Reaching the end of the MS150 yesterday Amy commented to me that she was still relatively fresh and willing to go longer... which was the exact opposite from last year when we arrived completely trashed at the end of both days. I was in complete agreement and began to wonder why I too felt great at the end of 150 miles in the saddle and didn't feel like I wanted to eat everything I saw for the next 24 hours.
The question we both had was WHY? This was the exact same route, distance and trusty Trek Tandem. (We call it the Bus) Our training was about the same both years... so that wasn't it. This year was a little bit cooler and there was a minimum amount of wind... helpful, but we have ridden in the wind before without needing a nap the minute we got home. So what was it?
Then we figured it out. This year we managed our intensity while pulling our team for nearly the entire distance; 150 miles over two days. And while averaging ~20MPH for the total distance we found ourselves ready for more. That's right, we pulled the whole thing 🙂
Now if you are confused as to how we were able to ride for hours without a break and still felt fresh at the end, it's really simple. I used my HR monitor as a GPS, instead of a Speedometer. Let me explain...
In years past we had two very strong members on our team: Dana and Jim. They could ride very comfortably at ~ 24 MPH, seemingly forever. Now if you don't ride outside trust me when I tell you that riding a steady 24 MPH pace takes a very fit and strong cyclist. Our strategy for the ride was to use Dana and Jim's strength to pull most of the time and the rest of us would keep up, riding in a nicely disciplined pace-line behind them. Sounds like a good plan except for one thing: with a combined total weight of ~320lbs (Me, Amy and the Bus) riding in a pace-line becomes a bit of a challenge. After years of racing both bicycles and motorcycles, riding very close to others is easy for me. Yes, Amy trusts me. Our problem was in responding to all the small changes in speed that occur in a group. In any pace-line these changes in speed can create a sort of Slinky or accordion effect that has riders in the back constantly slowing and then accelerating to catch back up. What can be easy for a single rider becomes a series of intense intervals on a 320lb tandem. Because the Slinky gets more stretched out, the farther back you are, we found that we needed to sit in the number two or three position.
As the third strongest bike in the group, Amy and I took occasional turns up front. The expectation (maybe peer pressure is a better way to describe it) was to maintain a constant 24 MPH. With one eye on my computer and one on where we were going, our pulls lasted until we could no longer keep our target MPH. I didn't pay any attention to my HR monitor other than a quick look to confirm what I was already feeling; I was way over my T2 - anaerobic threshold. Despite what you may think, both riders tend to work equally hard on a Tandem. Equally hard in relation to their level of fitness that is. If I'm above Threshold, then Amy will be as well. With both pedals solidly connected there is no way for the Stoker in the back to coast.
The end result was a fast, but very exhausting MS 150 that left us completely spent at the end of both days. And did we EAT! We would skip every other rest stop and when we did stop I would be shoving PB&J's down as fast as the volunteers would hand them to me.
This year was very different.
With no Dana or Jim this year we were a bit concerned about setting a respectfully fast pace that would have us showing off our sponsor's jersey, while passing hundreds of other cyclists. Amy and I decided to sit up front for a while and experiment with our speed on the flat sections. While monitoring my HR with my Blink HR monitor this is what we found:
- 17 MPH = ~140 BPM
- 19 MPH = ~ 146 BPM which is my T1 (Aerobic Threshold) or what I refer to as JRA (Just Riding Along)
- 21 MPH = ~ 154 BPM
- 23 MPH= ~ 162 BMP my T2 (Anaerobic Threshold)
So we settled into a very steady 21 MPH which we were able to maintain for hours at a time. If we encountered a change in grade or headwind I kept my HR right there in between both Thresholds, without concern for our actual speed.
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John….I know it’s not quite the intent behind this particular post but I’m just wondering about the dynamics of tandem riding. Specifically, tandem riding as a “couple” (which is not necessarily the same as a “team”)
How do you decide who’s captain and who’s stoker?
What makes the difference between the two?
How can I make my husband listen to me? (maybe the wrong place to ask….Amy’d know, I guess)
I sort of “forced” my husband into bike riding by buying him a bike for his birthday (and he’s since opined that it’s the best present he’s ever had!) I mentioned you and Amy’s ride to him yesterday and, although he reckoned he wouldn’t fancy so long of a ride, he didn’t totally dismiss the idea of us riding tandem (you cannot imagine how much of a *positive* this is)
So, as they say….just axin’
Who is the captain is typically decided by who is the better cyclist. It may be a bit sexist of them, but tandem manufacturers design the bike with the captain’s area larger than the stoker’s – presuming a male captain and female stoker. I’m going to guess that someone would make you a custom bike in the proper sizes.
Riding a tandem is a an exercise in respect:
I have to respect that Amy has no control and she has to respect that I know what I’m doing.
Tandems are also the great equalizer. Despite conventional wisdom, both of us work at the same effort at all times. I push, Amy feels the need to push.
John…..would Amy agree with this article?
I tell you, I have a real hankering for getting a tandem. Although I have no doubt that my husband could crank out a higher wattage than me…..for a whole 30 seconds or so……he doesn’t have much endurance or bike related skills. Having him riding behind me on a hill is like crickets chirping what with him changing gears every femto second…..and landing in the wrong one every time. Problem is, I drop him like a stone very quickly on every ride…..and my skill set is such that I pretty much can’t pace myself to go slow enough to stick with him. I fancy a tandem would even things out a bit, no?
Out of interest, how did you guys get started with the tandem? How do you transp[ort them?
We borrowed a tandem from the bike store where we lead classes in the late 90’s. We used it for a couple of big organized rides for that exact reason; the disparity in power. We fell in love with the concept and bought our first a few years after our initial try.
I had a pickup for years which was very handy. Tandems fit on typical rear mount bike racks after you remove the wheels. I can get mine in my Mazda3 – wheels off, seats down and just a little bit hanging out the back.
Catching up on the podcasts and this one regarding heart rate monitor as GPS and tandem bicycling struck a note on both counts. First, heart rate monitoring. I have been “riding my heart rate monitor” for about 6 months now in training for the Climb to Kaiser, a 155 mile bike ride with 13,500 in elevation gain. Training has consisted of completing 2 century rides a month, in addition to short mid-week rides. Just as you and Amy observed, if I went out hard with stronger riders in a pace line, I would be exhausted by the end of the ride. So, now, when invited to hop on to a fast pace line, I decline by telling people, “no, thanks, I’m riding my heart rate monitor.”. This has provoked conversations regarding the benefits of heart rate monitoring at rest stops and especially at ride’s end. Training this way has actually improved my speed and endurance. About tandems, having just last week taken my first 2 tandem rides as stoker, I add these observations: 1. synchronizing cadence can be a problem. The guy I rode with was a much stronger rider and had a faster cadence than my natural cadence. He also choose to stand, forcing me to stand too, a lot more than I was comfortable with, especially on climbs. 2. Tandems are so much more stable than a regular bike. Faster on the flats, and way faster on downhills. After our 2 rides together, I am totally hooked on tandems and hope to ride again soon. Having to leave my cadence and standing comfort zones isn’t all that bad. It may even help me to become a stronger rider.
Karen Amy and I have a similar problem; she likes to grind and I like to spin. I’m constantly shifting up and down to suit us both.