Because my work is writing about bicycles, the separation between my professional riding and my personal riding tends to be clear only when I’m on a bike I own. In every other way, the division between professional and personal has blurred for me. I don’t mind. I took what Lao Tzu would have called the left path and have been trying to make it middle ever since, but the upshot is that I’ve been all-in since before I knew what that term meant.
Since the birth of the Deuce, RKP has taken a turn toward more personal material, at least for me. This was both unintentional and unavoidable. What surprised me was that while I’ve long strived to find those universal elements within cycling to make my subject—the path still followed by Robot, August and Irene—turning inward and writing about my experience as a parent allowed me to tap into something equally universal. I’m sure Lao Tzu would have had something profound to say about this irony.
Now that the sharing has begun, I’ve little recourse other than to continue.
Recently, thanks largely to social media, I’ve shared some photos from my rides with Mini-Shred on our tandem. Whenever possible, I’ll pick him up from his preschool by riding the tandem over and then we ride the six miles back together, stopping on the way to get a snack. Those photos have gotten a huge response and I’ve received more than a few questions about just what we’re riding.
The tandem dates from the late 1990s. I began riding tandems in ’96, first with a borrowed partner, then with my then-girlfriend. I love the way sharing a ride by tandem differs from riding on two singles. It’s a different experience; it’s intimate in a way that two singles is not explaining the difference is nearly impossible until you go for a ride on a tandem. I kept riding the tandem with a later partner, but my wife has even less interest in riding a tandem than I have in watching American Idol. I nearly sold it two years ago.
It was while I was on a Santana Tandem Rally on the Danube River that I mentioned to Santana’s CEO Bill McCready that I was looking forward to Mini-Shred growing big enough for me to purchase a trail-a-bike. Bill is a man of strong convictions and he didn’t hesitate to tell me not to do it. He told me to get a child stoker kit. He then rattled off the various reasons why the tandem was better than the trail-a-bike. First, he pointed out, the stoker kit forces the child to keep pedaling. It won’t permit them to coast through a four-mile ride. Second, it teaches them about cadence and a smooth, consistent pedal stroke. Third, the child is closer to you and easier for drivers to see. Fourth, kids can be erratic in their riding and being on the back of the tandem makes it harder for them to steer the bike by leaning left or right. Fifth, their wattage will mean more because they’ll never be spun out. There may have been other reasons Bill mentioned—there surely must have been—but these are the ones that I’ve verified for myself through our rides.
Which is to say that after returning from that rally, I purchased a child stoker kit from Santana and installed it on my Cannondale. A child stoker kit is a curious device. It’s got just a handful of components. The heart of the kit is the clamp that mounts to the stoker’s seat tube which contains the bottom bracket for the tiny cranks (in this case 160mm from Miche). Next, there’s a chainring that you bolt to the stoker’s left-side crank with the aid of longer chainring bolts; it goes inboard of the timing chainring. Then there’s the chain (the bike’s fourth if you count how the timing chain requires one long chain made from two standard ones) running between the stoker’s left crank and the child’s left crank. That’s everything in the kit; from there I added some platform pedals and after a few weeks I added toe clips and straps to them.
Over the years, I’ve made some upgrades to this bike. It was originally equipped with 8-speed bar-cons, but I added Ultegra 9-speed shifters and a 12-27 cassette; this allowed me to continue to use the third ring on hills. The tires that were on it when I got it were these 38mm tires suitable for monster cross and little else. I spent a number of years running Specialized Armadillo tires on it. They offered the benefit of being as flat-proof as solid rubber, not to mention a commensurate ride quality. More recently, I installed some 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S tires and was stunned at just how much they improved the ride feel and even cornering behavior. It’s amazing what we can forget.
I also added a cow horn bar turned backward for Mini-Shred. It’s a longish reach, even with the telescoping stem fully extended. He’s grown an inch since I set the bike up and between his increase in height and experience, he’s comfortable on the bike.
In fitting the tandem for him I began by lowering the saddle as much as possible. I even swapped out the seatpost to one that would go a bit lower than the previous edition. Next, I established what his saddle height should be and then cut the chain to length. Because the BB clamp simply bolts on, adjusting chain tension is just as easy as with a fixed gear. I also did him the solid of changing the women’s saddle out for a skinnier, men’s model and slid it all the way forward on the rails. As the BB sits forward of the seat tube, this isn’t a bad idea, but it may be that if I drop a plumb bob from his knee what I’d find is a need to turn a 20mm setback post around backward to achieve proper saddle position. It’s not a big deal just yet.
The other detail worth mentioning about these rides is that I do what I can to minimize the Captain Lycra look. I’ve been wearing Giro’s New Road apparel and a couple of casual pieces from Panache that will show up in a coming review. We both wear helmets and on my way there I hang his helmet from his bar.
We get a lot of oohs and waves, and have even had people drive slowly next to us and take pictures or shoot video. I’ve no doubt in my mind that drivers are giving us a wider berth, which is a relief, but it’s also upsetting because it has shown me that when someone does pass me on my road bike with 12 inches to spare, it’s all the more likely that was entirely intentional. Or maybe it’s just harder to be clueless in the presence of a bike eight feet long.
I’m not sure that Mini-Shred appreciates the shared experience angle of riding a tandem, though I don’t want to sell him short; he’s produced some surprising insights for someone too short for most of the rides at a carnival. I’m not bothered by that. And while I thought what I would appreciate most is riding with him and teaching him about bicycles and riding on open streets, I’ve found that my happiness and satisfaction comes from a much simpler place. That he’s happy, that he’s having fun and that I’m with him as he’s enjoying himself … it turns out, that’s enough. More than enough.