"Do you want the good news or bad news?"
This is what Fear Rothar said as he came upstairs just before we were to load the tandem into the car to drive out to Westfield for the Bash-Bish 300km brevet.
A few weeks before, while cycling out in the Catskills, we noticed that the rear tire on the tandem was rubbing the fender a bit. These darn aluminum fenders are such a pain. We supposedly have the right sized fender for our tires, but like Dr Who's Weeping Angels, if you look away, bad stuff happens! Or if the tire isn't perfectly round... or seated just so, bad stuff happens. The Grand Bois Hetres that we use on the tandem seem to have a reputation for fiddly mounting, so the plan was to remove and remount the tire, or just put on a completely new tire. I was supposed to do this, but my brand new belted fixed gear bike showed up a few hours prior, and I had to go for a ride first. I mean it would just be inconsiderate to the builder not to take the bike out for a ride as soon as I got it, right?
I had just come in from that initial ride. Fear Rothar had finished work for the day and was impatient to get going, so he headed downstairs to check things out. He came up to show me the giant hole in the tire that was causing the problem. It was amazing we hadn't had a blowout on the last ride. But putting on a new tire should at least solve the rubbing issue.
A few minutes later, he returned... "Do you want the the bad news?" Oh oh, why was their no choice to get good news? This time the bad news didn't have such a quick and easy solution. He showed me a nasty looking crack down the center of the rim - visible only when he removed the tire, and only because we were using Veloplugs and therefore not hidden by rim tape. Well that was a showstopper for the tandem.
While I had a brand new bike that I was itching to ride, the 20% climb up Bash-Bish discouraged even me from taking a fixed gear bike - even one still coated with Magic Faerie dust.
Before going down to pump up the tires on my geared Seven, I did a quick post to facebook, commenting on how I'd have to get up the Bash-Bish climb without Fear Rothar's assistance thanks to the cracked rim on the tandem.
I remembered noticing a very worn brake pad a few days before, and commented to Fear Rothar that I'd need to replace the pads. Gentleman that he is, he took over that chore for me.
In the meantime, Rob Vandermark, who seemingly spends all his time monitoring facebook, sent off an email, offering us use of the wheels off the Ride Studio Cafe demo tandem. Loyal readers may recall, it was this demo tandem that inspired us to get our own. With disk brakes, we could use versatile, fat 650B or 700C wheels for hill-climb races and change between them easily. With the 650B wheels, we could use a standard 700C tandem fork and have plenty of clearance for fenders and fat tires. When we built the bike, we started with the 650Bs and planned to someday get a second set of wheels in 700C. But the 650Bs had proved so versatile in all conditions that we just hadn't gotten around to getting that second set of wheels.
We had a quick discussion and decided I'd drive over to the shop get the wheels.
The forecast was dire, with 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms, so naturally the 700C wheels from the shop tandem wouldn't fit with 650B fenders. Off came the fenders. The fit was tight in the rear, but there was at least a mm or two between the fat 700C tire and the chainstay bridge!
This course is tandem-nugen, like no other route we've ever done. The Jacob's Ladder climb and descent is about 50 miles long, with a long gradual up, a little steep up, a little steep down and the rest gradual down. The middle part of the route has a lot of flat and rolling terrain, and then there is the little steep climb up by Bash-Bish falls, followed by the 50 miles of Jacobs Ladder. We've done the ride many times on both tandem and single bikes, but it really has to be the most tandem-friendly route we've done.
So it was a choice of single bikes with fenders, or tandem without. It was a tough call - no fenders on a guaranteed wet ride, but after Rob had so generously offered the wheels, we just had to go with the tandem - wet bum and all.
By the time we'd done all the running around, it was late, so we didn't quite get as much sleep as the 6AM start should have allowed. Don Podolski, the organizer had moved the start time from 4AM to 6AM, after years of hearing me complain about the early start. So naturally, we still got the same amount of sleep as in years past!
We woke to the sound of water pouring through gutters, but when we looked out it was just light mist. And it was quite warm - over 60F. We knew not to be fooled. Becket (at the top of the ladder) is always 20 degrees colder than Westfield, and then there's the highspeed descent followed by miles of gradual downhill, with no climbing to warm up on. So we dressed for the climb and packed away jackets and other warm stuff for the descent and wetter conditions sure to follow.
We hopped on the tandem and rode the mile from the motel down to the shop/ride start. On the ride over, we heard a scraping noise. When we got to the shop, we realized that once we were sitting on the bike, the tire deflected enough to hit the chainstay bridge. Our spare tire was a bit narrower than the Jack Browns mounted on the borrowed wheel, so we decided to put on the spare. Of course we started this 3 minutes before the ride start, so we were working away as everyone rolled out. With a 30mm tire, we had just enough additional clearance to work. We rolled away from the shop at about 6:15, and then stopped at our motel to pick up another spare tire - fortunately I had brought 2. On a long event like this, and especially with the tandem - we like to carry a spare.
