Kathy and I honeymooned on bikes, touring the leafy roads of Vermont. For nearly 30 years afterward, we would ride the neighborhood together, often with one of our three kids in the trailer. But I would ride epics alone.
That’s a challenge of long rides on separate bikes: It can be tough to keep the group together. Stronger riders grit their teeth and hold back; the others burn out trying to keep up.
So when we visited San Francisco several years ago and got the urge to ride, we rented a tandem, neatly eliminating the problem of how to stay together. We snaked down curvy Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and cruised through Golden Gate Park. The seed was planted.
Then, early in 2011, I came home from the Colorado Press Association convention with two registrations to Ride The Rockies, having won them in a silent auction (I’m a journalist, and RTR is a creation of the Denver Post).
So, we were in, but now what? Kathy and I resolved to train together, and ride the tour together, on a tandem.
We lucked into finding a good-quality used tandem (more unlikely than you’d think), near Denver. Without much experience with tandems, without any idea how to buy one — really, without much of a clue — we bought the bike, we dropped it into our pickup, and hauled it home to Colorado Springs.
From the moment we clipped into our four pedals, we realized this would be a different kind of bicycling experience. I hope to share some of that experience as a Peak Pedaler.
A tandem is still a bike; the tush gets just as sore. Still, tandem riders on RTR are like Shriners in a parade: A small tribe perched on goofy machines. During the week of the tour, the handful of tandem teams gel into a kind of loose club within a club. One of the club rituals is answering questions from folks on “half bikes” such as: How hard is it to climb hills on that thing?
The epic climbs that define RTR are difficult no matter what bike you’re on. On a tandem, though, Kathy and I have each other to provide encouragement as the pavement inches by. And while tandems may climb slowly, the descents are glorious.
The real difference, though, is not so much in the bike, but in the people. Tandems, of course, equal togetherness. Riding the Rockies on a tandem means experiencing the thrills and the pain, the energy and the fatigue, as a couple. During the good and the bad, you’re always a team.
This is a lovely idea, but there’s an adage about couples who ride tandems: Whatever direction your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there faster. The stuff you do reflexively as a solo rider instead requires planning and constant communication. You have to discuss how to start, whether to stop, when to shift and brake, where to turn.
When it’s all working, it’s bicycling plus. You’re riding and sharing at the same time — the good, and the bad.
During our inaugural RTR in 2011, our rear tire blew eight times. It got so bad on Day 2 — three flats in the first few miles — that veteran RTR volunteer “Worm” Charbonneau took pity on us and sagged us into Leadville. With the unplanned downtime we discovered a wonderful bike shop, where we bought new tires and spent a sunny lunch on a local patio.
Yet we had several more flats, the last coming on the final day, 1 mile from the tour finish line. As rain clouds moved in, we threw on our last spare tube and sprinted toward the finish. The rear tire went flat yet again, the clouds burst, and we cranked out the last drenched half-mile completely flat, lumpety-lumpety, into an abandoned Georgetown.
At a damp and weary moment like that, I was glad I wasn’t alone. Kathy and I both earned that story to tell.
This year, we have new wheels and hopes for a smoother tour. This year, our 15-year-old son, Joseph, will train with us and ride the tour, on his own bike. And this year, I’ll bring the laptop to write about our experience during training season, and during the week in June when we cross Colorado with all of you.
When you pass us, and it’s likely you will, we hope you slow up a bit and share a little of your RTR experience, too.