hope yet.]

Lighter weight wheels, seat-posts, and the electronic shifting all help keep the grams off. And in particular for short (sub century) ride days, we even splurged out on a pair of "S-Works Toupe" saddles: 115 grams of weight reduction joy. At this point we've stuck with more weighty but tried-and-tested aluminium handlebars, XTR pedals, and a big (200mm) rear disc brake. For those we have some weight reduction plans or alternative configurations in the works, so our current all up weight of 27 pounds maybe one we can push downwards, if needed. (I had predicted 26.5 pounds prior to the build by taking the sum of component weights, so was pretty pleased not to be way off mark with that).
And a great benefit is the bike successfully dismantles to pack into a single bike-case, with total weight under 50 pounds (recorded 47lbs on Denver International checkin scales) which meant $zero excess charges on our maiden flight with her. Original goal of "hassle free checkin" achieved!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

TandemThings to Race Across America in June 2015

Riding for Love Sweat & Gears, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

As we’ve previously mentioned on the blog, this year we are trying to get faster. We are pleased to announce our reasons behind this: TandemThings will be riding Race Across America (RAAM) in 2015!

Back at the start of the 2014 (on New Year’s Eve, to be exact) we were contacted by Andy and Kami White, who were working with some friends to put together a team for riding the Race Across America next year (2015) as a 4 tandem team, and amazingly they were keen for us to join their team.
We knew that to do this would be 18 months of hard training and commitment, and so we needed to spend some time considering our response. It would undoubtedly be the biggest cycling challenge we have ever taken on, but the more we thought about it the more we realised that it was an opportunity that we couldn’t walk away from.
RAAM 2014 is just over a month away, and anticipation is building. And having been quietly working towards our 2015 ambition, and so very soon it will be just 365 days to go until our own transcontinental adventure!

Race across America

For those that aren’t familiar, the basic format has changed little since the first race in 1982, or 1992 when team categories were introduced.
Riders have to cover the 3000+ miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, within a 9 day limit (or 12 for solo riders). Category winners are generally around 6.5 days, meaning riders must average 21 mph non-stop, 24 hours per day, crossing on average 500 miles and 2 states per day, in order to challenge for a podium position. Read more about it on the RAAM fact sheet.
Unlike the self-supported randonneur riding we are more familiar with, this is fully supported with  a crew and following vehicles on hand at all times, and in the team categories only one bike is on the road at a time, typically arranged with one pair of bikes taking in turns for 30min pulls for 6 hours at a time, while the remaining riders get food and some sleep.

Love Sweat and Gears, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

We’re really fortunate that our team that is under the stewardship of the well established Love, Sweat & Gears non-profit organization; who have successfully fielded teams in RAAM for 3 prior years.
Besides finishing with a great time, the LS&G Tandem 2015 team (as we are known) will be riding to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a charity several of the are close to, especially our team founder and crew chief, Jay.
The minimum budget to enter a team into RAAM is very considerable, and to have the best chance of a record time costs even more. So aside from training the next 14 months is going to require a lot of work in securing sponsors and general fundraising to allow us to meet our targets.

What’s next?

So for team TandemThing, right now we’re working hard on our summer goal of riding two 1200km brevets, putting a good time on each, before we start to shift our focus to getting faster over 30min efforts. We feel very confident we’ll have the endurance to do our share of the 3000 miles, but the real test for us will be doing so at a speed that does our part for the team. We have plenty of time to improve, but it’s going to be a very long and hard process to get there.

We’ll keep our usual collection of ride-reports and blogging here, but for anyone who wants to know more regularly updates on RAAM specific aspects, we’ll be aiming to put them on our Facebook page. And as ever, our ride updates can be followed on Twitter or Strava!

Expect to hear more from us soon about our fundraising activities! If you’re already inspired to help get us on our way, our donation page along with biographies of all our team, is now live on the LS&G website:

As well as each other’s, we’ll need the support of our friends and family to get through the months of training and to onto the start line, let alone through the days and nights to reach the finish. So we’re really deeply grateful that Stefan - a longtime colleague and friend - has volunteered to be on our crew.