So now we were a bit behind schedule. No need to panic. It's a long ride, and despite the fact that some folks head out at a pace that approaches light speed, you really can't finish a 300km in an hour!
We caught three riders as we approached Huntington and another 3 shortly after the steep climbing began in Chester. There was a bit of mist, but it really wasn't bad. I dared not voice this out loud though.
We reached the top in Beckett, and it was so warm that we didn't even add jackets! This has never happened to me on this ride. It is always freezing on this descent. Thank you global warming?
Shortly before reaching the control part way down the long descent, we heard a high pitched squeal. Fear Rothar thought it was a train, but I was sure it was the rear disk brake.
We found Don at the control along with a couple of other riders, Big Bad Don and Patrick. Patrick is a friend of George Swain's and had commented on our meeting George out in the Catskills. Patrick thought he was the only randonneur who had never met us! But now he has, so he can mark that off his bucket list!
Anyway, Fear Rothar played with the musical disk brake, while I got our cards signed and grabbed food. With the brake adjusted not to wake everyone in town, we headed on. We first reeled in Big Bad Don, and then a few miles later, caught Patrick, who quickly took advantage of the tandem draft, tolerating the spray from our fenderless rear wheel!
We rolled through Great Barrington and onto my least favorite part of the route along Route 7, where we caught up to George Swain and Jon Doyle. For a while, we had a train of bikes behind us, but at some point, the tandem friendly rollers took their toll on the poor single bikes with less momentum, and we found ourselves alone heading into Kent, CT, site of the next control.
The weather continued to be a mix of light mist and heavy drizzle, but still not awful.
Just as we hit town, a shift onto the big ring made very bad noises, as the chain jumped over the ring. We recovered, but when trying to big ring again, it was clear something was rubbing. Unable to blame fenders or the disk brake this time, I looked down to see the front derailleur had twisted when the chain came off. We gently rolled the last half mile down to Gifford's - the control spot. I went in to order lunch and get our cards signed while Fear Rothar again played mechanic. It is so nice to bring a mechanic along!
As we enjoyed our lunch several other riders rolled in, including Simon, on single speed. Shame on me for not riding my new fixie! And Simon wasn't just doing this ride on one gear. He was hammering!
After a long break at Gifford's where the great food attracted a large crowd and a lengthy line, we pressed on to the absolutely gorgeous part of the route through Duchess County in NY. We talked about memories from past events. This is where we almost hit a deer. And here's where we saw the 500 pound guy on a lawnmower, across from the lawnmower repair shop - "How much business does he give them?" we had joked. And there's the place with the pork dinner on tonight where I had asked Dena, the vegetarian, if the ride was hard enough yet... Dena and I have a long running joke that I'll know the ride is too much for her when she asks for meat!
Time passed and we were on the bike path that precedes the feature climb. Then we were on the climb. One thing I'd neglected to mention about the loaner wheels is the wee-tiny-micro-cassette they came with. Like my single bikes, we have a 12-36 cassette on the tandem, but the loaner wheels only had a large cog of 27T. Our granny ring is a 30. That doesn't give us much of a low gear, but my captain said he wasn't worried.
Well, boy did we miss the cassette that keeps giving (more gears) as we stood for large parts of the climb! I kept hoping there was one more gear being held in reserve, but that wasn't the case. All this hard work and standing also made me quite warm. I was wearing sunshields on my arms. These are like super-light arm-warmers, except they are supposed to keep one cool and keep the sun off the skin. Well I was getting warm anyway and pushed them down to my wrists. A few minutes later, the heavens opened, and the weather gods aimed a firehose at us!
We continued up to the top, which is well after where you think the top should be. I had managed to pull the forever after known as rain-shields (since they had prevented the rain until I pushed them down) back up before the top, but with no effect, i.e. the rain didn't stop. Once at the top, we stopped to put on our jackets and hi-vis vests, and then we headed down the high speed bumpy descent as the rain stung our faces!
Back through Great Barrington and up the first part of Jacob's ladder, we found the penultimate control. JoAnne was chipper and welcoming and opened a cooler to show off the very best sandwiches ever!
Refueled, we finished off the climb and began the 25 mile descent back to New Horizon's Bike Shop. A mile or two outside of Westfield, the sun came back out!
Many thanks to Rob, Patria and Drew at Ride Studio Cafe for loaning and preparing the wheels. Thanks also to Don, Mary and JoAnne for the very long day working the controls. And thanks to Fear Rothar for helping get my very wet butt up the Bash-Bish climb.
Now to research some new sturdier rims for the tandem!