Cycling Challenge

Cycling challenge badgeWe did it! A week ago yesterday my husband and I completed our 45 mile cycling challenge in aid of our local hospice on our tandem. This is to date the longest distance I have cycled.

I have to say, I have discovered there are one or two advantages of being on the back of a tandem: 1) You don’t get so many flies in your face and 2) You can hide behind the driver when you come to a hill so you don’t see how steep it is or how far to the top!

We were well ‘rugged up’ to start with as it was a bit chilly. After about a third of the course it (and us) had warmed up and the route passed a short distance from our home so we took a diversion for a drink and the chance to strip off a bit before re-joining. A short while later we came to a local hill that has always caused me problems. I have never previously got up it and usually try to avoid it. That said, on the few occasions I have tried it I have managed to get a bit further up each time before getting off to push. Hiding behind the driver on the back of the tandem this time I/we did it  – not that it has ever caused my husband a problem. (I am also pleased to report that a few days later we tackled it again on solo bikes – and I got all the way up it!)

We did have one or two minor mishaps along the way; we broke three spokes and the dog jumped out of his basket! Okay, I’ll explain. The first broken spoke we mended at a canal-side café, where we took the opportunity to have out packed lunch followed by an ice-cream. After our experiences in Spain last autumn, when we broke seven spokes, we now carry spares. When we completed the ride we found we had also broken another two. Hubby has since checked the wheel thoroughly, thinking there must be a reason why the spokes keep on breaking on the same wheel. He had had the spoke tension checked and was told it was fine, but has now decided that they probably need to be tighter, being a tandem, so they have all been tightened up and we will see what happens next time we ride out.

Setting off on our cycle challenge

Setting off on our cycle challenge

As for the dog jumping out of his basket – well we have a small basket on the front of the tandem (see picture) in which a small soft toy dog travels. He has our front light strapped to his wrist. On the way round while going along a bumpy country lane he flew out of the basket and landed in the middle of the road – he hadn’t been wearing his seat-belt! We stopped, I went to fetch him and we fixed him more firmly in his basket with a bungey-cord as a seat-belt. A group of other cycling challenge participants caught up and stopped to ask if we were all right. “Yes, thanks.” we said, “we lost the dog!” We all laughed and one lady confided that her husband had a soft toy seal in his bicycle panier!

The last couple of miles were probably the worst, I was just about ready to stop! My knees ached, my thighs ached, my wrists ached, my shoulders ached and I didn’t want to see another hill for a long time to come! Interestingly though, when we finally stopped I was fine and the next day bore no lasting effects.

At least I can now feel confident that I will be able to complete the Pedals de Clip classic road racing bike rally in Spain in a couple of weeks time. This will be only a mere 46 km on my Motobecane road bike ‘Captain Beaky.’ Just don’t remind me about all those hills!

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Tandem Touring

Okay, so this is not quite as the title suggests. We have just returned from almost six weeks of touring through France and Spain but I have to admit that we weren’t actually touring on the tandem – we were in our motorhome with the tandem on the back so that we could go off for rides on it at various locations along the way.

Motorhome and tandem

Motorhome with tandem, Valencia, Spain

One of the drawbacks with a motorhome is that you have no alternative transport and if you want to go anywhere you either have to drag the lumbering thing with you, use public transport or take a bike. (Some people actually tow a small car but one of the reasons we swapped our caravan for a motorhome was in order to avoid towing.) So we decided it might be fun to take the tandem.

The first tandem excursion was a couple of days after we had arrived in France on the overnight ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. We had stopped at an Aires in the village of Montville just north of Rouen. The plan was that we would cycle into Rouen and visit the cathedral. Hubby reckoned this would be a round trip of about 12 or maybe 13 miles. In the event it was more like 25 or 26 miles, was extremely hilly, alternately cold then hot then cold and took considerably longer to get to Rouen than we had envisaged, giving us only about an hour in the town before our return trip. I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed with the cathedral but have since learned that there are two in Rouen and I think we went to ‘the wrong one’. Maybe next time!

We then spent a few days with some friends who run a B&B near Alencon before moving on south so it was about four days before we got on the bike again. This time we were at an Aires called La Petite Gare at Uzerche, an old railway station. The track has been removed to create a public amenity and cycle path. It was a lovely gentle and flat ride! It was hot and we were in shorts and t-shirts. This was to be our last ride for a while as we wended our way via a visit of several days with my cousin near Toulouse and a few other overnight stops plus two days at Carcassonne – lovely medieval city, could have done with longer here – until we arrived at our daughter’s some 45 mins drive inland from Tarragona in Catalunia, Spain.

We stayed here for about a week and as we had no intention of driving the motorhome up and down their lumpy, bumpy, rocky, narrow track on a regular basis the tandem was our transport of choice. On it we made trips into the local village and to the nearest town, Mora D’Ebre. I have to say it was colder here than I had expected and we were glad we had packed some warm cycling gear. On one ride we nearly ran over a large snake that was thrashing about in the middle of the road. I wondered if it had been knocked by a tractor that went down the road ahead of us. When we returned down the road a short while later it had gone so can’t have been badly hurt.

Husband and tandem

My husband and tandem,
Peniscola, Spain

Then we discovered that we had six broken spokes in the back wheel! Why the wheel didn’t collapse we will never know. We tried to get some replacement spokes from our daughter’s favourite bike shop but they didn’t have the correct size. It was a few days before we managed to get any and by then we had moved on to a campsite near Peniscola, north of Valencia. We bought ten spokes so we had four spare. A few days later we broke another and this was to be the pattern for the next several days. We bought another six spokes in Oliva, just south of Valencia, when we only had one spare one left. The next day another broke. My husband had not been convinced when we bought it that the tandem had its original wheels and when the chap from the bike shop in Oliva looked at the wheel he said the spokes were not of good enough quality. Now we had replaced all the ‘inside’ spokes in the back wheel with stronger ones and checked their tension. Fortunately we had no further trouble.

Snow over the Mountains

Over the Mountains

The bike next came out in San Sebastian after a horrendous drive over the mountains from Pamplona in the snow! (After two days of almost continuous heavy rain) This is not what we went to Spain for. Once the snow and rain had stopped we had a gloriously sunny day, though cold, and rode the tandem through the town and along the sea front. What a lovely place – though riding a tandem through town with all the roadside furniture and pedestrians drifting around over the cycle track does not make for easy riding. Maybe we would have been better with solo bikes! Every time the pilot slowed down without warning it jolted through my body as I tried to peddle against sudden resistance, being unable to see ahead too well to anticipate!

Your truly, San Sebastian. Where did I leave the tandem?

Your truly, San Sebastian. Where did I leave the tandem?

Our last tandem ride of the trip was around the old city at La Rochelle, France, again a very interesting place. There had been a marathon earlier in the day and although the event had finished when we got the bike out the place was still heaving and again a tandem was not really the ideal bike for the stop/go conditions. After that it was back to our friends near Alencon before returning to the UK, it was pretty cold and frosty so the bike stayed on the back of the motorhome.

It was great fun to have the tandem with us but in retrospect taking the solo mountain bikes might have been a better idea – easier to get around towns and less likely to break spokes out in the rough countryside.

Now the tandem needs a thorough overhaul – especially the back wheel! Will we use it again over the winter? I don’t know but if we do I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

 

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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