Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tales from the Tandem

I rode the scooter to the Olympic Training Center, excited to meet some new para-cycling faces and see some familiar ones. I walked into the Gold room and was welcomed by a lot of smiling happy campers, ready to tackle a week of track racing. Behind me sat Jason, who after a few minutes of chatting told me I would be piloting him this week. Jason had lost his vision about 10 years before while serving in the Marine Corp overseas. Cycling gave him an outlet to feel the wind in his face, the burn in his lungs and legs and helped him lose weight. We agreed to meet the following morning and ride over to the track together.

New to tandem track riding, the rear drop outs and timing chain setup baffled me. Due to the chain length and the laborious process it took to change gears, we were restricted to our gear selection. Our choices for warmup were either really small, or really, really big. Thankfully Jason's coach Glen was available to help us with the gearing change outs.

Check out the picture to the left. Notice anything different? Yep, there's a second track chain running on the drive side. Due to the crazy amount of torque and force two people generate, the bike has rear drop out guides to prevent the rear wheel from slipping, especially during standing starts. The wheel never budged however, changing the gears meant adjusting 6 points of contact - two drop out screws, two set bolts, rear cog (with a lock ring - trust me, you need it) and of course the front chain ring. Add two people totaling around 350 pounds, and well, you've got a lot of faith in your equipment that things will go according to plan.

Day one we made sure the bike was functioning and that we could ride the track together with no issues. Andy had us do a flying 2k pursuit and flying kilo. It sure is nice having a strong engine behind you to get that puppy up to speed! We suffered in the last couple of laps during the pursuit, but definitely set our mark.

Day two we got the bike ready to go for the group warm up. We did 20 minutes at the stayers line and then dropped down into the sprinters lane to do the final 10 laps of warmup. We had just accelerated and got to the front of the group when BAM! Our rear tire blew off the rim. We were coming out of corner 2, thankfully down near the apron.

"Oh shit, oh shit," was all I could say.

Jason started fishtailing behind me and all I could think was, I don't want him to land on top of me. Hold it upright!

"Oh shit," he said in response.

Some how, some way we were able to hold it upright and came to a perfect 10 dismount exiting corner four, landing on our feet and not on the pavement. PHEW!

Jason called my piloting baptism by fire.

Day three we completed a warmup behind a motorcycle and things went smoothly. Andy had us practice standing starts to work on technique and get coached on areas where we can improve. Jason had practiced them with his other track pilot so he was familiar with the movement and how to get out of the saddle. I have done several hundred starts on my single track bike, but experiencing them on the track tandem was a first.

"5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1!" Andy shouted as he released us from the sprinters lane.

The bike lumbered forward and I looked down to what was right in front of me. We wiggled onto the apron as I struggled to keep us on the track and moving forward. I giggled uncontrollably as Jason's movements felt like a monkey humping me from behind. I couldn't get out of the saddle, unsure of this new position and feeling his hot breath on my back.

"Why are you laughing?" Jason asked.

"It's not you, it's me! It just felt really, really weird," I said unable to quiet my giggles.

I couldn't tell him what it really felt like, at least not yet. Sure we had gone through a rear tire blow out and we quickly getting to know one another, but I didn't feel comfortable telling him that I was laughing because I pictured in my head that this is how monkey's do it. Because my saddle height was lower than his other pilot, it caused his bars to be further down and therefore threw his weight further forward. It really wasn't his fault - he was just doing what he had to do to get us moving. Later that day, I admitted that it felt like a monkey hump and we laughed for a good 5 minutes straight.

"If you can pilot me, you can pilot anyone," Jason said.

Our technique improved substantially and by the last day of camp, we laid down a 2:25 pursuit, besting our time by 8 seconds. Our kilo time also improved to a 1:07, three seconds better than just a few days prior. One thing is for sure, I love piloting a tandem. It is awesome to help someone else feel the joy of riding when they otherwise couldn't. Even if that means experiencing the occasional monkey hump.

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