Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

RAGBRAI: The Tandem Bike Team Adventure: The First Ride

My buddy, Chuck, and his riding captain, Cheryl, found a kindred spirit in the tandem world, Jim Wright. Jim races tandem bikes and often rides with his wife, Kathy. for pleasure. 

Chuck relates his first tandem riding experience, and training for RAGBRAI.

Enter Chuck:
RAGBRAI: A Tandem Riding Adventure: The First Ride

I have finally experienced my first tandem bike ride, and loved it. Through tenacious persistence, I found a tandem rider, Jim Wright, in Orange Park, Florida.  He is an experienced tandem cyclist who just happened to have a racing tandem bike.  We met through a friend that I had worked with, an avid cyclist himself, Jim Funk. 
Funk, member of the Gainesville Cycling Club, posted my request on their bulletin board.  After several emails, telephone calls and a few failed meeting attempts, we arranged a time to ride in Orange Park. My captain, Cheryl Smith, drove my son Chase and me to Orange Park.

The day was overcast and breezy with mild temperatures; so for riding purposes the weather was grand.  We arrived at Jim’s house around noon and visited for about 30 minutes to get acquainted.  We discussed the strategy of tandem riding and how it was similar to two-person canoeing: the person in the back balances the boat; or in our case, the tandem bike.  We also discussed the simple commands that the captain provides to the stoker, the rider in the back of the bike.  For example: “coasting” for resting, “slowing” for slowing down, “stopping,” and so forth.  One of the more important of the warning commands that I found useful was “Bump!”
Cheryl rode first. She rode the stoker position, on the back. I think it worked well for her; although I could not see her facial expressions when she returned.  Chase seemed to think she was happy and excited about her first ride.
I rode next.  First surprise: the person riding stoker position stays strapped into the pedals. Once you are strapped into the pedals you are not permitted to remove your feet at any time—even when stopping.  You must trust that the captain can hold the bike with you aboard.  The captain controls the bike.  The tandem bike riding experience represents a bond of trust between the captain and the stoker.
One of the hardest things for the captain is getting the bike rolling.  The captain must be able to handle the balance and the beginning movement.  Jim described it like an airplane taking off.  The plane can fly extremely well but taking off is very challenging. 
My first ride lasted about 15 minute as both Jim and I learned the others’ movements.  Shortly after our return Jim offered a longer ride for me.  I suspected that I had passed the first test. Cheryl and Chase were gracious enough to stay there and relax with Jim’s wife, Kathy. 
Jim and I rode for another 30 minutes and tried several things during the ride.  I suspected that Jim was checking me out to see if I had what it took to race with him in one of the many races he enters.  I was determined to do my part so I pushed myself to stay in sync with Jim.  We were like a well-oiled machine as we chugged down the road.  I loved the wind rushing past us and the thrill of the challenge as we hit the straight-away.  He said we were pushing a moderate racing pace—about 25 miles per hour.  Jim complemented my riding. (I was secretly grateful for the many hours of spin class that I had done.)  I marveled at how amazing I felt in the stoker position—I could feel power coursing through my body and imagined my spin instructor’s voice giving me cues to enhance my riding ability.  When the ride ended, I was proud of myself and very satisfied with my first ride.
Some things I learned from my first ride include:
1)     There must be absolute trust and synchronicity between the captain and the stoker.  These attributes develop from clear and concise communication and many hours of riding together.
2)     The simple commands that the captain gives determine a successful ride.
3)     Having the right equipment for the ride is vital for comfort and safety.
4)     Know your bike. Every bike is different. Know how to reconfigure the seats and handlebars.
5)     The stoker must not make sudden moves, because each and every move affects the captain.
I give the first riding experience an “A+.” Cheryl and I both have a clearer vision of what lies ahead and what we need to do to get there. Although we have a long way to go, and little time left, we are focused on the work required in order to succeed.       

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