Friday, September 4, 2015

The Controls of PBP

In reliving moments from PBP, Emma and I keep getting mixed up and having to remind ourselves of which control is which. So here's our personal memory-jogs for how to differentiate the controls plus some tips on smooth passage through them.
(Some photos would be great to add here, but alas the memory card in my camera was pooched so we lost what photos we had)


  • Only go here on the way back
  • Big sports hall, great food selection.


  • Only a control on the way back.
  • Large bar area as you enter (remember first control from '11). 
  • In '15 Just picked up water on the way out, stopped to snooze on the way back in the cafe are to the right of the bar.


  • Major party town on the way back. Bike parking down either side of closed street in wooden wheel grabbers
  • Kids help carry trays down the maze and slope to the eating area
  • Best to park by the control Exit, walk up to control entrance, remember to fill bottle before controlling.


  • Control spread around school on a hill: enter at bottom, first you see restaurant, then pass dorms, control up top.
  • Showers in the control building just off the snack bar area. (Gang showers)


  • Restaurant is upstairs, not best food choices.
  • Snack bar up top of bike park area
  • Slept here on way back in '11 - good beds in small dorm rooms. Had to be mentally massaged to life by Jo in the very poorly stocked restaurant.


  • Enter via a big inflatable arch and little lump to climb to bike parking
  • Big bike park area with dedicated velo-spécial down the end by BBQ, toilets and restaurant entrance
  • Control up the top next to rapid service snack bar (missed this on way out '15) and restaurant, with infirmary in next building where Joth got gel put on knee.
  • Met the chief controller both ways (in '15) chatted about his 7 PBPs, he asked how we were doing, gave him SFR lapel pin.


  • Water stop, small snack bar
  • We both slept on benches in the cafe on the way out in '15
  • Lots of surprise hills around here


  • Big sports hall dorms - slept on way out in '11
  • Cardboard on the floors everywhere
  • Only a couple toilets with full-time attendant, told to use men or women's.
  • Maze through 2 cafes to find the infirmary - found barely used snack bar on the way.
  • In '11 this place was a refugee camp of soaked 84h riders


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

PBP 2015

PBP2015 was a 'must do' for us. A chance to catch up with randonneuring/audax friends from around the world. At around 6000 people it's the biggest and best, although it's the international riders and amazing local support which really makes it so special. We went into it thinking we'd try for a fast time to make some use of the speed we'd developed for RAAM. As ever in life, everything did not go to plan, although we managed to have fun.

Mentally it was probably the toughest 1200 we've done. The combination of jetlag and worry due to the delay in our bike arriving in France meant that we didn't have the best preparation time. Big thanks to HK and Feline for the offer of solo bikes as contingency against the tandem not arriving in time. Thanks to everyone else who offered support and spares to ensure we would have enough lights and baggage to outfit the bikes too. If the ride had been anything less than PBP, we'd have cancelled a few weeks ago due to other hassles. It was great that everything came together in the end and we started in good spirits.

We learnt a hard lesson in the first few hours however, as we tried to work with another tandem who were significantly faster than us. We both went above our LT multiple times trying to stay with them on the climbs. We dropped off the back after around 100km and started riding at our own pace. We got mixed up with a few groups and managed to work with one or two of the solos which was nice. We didn't get to ride with another tandem for the remaining 1100km which was a shame. By the middle of the first full day, our speed had dropped significantly though and I was struggling to stay awake. Joths knee was hurting badly by Loudéac, to the point where we turned around 4km after the control and went back to it to seek medical attention. They quickly reassured him that riding on wasn't going to cause more damage and the anti inflammatory painkiller gel helped enormously. We were still really slow on the climbs though. A cup of tea and a sleep on a bench in the secret control perked us up a bit and we had fun all the rest of the way to Brest. While at the control in Carhaix we booked a hotel on route into Brest and stopped for a pizza in Sizun and gently rode down to 7 1/2 hours sleep in a real bed. Luxury! Having been distinctly unimpressed with the Brest control at the 2011 edition we opted to stamp and go before stopping at a boulangerie for breakfast a few km later. This was a fantastic choice, saving time and scoring tasty pastries in reward.

The climb up to La Roc seemed to take forever, but we were expecting it and once we joined the outbound route we enjoyed waving at riders coming the other way. The full night's sleep really paid off as this was the only day we didn't need to stop for an afternoon "jetlag" snooze. 
Roberta attracting attention at Tinteniac

The hills around Loudéac hadn't got any smaller and Joths knee started making worrying noises while climbing, a tube of voltoren was keeping away the pain however, so we just concentrated on maintaining a smooth pedaling stroke and tried to ignore the noise. The rolling hills on the run into Tinténiac were as fun as we remembered from 2011, even if we didn't have another tandem to share it with this time. An older French rider was the only one from our train who managed to stick with us to the control, and he thanked us profusely for a fun ride. Unlike our hotel in Brest, our sleep stop in Fougères was not successful. The combination of noise, light changes from the door opening and closing along with the remains of the jet lag meant little sleep. So we got up early, had the traditional breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate and pootled on. By Montagne au Perche we were struggling again, so after a quick bite Joth lay down for a nap. We had wanted to finish in daylight, but with the breaks it was looking increasingly unlikely we'd make that. Fortunately, at around 35km from Montagne the route becomes increasingly tandem friendly. We didn't go all out into the control at Dreux as we had in 2011, but still towed a significant number of solo riders into the control. Again, it was lovely to have riders come and thank us for the tow. The food at Dreux was great. The pastries at the controls were generally good, my pain aux raisin in Dreux was superb, and still warm. Yum. That only left the stage I struggled with so badly in 2011. This time I avoided caffeine, gels and adrenaline rushes and we opted for a gentle ride with a couple of Irish audaxers who kept us amused as the final kilometers counted down to the finish. We were disappointed not to do a fast ride, but the conversations and experiences we had instead did a lot to make up for it. We plan to be back in 2019!
Joth channeling Mr Larrington in Montagne au Perche