Read more about the full LS&G 2015 line up, as it is announced, here.

Wish us luck, and see you on the road!

Joth & Emma

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ride report: Dunbarton Hamilton 200

As folks on Strava know, we've been keeping up the long distances rides over the last couple months and working on getting a bit faster moving speeds. We're signed up for the full San Francisco Randonneur (SFR) brevet series this year. The 200k, 300k and 400k were successfully completed, the latter just 2 weeks ago in some very wet conditions.
We now have a lull as the 600k is not until 10th May, so for our April brevet we had to invent something of our own. We've been itching to re-ride the Dunbarton/Hamilton 200k loop, after crawling our way around in a mid-summer blaze last year, and so today was a perfect opportunity to do that.

The route heads out over the always-blustery Dunbarton bridge, and then up Niles Canyon road which can be pretty busy on occasion, but is always pretty pretty and is the first chance to feel like you're a getting out of the south bay urban sprawl.

After a stop in Livermore (thankfully, no grass fire just outside town this time, so clear air) it was on to rural Mines Road, all 40 miles of it to the top of Mount Hamilton and so which makes up the largest piece of the ride. As we hit the first steep climb up out of the Livermore valley, the morning clouds had completely cleared and the sun was working in full force. Fortunately still a lot cooler than the 110°F (43°C) we hit last time we road this route! A mere 22°C at the bottom, raising to about 30 when we hit the next stop.
The Junction cafe is ideally placed 20 miles into Mines Road. It had been closed for a change of ownership and renovations at the start of the year, this was our first chance to see the all-new look and we were very happy to see nothing radical had changed, it still has all its back-of-beyond charm. And while the menu has been extended with lots of tasty barbecue fare, the trusty favourites like mac and cheese and a top-notch Root Beer float were still there for us to enjoy!

The climb to the top of Hamilton is a long haul. 15 miles is rolling with a couple big raises, and then you hit 5miles of wall. On paper it's 8% grade average, but I'm sure parts are a good bit more than that. Happily the views are amazing and just get better as you climb, eventually opening out to see right to the Sierras on a good day. Alas a bit too hazy to come out in pictures today, but still it took the mind of the climb.
The second reward on passing Lick observatory is 18 mile descent on the west side, right down to the edge of San Jose. We got there with 9:30 on the clock and thought we might finish in a little over ten hours. Alas the continual stop lights skirting the city, and a strong headwind that had whipped up coming off the bay, meant this was the one part of the day's ride where we were slower than on our prior 13+ hour attempt last year.
Still, the Sunnyvale Fair Oaks 7-eleven eventually arrived, and more ice-cream duly consumed to mark completion of a successful day's ride.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Plans for 2014

One of the most enjoyable bits of the winter ‘off season’ is planning the following year’s rides and targets. In a turn of events, this year we are aiming for speed! We are still riding long distances and have reserved entries for two 1200km Grand Randonnees, but we aiming to complete them with a faster moving speed than similar rides we have previously done. We won’t necessarily be aiming to reduce total time than we have previously, as we may use the extra time for sleep!
This change of emphasis has had some interesting effects - firstly, the diet has started early. In the UK it was normal for us to put on some ‘winter plumage’ in the dark, cold winter months. Over here in California the weather rarely stops us riding, so there is really no excuse for the weight gain. Instead, we have started our annual reeling in of alcohol and ‘treats’ early with the aim of getting our weight down further than we have in previous years.
We have also started training; with a (sort of) training plan and everything! What us? TRAINING!?! At the moment, we have mostly just invested in all the modern toys, gadgets, training aids and are learning how to use them such as his & hers PowerTap cycle power meters.
We have even tried some non-randonneuring events, including a very low key 100 mile Time Trial (TT) last weekend, and a 10 mile TT this weekend. At the moment the times from these are acting as our baseline starting point. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement on them!

