Thursday, October 08, 2015

On the road again - our simple tandem touring weekend

After our very eventful and challenging summer, we finally had a free weekend over Labor Day. Once we realized we the time, we decided to make it three days of riding with two overnights. We also wanted to avoid driving to a start if we could, since we did not have time to make parking arrangements. We had thought about trying for MTR in Rockford, but the logistics and expense were too much to handle after just a couple of weeks – for both us – at new jobs.

Ready to roll!
We wanted to ride around 40 to 45 miles a day. It turned out this worked well for Kokomo first, and then to Frankfort for the second night. Once we had the distances and timing worked out, we went hotel shopping. Our Frankfort reservation was easy, however Kokomo had a baseball tournament in town over Saturday night. We were able to get a premium room reserved, on the third try, and hoped we could try for something more reasonable once we arrived.

We had almost ridden a single overnight in late July, and had a good handle on packing for 1 night with just our rear panniers. But when we added our third day of clothing, we ended up with just too much in our rear bags and over the rear wheel. So at the last minute, I found the hardware to quickly install our Bruce Gordon front rack and we added our front panniers. Wile the bike looked over-loaded, all the external pockets were almost empty, and none of the bags were filled to capacity.

With the expected hot weather, we opted for CamelBak hydration packs, (we both have 70oz models), and a pair each of PodiumChill bottles for Gatorade. I like to use a CamelBak when I captain, and they provide cool water for about twice as long as a water bottle.

We finished packing and rolled out a little before Noon on Saturday. The last time I had captained the tandem with full panniers had been one of our family foursome tours, with a child stoker and pulling our Burley Nomad trailer. For this trip, our combined gear was still lighter than my single bike with a camp touring load. Our Sovereign handled the extra weight (let’s say 75 pounds of bike and gear along 320(ish) lbs of Captain and stoker) with a well-remembered grace. After just a couple of miles, it felt normal to be on touring tandem again. (In the first 10 years we were married, Linda I had ridden over 5,000 miles of camp touring on a tandem.)

Our first 5 miles were through our neighborhood and then north on the Monon Trail. Our route would parallel US31 on side ride roads, passing through rolling farmland and patches of shade from the frequent wood lots. The forecast temperatures in the 90s were tempered by a hazy overcast and a light headwind. The heat had left its mark on the chip-and-sealed roads, with tar bubbles popping when ever we drifted out of the well-worn tire tracks.

Our first stop was at Wilson’s Farm market, where we each picked out a lunch; chicken salad for Linda, and some fried chicken and a biscuit for me, and we shared cold drinks and some of their famous pretzel bread. Wilson’s is always a fun place to stop, and it was as busy as ever.

We were soon back on our way north, with the overcast to our west growing darker and moving closer to our line of travel. As we entered a small four-corner town, a misty sprinkle became a steady light rain. At first we paused under a tree, but as the rain continued to increase in intensity, we rolled back a half block to a closed business with a porch, and sat out the 20-minute shower under cover. A quick check of the weather app predicted a short shower, and the sky soon cleared and we were rolling again, without the need to pull out our rain gear.

We did not find another stop before the Kokomo city limits, so we continued on to our hotel. Luckily, the hotel next door had just had a cancelation, so we were able to cancel our premium room, cutting the cost of our overnight in half. By 4:30 pm we had the bike in our room, and we showered and walked next door for a relaxing steak dinner.

We had a quiet night in the hotel, and I let Linda sleep in. After packing the bike and eating breakfast, we were ready to ride, about an hour earlier than the day before. After some breakfast, we were rolling west. We left the outskirts of Kokomo and after just a few miles of suburbia, we were back among the valleys of corn and seas of soy beans.

For Sunday’s riding we had a couple small towns along the route, and the stops with air conditioning and cold drinks were welcome. We passed through Russaville, and then Forest, and finally Michigantown. Here we were surprised by finding a delightful tavern and restaurant, the Angry Donkey. The food was great, and we expect to lead a ride there next year, just for the name!

It was an easy 15 miles after our late lunch, with more miles of farmland before passing through the back streets of Frankfort on the way to our hotel on the west side of town. Our nice lunch made an order-in pizza for dinner an easy choice, and we settled in for showers and a quiet evening.