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Back to normal (well almost)

So RAAM is done and dusted. We’ll hopefully write more about it at some point, but it was such a huge, amazing, all encompassing experience that it’s difficult to make sense of it all. We are now rested, recovered and looking forward to our ‘reward’ - yup, we’re riding PBP.
It feels a little weird to put a rack and heavy leather saddles back on Roberta, but for a 1200km event we need the luggage space and comfort is king. This will be our fifth Grand Randonee, and Roberta’s third, unlike her other two there will be no hotels rooms and no drop bags. Everything we need on the road, we’ll take with us. The bigger adaption is mentally and physically preparing for the ride. It’s surprising us how quickly we’ve adapted to stopping and eating every few miles. The first stage of PBP is 138km, which may have come as a big shock to the system. We had a great time last weekend with back to back 200km rides which has provided some confidence that we can still ride long distances and was a good shakedown for Roberta. We are finding that we need food much more regularly than we have previously - the short intensive efforts have (not surprisingly) done anything to improve our fat burning capability.

There are still a couple of changes we need to do to the bike, principally changing the rear brake - we are taking off the disk brake and just using a rim brake for PBP. We’ll also change the tyres before we go and take raceblades to fit on the front if there is likely to be rain on the event. Hopefully all the rain will have fallen before we get there.

We’ve really enjoyed riding the last few weeks without training plans and pressure. It’s great that we are both still keen just to ride a bike - there was always a little worry that we wouldn’t want to see one again for a while. We’ve not ridden a trainer/sufferfest session yet! It’s time to ride without pressure, guilt and to just enjoy it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Tracking TandemThings Racing Across America

It’s less than 2 weeks to go until we embark on Race Across America! After 18 months of training and preparation it’s hard to put into words what it’s like to finally be so close to the starting line. I don’t feel too nervous - I’m sure that will come! - but we’re certainly excited to get going.

As you may know, we’re aiming to set a new mixed tandem category record, and complete the 3000 mile race in under 6 days 10 hours. To that end every hour of the day will be spent racing, eating or sleeping, so we won’t have much opportunity to post updates during the race. So we’re sharing some links now with places you can follow our progress, should you wish.

This shows our most up-to-date location based on GPS tracker in the follow-vehicle. (As I write this, it’s actually showing a replay of RAAM 2013 just as a demo!).
You’ll need to know our team number: T409 - Love Sweat & Gears - Tandems
They also have apps: (iPhone) (Android)

This carries updates of our progress through the 55 Time-stations (aprx 1 every 55 miles), based on official race records. They also have a link to a map of that data.

Make sure to “Like” and follow the team page, there won’t be much opportunity to post to our own page during the ride. The team page will have updates on all three LS&G teams (2 women, 4 women, 4 Tandems) so

4 Twitter
These are mostly just links to postings on Facebook, but there maybe the occasional bonus update there too!

5 Ride Farther /
This is the official Media outlet of Race Across America, and will host twice-daily video reports (also on their youtube channel) as well as maps, written reports, photo galleries and so on. Also they're promising a live video stream from of the teams press conference and from the starting line, 12 noon PST (that's 8pm BST).

Finally, a big massive thank you to everyone that has sponsored us in this undertaking. We’re on track to make a great donation to help the lives of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers everywhere. We’ve not really done a charity ride before so seems appropriate our first one is epic even by our standards! Every donation received, large or small, does motivate us a bit more to reach our goal.

The sponsorship link is on (hit “Donate Here”)

Monday, January 12, 2015

XTR Di2 parts on a road tandem

When we were spec'ing our Paketa back in May last year, we had at the back of our mind the possibility that one day there'd be a Di2 electronic shifting version of the Shimano MTB groupset, XTR, so we could mix in MTB parts like a rear derailleur at a later date to increase the gear range. When our knees are old and we need even more help on the steep climbs. Soon after Shimano did indeed announce XTR Di2, and Leonard Zinn helpfully confirmed that it would interoperate with Dura-Ace so tandems could reduce in mixing road levers with mountain derailleurs at will.
Roll on to January this year and my pre-ordered XTR rear derailleur finally arrived. Yay!

Unfortunately, just at the same time the same Mr Zinn published a follow up reporting not all was well in Di2 land:

I got some answers from Shimano about this, and I now know that you cannot mix any road FD (front derailleur) with an XTR Di2 (11-speed) rear derailleur (RD-M9050); it won’t work with any Di2 shifter, road or MTB.

I just had chance to experiment and this does indeed seem to be the case. Plug in the XTR rear derailleur on its own with the Dura-ace levers and it works a charm. But plug in the road front derailleur and the entire system seizes to a halt. No shifting on either end, no battery indicator, nothing. So as Leonard says the options are to convert the drive-train fully to XTR (both the RD and FD) or run it 1x11 speed without a FD. Neither of those options are good for us, as we want the much wider range you only get with the road FD (strange but true: the road double FD has a wider range than the MTB triple). Or else I guess, we could buy a second battery and run the front and rear derailleurs as completely independent systems. Yuck!

OR of course, plead with Shimano to issue a firmware update to allow this configuration! There's no electronic reason for the incompatibility, merely a policy decision of them wanting to enforce that the entire the drive train (derailleurs chains and cogs) are all from the same family. Unfortunately, electronic shifting and complex firmware configurations has increased the means through which they can enforce what are basically business decisions.

In the meantime, if you're in the market for a never used XTR rear derailleur let me know...