The mental shift is also interesting, as the first thing to do to improve speed is actually to aim to go faster. We rarely push hard for sustained periods on the longer rides, and historically there have been times where our aim has been to just keep moving. As the old audax/randonneuring saying goes “time moving equals miles”. It’s going to be interesting to see how this speed experiment works on the multi day rides, but it can only be helped by us practicing on the shorter rides first. By ensuring we are focusing on average speed rather than overall time on the long rides the goal is that it doesn’t dent our enjoyment of the sport, as it will allow us to spend time at the controls with other riders. We’ve never found it difficult to find people to keep us company on the road either, as tandems are always a popular choice for riders looking for a ‘tow’.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Looking back at the Death Ride

After posting our R-12 write up, one Wascally Weasel sent the following tweet. This inspired me to finish off a ride-report that Emma started 6 months ago! 

Tour of the Californian Alps: The Death Ride 2013 by Tandem

Back in July we took part in a cycling challenge which was a little different to our normal randonneuring fare. For several years Joth had heard about The death ride from work colleagues so a year ago when the entries opened we were on the ball to secure a place, as it sells out very quickly. In that and several other ways this ride is similar to La Marmotte in terrain and length, and was an obvious comparison for us. We hoped that our day would be slightly less eventful than that day however!

The preparation for the ride was less than perfect, as we had yet more mechanical issues. This time it was one of the bearing cartridges in the headset which caused the problem by falling apart. Our favorite bike shop didn’t have a set of bearings in stock, but managed to get the headset back together to the point of being rideable. The steering was a little heavy at low speeds, but wasn’t too bad considering. We also developed problems with the front derailleur, in that we had problems shifting from the middle chainring into granny (the smallest chainring). We could ‘surprise’ it by shifting straight from the biggest chainring into granny though. On occasions this wasn’t possible, we just stopped the bike and manually put the chain on the chainring. Fortunately the elevation profile of the ride meant that we only needed to do this a couple of times.
One of the difference between this type of mass participation ride in the US and those in Europe is the subject of timing. In Europe on this type of ride, everyone has a timing chip and you are timed over the course. Over here in the US, these types of rides are not timed. In contrast, the timings for all the randonnees are provided, whereas they aren’t generally in UK audaxes. This meant that there wasn’t the same ‘race’ mentality at the start of this ride compared to rides like La Marmotte. This was reflected in part by the variety of equipment being ridden. We saw mountain bikes (including at least one which was fixed gear), touring bikes, a recumbent bike, Eliptigos and a cargo bike as well as the standard carbon race bike. There were also five tandems riding, although they didn’t all ride all five passes. The attitude of the other riders to us was also noticeably different to La Marmotte. We had a huge amount of encouragement from other rider, and even a push or two! I think on average more US cyclists have tried tandeming and know what an effort it is on the hills! The main comment though was on the size or our rear disc brake. We quickly lost count of the times we were asked about it.
Our day started in the dark as we left the comfort of our motel room for the 25 mile drive to the start point, at Turtle Rock County Park. The thermometer in the car indicated that we were going to be in for a cold start to the ride, as it showed a temperature in the 30’s for most of the journey. Brrr! It was too cold at 5am to wait for very long, so we missed starting with Joth’s colleagues, but were confident that we’d see them as they passed us on the climbs.
Unlike La Marmotte (and most of our UK rides), the route was a series of 3 out and back legs, with the first two being on closed roads. While there we climbed 5 passes, there were only really 3 in that the first two were climbed from both sides. The ride started with a 5km descent which combined with the low temperatures made for a pair of very cold Things. Rarely have I been so looking forward to starting a climb. Most of the first climb of Monitor pass occurred in the dark, but one of the advantages of the out of back route was that we’d get to see it again on the way back down. Near the top, one of Joth’s colleagues pulled alongside. One of the advantages of the tandem is that it is easy to spot, even in large groups. While we managed to chat to quite a lot of riders (mostly about tandems, or the size of the disk brake), it’s always nice to see someone you know.
We coasted over the top and Joth recognised the layby where we stopped to take photos when we were visiting California in 2011. There was no time to stop to enjoy the view this time though: we had some solo bikes that needed passing on the descent! Riding on closed roads was a very nice change, and apart from the start of Marmotte and PBP not something we’ve done. In contrast the first four climbs (and descents) of Death Ride were on closed roads.
We decided to stop for a few minutes at the bottom of the pass to grab a snack, and make use of the large line of porta potties. One of the advantages of our audax/randonneuring experience is that we don’t need to stop as often as many riders on this type of event do, even though we stopped more often than we would on a normal audax of this length.
While it was still fairly early in the day when we reached the top of Monitor Pass for the second time, we had been on the road for nearly four hours, and it was time to get some food. We had a cunning plan to stop and get some sandwiches at the top, which we could start digesting on the way back down. This was thwarted by there not being any, so it was a quick snack and drink before heading down to the official lunch stop on the road towards Ebbets Pass. Officially, as 5 Pass riders, we should have stopped for lunch on the way back, but we weren’t going to let that stop us! Refuelled, we headed off to Ebbets Pass.
The support on the ride was excellent. We were surprised how many locals and families of other riders were out on course cheering people on. A particular mention must go to ‘The Wild Women of Ebbetts Pass’, who were entertaining the riders near the bottom of the climb in their great costumes. All the volunteers, from those helping at check in to the ones manning the rest stops were excellent. Cheerful, enthusiastic and very helpful; they really made the atmosphere of the event.
Ebbetts Pass itself was the most picturesque of the climbs, narrowly winding up a stream gorge. We were warned it could get fraught climbing here against the flow of faster riders descending. Fortunately we had no problems, although we did get passed by one ambulance going to attend some incident up ahead of us, we never found out what though.
At the turn around point, to head back over Ebbetts from the west, we saw the support stand from Crank2 Performance Tandems (who had fixed the headset a few days before) so we stood and chattered there while refueling.
The return climb seemed to take longer, even though it was actually less height gain than the east side. The hot afternoon sun was in full effect here, and we saw more riders struggling at this point than anywhere else. These were likely the stragglers on the four-pass variant of the ride -- a sensible choice as only the final, fifth pass is on open roads so by doing four you get an entire day of motor traffic free riding.
The run back into Turtle Rock from Ebbetts was a nice run for stretching the legs a little, and we soon picked up a small peloton wanting a tow. We passed the start point and soon after our car, where we stopped for a couple cool drinks from the cool box. While sat we saw another tandem pass by -- turned out this was Will and Lynn von Kaenel, who we’d spoken with online prior to the event. Unfortunately they’d had some mechanical problems and decided to call it a day. We still had one more pass to conquer though, so got back on the road.
The 5-pass ride finishes atop Carson Pass, which is reached via the busy route 88. As we started the ascent we saw a sign that said the cut off time was 5:15, and we were getting worryingly close. For a while we thought we were not going to complete it in time, which made for some nervous pedaling. Happily, this turned out to be the cutoff time at the final reset stop part way up (at the junction with route 89).
The final slog from there to the top ground on, but the view became ever better as we winched our way up past Red Lake and to the summit.