We enjoyed the hotel’ complementary breakfast, and then began our third and final day on the road. Our first stop was Kirkland, trying some new roads the next Tour De Mulberry along the way. It was warming up fast, and cool drinks were again the order of the day at the quick shop in Kirkland.

15 miles later we were in Sheridan, where to our disappointment, the Dairy Queen closed for Labor Day! So after a short break and at a quick shop, we were ready to start final miles home.

As we were preparing to leave the quick shop, a couple of guys on tri-bikes pulled in. It was quite a contrast from our fully load tandem, festooned with packs gear to the sleek, to their sleek time trial bikes; yet we were all bound the by the enjoyment of pedals driving wheels.

Touring again!
We headed down the road, a slight tailwind, and that relaxed feeling of accomplishment for the final miles. Our pace was quick, with the pleasant buzz of Conti’s on well-worn pavement, and the smooth presence of 400 lbs of bike and riders gliding over the road. It was almost perfect riding. And it was even better when we passed through an intersection 10 miles from Sheridan, just a head of the two tri-bike riders we left at the quick shop in Sheridan. They may not have given a second thought, but it gave us nice sense of satisfaction.

We ended the weekend with over 120 miles, and a well earned sense of accomplishment and relaxation. We got a few funny looks when explaining we rode to Kokomo and Frankfort for a “vacation”. However anyone who rides knows the truth of the adage, the journey is the reward.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

My 2015 Tire Update - Tandem Edition

As I mentioned in a post after my tour last summer, the last few season have made me a big fan of the Continental GatorSkin tire. The ride is great, their endurance is epic, and the flat resistance (from penetration) is legendary. Between our tandem, and my road bikes (an Assenmacher touring bike and Trek Domane 2.3), I have been realizing over 4000 miles a pair on each bike.
I keep some spares hanging around.

The pair of 700x25s on my Domane were so dependable, I didn’t realize until washing the bike this spring that my Blackburn AirStik pump had become unusable after filling with water (must have been on TOSRV, the only ride where I am consistently in the rain) and rusting up. (And kudo’s to Blackburn who sent me a new pump.)

This spring (2015) it was time to finally replace tires on a couple bikes. First, our trusty `85 Santana Sovereign got a new pair. The rear (700x28) had worn through all the siping on left side of the tire, something I’ve found to be common in our tandem experience. (The long wheelbase of tandems results in a rear wheel that tracks a much straighter line, and has a result, the rear tire wears to the crown of the road.)

We had only a single flat, a glass chip on the front, since I put them on in mid 2010, and being used for over 4,000 miles. I could have ridden another half season (or more), but stokers do not enjoy tandem rides with downtime, so early replacement is a good way to keep your stoker happy.

However, with this set, I am going to try something I have never considered before for a bike; I am going to rotate the tires front to rear after the end of the season, so that can take the entire set over 5,000 miles.

In general, for most riders, front tires almost always wear at a slower rate than rear tires, sometime resulting in up to 25 to 30% more miles than the rear. My personal preference has been to replace both front and rear tires at the same time for a matched set. First, that keeps things simple, and I don’t loose track one tire’s age and useful life. You also need to consider the tire is aged by exposure over time, not just mileage.

On our tandem, a a bike that is averaging about a 1,250 miles a year, that is three to four seasons of riding in the sun and elements, and after that period time, I don’t mind changing fresh tires front and rear.

Today’s tires are very good value on a cost per mile basis, although I can remember buying car tires for less than some of my current bike tires. When we first stared tandem riding in the early 1980’s, the available tire quality set a much different expectation for tandem owners. 1,000 – 1,500 miles on the rear was considered very good tire life. In our early years tandem riding, we were replacing the rear tire at the start of the year and again by mid-summer. And a rule of thumb was to replace the front tire every other rear tire. Just goes to show you how things have changed.

A good (tandem) captain is ready for anything.
We also have a folding spare on tandem too, right now a Bontrager AW 700x28. A folding spare is another good item for maintaining stoker relations. I am trying a set of these on my Domane this year, and will cover those in another post.