Looking back and comparing it to La Marmotte, the differences that come to mind
  • DR is less of a ‘race’ atmosphere, staggered start, lack of timing chips and no official result leaderboard lends it a more festive feel
  • DR is mostly on closed roads, and generally nicer (leafy, shady) cycling conditions. On the other hand the open climbs of La Marmotte rewards with much grander views over snow-capped Alps.
  • DR has the more predictable weather conditions, I would imagine. French Alps can swing from hail to sunshine to storm in hours.
  • Both rides were equally well supported, although there were numerous small differences in the way the support was supplied partly due to the topology of the route (e.g. Marmotte provides a SAG bus and stationary mechanic stations, vs. a support motorbike but no SAG on DR)
  • The Marmotte route follows a circuit which appeals far more to me, lending a journey/tour feel to event in comparison to the spidery web of out-and-backs that make up DR.
  • The Cols of Marmotte are just more magnificent, from the overpowering grandeur of Galibier to the deep sense of history on finishing atop the Alpe d’Huez, it’s an epic ride. It’s hard to imagine this planet will ever host a more glorious 174km of paved road.

We wanted to include some official photos, hence the original hold up, but they all came out poorly, certainly not worth the $25. You can search for Bib 37 over here if interested! (Unselect "Partial Bib Numbers")